I love interviewing artists. The story behind the artist is almost always multi-dimensional and adds another lens through which to see their work. This was true of my discussion with Charles Lawrance. It was an easy conversation; he’s a soft-spoken, even-tempered guy. His work stands alone of course, as all good artwork does, but I wanted to know about his roots in art, as well as the evolution of his terrific studio/gallery space.
Charles works in his studio, “FinArt” on West Street, located in the Annapolis Arts District. He moved there five years ago, while the Arts District was still rather dormant. He’s a prolific artist, and until recently, winding your way through his studio was like venturing through a treasure cave with an underwater theme. A mermaid statue here, an enormous fantasy painting there, fish carvings and all sorts of art items hanging and standing. It wasn’t a mess – it was just full! I remember being in there a few times thinking I could get lost and not be heard from for quite a while, and that would be okay.
Last December, Charles decided to open up his studio to create a space that would showcase other artists as well as his own art. A house around the corner became available and with the shared backyard and easy connection, the multi-artist Studio 11 was born. Some of these studio artists are among the 10 artists that show at FinArt, which now has a casually clean and friendly feel when you first enter, with regular gallery hours. A newly painted vibrant storefront with a contemporary sign created from repurposed lettering combine to give you a pretty good idea of what you might see inside. This transition was well timed, now that the Arts District on his end of the street is becoming livelier with restaurants nearby. Of course, it is symbiotic. FinArt and Studio 11 are contributing and in fact creating much of the energy that is growing.
But FinArt is still where Charles works. It is his studio, so when you come in he is likely to be standing at his easel, and his set up is permanent. He admits he might get more done if he was in a traditional studio, but he loves talking with the people that come in, and getting to know them. And, based on the tour he gave me of his storage room, it doesn’t seem to hurt his productivity!
He’s clearly comfortable in Annapolis, so you might get the impression he is a native. Originally from Mahopac, New York, his passion formed at a very young age – for nature and for art. As a child he would just copy nature – the pristine stream behind the house, sitting out in the woods or on a long hike, ocean fishing with his dad. Working with clay and drawing realism, he started entering shows in the 3rd and 4th grade. He received awards and realized that this was something he could do with his life, and he simply followed it.
He came to Maryland to attend MICA. He fell in love with Baltimore, the water, and the fisherman and set up a studio in Fells Point, painting there for 15 years. When that studio was no longer available he came to live and set up studio in Annapolis, and he loves it.
Chief Crunchy, acrylic on canvas by Charles Lawrance
His art is still grounded in nature, and it takes on many different forms. He portrays the interaction of nature and man’s role in it, like the image of garbage men picking up cans and the doing their work.
He clearly has a passion for the animal world and just about any living thing. He admitted that if I named any creature, he would probably have a fair amount of info on it. He combines the attraction to movement with the living thing, like a great horned owl swooping out of the blue in the snow. He does a lot of sketching and research first, but then will often start with a canvas with a general idea and have fun playing around and see what turns up. It’s organic, and it shows.
Then there’s the fantasy paintings, and works that combine elements or show things slightly distorted (yet they feel oddly normal), and sometimes playful. He tries to challenge himself to create works with a lot of elements that come together, to see things in a multi-layered universe.
And then there is the Gyotoku, something he has been experimenting with for 15 years (I think he’s mastered it!). Gyotoku is the transfer of paint from an actual fish. As with all his work, his output is unique; most artists create these prints onto paper or fabric; Charles transfers them to wood cut in the shape of the fish. It’s one of the wonderful attractions on the outside that draws you in.
Staying in touch with his Inspiration
His love of the water and fish is global. He fishes, kayaks, and sails with friends – a lot. He travels near and far, and fishes wherever he goes. His most recent trip was to Viet Nam, which was beautiful, he says, because it is not overbuilt. Saigon’s art scene is vibrant and the people are nice. He goes for the nature, but enjoys the people and the culture. Wherever he goes - Florida Keys, Philippines, Central and South America, islands just about anywhere – he does fish prints on location, and does trades. I was curious if these exotic environments and fish influenced or created changes in his artwork. There are subtle influences, he says, color and texture sometimes, but mostly he just gets refreshed and inspired to come back and do what he is doing.
I want his itinerary!
His does some illustration and street murals, as well as murals for restaurants and homes, but mostly, he gets to paint what he wants to paint. It appears to be that successful cycle of doing what he loves – and he loves what he does.
FinArt Gallery & Studios Exhibit
The spring show at FinArt is Native Current, and I highly recommend stopping in to see the work and say hello. They’re bound to invite you back for one of their many evening impromptu receptions! It’s a must stop on the Arts District route.
FinArt Artists: Charles Lawrance, Nevan & Doug Wise, Rachel Fry, Mark Peria, Michelle Lillie, Chris Pagent, Eric Roberge, Stewart Weiss, Jimi Haha.
Photos courtesy of Charles Lawrance and Patrice Drago