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Geoff Laurence has spent his life painting, struggling and trying to find his place in a world he didn't always understand. His passion has pushed him to society's fringes, where he finally feels free to pursue the interests of his heart.

"Fear No Art," reads the bumper sticker on his truck parked outside the modest adobe where he lives and paints in Galisteo, N.M. The command also is his credo."I paint because I have to," said Laurence, relaxing over a cup of tea in his studio, surrounded by his oils on canvas.

"I have to find some way of connecting with myself and that's what painting is about. Art demands. Nothing about it comes easily. The more I paint, the more I realize how hard it is. It takes a lifetime."
For Laurence, painting is a jealous master, one that doesn't allow the artist to have anyone else around."It's a solitary occupation," Laurence said. "You have to live like a monk."

It also leaves him dissatisfied, uncertain as to whether he's making an impact on anybody or simply slaving away In darkness.

'The self-doubt is constant,' he said. I literally don't know every day whether I'm producing something great or terrible. Who is the expert who is going to tell me that?"

Cloistered in his studio, the shy, soft-spoken artist paints daily, capturing universal human experiences in Vermeer like detail. His figures are caught in specific moments in time. They express a range of evocative emotions we all share. In fact, it may be impossible to view his work and not experience a profound reaction.

"I want to make contact with something that is real in us," he said. "I don't know whether that's comforting or discomforting. I want to comfort the disturbed and disturb, the comfortable."
An exhibit of Laurence's recent oil paintings opens with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. today, Oct. 16, at the Fred R. Kline Gallery.

Laurence grew up in London and was drawing by the time he was 3.

"I don't know how or why I started painting," he said. But at 10, I exhibited my first painting in a juried show. It was an oil painting of a fortress in the woods."

At 15, he realized his parents did not want him to be an artist so he dropped out of high school, left home for good and enrolled in London's Byam Shaw School of Art on a scholarship. He then continued his studies at the London College of Printing and St. Martin's School of Art.
But in his early 20s he became bitterly disillusioned by the art world and spent the next 20 years working as a fashion designer, a photographer, an interior designer and a graphic designer, yet always trying to find time to paint.

Nothing spoke to him as passionately as painting, however. He eventually chucked his jobs and moved to New York City to obtain a master of fine arts degree at the New York Academy of Fine Art, from which he graduated cum laude.

"I thought I'd go nuts if I didn't literally give into following what I thought I needed to do," he said. "It took me 20 years to realize my energy was being sucked out into other stuff.

"This requires every ounce of energy I've got. I don't do anything else. I just paint, read, paint, eat, paint and sleep. I don't have any kind of hobby other than living."

Its through painting that Laurence expresses his thoughts to the world.

"For a long time, I thought that painting was simply a form of sickness; that it was a compensation for people who had difficulty with the verbal, which was difficult for me," he said. "Painting is a desperate attempt to find another form of communication when you can't verbalize things normally. It's like the shadow side."

The shadow side occupies much of Laurence's work but it's always balanced by light.

"Light is the absolute opposite of darkness and you can't successfully have light without darkness," he said. 'Everything has this shadow side. As soon as you have happiness, you have sorrow. As soon as you have life, you have death. As soon as a child is born, it's grappling with the fear of death."

The focal piece of Laurence's exhibit, a large scale diptych titled The Faith Healer, is filled with darkness illuminated by golden rays of light.

The left panel depicts a faith healer, a bespectacled doctor wearing a white coat. But he's barefoot, holding his hand in front of the chest of a male patient who's nude and glowing with light.

The right panel depicts the doctor's office, where X rays on a screen reveal images of art, science and religion. Laurence calls those disciplines "the three main endeavors of humanity".

But the X rays are not exactly what they seem.

"All of a sudden, we're not believing in medical science," Laurence said. "The growth of alternative healing is astronomical. In this piece, I'm just trying to figure out the schism of beliefs that were once absolutely rock-solid. Now it's turning into a quest for something that is rock-solid.

"These days, I'm becoming more and more convinced life is about having faith, bringing what is essential and unknowable into some cognitive place. We all crave clarity on some level, to have some understanding of what is constantly just out of reach."



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