The paintings of Claude Lawrence were recently on view at Santa Fe’s Aaron Payne Fine Art, which represents many of the artist’s contemporaries, including David Hammons, Bruce Nauman, and Gregory Amenoff. Although Lawrence is of the same generation as these other artists, he didn’t come to fruition as a painter until much later in life. Born in Chicago, Lawrence was a professional jazz musician until the late 1980s. Living in New York in 1987, Lawrence was familiar with many of the artists in the then-thriving downtown scene, including Jean-Michel Basquiat. He had been an avid artist when he was a child and once again began to paint and draw, mirroring his musical work in acrylic paint on paper. “I look to create work that has balance, energy, and lyricism,” Lawrence explains. “I improvise, meaning the conscious or [subconscious] channeling of influence. Energy is the main component. Intension is energy.”
Lawrence is, despite his late start, very knowledgeable about art, having studied paintings in museums, studios, and galleries for his entire life. An untitled work from 1996 depicts three figures proceeding in a line. They’re made with quick, expressive marks, and although their identities may not be completely clear, the types they represent are: a dapper man and a voluptuous woman, followed by a rambunctious child. The image also mimics Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous The Blind Leading the Blind (1568), a masterwork of the Flemish Renaissance. Another untitled painting from the year before depicts a man sitting alone, contemplating; like his subject, in later life Lawrence has come to prefer solitude, living alone and ascetically in Chicago.
In his abstractions, Lawrence scrutinizes the minutiae of brushwork, highlighting each stroke. The pieces often verge toward the figurative, but remain open-ended in their depictions. In War (2001), the artist has painted a mass of loopy, squiggling lines, many of them bloody red or steel gray. Around some of the forms, Lawrence has inscribed a thin, black outline, as he likewise does in an untitled work from 2004, and Current Affairs, from 2002. This unique technique gives Lawrence’s forms greater weight and graphic punch, and serves to highlight the peculiarities of each painted mark.
Lawrence’s art is technically one of an outsider, a self-taught artist. But it is almost certain that his innovative techniques and ideas will be incorporated into the work of future painters for many generations to come.