It is the evening before her first solo exhibition in London but Erin Lawlor has already taken a step back from the canvases hanging in the Turf Gallery, Notting Hill. ‘At this stage the paintings have a life of their own,’ she says. But after nearly two decades of painting in Paris is still apprehensive about exhibiting. ‘The French for ‘to exhibit’ is ‘exposer’ she says, ‘and exhibitions really do expose you.’
Less than three weeks before she was supposed to journey to London, thieves stole two of the largest canvases put aside for the exhibition. The following day she learned another of the paintings destined for the Turf had been short listed for the prestigious Salon de Montrouge painting prize. She had just 10 days to paint a substitute piece. ‘Everything suddenly snowballed but I think this is a good sign ? my painting is reaching maturity.’
Erin Lawlor’s paintings can take weeks and months to materialise but when they ‘come together’ they are completed within a day. ‘It is important not to have too much intention,’ she says, ‘there is very definitely an internal logic to the painting.’
She works on the floor using 30cm wide household brushes: ‘It’s almost like doing Thai-chi in the studio,’ she says. The paintings are floral and organic, sweeping and swirling brushstrokes that can appear at times dark yet contain a spectrum of colours. ‘They are spaces on which spectators can project ? people tend to see what they want,’ she explains. Her work has not always had this freedom ? for 10 years she produced mainly portraits. ‘In terms of communication the most recent paintings are much more satisfying,’ she says.
Lawlor left London when she was 18. She studied history of art at the Sorbonne and half way through a Masters degree began painting full time. Her first private commission was from a member of the Dubuffet Foundation in Paris. ‘Afterwards I was handed a blank cheque,’ she explains. ‘At the time I thought it was very generous but afterwards I thought they’d passed the problem onto me ? it took me a very long time to work out how much I should write out.’
Exactly 18 years after arriving in Paris, Lawlor is happy to be exhibiting in London. ‘I am ripe to come back now,’ she says. ‘In a way I’m coming back to my roots. You never really get away from them though ? my paintings have always been more Anglo Saxon than French. Paris has always shown me how I’m not a French painter.’
Painting in Paris, she says, is at a problematic stage ? painting is still seen as an elitist form with conceptual art the only acceptable genre. ‘There are two art markets in Paris ? conceptual and very traditional.’
Lawlor’s art is both and neither. The large canvases, with their sweeping brush movements are individual, intimate and highly skilled. ‘Very few female painters work in oils of this size,’ she explains. Although they are not direct influences, Lawlor sees similarities with her work and that of Georgia O’Keefe, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell.
‘In England you don’t have to justify oil painting,’ she says, adding that she is enjoying rediscovering London. ‘I do stupid things. I don’t know how to work the machines in the tube stations. But it’s refreshing to be back in England and it is important for me to have recognition here.’
The Turf Gallery and Lawlor is a match made in heaven. Glass artist Stephanie Carlton Smith, who owns the property, is determined to run a gallery which promotes the translation of ideas by using a skill. For many years Carlton Smith sold her own work from the property, which is situated on a kink of Westbourne Park Road in Notting Hill. ‘I couldn’t keep up with the demand so I shut it down,’ she says. ‘Everyone thought I was mad but I really had to think about why I was doing it.’ After completing a Masters degree at the Royal College of Art she decided to set it up in a different way ? as a rentable space for artists with her own workshop downstairs.
Turf is now booked until December. ‘I have great faith in the space,’ she says. ‘For me art is the translation of ideas into 2d or 3d by using a skill.’ But the Turf, rather like Lawlor’s painting, does not have a fixed criterion. ‘I like artists to approach me and bring in ideas,’ Carlton Smith explains. And the space itself also seems to be a moveable feast. ‘I discovered today that I own two ft of pavement in front of the shop, says Carlton Smith, ‘I’m thinking of putting some grass down and a little fence.’
Erin Lawlor is exhibiting at the Turf Gallery, 81 Westbourne Park Rd until March 26 2007. Opening hours Tuesday ? Saturday 11am-6pm.
For further details please telephone +44 (0)207 221 5215 .