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Interview with Frank Laws
by Char Jansen

London, Aug. 2012: As a viewer, art can roughly be divided into two categories: art that you think you could have done yourself, and art you definitely know you could never have done yourself, and wonder how any earthling was able to do. Frank Laws' work most certainly belongs to the latter category.

I wrote about Frank Laws’ work for ArtSlant last in 2011, a small, awe-struck (and now somewhat cringe-inducing) article circumnavigating Laws’ first London solo exhibition, Dwellings. Since then, he has continued his work, as an in-house artist at Louis Vuitton in Paris, alongside painting in his studio next to London Fields -- which is, ironically, windowless, given that a large part of his work is dedicated to peeking out of, or into them, from obtuse and semi-obscured angles. Snapping buildings he likes on his iPhone from ambles around town, Laws -- who was first inspired by his artist-mother as a boy -- then turns his digital records into large-scale works of microscopic detail. 

It’s ostensibly a good time to rejoice in being British, but Laws insists the genesis of this exhibition was natural rather than a coyly premeditated tie-in during a year of Jubilees and global gladiatorial competitions. Inevitably the artist has been forced to enter the discourse about construction in the urban space; the current show hankers after a more historic, enduring city, where England flags fly year-round -- but whose inhabitants will never appear, just these traces of emphemera, the only thing that pinpoint Laws’ work in time.

With his second London solo exhibition, ‘London Bits’, at Bloombury’s Orange Dot Gallery, drawing to a close on August 24th, I asked Frank some questions, over a haircut.

Frank Laws, Bits, 2012. Ink, acrylic & chalk on  paper; Courtesy of the artist.

Charlotte Jansen: So when and why did you first start painting buildings?

Frank Laws: I first started to paint buildings when I started an MA in illustration at Central St Martins. Moving to London had a big impact on my work because of the scale of the city and the amount of different architecture. Before this I was really influenced by film noir and noir/crime fiction, then I worked as a labourer for a year which gave me a real appreciation for the work that goes into buildings and how they are constructed.

CJ: What materials do you use?

FL: I use stretched watercolour paper. Washes upon washes upon washes of ink as an under painting and then detail on top with more ink and acrylic. It depends what the work is; sometimes I'll use this method, other times just mainly acrylic. For some of the details, like the chalk graffiti in London Bits, I used a chalk pencil. I apply it after the painting part has been done. I like these elements of graffiti; it's as though it adds an outside personality to the image or a moment in the past and it's a nice change to use a different visual language within the same image. I was inspired by photographs of old 1920's graffiti from New York which was all done in chalk.

CJ: What's your favourite colour?

FL: Brick red.

Frank Laws, Valette House, Ink & acrylic on paper; Courtesy of the artist.


CJ: Which piece are you most fond of in the current ‘London Bits’ show?

FL: I think it has to be 'Valette House'. I feel it's a development in my work in terms of scale, technique and intrigue (for the viewer).

CJ: What's your involvement with Bare Bones?

Chris Bianchi used to teach me on my BA and Harry Malt is an old Norfolk associate and also happened to be close friends with Chris. They set up Bare Bones [an independent artists’ newspaper] and I share their studio with them and sometimes I try to help.

CJ: What's it like working at Louis Vuitton, in contrast to what you do in your own studio here in London?

Louis Vuitton is another world. It's cool and a good team and atmosphere to work in, though sometimes the hours get a bit mad. I have to change mindset when I work there because the work is so different to my personal stuff and I'm doing more visualising and design-based work. It's really improved my painting technique too as I'm constantly producing watercolours.

Frank Laws, Bits, 2012 (detail); Courtesy of the artist.


CJ: What’s in the next painting?

FL: I'm not sure yet; I have some nice references and I've been watching more films again for inspiration. I’m quite into Tarkovsky at the moment; his films are visually amazing and really atmospheric…

CJ: Will you make more 3D work? It would be really fun if you made a 3D version of ‘Double Doors’ or something…

There is a possibility of that happening soon… There is a project in the pipeline with a big gallery in London but nothing official yet…

Charlotte Jansen

ArtSlant would like to thank Frank Laws for his assistance in making this interview possible.

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