In true Post-Modern fashion, artist Chris Lawson (chrislawsonart.com) counts everything from animated movies and 1960s TV shows to MTV and southern folk art among the influences that inform his writing, painting, film, photography, collage and installation art. It’s the way Lawson pieces together those influences and collections of seemingly disparate components into a surrealist lexicon of his own that makes his work compelling.
“[Folk artist] Lonnie Holley showed me that you don’t have to have practicality, you can be wildly inventive and can create startlingly refreshing combinations with ill-suited elements,” says Lawson, who grew up in Alabama and South Carolina and attended Parsons School of Design after college. “That was a bold visionary step for me.”
The son of a father who worked in prison reform and a mother who was an artist, Lawson followed in both parents’ footsteps. He is a youth advocate (and artist in residence) at Covenant House on the weekends, a working artist during the week, and there is considerable overlap between the two careers; his work is infused with social consciousness.
His sculptural, three-dimensional collages for example — assemblages of bottles, bits of textile, containers and trinkets found on the side of the road, at estate sales and online —are “reliquaries for each of the lives that held or used or discarded these things.” Lawson recontextualizes the artifacts to examine injustices of the past.
“The past is not going to go away if we don’t deal with it,” he says.
Created in 2016, an assemblage entitled “How She Saved Everything” seems eerily of the moment post-Ida. After relocating to New Orleans, Lawson made the piece in commemoration of victims of Hurricane Katrina, using 2,500 objects he scavenged within a quarter mile of his 9th Ward home.
Recent works — an altar, a soundtrack and an installation wall — on view in Mobile through May 14, 2022 as part of the Different/Fit Exhibition co-produced by the Mobile Medical Museum and the Alabama Contemporary Arts Center, shine a light on the subject of eugenics.
As a young artist in New York, Lawson garnered a following by giving his work away or selling it in Washington Square Park. Today, his work is exhibited internationally and is owned by major artists, entertainers, universities and companies.
A world traveler, Lawson has collaborated with artists of other nationalities and his work ranges from serious and thought-provoking to silly and lyrical.
But, he says there is a common thread.
“It always has a narrative,” he says. “I’m a storyteller.”