Des Lawrence

Isabella Karle, 2018

Enamel on Aluminum

23 × 30 cm


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Artwork
Description

Des Lawrence’s practice derives its principal theme from current newspaper obituaries, making his haunting paintings into memorials for the recently departed. Lawrence has described his work as a form of contemporary ‘history painting’. This genre, once used to depict scenes from the biblical or mythological past, shifted in the nineteenth century to a more documentary aspect, giving the general public a way of experiencing the recent past.

It is in this context that one can see Isabella Karle as a history painting. Lawrence has chosen to depict a model of a molecule structure, an object which represents Karle’s contribution to science and is the focus of her legacy. The model becomes a shorthand for Karle’s person: after her death, this is what she will become. A figure or moment in the abstract, represented only by thoughts. This process has already begun in the obituaries that distil down her whole complex self into this achievement.

Lawrence’s painting both accepts and problematises this process. There is nothing monumental about the work; the artist has chosen a rather prosaic object and carefully reproduced its time-worn appearance. Lawrence’s intense focus on the surface of the object and the painting, with his smooth imperceptible brushstrokes and glowing colours, is another kind of resistance to the abstraction of the obituaries. The painting acts like an obsessive attempt to materialise Karle’s discovery in some form, giving her ideas back a body, of paint rather than flesh.

But it seems that Lawrence knows the battle is already lost. Although the image is warm and human, it has the distance of a museum exhibit: not immune to the passage of time, but without life, stilled and separated. A symbol kept and displayed as proof of what else has gone.

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

November 1st, 2018 until
January 6th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER