Des Lawrence

Konrad Dannenberg, 2014

Enamel on Aluminum

40 × 50 cm


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Artwork
Description

Des Lawrence’s eerie paintings are based on current newspaper obituaries, taking as their source a single life and death. Their tone is matter-of-fact, aiming at the supposed neutrality of the media reporting that is their inspiration. Lawrence has described his work as a form of ‘history painting’, recording and remembering the recently deceased.

Konrad Dannenberg depicts two pieces of space hardware, bright white in the harsh desert sun. Lawrence nods to Dannenberg’s legacy: after joining NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre in 1960 the German-American scientist initiated development of the Saturn V, the largest rocket ever built and the first to take humans to the moon.

The painting surveys this achievement with a sure eye. Lawrence reproduces in minute detail historical photographs, building up a picture in the same way one constructs a history or biography: through intimate research and a craft invested in the minutiae. The smooth surface of Konrad Dannenberg arises from this careful approach, and not a brushstroke is visible or out of place.

However, the clarity of the painting is deceiving. Lawrence has noted that his intense focus on the surface of his works reflects our myopic view of the world, seeing only as far as we expect or want to. There is something hidden behind the gleaming facade, of both the painting and the rockets: Dannenberg had a dark past as a rocket propulsion specialist for the Nazi’s army research centre, developing the engine for the V-2 ballistic missile. But, contemporary society is often more than content to ignore this, and celebrate his achievements for NASA unquestioningly, unwilling to contemplate that the American Space Programme was founded upon the murderous technology of war and the brains of former Nazis. This desire to brush history under the carpet is what Lawrence plays with here: the veneer is too perfect, quite obviously false, just waiting for the truth to be revealed.

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