Lorraine Lawson Explores Memory and Material

Scratching the Surface runs through June 25 at Manna Gallery.


Lawson's Cannery Row offers hints of calligraphy and collage.

Courtesy of Manna Gallery

Avant-gardist revolt became de rigueur in art 60-odd years ago, when postwar America took up the cultural torch from Old Europe’s faltering grasp. Art has benefited hugely from experimentation; but it has also, on the road to becoming an industry linked with fashion, entertainment, investment and money-laundering, suffered a loss of moral authority: To quote Warhol, it’s just another job (though, nowadays, a stylish one). The traditional and Tolstoyan notion of art as the communication of emotion between artist and viewer seems, in the conceptual, multimedia era, almost willfully anachronistic. The British artist Grayson Perry recently declared that beauty and seriousness are “perhaps the most shocking tactics left to artists these days.”

Lorraine Lawson works and lives in Silicon Valley, but her seriously beautiful paintings derive from modernist painters and collagists—Rauschenberg, Diebenkorn, and Tobey—rather than the wizards of digital culture, and they invoke memory and continuity (endurance, survival) rather than the transitory shocks of the new. The works in Scratching the Surface, she writes, are “metaphors for persistence through time.” Combining collaged elements (sometimes borrowed from other cultures, reflecting her love of travel) with the gestural calligraphy of Asian painting and rich, Rothkoesque color clouds, their palettes invoking the California landscape, Lawson’s paintings, weathered and aged by scratches and drips, capture the contradictory elements of contemporary life while reaffirming through the lens/matrix of painting—shaped by her “organic’ sensibility”—their fleeting beauty.

Lawson: “When I walk, I pick things up and put them into a bag . . . My passion is the urban, the timeworn surfaces, the history with the ephemera that I put in my work, the stories that I tell with that work.” Lawson’s work will be the subject of a solo show at the Triton Museum, Santa Clara, in June, as well.

Scratching the Surface runs through June 25; Manna Gallery, 473 25th St., Suite C, Oakland,

510-642-1124; MannaGallery.com.

Open weekends noon-5 p.m., plus First Fridays and by appointment. 

Editor's Note: This story appears in the June edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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