This January, Vigo gallery will present an exhibition of new paintings by Erin Lawlor (b. 1969) at the Wellington Arch Museum. Lawlor will be the first woman to exhibit at this historic location steeped in male-dominated, wartime legacy.
“There is something very fitting to me in the very idea, at this point in time, of creating an exhibition within the spaces Wellington Arch – a building that has for many years now been a victory arch – a peculiar form of architecture embodying that inherent tension between commemoration (or even glorification?) of war and therefore death, and the celebration of victory and the life beyond.
Many of the works in the exhibition were painted during the last two years in the interludes between lockdowns and forced halts as a result of personal health issues. They are in effect snapshots of these windows of time in the studio and come to encapsulate that peculiar life-drive that goes hand in hand with the hardest of times. Alongside this, is the tenuous belief that there is a joy that will come out the other side of the darkness. Other works have appeared since in the period of re-emergence post-pandemic and the slow drift into summer, and then edging into winter – with its attentiveness and relearning of the specificity of seasons, and also a peculiar awareness of life, of aliveness, in times of precarity.
The two larger works around which the exhibition is articulated are in direct reference to that struggle and tension between death- and life-drive: ‘Battle’ is a work that was painted in clear reference to the epic battle scenes of northern Italy, Uccello in particular; and the four-part work ‘Invincible Summer’ is a wilfully panoramic and visceral piece – a joyful and immersive dance. ‘After the storm’, albeit with some residual darkness, is a calmer, more serene work.
These deeper paintings are deliberately interspersed with more overtly light-hearted pieces: ‘silver screen’, ‘hot mess’ are overtly sensual; ‘cupid, baby’ plays on the vibrant blues and pinks of Bronzino’s Venus and Cupid…
References back to, and dialogue with, the history of painting are a constant in my work. Again, it feels fitting – and extraordinary – to be able to show these works in relation to the wider context of the English Heritage collection at Apsley House. So many of the painters/works in that collection have been constant points of dialogue in my work: Rubens, Velazquez Goya… Perhaps above all Titian. I have long had a postcard on the studio wall of the Danae from Apsley House. It is, I believe, the first Poesie.
This is certainly a lineage I have constantly looked to – late Titian, the ‘poesies’ in particular – the intention to convey in-between states: life-to-paint, life-to-other – and the extraordinary possibilities of paint to convey both life and death, within the very stuff of it, its capacity to hit the nervous system, part of a universal language. And painting is to me an act of defiance, but also of hope, and joy.” (Erin Lawlor)