Friday, May 9, 2014

Berlin report: Kunst Kunst KUNST

I went to Berlin last weekend for gallery weekend #10, 50 galleries had an open house, a big art feast. I was there with a group of Czech artists and curators for a dernisaz at the Czech Cultural Centre. We were also there to get art supplies at Boesner's where I spent my usual 350 euros ... time to get busy. We spent most of our time in Mitte, although I always somehow find myself in some seedy corner, this time near Kurfurstenstrasse and prostitute row. I also ate a falafel by the monument to Goethe on the edge of the Tiergarten, its a convenient spot for a picnic.

I stepped into about 20 galleries but not too much really grabbed me, although there was a lot of style on hand. The heavy hitters were the big names: Gordon Matta-Clark's films at Galerie Thomas Schulte offered deeper insight into his process as well as acting as time capsules of 70s New York. The Guston show at Aurel Scheibler offered a few choice examples from one of the greatest painters of the 20th Century, although the young artists I was with seem non-plussed. Guston's work is a study in the use of a limited palette, while the Adrian Ghenie show at Galerie Judin pulsed with a wide range of juicy paint straight from the tube. I've written about Ghenie here before, he's one of the most promising new painters and in this show, "Berlin Noir", he name checks Philip Kerr and Josef Mengele, but the real meat of the show arises from his appropriation of Van Gogh. Like Francis Bacon before him, and many others, Experessionist figurative painters are all basically indebted to Van Gogh and they often reflect on his influence. Here Ghenie pays homage to the Sunflowers, but at something like 3 x 3 meters, its Sunflowers on steroids.

Other highlights included Josef Beuys and Harun Farocki's films at the Hamburger Bahnhof, unfortunately I didn't have time to see the Marsden Hartley paintings at the Neue Nationalgalerie or the Dorothy Iannone show at the Berlinisches Galerie, though I really like her work, together with Eddie Martinez, she's one of the best artists to rise out of the stable of Peres Projects, though of course she's been working since the 60s. Speaking of Peres Projects, I skipped the David Ostrowski show, frankly it looks awful from reproductions. But there's space for everyone under the big KUNST circus tent. My Czech friends are attracted to the cool abstract minimalism on display at Hamburger Bahnhof, while I gravitated to the more emotional and symbolic Beuys .. this could be generational, as the post-WWII drama which played out in the 60s still strikes me as relevant, whereas for someone born in the 80s, all that overwrought need for expression may seem blasé. Overall it seems the search for meaning has been replaced by a thirst for pure style. Is it a reflection of a neoliberal desire to do away with a deeper dialogue? Or perhaps it's more closely linked to the distrust of ideology in Mitteleuropa ... after all the political unrest of the 20th century, well, to quote Cyndi Lauper, girls just wanna have fun. Europeans are so dreadfully bored of history, they are suffocating under all those dates, while Americans are still like savage children who need some overarching narrative, hungry for history like a bedtime story. I suppose the lesson learned is: Think less, make more. Like Matta-Clark, just get busy.

Friday, January 31, 2014


my opening is tonight!!!

Lawrence Wells


paintings and drawings

31/1 18-23h

Galerie Kytka

Rokycanova 33 (in the courtyard)

Praha 3

Artist's Statement

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of everything that stands
The end

Jim Morrison – The End

Its probably not a good idea to have a skull in the studio. It sits on the shelf, empty eye sockets blindly gazing back at you. You start to have too many negative, even apocalyptic thoughts, and besides its in the air these days, environmental and economic collapse, mass extinction. Fun fun fun. What do we paint about at the end of the world? Is there a point to art anymore, if our grandchildren might be the last to walk the earth? Is this just some bizarre christian American obsession that got stuck in my mind from growing up over there? Or do our nightmares only come true when we keep thinking about them, giving them power?

A big ship on the horizon is evocative of travel, of times past, of the urge to escape. Like skulls, the Titanic has also become a kind of kitsch, almost all representational imagery suffers from this cynicism, the power of the image is being sucked dry. Can we say the word Titanic without thinking of Leonardo di Caprio? Hollywood is slowly but inexorably colonizing the imagination and the internet is destroying culture as we know it. In my paintings, the party’s over, there’s nothing left but a few sad monkeys, and the ship is moving away like a mirage. Are we going down like the Titanic, a one-way voyage to the bottom of the sea? When I emigrated I made my artistic journey explicit, and now I am like a ship at sea.

I might be tempting fate to call my exhibition The End. Will it be my last exhibition? To be a great artist, one needs a little black magic. It may all be smoke and mirrors, but you cant see the sleight of hand. The paintings group together and, like a good magic trick, become something greater than the sum of their parts. If I could clap my hands, spin around and vanish in a puff of smoke, I would. I’ve already disappeared twice, and every time I reappeared in the Czech Republic. I guess I’m a bad magician, it may take some time before I disappear again. That will be my last trick.

Lawrence Wells (1965) studied painting at Indiana University, and he received his MFA from the University of Mississippi (1992). He has lived in Prague for more than 12 years. In the years 2007–2008 he had a residency at Meet Factory. In Prague he has exhibited at Berlinskej model, AM180, NTK, and now at Galerie Kytka.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wormholes (Prague to Los Angeles)

Los Angeles, as a kind of dream factory for the universe, holds a particular sway over the imagination. Like Jim Morrison said, "The West is the best, get here and we'll do the rest", and wave after wave of new residents have set their sights on Southern California. I have friends and family there and I know it can be a lovely place to live. The weather is great, and the prices are sky high. But of course LA is also the city of Nathaniel West's Day of the Locust, a place where dreams come crushing into the reality of a harsh economy, the back lots of production studios littered with surreal assemblages of old sets. Anything imagined will eventually find itself as garbage mouldering somewhere on a back lot. Hollywood as a great vacuum cleaner of the soul, rebranding our deepest fears and desires. The flickering screen of the mind's eye.

In a way Prague is the anti-Los Angeles. The dreams of the former East Europe burn like dying cinders under the blanketed ash of history, as opposed to the garish billboards of the Sunset Strip, the American pressure to be happy, beautiful and rich. Outside LA we all want a piece of it, but we are like grubby homeless drifters pressing our faces against the glass. Celebrity culture is all about exclusion, but if no one is watching, it all falls apart. But the desire factory is well stocked, its lures catch us before we know we have been taken in. How deeply has cinema invaded our imaginations?

In his films David Lynch is a master of the empty spaces between the archetypes, his work contains something of the desert winds that blow across the empty parking lots of Los Angeles at midnight, or the empty spaces between the furniture. Lynch is all about negative space. He's also a master of the wormhole, the secret tunnels between time and place. In Inland Empire there's a door from Los Angeles to the snowy industrial wastes of Poland, the characters trade identities. I was wondering if there was a door somewhere in Prague that would take me to Los Angeles.

I found it in the paintings of Daniel Pitin. Pitin also evokes these uneasy cinematic spaces, the dark surreal uncertainty of randomly juxtaposed film frames, set in decaying and impossible architectural spaces. I'm pretty sure Pitin studied under Neo Rauch in Leipzig, and his work stems from Rauch's exotic spatial shifts, but unlike Rauch his palette is darker, more subdued. Like many painters, Pitin strives to make his pigment into time, the shadows into history. I read recently that Europe is a "museum of historical mistakes". Pitin is clever because he has realised that one of Europe's primary exports is history.

If Czechs are desperate to be contemporary, to escape their moribund past and get their own piece of the timeless (yet fading) dream of a capitalist future, then in California I imagine the desire is often the opposite, the desire to break through the superficial facade of media spectacle and embrace some authentic historical signifier. Pitin shows at Mihai Nicodim's gallery in Culver City, the Romanian-born gallerist has opened a wormhole which transports dark European artefacts into the blank slate of the paved paradise of Southern California. Many of the artists featured on his website were shown in Prague at the masterful Nightfall show at the Rudolfinum Gallery earlier this year. If the filmic image is inescapable, then these artists are responding to the subconscious place where this imagery invades our personal memories. The overlapping space behind the screen, like a wormhole, where we find we aren't sure if we are remembering something that really happened, or if it's a memory of a scene we saw on TV. In this way the collective experience can be shared through painting, although the time and illusion of painting is much slower and less invasive than that of cinema. Cinema then is both a great gift of the imagination and also a terrible curse. But what becomes known can not then be unknown, but the temptation is always there to start anew, to find a secret door to Los Angeles and merge with the sun. Change your name, start over .. try to free yourself of all that historical garbage in your suitcase.

(all images works by Daniel Pitin)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Lawrence Wells - Kulturní událost / Cultural Event

video walk through of my recent exhibition

drawing on photographs, ink brush drawings, oil paintings and watercolours at Berlinskej model gallery, Prague, Oct 2 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Kulturní událost / Cultural Event - Artist's Statement

Lawrence Wells - Kulturní událost / Cultural Event

paintings and drawings

2/10/2013 19:00

Berlinskej model

Culture, like democracy, is a fragile thing. Like a plant you have to provide it with a place to grow, nourishment and care. But like a plant, culture is often ignored or taken for granted. We forget about it, it’s just there. Like a painting on the wall.

On my trip to Croatia this summer I saw a photo of a cultural event in Rijeka from 1978, people lined up in the street, smiling for the camera. I love old photos of artist groups from various places, all these little regional groups working in parallel, all around the globe. There’s something romantic about it, the urge to create in some little corner of the world. And then I thought about the revolutionary impulse, people taking to the street, how it shares a certain bravery and recklessness with the impulse to make art, to communicate. What has happened to the revolutionary impulse? Did somebody forget to water it?

Last year I was painting about astronauts and indians on the moon. Those paintings were about technology as a dead end, about the empty future, about the end of the world. I needed to get away from that place. Rather than projecting into the future, I turned to the past, which I find is vanishing just as quickly. If you look at old photographs they show worlds gone by. It’s like magic, but also filled with sadness. We can’t get the lost time back. I draw diagrams over the actors from the past, looking for clues in the surface of time. Is there a pattern, some underlying structure that lies hidden in the most mundane corners of existence? Back behind the plants on the shelf or on the window sill where the revolution lies forgotten?

The Vit Soukup retrospective had a big impact on me. His use of photographs as source material, his approach to the banal, his interest in Czech popular culture and the period of normalization. Normalization seems to live on – just as many people have internalised totalitarianism, only understanding power and betrayal in their interpersonal relationships, the cultural stasis in the 80s seems to still be inside us too, we’re stuck in it like a kind of quicksand. Time vanishes, but in other ways it seems to keep returning. We’re trapped in the Eternal Return, like hamsters on a wheel.

The immigrant is the person who stands at a crossroads where different cultures meet; the immigrant becomes a cultural hybrid whose experience falls somewhat to the side of the national cultural dialogue. Immigrants never fully belong to their new home, nor to the one they left. We are like uprooted plants, trying to send a tap root down to find new water. The wind blows us around like dust.

artist's website:
Berlinskej model:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Kulturní událost / Cultural Event

Lawrence Wells - Kulturní událost / Cultural Event
paintings and drawings
2/10/2013 19:00
Berlinskej model
Pplk. Sochora 9
170 00 Prague, Czech Republic

my work can be seen online here: