An artist with an unusual path, Lawrence has a doctorate in child psychology and has been intrigued with D. W. Winicott’s theories on transitional objects, including security blankets, and their adaptive role in providing comfort in times of stress. In particular, Lawrence is interested in how women come to feel secure, valued, and at home in their own skin. Lawrence’s ongoing concern with how we feel safe internally, and in the world, is evident in her choice of domestic materials. Lawrence’s work has a rich materiality. Instead of traditional canvas she uses antique linen sheets hand woven by women in the 1800’s for her painting surface, which she prizes for their irregularities and flaws. Some are intact, others are fragments. By deliberately honoring blemishes and imperfections, by embracing the beauty of repairs, she highlights instead of hiding “evidence of the female hand and soul,” in deliberate contrast to the prevailing quest for perfection in women’s bodies and surroundings. Lawrence brushes the raw linen with coats of clear gesso and acrylic paint mixed with marble dust. She then patches and collages the surface with leftover textiles from the studio floor, evoking the idea of temporary shelter, of security cobbled together in an attempt to create a sense of home.
Her drawing is deliberately awkward, a stitch like line incised into the surface, remnants of a childhood spent in the sandbox etching patterns and lines, one form leading to another, composing a world like Harold and The Purple Crayon, lending an authenticity to her work. The wonky grid structure, with irregular edges gives the aura of self-taught art. Yet she builds on the foundation of her foremothers; Louise Bourgeois, Rosemarie Trockel and Mary Heilman, as well as the graphic sensibility of earlier 20th century artists; Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet and Alexander Calder.
Lawrence, concerned with presentation, tends not to stretch her works on traditional stretcher bars. Instead, she mounts them loosely in an undulating fashion inside deep profile frames, without glass, or hangs them directly on the wall from grommets stitched to the top, echoing the ad hoc architecture of temporary shelter and referring to the vulnerability of displaced women, children and families.
On her charming Instagram feed we see an outdoor clothesline with works in various stages, blowing in the breeze, offering insight into her world as an artist and as a woman concerned with honoring feminine authenticity, past and present.
The 2004 exhibit of the Quilts of Gee’s Bend at the Cleveland Museum of Art galvanized Lawrence, (originally at the Whitney Museum). Her sense of possibility cracked open by the simple yet sophisticated geometric compositions that stand with the best of minimalist, abstract art, yet were disguised as women’s handwork. Lawrence herself has made functional ceramics and large wire sculptures, toggling among different mediums in her attempt to blur lines and elevate craft to the position of fine art.
Deb Lawrence’s bleached color and open-ended imagery allow the spectator to bring their own narrative to the work that subtly addresses the never more relevant themes of home, shelter and security.
In her upcoming solo exhibition, Lawrence will be showing her new collaged Shelter Series pieces for the first time. Included in the show will be a monumental work on an actual painted vintage tent, with collaged abstract motifs, dealing poignantly with the crossing at the border and separation of women and children.