artnet Asks: Mixed-Media Artist Lawrence Carroll

As an emerging artist, he was aligned with Joseph Beuys and Robert Ryman.

Lawrence Carroll
Lawrence Carroll Photo: by Lucy Jones Carroll, courtesy of the artist.

Australian-born Lawrence Carroll worked as a chef to pay his way through school at Moorpark Junior College, and then later, the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Just a year after his first solo show in 1988, he was invited as one of nine young American artists to participate in Szeeman’s international exhibition, “Einleuchten,” at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, Germany, alongside Robert Ryman, Bruce Nauman, and Joseph Beuys. Carroll’s oeuvre is a seemingly monotone world of sculpture and canvases composed of everyday scrap materials fused together. When the viewer steps closer, though, they’ll see patches hinting at the original color underneath the white paint and cracks and seams where pieces were fused together, reminiscent of the mixed-media work of Robert Rauschenberg. Lawrence’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at the Museo Correr in Venice and at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Carroll lives and works in New York City.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
As a young kid, I loved to pass time drawing. My father worked for the telephone company in the back of the warehouse storeroom, and he often would bring home boxes of expired order forms where one side was blank, and I would draw on these all the time as I had an endless supply of paper. Drawing became something I just naturally did all the time. It provided a place for me disappear, in a way, and I loved that feeling, although I knew nothing about what I could do with it.

I personally never knew an artist who would paint in his studio all day and that is what they did, nor really did I know what an artist was. When I started to attend a local junior college after taking a year off after high school, I started to see the possibilities of a different world for myself, and, by the grace of a couple great teachers I stumbled upon, my life was changed. After junior college, I was able to get into a private art school about an hour from home, and this furthered my interest, but I was still unsure of it all.

I was out of college about a year with my second daughter on the way and living back near home, and was managing a 32-unit apartment complex doing whatever I could to make ends meet. I remember one day being in the storage room of the apartment complex where all the maintenance equipment was kept where there was a white wall that I started to pin up some small drawings on and look at them. I remember well that day, sitting there looking at these drawings and how beautifully quiet that moment was, just looking and thinking about what I had made. I remember thinking to myself, in a very private and shy way, “here I go.” It was a wonderful moment I will never forget. This is when I made the decision to live my life as an artist. I had absolutely zero idea really what that road would offer or where it would lead me or how difficult and joyous it would be, I just knew that is who I was, an artist.

Lawrence Carroll, Installation at Hotel des Artes

Lawrence Carroll, Installation at Hotel des Artes
Photo courtesy of the artist, Galerie Buchann, and Galerie Karsten Greve.

What inspires you?
I wish I knew that, as I would hang out there all the time. Sometimes I have no clue, but I wake up looking for it every day. Sometimes it hits me right in the face, and other times it is a thousand miles away. Inspiration can really be found almost anywhere, and that is what is so daunting.

A few years back, I drove across America from west to east and back solo, four times in one year with no particular plan or route laid out beforehand. I was just drifting, which is something that I love to do. I do this for a number of reasons, the most important to me is to empty out and make some room for something else to come in. I took hundreds of pictures, made random notes and drawings and drove thousands of miles on the small back roads of America, chatting up strangers and asking them for some tips on where I might head and what was good to see in that part of America.

I purposely avoided the interstate as I wanted to slow it down and hopefully catch something and carry that fuel back with me into the studio and see what would come out. The back roads and small towns offered this chance to glimpse or hear something that would stay with me stored away till I needed it. I still don’t know what exactly came out of all the cross-country treks, perhaps it was just the drifting that I needed, and that was exactly what I needed to do when I was back in the studio: drift with my work, empty out, fill it back up again with something else.

Lawrence Carroll, Venice Biennale Vatican Pavilion Installation

Lawrence Carroll, Venice Biennale, Vatican Pavilion Installation
Photo courtesy of the artist, Galerie Buchmann, and Galerie Karsten Greve.

If you could own any work of modern or contemporary art, what would it be?
Willem de Kooning’s Gotham News (1955).

Lawrence Carroll, Freezing Painting at  Venice Bienalle, Vatican Pavilon Photo: courtesy of the artist, Galerie Buchmann, and Galerie Karsten Greve.

Lawrence Carroll, Freezing Painting at
Venice Biennale, Vatican Pavilion
Photo courtesy of the artist, Galerie Buchmann, and Galerie Karsten Greve.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am settling into a new studio, which is nothing new for me as I have moved my studio at least every two to three years on average for the last 27 years. Sometimes the transition is easy, this time it is not. I am drifting and struggling in the studio at the moment, you caught me in a restless phase. I am just starting some new paintings and have no idea where they are going. I have numerous notebook drawings around me, but they are just there in a way to trigger something, and the only way to get at the painting is to start painting, no short cuts.

I do not have a gallery show scheduled until 2016, so that gives me room to drift around, and I am enjoying that.

Scheduled for this year are a couple of museum shows in Italy, and another couple to follow in Switzerland and Germany.

When not making art, what do you like to do?
My wife and I are fortunate in that we get to travel a lot with my work, and this puts us in contact with interesting folks from many countries who have become great friends. Since we are often on the road in cities, we love being in nature and all that nature gives back to you. Walking and hiking is something I enjoy, it is another way of emptying out and filling back up. Love to read, love music. A great night is with family and friends, a good meal, glass of wine, and lively conversation—what could be better? A grand kid. Oh that little one is on the way!


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