Tiffany Lawson and the art of learning to sacrifice control

Tiffany Lawson experiments with a range of mediums for her new career-spanning exhibition at Shawn Christopher Gallery. There are intricate collages, deeply textured curtains made from recycled materials and paintings built on hardened soybean oil stains. There is also a pair of bronze sculptures created through a process that happens to reveal a thread running through the diverse works on display.

“It’s a whole process of transmission,” said Lawson, whose new exhibition “Modern Colors: The Reduction” and “The Crisco Effect” opens of Sean Christopher on Saturday, November 5. “There’s a whole alchemy with metal… but it’s uncontrollable. And there’s freedom in knowing that you can’t control it, but whatever comes out, you can work with it.

Understanding the forces beyond our control surfaces in myriad ways in Lawson’s work, revealed in the majestic landscapes depicting the brute force of nature (wide canyons, volcanic eruptions) woven into “What da Manna?”, pictured above, and the epic tidal waves in “Muva Drum” that are reminiscent of by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.

“I think that’s a big part of life. You will never be able to control every aspect of everything. What you can control is your reaction to it and what kind of stimuli you allow into your life and how it changes you and what it does to you,” Lawson said. “I think for me especially, it just means that you give your best at all times, whether you’re creating art, talking to someone, or even the thoughts you’re feeding. … It is [recognizing] those uncontrollable moments of power and beauty and doing your best to shape it, contain it, and hold on to as much of it as you can.”

When Lawson expounded , most of the works focus on imaginary characters. A trio of those pieces reappear here, including the powerful “Dragon Slayer,” which appeared in the artist’s mind fully formed during the height of stay-at-home rules. “Who are you? What do you want?” Lawson remembers thinking at the time.

Similar characters appear in more recent creations, though the inspirations are often more personal, the roots easier to mine. Such is the case with the soy oil and pastel portrait of a poor man wrapped in a plastic blanket and framed with dangling metal nooses—an element meant to reflect the shackles Lawson hears daily in his job at Franklin County Municipal Court. “These are pretty much poor people’s crimes: misdemeanors, traffic violations,” Lawson said. “And it’s hard for people to pay their way out, and it becomes this cycle where you see the same people over and over again.”

However, Lawson has seen a more hopeful turn in her artwork recently, some of which she traces to her shift hours, suggesting she’s become less of a night owl as she approaches her 40s. “I used to work into the wee hours of the morning where now I go to bed at 10 [p.m.] and I get up at 4 [a.m.] in my home studio making things up,” she said.

As a result, Lawson said he now approaches the canvas with a refreshed mind, rather than carrying a full day of baggage into the creative process — a renewed sense of hope and wonder evident in “What da Manna?” The piece, inspired by a passage from the Bible and revived through collage, is an amazing combination of vibrant patterns, gorgeous natural scenes and black faces that captures the sense of heavenly beauty present on Earth. Created in the early half of the pandemic, Lawson attributes the work’s more natural leanings to the sense of escapism afforded by the outdoors at a time when gathering indoors was a heavy proposition.

“You had to choose when to walk, and that was important,” Lawson said. “But it was more than a walk in the park. It was about gardening, about taking pride in your surroundings. And then nature in relation to yourself, your individuality. What is in your nature? And that became a bigger focus as well.”

Lawson’s inner focus is most evident in works like “Muva Drum,” a piece that emerges from the artist focusing intently on the way her heart beats. “It’s a very strong heartbeat, if I may say so she said and laughed. “And … that power wasn’t something I was aware of until one day when I was laying there and maybe I had an anxiety attack, maybe I didn’t, but I realized how loud and powerful my heart was beating and the power behind it.”

That power is harnessed in the painting’s vast tidal wave, which Lawson describes less as a destructive force and more as able to purify, creating new ground on which to build—an idea that echoes the way she creates these days. often posting in his home studio in the hours before the sun rises.

“It was a more hopeful thing to rest and wake up with a refreshed mind,” she said. “Especially again after working in court where you come home after listening to chains all day, seeing the same people and their woes and enemies. It’s a better place to start and build those stories instead of telling the same ones over and over.”

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