The Lawrimore Project

Lately, I have been making an effort to view more art. Granted, this is hardly a new thing, but the difference is that I have decided that I am going to venture beyond the “safe” areas of the Seattle Art Museum: I am going to begin gallery-hopping. This has been brewing for a while — the trips to the SF MoMA and the Vik Muniz show have confirmed for me that exciting things are happening in the contemporary art world, and the only way to glimpse the froth bubbling forth is to peer in at the galleries where new artists are showing; once work gets to a museum it is already sealed, bottled, ready for mass consumption. I want to see art while it is still raw, still fermenting.

So, having decided this, I felt that my first mark should be the Lawrimore Project in the SODO district of Seattle. I’ve read about the Lawrimore Project a few times (notably, a recent article in the Stranger), and I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to go there a few times. A shot of the exterior of the Lawrimore Project from the LP’s own website:

<image deleted – go look it up for yourself, or better yet, go visit!>

Lawrimore Project ~ 831 Airport Way South (exterior)

They have helpfully inserted a little arrow to show you the entrance here, but you must understand that when I went on Saturday (not the day of rest, but the Day of Art), I had no such guide, it was rainy and wet and cold, and this building looks almost dilapidated, save for the painted pink corner with a teeny tiny Lawrimore Project logo on the lower corner. This road is Airport Way, and it is busy and forboding, there is no free parking, and the neighborhood is sketchy to say the least. It took a while to find parking (a block away), and then once I approached the building, I had to find the door. Ha! Easy, yes?

I have no idea what this building was originally, but it was probably some 60’s office building; I’m fairly sure the original entrance was just to the right under the pink painted part of the building. There is a door here, a locked door that I tried on Saturday. There is a little porch, too, and a stair with a gate in front of it a little further on. In the window, I could see a jumble of things — a broken chair, various mishmash. I couldn’t tell what all was here, but it did not look like a gallery. To my right was two parallel driveways; the second had a car in it…but no door. Maybe the door was around the back? I knew there was a parking lot down below.

As I tromped down to the very back of the building (and around the entirety of the city block, as I had to circumnavigate a second pay parking lot), it occurred to me that approaching this gallery was a great deal like summoning the courage to talk to the hottest guy in the room, who will only meet your gaze fleetingly. Most galleries have big, gorgeous windows and seem to beckon COME ON IN!! Lawrimore Project was playing coyly with me: it knew that it was the hottest game in town, the sexiest shows, and it was going to play hard to get. There was a door, and I would have to find it. I’d stopped a couple times before and poked around briefly, and been put off by the fact that it “looked closed,” but hadn’t realized then that LP was playing coy with me. Yet here I was stomping around in the rain with my bright yellow umbrella in a sketchy neighborhood wondering how to get into a gallery that everyone else seemed to be raving about. I was beginning to feel damn stupid.

I got down to the lower parking lot, and to my dismay, found only cyclone fencing, blackberry brambles, asphalt, and the back of the building. There weren’t even any locked doors. Shit. Ok, back up to the peculiar pink corner to reassess. There must be a door. I have three hours before the gallery closes, and I am not going home until I find the door. Standing back under the pink corner, I survey once more and look down the driveway and realize that I see a narrow crack of light between what appear to be two heavy cast iron panels at the end of the driveway! And! A tiny doorbell! Ah ha! I approach and press the small, cast iron nub. Bing! Yes! As I wait, I realize that there is a narrow protrusion from the panel that is a handle. Then, yes, the door swings open, and a gallery appears behind a handsome gentleman while I ask, still clutching my yellow umbrella, “there really is a gallery here, yes?” “Ah, yes, you have found us! The door is just a little heavy!” Such relief. I have persevered and won! I set down my damp umbrella on the concrete inside and came in to drink in the art!

And what art did the Lawrimore Project have! I was not disappointed! The front room is the largest, and had the biggest pieces. I was immediately drawn to Gordon Terry’s pieces: though they are thoroughly modern, they drawn on organic, marine influences, and pulse with liquid luminescence. This piece was on display, and I was transfixed:

<another broken image now deleted – google it; looks like two jellyfish on a black background, one green, one blue>

Gordon Terry ~ Sky Observes Time, 2007

It was massive – the copy I found online says it was 96 by 72 inches, so, 8 ft by 6 ft? When I entered the gallery, my glasses were damp, so as I approached this, I took them off. My vision up close is so much clearer anyway (the surface on my glasses is doing strange things – I need to replace the lenses), and I was struck by how sensuous this work was. It’s totally plastic; apparently the artist has an enormous glass table that is suspended in the air, controlled by pulleys on the x and y axis. He pours the colors onto the tabletop and manipulates them with hot air and moving the table on the x and y axes, and then he’ll pour in the black (or in the other piece in the gallery, white) background; the whole process is completed without his hands physically coming in contact with the pigment until the work is dry and cool. Despite being created in a glass table, the surface of the work isn’t entirely smooth; the black areas are, but the coloured areas have crazy craquelure like a fantastic ceramic glaze, and dizzying oily swirls. The edges of the piece are smooth and rounded, as if the entire work has been popped out of a baking dish (reminds me of when I’ve made caramel). Honestly, standing three inches away, I was totally overwhelmed by the desire to lick the acrylic. I don’t imagine it would have tasted very good, but even writing about it now, the impulse returns just as strongly.

When I stood thirty feet off from Terry’s work, I found it a little less compelling. I look at it now, and the image, globular as it is, still holds together, in part because he has managed to keep it so spare. He has not gotten too excited by his medium and over-used his materials, crowded his field, muddied his colours. But, I look at this again, and I think, what does he have to say?? With conceptual art, there are far fewer signposts to guide the viewer when understanding an artwork; the organic form – the evocation of the ocean, that primordial breeding place – is a place to start. The second cue is the title, Sky Observes Time, which, I dunno, sounds like a Damien Hirst title: it sounds fraught with meaning, yet really is rather empty. Is the blackness of this image the sky? Is the green globe the “sky”? Does it represent a kind of “sun”? Is the blue blob a reference to a primordial ocean, a place of potential, the essence of time? All that is and was and shall be? I don’t know.

(A quick google search for Terry Gordon does not turn up anything by way of an Artist Statement, but it does turn up a review in the Village Voice, which suggests that my impulse to read Terry’s images exclusively sensually is probably the correct one. There probably isn’t much below the surface, alas, and any attempts to plumb any further likely won’t be rewarded. These are, I suspect, like sweet treats: they do hit the spot occasionally, but certainly won’t sustain you every day. And $20,000 per piece! Not a place to start your collection! I’d rather buy a dead cow in a vitrine, thanks!)

Once I peeled myself away from wanting to lick the acrylic, I made my way to the back rooms, where the Lawrimore project had a handful of paintings (ok, they had lots of other things, but I’m trying to get to the highlights) by Robert Hardgrave. Oh! I took one look at this, and nearly wept.

Robert Hardgrave - The Nocturne, 2006

Robert Hardgrave ~ The Nocturne, 2007

It is rare that a work makes me want to weep, but this one did. There is a spot up towards the upper middle left of the painting, where the white and black tears come down, you can just make out a pink rose that is somewhat obscured by a black smudge from the tears undulating above it. If you get up close to the work, the little rose is pink and gold – it shimmers – and the black paint is shiny and translucent, and taints the rose so, making it seem fragile, damaged. The rose is so small, slightly more than a quarter in diameter? I leaned away and held back my tears.

Hardgrave’s work is not exclusively painting, though I think he does paint every surface. You can see in the egg-shaped section on the right that he has stamped (probably on hand-cut linoleum tiles?) designs on separate sheets and then decoupaged them to the surface of the canvas. There are several places on the canvas where he has overlapped different “wallpaper” sections with such organic shapes and patterns, and then painted additional colors and textures besides. Somehow, this does not devolve into visual cacophany, and each time I view this painting, there is a new pattern to discover, a new color to explore, a new texture to feel out with my eyes.

According to Robert Hardgrave’s artist statement, he suffered kidney failure and required a kidney transplant. He subsequently developed cancer in his new kidney and underwent six months of chemotherapy. He found the entire ordeal to be wholly transformative, and it spurred his creative energies, giving new life to his painting. It is not hard to see a little Hardgrave’s travail as the looming black hand of death over my small rose in the image above. And, one could argue that the sensuous “intenstinal” shapes are borne of his own abdominal troubles. He is a self-taught artist, and his work certainly has a folk art feel. But I can’t help feeling that there is something profound at work here.

When I was in the gallery, I showed this piece (and one of the others by Hardgrave) to the gallery manager, and spoke with him a bit about them. Hardgrave reminds me a little bit, in a small way, of Sue Williams. I told the gallery manager about the Williams’ piece at the SAM, Blue and Gold in Short Skirt (or whatever it’s called) — when I walked past it the first time, it just looked like a bunch of squiggles in blue and gold ink on a white canvas. And then you come back and look…and you realize, OH. That’s…SEX. Yeah. Sue Williams has some serious repressed stuff going on. Her work is good, but it is suggestive and on the border between R and X rated. For Williams, sex is all she has to say — sex and power dynamics. There is no sensuality, no subtlety, no letting these jumbled images of round forms stand in for warm, beautiful, sensuous shapes that you just want to touch. But here, this is all I want to do; just as I was overcome with the urge to lick Gordon Terry’s painting, I want to crawl inside this one: the swirling image conveys an ecstasy to me that is soothing, comforting, sensual. Let me run my hands over those round forms, caress and kiss them, nestle into that mass of patterned color the way I squirm under my feather comforter on a frigid night!

So, I hope Hardgrave makes it as a Great Artist. He may only ever be a Great Folk Artist, but he’s very, very good at what he does. My laptop is currently in the shop because it’s having difficulties, and I’m terribly afraid that the computer nerds are going to tell me that the motherboard is fried. Even if I have to replace it, the painting above costs the same as a new laptop. I think a painting will retain its value far longer than a laptop and make me much, much happier. Don’t you?

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~ by ecp on January 29, 2008.

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