Artist on Artist: Gary Sweeney interviews Jayne Lawrence

Jayne Lawrence is an artist whose work I’ve admired for a long time. Originally coming from a graphic design background, she moved to San Antonio to get a studio art degree at University of Texas-San Antonio during an era when the graduate program had local hot shots Riley Robinson, Jack Robbins, Nate Cassie and Karen Mahaffey working on their MFAs. Blue Star Arts Complex was in its infancy and it was an exciting time in San Antonio. Lawrence received her master’s degree at UTSA in 200 and has been teaching there, and exhibiting locally, ever since.

I once heard a professor tell his class, “You’re going to make 10,000 bad drawings before you know what you’re doing, so you might as well get started on them now.”

I heard it as 1,000, which doesn’t seem as intimidating. Ten thousand means I still haven’t made a good drawing yet. So, I don’t agree with that statement, but I do agree with the sentiment. The idea of making 1,000 or 10,000 drawings is:

1. To get the ball rolling, you have to start.

2. Belief in the statement creates a no-fear attitude; you participate in the drawing experience with more openness because perfection is 9,999 drawings away.

3. It establishes commitment, a kind of quest for “the good drawing.” You are forced to constantly ask yourself just what that is. This allows for possibilities and discovery.

What is the best piece of advice you give your students?

Go see as much art as you can. Talk about it. Respond to it. Then go skydiving! Bungee jumping! Skiing! Take a trip! Go for a walk! Get lost! Do something that lets you know you’re still alive. Stop waiting to be someone else and embrace who you are now, [in] this moment, at this time.

I first met you when I hired you to do some welding for a project. Now you’re doing ridiculously exquisite and intricately detailed drawings. Was this a gradual transition?

I don’t think so. I have always drawn. I just never showed my drawings. When I moved from Denver to San Antonio in the 1980s, I was a commercial artist. I got into the fine arts to get away from scripted art, art I was told to make.

What is your favorite pencil?

Cretacolor used to make this amazing set of pencils. They were yellow with brown tips. Now they are black with a fancy red strip on the end that you don’t sharpen. They are not the same. The graphite is somehow different and now I have to use a wide variety of brands. What I select depends on what I want to achieve and my paper selection. The pencil has to glide across the paper and sound right. There is nothing worse than a pencil that is screaming at you the whole time. I just had to put to rest my last 6B Creta. So sad, [I’ve] had it since grad school, didn’t use it much, but now that it’s gone, I am kinda diggin’ on the Derwents.

Walk me through the process of one of your drawings. I always imagine that you just sit down and start doodling and it grows from there.

I start with something that intrigues me—a figure, an insect, a structural unit. Then I walk away and do something unrelated to the piece at hand. I begin a process of unspecified looking; looking for part of a puzzle that has yet to be conceived. I don’t ever know what I am looking for, but I know it when I find it. Then, it’s back to the studio to see what develops.

It’s so refreshing to see beautiful, highly skilled drawings. Do you think craftsmanship will always find a place in the art world? It doesn’t seem as if students are taking the time to master traditional disciplines anymore.

I don’t know about the art world. It is constantly shifting, looking for the next mode of expression. Craftsmanship takes time. Maybe people are expecting technology to do everything for them. It has taken me 40 years to draw the way I do and it didn’t come easily. As far as students go, I don’t think you can walk into a university without any art experience and four years later expect to be a craftsman.

Is there one artist or piece of artwork that changed the way you look at the world?

Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut. The piece was situated in a square room. The floor was painted a cool gray and a brilliant, warm yellow pollen field rested on the floor about one foot in from the white gallery walls. As I stood outside the room and took in the vista, I slowed my breathing and just stared at the floor illusion created by the juxtaposition of the two complementary colors; [it] blew me away. The whole floor appeared to float in mid-space, hovering in my visual field like some kind of Technicolor hologram. Placing me, who, remember, was standing outside the room, somehow inside that field. Cool! When I excitedly burst out, “Do you see what those colors are doing?” to a small child standing next to me, she ran screaming for her mother. So much for art education!

You and Leigh Anne Lester had one of the premiere artist-run galleries (Cactus Bra Space) in SA and we miss it. Is there any talk of a rebirth?

Thank you. We had a great run and really enjoyed the whole experience, but no, Cactus, as it was, has run its course.

Is there any stage in your life you’d like to be locked into forever?

(Expletive) NO! That would be awful. I have a perfect love/hate relationship with change. I need it, am grateful for it and find that most of the time it scares the hell out of me. Why would I ever want to give that up?

You don’t seem big on self-promotion. Are you put off by the gallery system?

I haven’t had much success with the gallery system. It’s not that I oppose self-promotion. I am a perfectionist. I work slowly. It has taken me four years to develop this current body of work. Gallery representation means production: produce enough work to keep buyers buying and your dealer interested. I haven’t felt that I could make that kind of commitment. As you can see by my studio, I don’t have that problem anymore, so please pass the word along. I’d love to get this work out there.

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