Des Lawrence

Hermann Zapf, 2018

Enamel on Aluminum

54 × 62 cm


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Artwork
Description

In a world dominated by myriads of smartphone-generated images, history painting does not seem to have an assured place in the contemporary art pantheon anymore. However Des Lawrence’s obituary portraits make us question the obsolescence of this genre, begging questions of collective memory and contemporary culture.

Focusing on post-mortem portraits of notable – but not quite famous – characters, Des Lawrence’s depictions often take unexpected turns, presenting alternative effigies for the defunct.

Hermann Zapf (1918-2015) was an esteemed type designer and calligrapher from Germany, father of the two best known typefaces Palatino and Optima. In fact, it is precisely the latter, his favourite, that represents Zapf in this obituary portrait. The humanist sans-serif font was inspired by a trip to Italy, where Zapf was able to admire Roman lettering on tombstones at the Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, in which the strokes subtly widen as they reach stroke terminals without ending in a serif. Optima was aptly adopted as the font for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C. and here serves as an infinity mirror tribute, to the fallen, to Zapf, to the typeface itself, resounding like a requiem.

About
the artist


Des Lawrence (b. 1970) studied at Glasgow School of Art and Goldsmiths College. Selected shows include 
The London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and REALLY?, Curated by Beth Rudin deWoody at the Wilding Cran Gallery, Los Angeles. Lawrence was awarded the British School in Rome’s Abbey Scholarship in 2005. He lives and works in London.

Lawrence’s practice is varied, comprising of painting, drawing, text and installation. He derives his principal guiding theme from current newspaper obituaries, making his artworks into memorials to the lately departed. The artist conceives of his work as a form of ‘history painting’, a much-neglected in the field of contemporary art. His works have the precision and fidelity of a painting by Delaroche or Gérôme, but none of the frozen aspect. Lawrence’s interest is in the passage of time, in the humanity of loss and the lost, not reviving a cryogenically frozen past for the viewer.

The artist has noted that he is ‘unnaturally fixated upon the microscopic subtlety of a surface’, another parallel to the neo-Grec painters whom Baudelaire characterised as the ‘school of pedants’. However, for Lawrence, this surface does not represent intellectual clarity but rather our myopic tendencies: our desire to see no further than what we expect.

The artist has previously stated his initial desire to be neutral and repetitive in his tributes to the deceased, like the macabre journalism on which his work is based. Indeed, his approach is rather editorial: citing On Kawara’s Date Paintings, Lawrence sought a subject matter that would regenerate itself continuously; endless, like days and months, and years of a calendar. There is no room for freedom of expression in this matter-of-fact encounter with death. However, recently Lawrence has accepted his role as a storyteller, allowing his art to launch an ever-expanding fleet of emotions and ideas. This has been aided and abetted by the increasing role the internet search engine has played in his practice. Lawrence has embraced this new technology’s impact upon the historical record, abandoning fruitless searches in dusty archives for a digital quest where a single train of thought can yield multiple visual and verbal parallels.


Lawrence’s practice is varied, comprising of painting, drawing, text and installation. He derives his principal guiding theme from current newspaper obituaries, making his artworks into memorials to the lately departed. The artist conceives of his work as a form of ‘history painting’, a much-neglected in the field of contemporary art.


Des Lawrence
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

February 13th, 2019 until
May 13th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER