Bruce Lawes. There Was Always a Plan, September-October 2016

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September/OctOber 2016

For All Fine Art Collectors


Paint, Over Time, oil, 20˝ by 26˝ “This is a painting depicting the great relationship we have with our beloved horses. This beautiful paint horse is featured with his owner, whose body is equally painted from the ravages of time. While his sun-damaged face created a wonderful character study, it’s the love and dedication he shows for his horse that truly represents the man. This is a bond he will never be denied, until he passes, which will probably be in the saddle.”

‘There Was Always a Plan’ By Myrna Zanetell


atient and painstakingly precise as he creates masterworks in oil, Canadian artist Bruce Lawes evokes an equally dedicated passion when it comes to shaping his own artistic destiny. His first painting sale at the age of 12 confirmed his innate artistic abilities, but the direction that talent would take was not clarified until six years later, when his father brought home a stunning coffee table book titled “The Art of Robert Bateman.” “I was absolutely mesmerized by his imagery,” Lawes says. “It brought my love for nature into focus and 56

defined my goal to be able to paint like Bateman one day in the future.” Setting his sights on a career as a professional artist, Lawes says, “Once I made that decision, I only engaged in jobs which benefited my ability to pursue my art. For instance, working in the airline industry for several years made it possible for me to travel to, and become familiar with, exotic locations such as Europe and Africa at little or no cost.” Owning a framing company became Lawes’ next endeavor. “By framing work for other artists I

ART of the WEST • September/October 2016

gained insights into what sold and what didn’t,” he says. “After that I established a printing company, which allowed me to print my own work while doing digital images for other artists. There was always a plan as to why I was doing what I did. These businesses were not only a means to an end but were also an invaluable learning tool.” The opportunity to study with his idol remained one of Lawes’ major goals, one that he achieved by scoring an entree into one of Bateman’s workshops in the North Bay area in Ontario. “I consider what took place

Partners, oil, 18˝ by 13˝ “This painting tells a wonderful story of a young lady and her horse. Many girls, east and west, grew up dreaming and pretending to be cowgirls. The girl in this painting lives her dream, and she never wants to wake up.”

September/October 2016 • ART of the WEST


that weekend to be a genuine omen,” he says. “Not only was the teaching experience incredible, but I was fortunate to be one of four others chosen to share Bateman’s cabin. I learned techniques that weekend that I use even today.” Over the next two decades, Lawes developed a following for his art, which eventually garnered him representation in one of Toronto’s leading galleries. “However, the Canadian market is limited so, in order to become really successful, you need to gain recognition in America,” he says. “For me, that opportunity came five years ago, when I took on the Gettysburg Project in conjunction with the 150th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. My involvement started when I asked my friend, Rob Child, who was doing the videography of the battle, if there would be art-related events. “Learning that none of the recognized Civil War artists planned to do 58

Light the Way, oil, 13˝ by 20˝ “This is a beautiful depiction of a lynx commonly found in northern and mixed forests and is extremely agile in the winter snow, as their snowshoe-like paws allow them to stay atop the snow, while pursuing their prey. This painting shows the lynx at rest, but always alert to prey or danger, as he looks to the light with anticipation.”

an onsite painting, I told him I would not only be willing to paint live, but would produce a painting in advance that could be used as the commemorative poster. He pitched my ideas to the Gettysburg Association Committee, who were very excited to try this new concept. Doing something so ‘American’ brought me a lot of attention in the United States, and that recognition created a domino effect, which lead to my painting of General George Armstrong Custer being accepted into the Coeur de Alene Auction. “I grew up in a business oriented family—my dad, Anthony, was president of the Toronto Branch of Canada Life Insurance—so I guess I’m not typical of artists who focus primarily on producing work, but not on how to sell it. I am always looking

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for marketing ideas that draw attention to my art. For instance, after painting a lion, I might think of contacting companies that use lions in their logo.” Taking that concept even further, as a signature member of Artists for Conservation, Lawes began using his imagery to assist conservationrelated programs. “It is so fulfilling to create a piece of art that not only inspires meaningful conversations but also reaps something positive for conservation,” he says, adding the following example. “I contacted Husky Canada, when I learned they were planning to open a new office in China. As a means to enhance the company’s conservation image, they chose the endangered Asiatic Black Bear as their symbol. Husky put me in touch with the Animals Asia

Master of His Domain, oil, 32˝ by 48˝ “This painting depicts a large, male African lion poised on a rocky outcrop, giving him a great vantage point for observing all around him. The king graces his throne, where he remains the master of all in his kingdom.”

foundation whose president sent me the resource information I needed to produce the Asiatic black bear painting, which Husky later used for the opening of their new Shanghai office. To assist Animals Asia, we sent 250 framed giclee prints of the original painting to China to be used in raising funds for their foundation.” A partnership with the Cloud Foundation, which focuses on bringing attention to the plight of the wild mustang, also became a natural for Lawes, whose depiction of dressage, show jumpers, and race horses has brought him recognition as a leading equine artist. As a means of assisting the Cloud Foundation, Lawes produced a series of oils, and a limited edition print, depicting the wild creatures. One of the most versatile among today’s field of highly skilled representational artists, Lawes moves

with seamless articulation between the genres of wildlife and equine portraiture, landscapes, and figurative renditions of historic events. Despite that versatility, he has a great affinity for birds. “My dad, who is a birder, was always identifying birds and pointing out the details, so my love of painting them grew from there,” Lawes says. “Studying taxidermy and befriending a master falconer has also made me wellversed in the subject. To the disgust of my mother, and now my wife, I frequently bring home dead birds, which I keep in the freezer. Pinning the wings of a slightly defrosted bird into a desired position, gives me a brief time in which to have it ‘pose’ for me. Another method Lawes employs in order to get a detailed image of his subject is to sculpt it in clay. “Crafting a sculpture gives me the freedom to move the light source around to see how it casts shadow or light on the subject,” he says. Sculpting a bust of his sub-

September/October 2016 • ART of the WEST


A Regal Repose, oil, 50˝ by 40˝ “This is a dramatic statement of royalty and prestige. Although at rest, a pose of nobility and strength, he is ever ready to launch into the dance of dressage. This beautiful Andalusian would be the horse of kings, as his lineage is undeniable, yet this portrait shows a female rider, which helps to soften and create an elegance in the mood.”

ject became especially valuable, while painting a recent portrait of Abraham Lincoln. “Not many photographs depicted Lincoln in the pose I wanted, which showed him standing at the window, gazing out at the assembled crowd, as he scans his notes for his Gettysburg Address,” Lawes says. Photographs also are a valuable resource. “I take most of my own photos when doing a local subject,” he says. “However, when I want to paint exotic animals, such as leopards or elephants, out of necessity I have to go to other sources. I work with professional photographers from around the world, who can 60

shoot a variety of reference shots. Once I choose the ones I want, photographic usage and royalty agreements are arranged, which make the shots exclusively mine. An example of this came when Dr. Jane Goodall asked me to do a painting of elephants to be used as a fundraiser for her efforts to protect the endangered African elephant. To this end, I am working with a photographer from Tanzania, who will do a series of shots on the desert elephant to be used for an original painting that I will donate to Jane for their November event.” Law explains that creating the highly detailed imagery for which

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he is known requires time and patience. “I only paint on linen, because it has a much finer texture,” he says. “Next, I apply gesso primer to the linen, and I often sandpaper between coats, so that the surface becomes extremely smooth. Once I get my established idea, I sketch it out on my canvas. After applying a fixative so the image will not smudge, I begin doing the underpainting and blocking in of color, applying layer after layer of very thin paint. Another thing I learned from Bateman was the use of sponges to take excess oil so that there are no bubbles or ridges. “If you are a realist like I am, it is

With Grace, oil, 40˝ by 50˝ “This painting was created for its beauty of dramatic form. Like the curvature of the back of a beautiful figurative, the over-flexed neck of this Andalusian horse can represent an equally creative and dramatic expression. The title seemed apropos for the movement displayed in the discipline of dressage and the bowing, as though in prayer, or saying grace.”

this last 2 percent which makes you stand out among other artists. As to style, I would call myself a realist painter, but I modify my execution to suit how I want to express the final painting. I will add some impressionistic qualities to create interest in the composition. For example, softening out certain parts around the main subject pulls your eye into the higher detail. Doing this creates an interesting tension between the background and the subject. When it comes to a painting, if you keep the entire focus sharp, it looks false, or more like an illustration.” Lawes also uses another of Bateman’s techniques, which is to view his paintings in a mirror. If the perspective is accurate in reverse, he knows it is proportionately accurate. “If asked, I am always more than willing to share the tricks I

have learned,” he says. “The beauty of art is that we are all constantly leaning from one another and sharing, yet each artist’s work remains totally distinctive, because they have a unique signature to their work.” Lawes is justifiably proud of recent achievements, which include being juried into membership in the Society of Animal Artists last year. “As a first time member, it was also a great honor to have a piece of my work juried into their annual exhibition, which opens at the Houston Museum of Science in September and will tour to three other museum locations,” he says. “Seeing my work hang in the same room along with a painting by Robert Bateman is truly the fulfillment of my early dream.” Growing tired of the long Canadian winters, Lawes and Luisa, his partner and soul mate for the

past 24 years, are planning to move to the United States in November, which will be a major change for both of them. “At this point, if you were to ask me how I was able to succeed, she has been a big part of it,” he says. “She is my support system, helping me get through the hard times and lean years, and this will just be another decision we will work through together.” For the 54-year-old Lawes, the journey to becoming a professional artist has been long and challenging, but it is a road he has traveled with excitement, passion, and everincreasing rewards.

Myrna Zanetell is a writer living in El Paso, Texas.

September/October 2016 • ART of the WEST


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