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Review: Nick Lawrence at Angstrom Gallery

April 10, 2009 | 12:30 pm

Nick_lawrence_18 Nick Lawrence’s paintings at Angstrom Gallery fall into two groups: small square canvases from 1997 and larger, generally rectangular ones from 2009. This split highlights the differences between the two bodies of work and reveals the core of Lawrence’s art: burrowing into life’s loamy underbelly, where plants, animals and minerals thrive and die in a cycle ugly and beautiful.

The eight paintings from 1997 are raw and lovely, especially if you have a taste for things excavated, either from archaeological digs or deep, psychological probing.

A vestigial horizon line appears in many of these thickly encrusted works, as do vigorous smears of dirt-brown pigment, washy passages of organic olive greens and pastel-blue skies. Scrawled outlines define rudimentary shapes that often appear to be kids’ drawings of tadpoles, ants and houses. Other shapes dissolve into the primordial soup in which they are stewing.

Lawrence’s 11 paintings from 2009 are less dense, less compacted, less claustrophobic. Their gestures are looser, their colors brighter and their surfaces not as relentlessly worked over.

They seem to have been made more swiftly, with puddles of paint poured on the canvas and allowed to run freely. Lawrence, who also owns and runs art galleries in Provincetown, Mass., and New York City, uses these networks of spidery lines as Rorschach-blot-style stimuli, improvising by adding colors, shapes and bits of collage to form all sorts of imaginary animals and landscapes.

Lawrence’s small, less developed works in the office/entrance reiterate the difference between his early and recent works. The two ink drawings from 1996 are all goo and possibility; the seven pieces from 2009 have the presence of leftovers from natural catastrophes.

Their weathered surfaces lack the magic of Lawrence’s brushwork and the imaginative richness of his wonderfully funky outlook, both of which flourish in his sweetly gnarly paintings.

-- David Pagel

Angstrom Gallery, 2622 La Cienega Blvd., L.A., (310) 204-3334, through May 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

Above: "Anthill." Credit: Nick Lawrence/Angstrom Gallery

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