|Detail from Homage to Anonymous, 2011.|
This is a heart-warming story. The winner of this year’s prestigious Jerwood Prize for Drawing
- ...is a little-known artist who spent nearly a year working on his picture (115cm x 175cm), using a pack of ten budget ball point pens. He says they were ‘perfect. I could not use them if they kept running out, they just last for ages’. American artists of the 1950s inspired him - they painted using cheap tins of emulsion.
- ...used the backs of posters as his ‘canvas’. ‘When Woolworths closed a few years ago, I went in and asked if I could have their shiny advertising posters. On one side they have the details about the final sale and on the other there is my artwork. It really was about cutting costs’.
- ...could not afford to frame his work for the competition so he rolled it into a tube and posted it.
Lawrence drew Pothea, the main town on the Greek island of Kalymnos. He had other artists' views of towns in mind, especially El Greco’s View and Plan of Toledo (1608-14), seen here. Topped by magnificent clouds, the city below is gloriously depicted without strict regard for topographical accuracy. For example, El Greco moved the Hospital of Don Juan Tavera to the centre so that the facade could be shown without blocking out other important buildings.
Lawrence, like El Greco, has given himself permission to re-style Porteo. It’s not hard to see why. I’ve never been there but the Greek island of Symi nearby, which I know well, is mentioned in Lawrence’s painting by a handy compass point. Symi was built in ancient times atop rocky mountains where there was a better chance of fighting off invaders. In later slightly safer centuries houses and markets clustered round the harbour. The old and new are linked by kali strata, a ‘main road’ of about 400 broad gracious steps lined by houses, shops and cafes.
But if you stand at the harbour and look up expecting a view of the island, all you see is a picturesque and partial jumble of buildings which make perfect sense when you walk among them but look from the ground as if a peevish child has emptied out a toy box.
The lower third of Lawrence's picture is in the largest scale – people sprawl on sun loungers, there’s a row of socks on the washing line, you can peek inside windows. Most of the rest is an exquisite drawing of Porteo’s buildings (seen best in the detail above) re arranged so that you can meander down its tiny streets. An avenue of trees is seen from above, the branches like tiny capillaries among the foliage. To the right the harbour is splayed out like a carpet. It hums with tiny people and their traffic.
There were 60 shortlisted artists in this year’s competition, chosen from more than 3,500 entries. Lawrence studied for a BA Fine Art at Portsmouth Polytechnic (1978-81) and then got further qualifications in Illinois. He’s suffered rejection in other competitions and ‘didn’t hold out much hope’, but the £6,000 prize money is his.
Homage To Anonymous is dedicated to ‘all the anonymous artists through history who made work but are unrecognised’.