Customer Story: Lawrence, an Artist at Work

 
Lawrence wearing a white button-down shirt and standing next to his red-cap mushroom sculptures at a gallery opening reception. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lawrence wearing a white button-down shirt and standing next to his red-cap mushroom sculptures at a gallery opening reception. Photo courtesy of the artist.

When did you first start making art? How did you know you wanted to be an artist?

“I wanted to do [art] at school all the time, but [my teachers] took it away from me,” says Lawrence. Lawrence’s personal support worker Monica, who sits next to him during the interview, explains that art became a behavior tool used by teachers to reward and punish him. Lawrence’s mom, she notes, allowed Lawrence to draw at home.

What subjects and materials do you use in your artwork?

Through our conversation about his various works, Lawrence mentions brassieres, shorts, kites, fighter jet planes, Christmas trees and pine trees, flower bouquets, hard cover book bindings, and chandeliers. This is just the short list of subjects that inspire his large-scale sculptures as well as small-scale drawings.

Asked why he chooses these subjects, Lawrence says, “YouTube.” In addition to watching YouTube videos for inspiration, Monica shares that she and Lawrence go to Powell’s Books where Lawrence buys books on drawing and sculpting that help inspire his latest designs.

Lawrence shows us pages from a scrapbook with photos of his sculptural works, and it’s clear from looking at the photos that Lawrence is highly innovative in his material approach to interpreting subjects and transforming them into larger-than-life sized forms. For example, Lawrence shares that he hand-stitched fabric together to create a bra that supported breasts formed from flour-filled condoms. Monica laughs lighly as she notes,“they looked very real.”

Lawrence speaks candidly about the subjects and materials he uses in his artwork, revealing the process of an artist intent on understanding his subjects, working out what the parameters of their meaning are, and the impressions they leave upon him. When he sees shapes and forms that intrigue him, Lawrence devotes himself to work out how to modify and reiterate them in a way that he finds appealing and reflects his experience of them.

Monica highlights that much of Lawrence’s artwork is generated from the modification of subjects and materials, resulting in the creation of objects and images that push material and conceptual boundaries and expectations.

What interests you about depicting the human body, and in such a large-scale Format?

Lawrence started making his large-scale sculptures in school as an 18 or 19 year old. Freddy, a sculpture of a male figure, was created from rolled up tubes of paper to make his bone structure. The muscles were made from rolled up newspaper reinforced by fabric, Lawrence and Monica explain. The different parts of Freddy’s body were held together by duct tape and masking tape.

Lawrence becomes animated talking about the large human sculptures, sharing proudly that Freddy “had all his body parts.”

The clothing Lawrence chose for Freddy is significant, Monica says. “He had saggy pants,” Lawrence says, sitting up in his chair and grinning. Monica explains that Lawrence insisted on using new clothes, and Lawrence nods his head in agreement. “They were the largest pants I’ve ever seen,” says Monica about the pants Lawrence used to clothe Freddy. “He bought huge shoes too.”

 
Two red and white mushroom-shaped sculptures by Lawrence featured in an art exhibition. The larger mushroom has a bright red cap, and the smaller one has a bright red cap covered in white dots. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Two red and white mushroom-shaped sculptures by Lawrence featured in an art exhibition. The larger mushroom has a bright red cap, and the smaller one has a bright red cap covered in white dots. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

How and why Do you Modify the materials you use to make art?

Before answering the question, Lawrence stands up and walks over to the shelf where he had placed a stack of sketchbooks before the interview began. He picks them up and brings them over to where we’re seated at a desk. He lays the sketchbooks on the table and begins flipping through pages, showing us the drawings that fill each book.

Lawrence and Monica explain that drawing is very important to Lawrence and his process as an artist. Pencil and color pencil are his primary medium. He favors Prisma color pencils, explaining that they have a wax component that make it easier to blend and burnish the lines and colors in his drawings.

Featured in the sketchbook are several drawings of bridges crossing rivers. The detailed drawings demonstrate a high-level of observation, precision, and lightness in touch. Lawrence’s combined creative and technical ability are evident in the reflections of ducks — the species of which could be easily identified in a bird book — floating peacefully in the rippling water under a bridge. The reflections of the bridge and the ducks in the water are remarkable. It would be easy to assume Lawrence drew these scenes from his observations and impressions made in person rather than from watching YouTube videos and reading books.

Why is it important for you to be able to make these changes to the subjects and materials you use?

Our conversation deviates from talking strictly about art into one about Lawrence as a person who is driven to make art because of who he is and the experiences that have shaped him.

Monica helps explain that it’s important to Lawrence that he get positive feedback about his artwork, as well as his physical appearance. It is important to him to present himself well and to be liked. He wants to be seen and known, she notes.

Lawrence and his sibling grew up in a home where they both experience tension because of how they chose to identify themselves. With time, Lawrence and sibling moved out of their family home and into their own respective apartments.

Like his sibling, Lawrence is learning to navigate his identity, sharing his desire to be accepted and valued for who he is and who he is becoming. He expresses feeling liberated by having the ability to explore his identity. Yet he is aware that not everyone celebrates people who identify the way he does, and some people may even take advantage of him.

After moving out of his family home and into his own apartment, Lawrence has learned more about himself, the kind of relationships he wants to be in and the friends he wants to have, and how to discern healthy relationships from unhealthy ones.

When Lawrence first lived on his own he had a small apartment and no real space to make his art, Monica shares. With time, Lawrence found a larger apartment with studio space that makes it easier for him to store, organize and find his art supplies, to do his research, and to create.

It is clear from the photos and drawings Lawrence brought to the interview that being able to make changes — in his art and in his life — is significant to him as an artist and as a person. Repetition, variation in scale, minute details, and mass quantities fascinate him. One might even call him obsessed. As humans, we can all become preoccupied by a particular thought, subject, person, or thing from time to time and have to learn how to work through those thought patterns. Lawrence’s artwork lends itself to thinking about how a creative, innovative person can commit themself to working out complex thoughts and feelings in a positive way through art making.

Through his artwork, Lawrence explores the many questions and observations he has about the world, the subjects that pique his interest—spurred on by his frequent and earnest questioning of “why is that?”

what inspires you as an artist?

“His creativity happens every hour of the day and only stops when the project is complete,” says Monica with a slight smile.

“He is inspired by the music he listens to when he’s making art,” says Monica. Lawrence says that music makes him want to create, run, and laugh. He especially likes listening to The Stylistics because he loves hearing the man sing falsetto, Lawrence shares. “[The voice] sounds feminine,” Lawrence says with a big smile. He is fascinated by the practice of having to concentrate on making a certain sound, or a particular range of sounds, in order to make it. “He had to practice to get that voice,” Lawrence exclaims, adding that he likes to sing while making art.

Are their other artists you like to spend time with and who inspire you?

Monica shares that about ten years ago Lawrence was a part of a community of artists that supported him on his artistic path. “Lawrence was always allowed to go early [to] and stay late [at the studio],” she says. “Artists stayed overnight while he finished works. He made lots of friends in the art community. Most of them were young college students who worked at Project Grow. It provided him with a different kind of freedom in expression.”

“The art community [Lawrence] used to have has dissipated,” Monica shares, noting that it became a more regimented program. While this art program Lawrence use to be a part of is desriable and beneficial to many of its participants, Lawrence decided it was no longer a good match for him.

Lawrence wearing a white button-down shirt and black pants stands in front of a white gallery wall with the decal “We." the title of the group exhibition he was featured in at the Portland Art Museum. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lawrence wearing a white button-down shirt and black pants stands in front of a white gallery wall with the decal “We." the title of the group exhibition he was featured in at the Portland Art Museum. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Relationships and friendships are also important to Lawrence and his growth as an artist. At the Q Center, Lawrence met his friend Claire. He shares how Claire helps him remember that “I’m okay the way I am. It’s okay to be Lawrence. God has given [me] a wonderful talent.” Lawrence turns to Monica and asks her to confirm if Claire is his friend. Monica reassures him that Claire, and people like her, are indeed examples of a good friend. Have you exhibited your work before? Where?

Monica shares that Lawrence exhibited his work in a group exhibit called “WE.” at the Portland Art Museum. It was at this exhibit that someone bought his mushroom sculpture, she shares.

How Have you grown as an artist over time?

Over the past ten years, with the desire to read on the computer, Lawrence has taught himself how to read. He now is able to read the subtitles of the movies he watches. But his primary motivation for learning to read was to be able to do his own research for his art online. Now he can read books that describe different artistic techniques, as well as books about the subjects he likes to create through his art, such trees.

“[A]rt making provides a positive, healthy focus on channeling unpredictable creativity and a desire to be known,” shares Monica.

Have you exhibited your artwork before? Where?

Monica and Lawrence share that he exhibited his work in a group exhibition called “WE.” the Portland Art Museum. Monica turns to Lawrence to confirm that it was at this exhibit that he sold his mushroom sculpture. He nods in agreement.

How does it feel to exhibit your artwork?

“Really happy,” says Lawrence.

Do you sell your work? If someone wants to buy your artwork, how might they do that?

Monica and Lawrence both share that he sells his work through Art Store at Portland Art and Learning as well as through exhibitions, such as “WE.” at Portland Art Museum. “At the Art Store,” Monica explains, “they provide materials and Lawrence gets a percentage of the sale. He often uses this to buy art supplies in bulk from the store.”

 
Close-up image of a bouquet of blue flowers individually made of paper by Lawrence. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Close-up image of a bouquet of blue flowers individually made of paper by Lawrence. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Why do you like buying your art supplies in bulk?

Lawrence smiles at this question and says that he likes, “Livin’ large.”

Glue, pencils, paints, and puzzles are on his list of supplies he buys en masse. To help him cut down on costs, Monica has helped him organize his new apartment to make finding supplies easier so that he’s less inclined to buy a new set of paints or pencils.

Personal support workers, including Monica, help Lawrence stay organized, be creative, and save money. In the Marie Kondo era we find ourselves in, I believe most of us can appreciate the need for support in cleaning out our closets and organizing our things in order to de-clutter our lives and relieve stress.

Organization has helped Lawrence in several ways. He notes that “it’s hard to create when dealing with depression.” His supports help remind him to go on walks, exercise regularly, and to eat healthy, all of which help support his overall health and ability to create.

Lawrence casually leans against a building with his hands in his pockets, smiling at the camera. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lawrence casually leans against a building with his hands in his pockets, smiling at the camera. Photo courtesy of the artist.

How have brokerage support services helped you live independently and pursue a career as an artist?

Brokerage support services and direct supports, such as Monica, have been instrumental in helping Lawrence implement a health and safety plan. His personal agent (PA) and personal support worker (PSW) help Lawrence set goals and outline steps to achieve them. Together they have worked on finding an apartment that suits Lawrence, activities that he will find fulfilling, opportunities to make money, and meeting people who appreciate him for him, like his friend Claire.

Lawrence desires to be in a loving relationship, have a family, and a home with an art studio, he says. He wants to be surrounded by creatives and people who look at and appreciate his art work. “Not weirdos and druggies,” quips Lawrence, who struggled to meet people and create healthy relationships when he first moved out of his family home and into his own apartment.

Monica shares that Lawrence is learning when it is appropriate to walk up to strangers on the street to ask for feedback, and when it is not. He is also learning, as many of us are, to take criticism better. “He always wants people to be happy, and to receive him well,” says Monica. Taking feedback—however constructive it is meant to be—can be hard.

“He’s a very black-and-white thinker,” says Monica. Throughout the interview Lawrence actively asks clarifying questions, often wondering “why is that?” in an effort to understand people’s behavior, thinking, as well as commentary about his artwork. For someone who might experience the world as black-and-white, Lawrence’s artwork is anything but clear cut, straightforward, or easily labeled and explained. Much like Lawrence asks, “why is that?” his artwork invites viewers to ask similar questions of his artwork. Why is that? A seemingly small and simple question prods one to explore the nuanced complexities of human existence, experience, and expression.

Lawrence smiling widely, clasping his hands together in front of fern and moss covered boulders on a nature walk. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lawrence smiling widely, clasping his hands together in front of fern and moss covered boulders on a nature walk. Photo courtesy of the artist.

What is next for you in your artistic pursuits?

Lawrence was recently chosen to participate in the 2019 Field of View (FOV) Residency at Public Annex, which will provide him with studio space and access to an artist mentor to work on his project of choice. The residency also provides artists with a stipend and culminates in a gallery exhibition. The 2018 FOV residency was exhibited at Wollf Gallery in Southeast Portland in February 2018.

Lawrence is in the beginning stages of the residency and is still learning about what it will entail. He is excited to have the opportunity to make and share more art.

At Community Pathways, we look forward to seeing where the FOV residency takes Lawrence artistically and how it will help bolster the public’s knowledge about his artistic practice. We wish him the best!

For more information about Lawrence and his art work, please contact his PSW Monica Laws. Community Pathways can put you in contact with Lawrence and his support team. Call us at (503) 935-5243 ext. 228. To learn more about the 2019 FOV Residency, visit the Public Annex website.