Geoffrey Laurence, Painting is about looking not speaking
I was born in Patterson, New Jersey not long after the end of World WII. My parents were naturalized Americans, refugees from Silesia (a country that no longer exists) and holocaust survivors. When I was 4, my parents moved to England, where I was educated and lived for the next 38 yrs. I attended three art schools in England over seven years during which time I became very interested in learning the skills of drawing and painting that I had observed in many classical paintings.
Over the next 20 years I worked freelance in various different art related fields. I worked as an illustrator for magazines such as Woman’s World and Look Now, a graphic designer for companies like BP and Pineapple, as a photographer for a London newspaper and as a designer for various fashion companies like Muscle Sport, Pamplemouse, Katherine Hamnett as well as designing T shirt ranges for Walt Disney, Burton and French Connection. In the 90’s I became an interior designer and designed restaurants in London for the Zen chain and others. My work was featured in Royal Institute of British Architects magazine, Vogue and the London Evening Standard.
During those years, I focused as much time as was available to drawing and painting the figure and exhibited whenever I was offered the opportunity to. I returned to full-time study of classical painting techniques and in 1992 moved to New York where I received my Masters degree Cum Laude at the New York Academy of Art. In 1996 I moved to New Mexico, where I continue to work and live.
My childhood exposure to the arts has always been a foundation for the life long intensity of response I feel toward painting and drawing. The work of other painters, from cave paintings to European masterworks, offered both fascination and real comfort from a kind of loneliness and isolation I felt as a young boy. I received so much meaning and direction from the work of other artists that as a result I have continuously tried to be as devoted and generous by giving back through my own work and teaching.
I am suspicious of too much ‘talking about’ art and not enough ‘doing’. Painting is about looking not speaking. Our current society has been overrun with ‘experts’ who want to explain art without ever having experienced its creation. It is particularly apparent in the reams of ‘art speak’ that are necessary today to justify and explain the majority of contemporary conceptual art.
I believe that mark making is a lot older than verbal language. We were poking around with sticks in the sand before we were writing on walls. This primal longevity is still a major part of being human, a sacred distinction of the soul that will always separate us and elevate us from being merely mechanical. The striving and longing to establish and re-establish ourselves in this way is reflected in the technical accomplishments of artistic mastery during the many centuries that we have been making paintings.
As I watch my own work evolve, two general themes appear evident in the work of the last twenty years. The first, an intention and struggle to find and maintain a link between classical painting pre-1900 and modern painting since 1900 and a desire to solve the problem of preventing the one from denying the other. I feel very much the pressure of 600 years of art and yet wish to make paintings that are in every sense, if possible, contemporary to my time.
The second is a continuing dialogue and attempt to find meaningful pictorial response to the Holocaust, mainly a result of my being the offspring of concentration camp survivors and feeling very much connected emotionally for me to the tragic history of my family. The fact that the events of the Holocaust are only 75 yrs away from the present gives a measure of urgency to the need to understand the horrors that were and continue to be perpetrated by humans against humans.
I do not consider myself a naturalistic realist nor do I currently have any interest in creating an entertaining magic trick of illusionist experience for the viewer on a flat surface. The easy descent into nostalgia for past art forms which much ‘realism’ today provides, does not satisfy my needs from contemporary painting. I am more concerned with the difficulty of creating emotional responses through the work and with the painting process, of moving and experiencing paint in different ways with a brush and above all of engaging the viewer in an emotional narrative. All figure painting is by its very nature artificial and an abstraction from the experience of observed life – I have yet to see a figure in a painting step out into real life! I do not believe photographic reality conveys the depth of human observational experience, it conveys mechanical reproduction of light particles bouncing off surfaces, nothing more. However, I find myself currently attempting to integrate the digital world’s acceptance of photographic reality as the language of choice into my work along with my desire to continue paint from life in order to construct narratives that reflect contemporary life.
I would rather describe myself an ’emotionalist’ than a ‘realist’ painter. I desire to make my communication easily recognizable and thus rely on a ‘realistic’ language but I primarily focus on its subliminal emotional effect. I hope you enjoy looking at the work and that it provokes inner response.