Claude Lawrence

For the self-taught abstract painter Claude Lawrence, art and music have always been intimately connected. Growing up in the 1940s on the South Side of Chicago, surrounded by a vibrant jazz and visual arts scene, he was barely five years old the first time he felt drawn to painting, and just fourteen when he picked up a saxophone.

Out of high school, he became a professional saxophone player, joined a jazz trio, and performed all over the United States until the 1980s, when a psychic friend told him he would soon pursue a different vocation. “Maybe a day or so later, I got into painting,” Lawrence recalls.

Music’s deep influence on Lawrence’s oeuvre is palpable in the paintings’ visual compositions. Highly gestural, with vibrant geometric forms depicted in rich hues oftentimes emphasized by dynamic black strokes, it’s not hard to imagine the artist creating the paintings in his Sag Harbor studio, guided by the vibrations of music. “You can do a dance with the colors when there’s music on in the background,” Lawrence says of his process. “I build a dialogue with each painting. It speaks to me, it tells me where it wants to go, and when it gets there, it’s born. It’s done.”

Lawrence has created works held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the Studio Museum in Harlem over the course of his six-decade career. But it wasn’t until a few years ago, after moving back to the Black cultural enclave of Sag Harbor, New York (where he lived in the 1990s), that he had the opportunity to show his paintings regularly, with solo exhibitions at galleries like Anthony Meier in San Francisco, Keyes Art in Sag Harbor, David Lewis in East Hampton, and The LAB in Seattle.

(artist bio via Keyes Art)

(images via W Magazine, David Lewis Gallery, The Brooklyn Rail, & The LAB Seattle)


Videos Featuring Claude Lawrence

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