The Hive Gallery recently launched a joint art show featuring the renowned Renee Lawter and her talented husband Jeff Lawter. The show, “Broken Dreams and Fairy Wings,” focuses on living in a world of environmental imbalances and man-made destruction. In addition to the gallery being the first major collaboration between the husband and wife duo, it features the couple’s first collaborative painting, “Broken.” Individual works include Renee’s vintage framed watercolors, which incorporate her trademark cuddly monsters, while Jeff’s ink and dyes on wood portray powerful messages and call out injustices.
ChinaShop recently sat down with the artistic couple to discuss the challenge of combining their very different styles and plans for future art shows together.
What was the theme behind the show?
Renee: Broken dreams and fairy wings. The title was the perfect way to bring together the yin & yang of our styles. Jeff is very edgy, comic book world, tattoo line work perfectionist and loves letter forms and typography. Me, well I like all the opposites: wiggle lines, squishy fuzzy soft characters that pull you in and beg for you to feel like you were just hugged by a monster.
Jeff: For me it wasn’t a theme as a whole, more just a few ideas I really wanted to do. If I had to call out a theme, typography might be the closest.
Is this the first show you have collaborated on together?
Renee: Of this size, yes. We did a smaller plush show together a few years ago at the 1988 Gallery on Melrose for the Plustopia show. We contributed 3 pieces to that. Jeff would sketch out the characters on his schedule from work and bring them home then I’d build the characters in 3D plush. I loved working with him. He’s always so complimentary and genuinely taken back by what I can do. He’s probably my biggest fan… OK well my mom too.
Was your collaborative piece, “Broken,” fun to make? Do you do a lot of paintings together?
Renee: This is the first painting we did together and it was amazing to work with Jeff. He’s a real pro and just so so easy. We are thinking about doing another big show since we really liked how the “Broken” piece came out. It lit a spark in us to do more.
Jeff: Absolutely! I think we knew it was gonna be a bit of a challenge to marry our styles due to the fact that they were so different. I really liked the end result and I’m looking forward to the next ones.
What was your favorite piece that was displayed in the show?
Renee: “The Great Gumball Incident.” I don’t know why, I just really connect to the girl … it’s like she’s a caretaker. There might be a clear cut forest in the background but this little guy slipped on gumballs and his little horn fell off and she’s just band aiding him up… taking care of what she can.
Jeff: probably “Dreams” piece. My love for typography really knows no bounds. There’s just something about letterforms I love.
What is the process involved in making your work?
Renee: Ideas for me are drawn from storybooks my mom read me as a kid as well as moments in my life. I sketch and sketch and sketch until I get the feeling I like, using the pose and the face…It’s all really important to me. Thee second I feel connected to the sketch, I get into transferring to the larger sheet and water coloring.
Jeff: My concepts tend to revolve around tattoos, typography, Graffiti and old music poster art. I obsess over my line work, because this is the part I truly enjoy the most. The coloring is kind of a relaxing stage.
Did you always want to be artists?
Renee: Yes! The only other thing I ever thought about was a chemist. I used to hide in my basement when I was a kid and just mix chemicals from around the house and from my chemistry set but I’d always do art on the side.
Jeff: There was part of me that always knew I would be an artist of some kind, but I of course chased the childhood dreams (skateboarding, musician) before I got here.
Tell us about the cuddly monster characters that appear in your artwork?
Renee: I just love making things that make me laugh, smile and literally that make me feel complete. I know how they sound, talk, walk, or move… what they do… I really need to find an animator.
Renee, do you always go after themes of conservation and preservation in your pieces?
Renee: Definitely the environment… Most of the time I stay pretty out of what’s going on in the news, a bit naive but I get pretty overwhelmed by what I see in the news or online. I’m pretty sensitive to things that are negative so when something picks at me, I like to feel like I can put a band aid on it by putting a piece of art out there to make people aware or just for a second think about things… create something new.
Why are these issues important to you?
Renee: Well it’s so simple to change and we don’t. The muscle to just buy a lot of packaging or a plastic water container is so easy. So many things have been short formed, even catching up with friends and being a decent person in society. I guess it’s important because I live here too, and I don’t want to live in my own shit to be blunt.
When you’re not making art – what are you doing?
Renee: I’m 1 of 3 partners at Eyerus, a visual communication studio in Los Angeles and I run the biz’ started it in 1999 with 2 of my best friends. I also snowboard plus I’m a foodie for sure.
Jeff: Being a bit of a foodie, listening to music, watching animation, videogames (I’m shamelessly addicted). I’m also a graphic designer at Eyerus as well full time.
Renee, you have a really diverse background- working for MATTEL, in the fashion industry…what has been your favorite sector?
Renee: My favorite sector is running my design shop, Eyerus…nothing harder and nothing more awarding. I love love love how my shop feels like a group of talented people who want to make a huge difference in design. Everyday we say to ourselves, “This is it. Let’s make some good shit” and I swear I have the best group of designers anywhere!
How does it feel to have your work sought after by people like Danny Elfman & Bobby Lee?
Renee: Crazy… Amazing… Flea from Chili peppers was interested in a big 12-foot whale I made for a show for his 4 year old but the gallery sort of didn’t know it was for sale.
What was the story with the band-aids that held up the info cards under your art? Do you guys always do that?
Renee: The band-aids were done for just this show. “Broken Dreams… “
What’s next on your art agenda?
Renee: Well we are both doing the OAC (Oceanic Awareness Collaboration) show in San Fran at White Walls Gallery. I do a lot of non-profit shows for the environment this is one of my favs. I’m also doing another show later this year on all my water creatures like my Trojan whale and sir jellies for the CAVE Gallery in Venice Beach. I also would like to find someone to bring my creatures to life. I want to do some animations about the environment from my perspective… make it fun and warm.
Jeff: Back to the drawing board of course. For me it was one of the first shows I’ve done in a very long time. I really wanted to see what pieces people responded to, if any. My work is so graphic in nature I always wonder if people are gonna enjoy it on a fine art level. More shows together would be nice.
Words by Nicole Pajer (@NicolePajer). Photos by Dustin Downing (@MeTakeaPhoto)
“Broken Dreams and Fairy Wings” will be on display at The Hive Gallery thru January 28th.
729 South Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014