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By Devon Jackson

'The salvational struggles of Geoffrey Laurence'

IF IT HADN'T BECOME HIS BURDEN ‑DUTY- passion to try to find a meaningful artistic response to the Holocaust, Geoffrey Laurence probably would've found himself an equally metaphysical life struggle. even if he'd ended up a car salesman, a baker, or a painter of rainbows and kittens. Imagine a Saul Bellow character come to life in the form of Gabriel Byrne, only bald. Laurence. 60. is charming and erudite, questioning, a bit tortured, a bit saddened, a wicked mimic. self‑effacing, and humble. And given his enormous talent his technical virtuosity, his dedication, the beauty and intensity of what he creates, and the inexplicable pull of his paintings, he deserves far more recognition and acclaim than what's come his way Is he toiling away in obscurity out herein the high‑desert terrain, an ocean away from his roots, from the hoopla of New York and L.A. and Art Basel? Does he care? "It's not an ego that's painting these things." he says from his studio in Santa Fe. "It's a mystical experience. I don't care what happens outside that door."

Not that he doesn't want what he creates to get beyond that door and out into the world, and to serve as some sort of catharsis for himself and all the relatives he lost in the Holocaust "By exploring my deeper psyche." he says. "I might be able to contact more people and help them in some way‑though it's very difficult to do that in an era of Damien Hirst selling jeans. It's difficult to hold that as a truth. But I have to. I have to cling to my beliefs."

Laurence was born in Patterson, New Jersey, in 1949. He and his parents moved to Britain four years later. He left home at age 15 to go to art school, but he didn't ‑ couldn't - paint the Holocaust until 1996. That was the year he faxed his mother with one question: Am I Jewish? Until then, he hadn't known for sure. His father, Alfred Edward Laurence. from Silesia (now part of Poland), had been in Dachau until an English man, Geoffrey Wells (whom Laurence is named after). bought him (yes, bought him). He later got himself into the U.S.Army and because of his personal knowledge of the concentration camp was among the troops who liberated Dachau. After emigrating to the United States. Alfred married Laurence's mother‑also a Holocaust survivor, also a native of Silesia. They'd known each other before the war, as teens, and recognized one another one day while walking through New York's Washington Square Park.

In 1992 Laurence, having worked as an illustrator, graphic designer and photographer and recently divorced, moved from the United Kingdom to New York, hoping to refine his love of the classical style of painting at the New York Academy of Art. "When everyone was looking at Brillo boxes, I was looking at Bronzino." he says of the early nineties anti‑figurative period "it was disillusioning, but I stayed It was like that line out of Hermann Hesse: "You have to cross the river to know you don't have to cross the river."

After receiving his master's degree, he moved to New Mexico. Cold turkey. In New York he'd become pals with Eric Fischl. Julian Schnabel, and others‑but the night that he and his girlfriend were mugged, that sealed the deal. He was out. About a year later he met his future wife, figurative painter (and designer of the 2010 Lincoln "Shield Cent" penny) Lyndall Bass. at a Club International aerobics class. "What Santa Fe and New Mexico are really good for is making work." says Laurence. "You can explore your internal landscape very easily here."

Explore it mine it refine it struggle with it he has. Neither an absolute realist nor a modern‑day classicist Laurence falls somewhere in between and outside both categorizations. He calls himself a feelist‑‑ feeling around for the best way to get an emotional response that's timeless, not transitory. "I try to make imagery that'll sit in your mind and turn over and over, the way the classical painters did." he says. "I like the idea of going back to a painting again and again and getting something new out of it each time."

His paintings are gorgeous, off, odd, and Odd Nerdrum‑y: classically informed contemporary and expertly rendered. Whether of John Wayne in the supermarket or of Zykion‑ B canisters (which held the gas the Nazis used to kill millions), they exhibit what's known among Judaic linguists as antiphrasis. a kind of Talmudic Yiddish doublespeak. as when a cemetery is termed dos gute art ("the good place") or beys khayun ("house of life"). Not exactly euphemisms. In Yiddish antiphrases are called Iosh sgeynehoyr‑"language rich in light" Laurence's Zyklon canisters are an example of this opposite‑think, as are his epic canvases of Jews in their concentration camp garb crossing a Stygian river into oblivion. He renders these otherwise awful pictures with such grace and care that as melancholy bitter, and sad as they may be, there's also a tremendous amount of light in them.

Redeeming light  Salvational light  "It's important for us to find ways to contact our subconscious as well as our conscious world" says Laurence thoughtfully "To me. art's not about marketing a product. It's a form of prayer. A way to connect with a higher power."



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