To have all the senses filled with excitement, color and texture. To translate the passion of everyday life with a delightful obsessive decorative quality. To make shimmering layered art from the chaos of our ever-changing multi media culture. To leave the audience overloaded and inspired to create for themselves. To take the banal and make it magical. To create a work of art that takes on it’s own life. To join hands with the Muses and jump with joy. To place Passion above all else. -John Lawson
Before Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, Lawson’s primary medium were his trademark Mardi Gras beads, picked up from the streets of New Orleans in the early mornings after the parades and parties. The creative and unique ways he used the beads is exemplified in War of the Worldz and Icarus. These works not only show Lawson’s meticulous and labor-intensive beading method, but also speak to his view of materialistic consumerism and his full-blown immersion and fascination with the under-culture of the city. As fate would have it, Lawson was out of town in Maine when he learned of hurricane Katrina – it was six weeks before he and his wife were allowed to return and sort through their personal belongings. Everything was ruined from being submerged in 10 feet of water. Determined, Lawson set to salvage over twenty-five years’ worth of soaked sketches and drawings from his studio flat files. By pulling the paper carefully apart he laid what was still intact onto the porch of a friend to dry in the sun. The piles of photographs though were less salvageable; in some the subject was still discernible, but for most the colors had bled into one another, creating abstractions in brilliant colors, which melted and crept eerily across the faces of family and friends. With these remains, about a third of his life’s work, Lawson began his journey of understanding the disaster that had changed his life forever. In this exhibition we are witness to Lawson’s mourning, healing and ultimate discovery of acceptance and hope. Relieved to be safely out of New Orleans, but feeling displaced, Lawson needed to create something that captured the essence of the city for him. He used the beads as a memorial to its Mardi Gras fame, and the photos as a memory of an everyday life there. However, the “everyday” is now so changed and damaged that it must be approached carefully through a curtain, each image a fragile icon to discover and revere. One of Lawson’s favorite quotations on life sums it up:
Life Is My Passion. “In the realm of taste, to be rasquache is to be unfettered and unrestrained, to favor the elaborate over the simple, the flamboyant over the severe. Bright colors (chillantes) are preferred to sombre, high intensity to low, the shimmering and sparkling to the muted and subdued. The rasquache inclination piles pattern on pattern, filling all available space with bold display. Ornamentation and elaboration prevail, joined to a delight for texture and sensuous surface.”—Tomas Ybarra-Frausto, 1991
John K. Lawson was born in Birmingham, England, in 1962 and raised mostly in the countryside until his family moved to South London when he was a young teenager. Lawson always knew from a very early age that he had the need to create. In Working Class England the word artist was never really in the vocabulary. Friends and family started calling him that long before he considered himself one. He first came to America on a student exchange program in engineering at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. There his artistic abilities were encouraged, and he returned to England two years later to concentrate on landscape painting. Eventually, Lawson was drawn back to the Deep South, and soon became part of an underground art culture in New Orleans that included working in tattoo, T-shirt and mural designs long before these mediums became mainstream. Lawson also became known for his unique drawing style and creations using discarded Mardi Gras beads. He covered mannequins, pianos, and drums with intricate beadwork, including a fifty-three-foot- long bar top at the notorious artists’ haven, the Audubon Hotel. The Audubon project was especially personal as this hotel, populated with a cast of crazy Cajun characters, set the scene for his top selling novel: Hurricane Hotel. The book recounts a rollicking street car ride into the underbelly of New Orleans and was started many moons ago while living in a small dive hotel on St Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, Lawson divides his time between studios in New York City and Great Barrington, Massachusetts where he lives with wife Aimée Michel and their five-year-old son, Sebastian.
“I tend to use the word gratitude rather than surprise. Every morning I look out of my studio window at all the folks working really hard, thankless jobs and inwardly thank the Universe for my lot in life.” – Lawson