Made In L.A. is coming to the Hammer, Barnsdall Park, LAXART, and billboards around town on June 2 and will showcase sixty emerging, under-recognized Los Angeles artists–one of which will be voted to win a $100,000 prize. In order to help you make an educated vote this summer, we’re counting down to Made In L.A. by showcasing each artist participating in the biennial.
Thomas Lawson is a painter and writer in Los Angeles who is actually in quite a position of power: he is the Dean of the School of Art at CalArts.
Lawson’s work revolves around paintings and drawings of people, often interesting and obscured takes on representing people. They all have a hand in art history, very often paying homage to eras past in art history like Rococo. Instead of showcasing these people naturally, he instead puts them through a filtration system of colors and patterns, usually painting them in bright hues and with polka dots or lines over them, nearly making them unrecognizable to what they are based off of. He also has weaved in narratives of history into his work as seen in slightly off portraits of thinkers of the past and commentary on current war through representation of the world and its crimes.
What makes Lawson a big figure, whose list of credits extend far beyond the reach of this post, is his writing work. He’s written tons and tons of essays on art and activity surrounding it, which has put him in a position to constantly be critiqued in light of his beliefs on art. His essay/manifesto “Last Exit: Painting” from 1981 was published in Artforum and seems to be a part of his history that is still chasing him to this day, critiques constantly placing his work against his writing. It’s a very interesting position to be in as he is the critic, the philosopher, and the artist, someone who juggles a lot in terms of artistic identity.
And, atop of all of that, he’s a Dean at CalArts! This is only pointed out because he is placed against several CalArts graduates who are doing equally as stellar work but are right out of school. It’s a very interesting thing to look at especially in relationship to all of them vying for the $100K prize: his inclusion as an under recognized artist (at least under recognized on the West coast) seems like a move made by a reality television producer to create a juicy storyline. Regardless, Lawson’s work is great and we’re sure we’ll be seeing his obscured portraits at Made In L.A.–we just wonder how his history and persona will tie into it.