By Amy Abrams
For artist Charles Lawrance, life began smack-dab in the middle of New York City’s art scene at Metropolitan Museum of Art, where his mother’s water broke; a perfect start for this prodigy of painting. Charles was one of those brainiac kids rendering medieval warriors and dinosaurs, as well as winning art awards, while his peers drew stick figures alongside lopsided houses with one line of smoke curling from the chimney. Unlike many parents, who shower accolades on their artsy kids while sounding a message, loud and clear, to dabble all you wish but pursue a real career, Lawrance’s parents sincerely encouraged his passion. His childhood home in rural New York, where a thick forest and trout stream offered afternoons immersed in the marvels of nature, sparked him to revere and replicate the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
Today, the Annapolis artist features his paintings and prints celebrating nature on West Street, where his art studio hums with creative inspiration. Fusing decades of research to accurately depict animals and fish, as well as their land- and seascapes, with a flamboyant imagination, Lawrance cleverly juxtaposes incongruencies for a surrealistic style. “I want to create art that’s inspirational, but I’m also aiming to offer the viewer a new reality—to bend their mind,” he says.
Odd pairings of objects, figures and animals, often showcased in warped scale, place the viewer as if Alice peering through the looking glass. Successfully playing with perspective, the artist puts us underwater or flying through mid-air. While whimsical, with adept draftsmanship, these altered realities provoke serious questions about human existence. “Who am I?” we may wonder or, “What is life about?” we may ask. Dreamscapes paired with realistic imagery have been the essential tools in the toolbox of surrealism from the start, yet Lawrance adds present-day themes including environmentalism and the hazards of our high-tech culture, sounding alarms about contemporary society.
In Octorilla, Lawrance portrays an octopus and gorilla, hence the painting’s kitschy name. Front and center, an elaborate octopus grasping a cell phone in one of its eight arms emits its infamous black ink, a defense strategy against predators. From this inky infusion, a gorilla emerges, holding a banana. In today’s society, the cell phone is the new banana—an essential means of survival. While the imagery is humorous, the message is not. Among the most intelligent of invertebrates, the octopus (with no skeleton), adeptly squeezes through tight places; a metaphor for navigating our rapidly tech-centric society lacking elemental sustenance. Out there in the choppy water sans nourishment for the soul, modern man has drastically changed the rules and the outcome seems, um, spotty—at best. Varied paintings and prints by the artist explore other “advances” of industrialized society as a wake-up call for championing environmentalism. Frequent use of images depicting tribal lifestyles, including varied Native American cultures, illustrate the importance of honoring and respecting Earth and its inhabitants.
Fish are signature icons in Lawrance’s artworks. FINART, a fishy and witty “take” on fine art was the name of his venerable Baltimore gallery for a dozen years prior to his relocation to Annapolis and the opening of FINNAPOLIS, two years ago. Drawn to the charm of historic Annapolis and unique beauty of its shoreline, when not creating art, you can find Lawrance paddling his kayak, enjoying his favorite sport: fishing. Inspired by the ancient Japanese technique of recording one’s catch, gyotaku, Lawrance uses his catch of the day to create a print by inking up the fish scales, pressing mulberry paper onto his “subject” and hand-pulling a print, finally mounted on wood and coated with clear glaze. Popular among collectors, these images line the walls of homes and offices, locally and nationally. Snorkeling and underwater diving inform the artist about the unique, surrealistic light below the water’s surface, masterfully captured to depict an otherworldly environment. In Pura Vita Water Walking, a large-scale canvas recently featured in a prominent Florida museum show, Lawrance portrays two children, each representing the artist’s primary themes. One child lassoes a shark, illustrating human co-existence with even the most unruly of the kingdom; the second child manifests—seemingly magically—a made-up creature (a cat/squid) in celebration of artistic imagination.
Prior to his career as a fine artist, Lawrance hit the big time as a commercial artist with big-name clients including Red Bull and Virgin Records. In addition to a strong presence in the graphic design market, he creates murals for exterior walls and retail interiors, for which he has also become well-known.
Evolution of the species is another frequent theme in the artist’s highly imaginative and finely rendered alternate universes. Yet, in real life, Lawrance has transformed his own career. Multidimensional and fiercely individual, this artist is poised for continued growth and success.
Finnapolis Art Gallery
214 West Street