steel ARTIST – Capturing Nature
WORDS Merlin Varaday | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
IF you ask Brent Lawrence why he enjoys working with stainless steel to create the breathtaking single wall hangings, diptychs and triptychs that dragonflies dance across and elk gallop across, he’ll tell you: “Growing up working with metal made it an easy choice. Metal is very forgiving. I tried wood and clay, but with metal if I made any mistakes I could just weld the piece back together and voila! Job done.” And the scenes from nature? “Growing up in the forest, I spent a lot of time watching wildlife. I would hunt and fish and I had a deep respect for the natural environment and wildlife was the imagery that I really was passionate about.” He views the combination of a modern technique – metal welding – and the ancient images as a powerful blend of old and new.
Brent is the son of Lawrence Gallery (McMinnville, OR) owner Gary Lawrence, and has made a name for himself as a metal artist since a young age. “My father had training in sheet metal auto body repair and welding and he saw the 1970’s Arts and Crafts movement becoming something interesting and he decided to pursue it. Consequently, I learned how to weld when I was about 10 years old.”
The Lawrence family have been gallery owners since 1977. Growing up in the art world, Brent had a chance to benefit from the acquaintance of a variety of Pacific Northwest artists, and he made a point of observing not only their artistic abilities, but also their business acumen. He absorbed the idea that artists have to not only possess skill in their medium, but also in marketing their work. He emulated their discipline, strong work ethic and strategy. “I sold my first piece when I was in the fourth grade!”
While pursuing a foreign language degree at Portland State University, Brent studied abroad in Poitiers, France and became interested in international business. Working in the corporate world after graduation, he heard many dedicated senior executives voice their regrets that they had not continued to be involved in the fine arts. He made his decision – to dedicate his time to his passion, stainless steel art. He hasn’t looked back since.
To create each piece, Brent utilizes traditional metalworking tools – plasma cutters, TIG welders, hammers, grinders and chemicals. “My work is finished with chemicals applied under heat to create the unique patina.”
Brent’s interest in international business has remained a part of his artistic career – he has sold his work to customers in The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and South Africa. Additionally, there is a horse racetrack in Brazil decorated with a wall hanging he created! Domestically, he has exhibited in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Palm Springs, California, Durango, Colorado, Sedona, Arizona and Jackson, Wyoming, as well as Seattle and Portland.
The family passion for art is becoming a three generation tradition – Brent’s sons Luke and Duncan are each becoming artists in their own right. Although they have followed in Brent’s footsteps by learning welding, he has encouraged them to explore other media – they both draw, and Duncan works with glass and Luke with watercolor.