David Kordansky Gallery is pleased to present Thomas Lawson: 1977-1987, a selection of paintings and works on paper by Thomas Lawson. Early drawings, collages and ad hoc models, often created alongside his seminal paintings, will offer new ways of considering the historical importance of Lawson’s work. The opening reception will be held on Saturday, March 28th from 6 to 9pm, and the exhibition will be on view at David Kordansky Gallery’s Culver City space through May 2, 2009.
Born and raised in Scotland, Thomas Lawson established his career in New York in the late 70s and early 80s. His associations with and chronicling of the Pictures artists has provided a context for much of the painting he did in his youth. As he explains in a 2005 interview “I didn’t really start thinking about the theoretical side of painting until after the “Pictures” essay [by Douglas Crimp] came out, in trying to think out what that meant in some way as a painter.” Lawson was active amongst artists who sought to infuse painting and photography with both a political critique of representation, and an ironic acknowledgement of the pleasure of looking at mass media.
Through an awareness of the ideological structure of image making, and his use of appropriation, Lawson’s works became an influential alternative to conceptual art and newly popular neo-expressionist painting. As Lawson said in 1984 “it is difficult to make art in a period like this . . . if you are burdened with a critical consciousness.” In Lawson’s case, however, the burden of critical consciousness was always tempered by a belief in gesture, intuition, allegory and narrative; expressive tools that balanced the ironic and detached tone so often associated with the Pictures artists.
Spirit of the Museum (1987), one of the paintings included in this exhibition, exemplifies these concerns. A field of blue brushstrokes acknowledges abstraction’s art historical precedents (impressionism, Yves Klein’s blue, Rothko and Newman’s color-fields), but is paired with the shadowy image of a classic architectural space containing a lone yellow central figure. Here, the primary subject of most Western painting—the human figure—is shown as a golden idol that hovers. Likewise, one imagines the spirit of the museum as the Geist of aesthetic philosophy, at once overworked and submerged through the act of painting, suspended in the ruins of art historical lineage. In To Those Who Follow After (1983), the image of classic statues on opposing platforms along with the title reflects the hope and ambivalence of an ambitious young painter reckoning with the monumental weight of the past, and the airy insubstantiality of an unknown future.
Other works show a degree of experimentation and process not often seen in the Pictures Generation artists. The Figures series of drawings show multiple perspectives of a figure inside a mirrored room; compositions based on dioramas constructed by Lawson in 1976. A blue and red clothed man is seen interacting with his reflection, Scottish bagpipe players and highland dancers in box-like settings that recall Dan Graham’s glass pavilions. These images depend on low-tech processes of construction and replication, and echo the seriality of Lawson’s photocopy-based multiples, also included in the exhibition.
Thomas Lawson’s exhibition coincides with the opening of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s survey of artists of the Pictures Generation. Lawson’s early works contribute to this important historical reevaluation by broadening the parameters of what we think of as appropriated images, and also shows Lawson’s particular influence on a younger generation of artists who employ appropriation as just one of many tools available in the construction of multivalent works.
Thomas Lawson is currently the Dean of the School of Art at California Institute for the Arts. He has exhibited paintings at MetroPictures in New York, Anthony Reynolds in London and LAXART in Los Angeles. Surveys of his work have been organized by the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art at La Jolla, the CCA in Glasgow and the Battersea Arts Centre in London. He has created temporary public works in New York, New Haven, Glasgow, Newcastle and Madrid. An anthology of his writing, Mining for Gold, was published in 2005 by JRP/Ringier. From 1979 until 1992 he, along with Susan Morgan, published and edited REAL LIFE Magazine, an irregular publication by and about younger artists interested in the relationship between art and life. He has received three Artist Fellowships from the NEA, project support from Art Matters, Inc., and Visual Arts Projects, and a residency fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. He lives and works in Los Angeles.