Oct 17 - Dec 5, 2020
Josée Bienvenu Gallery
By NOAH BECKER, October 28, 2020
Ted Lawson is an artist worth knowing about. I met him in Miami and then later had some important interactions with the artist in Brooklyn. The following discussion took place after Lawson's solo exhibition opened in New York City at Josée Bienvenu Gallery.
NOAH BECKER: You have an advanced level of craft to everything you make. What is it about this next level ability to make things that interests you?
TED LAWSON: I had a fantasy when I was very young about being able to make anything in any medium. I didn’t realize at the time that that idea could become a huge burden as well. Now it's just way too late to go back - so I embrace it fully. More important than learning any particular craft, though, is the ability to give yourself the permission to follow an idea or process far enough that it reaches a poetic or evocative place. I really am looking for the most efficient way to get there, but I often end up taking the scenic route. I learn most of my best stuff on the side roads.
NB: Is there an artist that inspires you?
TL: There are thousands of artists that inspire me. It would take forever to name them all so I hate giving a weird partial list. Some are close friends that I see regularly. Others go all the way back into art history - or even before that, completely anonymous artifacts. I honestly love to stroll into another artist's territory, hang out there for a bit and then stroll out. I feel like I can get away with it because I have such a respect for their skills and their craft and will only stay if I can hold my own. Doesn't really matter if they are mainly doing abstraction or classical figuration, new media - or whatever. I look at the whole catalog of art as a point of departure. I might be looking at aspects of Bernini, Brancusi and Martin Puryear (for example) in one piece. My favorite artist of the last 100 years is probably Stanley Kubrick. I can’t seem to stop watching Jamian Juliano-Villani’s instagram live-streams (usually at 2 in the morning). She inspires me every time.
NB: I look at your work and it's scary and beautiful at the same time. Would you call this "the Uncanny" or how do you navigate the moods of your works?
TL: Well, I never actually set out to make something scary. I'm really searching for some kind of truth underneath all these little illusions and lies that are necessary to stay functioning in society... in the world. To do that I feel like I have to pass through so many layers of my own fears and anxieties that maybe the objects start recording them somehow. I must be searching for beauty as well, because until I can get there I won't seem to allow myself to finish the piece. Anything that doesn't make it just goes straight into the dumpster even after months of struggle, wasted time and money. I think I’m being hilarious when I'm developing the ideas, but then my obsessive process always seems to scrub all the humor out and what's left is something oddly uncomfortable... The uncanny just happens, I'm not completely in control of it. I just know it when I see it and that's when I let myself stop.
NB: I met you in Miami then spent some time discussing art with you in Brooklyn. How is it being in New York during the pandemic?
TL: I mean, New Yorkers are not strangers to epic disasters and I feel like everyone kind of knows the drill here. We’re all packed in together so there's some extra respect for safety protocols and it doesn't feel political to wear a mask or anything. At the beginning of the pandemic I really couldn't function for about a month, I was just basically living in virtual reality. I didn't even know if this show was going to happen or if there would ever be shows again. At some point I started to realize there was really nothing else to do besides throw myself into the work and I began spending 12-14 hours a day in the studio without taking any days off. I guess it was a form of denial at first, but a few months later (past the social upheaval, the unimaginable deaths and the constant fear and loathing) the city seems to have poked its head out the other side. I feel safer now in NYC than anywhere else I would go. We're living in the new normal (whatever that is) and things have begun to open back up and I managed to open a solo show in spite of everything so I'm cautiously optimistic about the future. What else can we all do? WM
Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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