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HomeNewsArchivesFrom Fort Frederik to Florence, Italy: St. Croix Artist Achieves International Success

From Fort Frederik to Florence, Italy: St. Croix Artist Achieves International Success

March 9, 2007 — Most art exhibits start with an opening reception, but acclaimed international artist and native Crucian Roy Lawaetz has rarely taken the conventional path.
"I've never done an exhibit like this where you have the opening halfway through," he says, discussing his work in an interview Friday afternoon.
Lawaetz's latest exhibit, "The Art of Cultural Re-affirmation," runs all month at the Fort Frederik Museum in Frederiksted, with the reception scheduled for March 16. He got a nice surprise last week, the day after the exhibit opened: an invitation to participate in the International Florence Bienniale this December. It's one of the world's most acclaimed art exhibits, held every two years in Florence, Italy. Artists exhibiting at the previous Bienniale in 2005 include Christo and Claude Jeanne-Claude, Richard Anuszkiewicz and David Hockney.
If Lawaetz runs with a pretty fast crowd these days, his early years on St. Croix were a little more down to earth. During his elementary-school years, he came to Fort Frederik for a very different reason.
"I'm 64 now," Lawaetz says. "When I was seven or eight, it was the police station. Back then we had a lot of problems with the mongoose. There was no such thing as a frozen chicken — everybody had chickens in their backyards, so the government put a bounty on mongoose. I trapped them out in the rain forest. They gave me 25 cents for males and 35 cents for females."
His exhibit at the fort includes 16 pieces in the style Lawaetz pioneered, the modular triangular system. He literally wrote the book on it, and you can find more information or purchase the book at his website. The juried Manhattan Arts International gallery also recently began exhibiting the artist's works, as seen at its website.
The system primarily involves paintings done on triangular canvasses, often with several canvasses juxtaposed or overlapping. Lawaetz grew up in a Danish family and draws from deep roots to convey Caribbean culture and history in works such as "Rum Barrel Girl," "Sea Flower" and "Face in the Sugar Mill."
"As soon as you use those triangles in combination, things start happening," Lawaetz says. "The angularity motivates a certain dynamic factor." Breaking out of the conventional European rectangular canvas, he says, "provides artist with a wider support base for innovation."
For inspiration in developing the modular triangular system, Lawaetz went back to the region's pre-history with the Taino Indians.
"The Indians had a triangular stone, the zemi, known as a fertility stone or spiritual stone," he says. "They believed it would ensure enough water, food, a good harvest and so on — give them all the best things in life, basically. They hinged their hopes in life on it, much like people do with religion."
Another inspiration for his triangular art system came from the slave trade that brought many Africans to the Caribbean, a triangle involving Europe, Africa and the Americas.
"The triangle has had a very significant role in the Caribbean," Lawaetz says.
The artist has climbed to the heights of the art world after starting relatively late in life. Lawaetz says he never drew or painted regularly as a child. "I was about 28 years old when I started," he says. "I had been in the U.S. Navy for four years. I studied languages before that. I stumbled onto it quite by chance."
When Lawaetz talks about his work with school groups, he emphasizes the growth he experienced and the education he received well beyond the conventional school age.
"A teacher will say, 'Ah, look at that guy, he was probably good at geometry,'" he says. "I wasn't! I found it quite boring. It was the one class I flunked." Only later in life did Lawaetz rediscover art and geometry, a lesson he considers important for children: "I tell 'em school is just an introduction — it's just the beginning."
The artist's work extends beyond the shape of his canvasses, of course. Lawaetz incorporates vivid colors into his works.
"My color is very influenced by the colors of the Caribbean," he says. "The colors underwater, the exotic flora and fauna. I grew up in a plantation setting, and a lot of my relatives were very influential as far as flowers. My uncle, Kai Lawaetz, grafted hibiscus — he was always striving for a blue one, but he never did manage it. My mother was an avid orchid collector. She has exhibited over the years many times. There were always all these flowers around when I was a youngster."
The structure of Caribbean flowers brings Lawaetz back around to his modular triangular system. Overlapping triangles, he says, can make his works "look organic — almost flower-like." A conventionally beautiful European flower like the rose follows a predictable, overlapping structure, he says, akin to the rectangle used for most European works of art. His system, Lawaetz says, allows him to get closer to the unconventional, irregular beauty of his native region.
"When you look at a very rare, exotic orchid, it also has a structure, a rhythm to it that just seems to jump out," he says. "That's the difference between classicism and being exotic. I tell the kids there are two types of beauty: exotic and classical."
As Lawaetz layers his canvasses and sometimes incorporates other media and textures, he says, many of his pieces "become very sculptural."
"I work from the void to fullness," he says. "Sometimes I utilize the void between triangles. The respective relations between them can be dramatically increased." It all began years ago with a single, odd triangular painting among many conventional rectangular ones. Lawaetz spent years painting in an abstract-expressionist style. "It's been years of working," he says. "I didn't get there overnight."
The process has gone on for decades since Lawaetz first began working with his mentor, acclaimed Hungarian-American artist Victor Candell.
"He told me right up front, whether you've been sketching or painting, you have to learn to bring your life experience to the canvas," Lawaetz says. "Life is not about learning to draw pimples on noses. That's illustration. Art was invention. You have to invent your style."
The Lawaetz style will stay on exhibit throughout March at Fort Frederik, with a couple of important events leading up to the 90th anniversary of Transfer Day March 31. The artist's wife, Marianne, is from Denmark, and Lawaetz learned to speak Danish starting at age 19 after hearing his grandparents and parents speak it throughout his childhood.
"I always felt sort of left out when other people would speak it," he says.
On March 21, Lawaetz will participate in a "big celebration," part of a week-long festival exchange involving a visiting group of Danes and members of local Friends of Denmark societies. "I'll be touring them around," he says.
On March 29, Lawaetz will help launch a new art organization, the Society of Caribbean Artists, or SOCA, directed by Norma Krieger. That event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Fort Frederik. Finally, on March 31, the artist will participate in the Transfer Day festivities.
The reception for Lawaetz's exhibit at the Fort Frederik Museum will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. this coming Friday, March 16. For more information, call him at 340-773-0030 or email him.
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March 9, 2007 -- Most art exhibits start with an opening reception, but acclaimed international artist and native Crucian Roy Lawaetz has rarely taken the conventional path.
"I've never done an exhibit like this where you have the opening halfway through," he says, discussing his work in an interview Friday afternoon.
Lawaetz's latest exhibit, "The Art of Cultural Re-affirmation," runs all month at the Fort Frederik Museum in Frederiksted, with the reception scheduled for March 16. He got a nice surprise last week, the day after the exhibit opened: an invitation to participate in the International Florence Bienniale this December. It's one of the world's most acclaimed art exhibits, held every two years in Florence, Italy. Artists exhibiting at the previous Bienniale in 2005 include Christo and Claude Jeanne-Claude, Richard Anuszkiewicz and David Hockney.
If Lawaetz runs with a pretty fast crowd these days, his early years on St. Croix were a little more down to earth. During his elementary-school years, he came to Fort Frederik for a very different reason.
"I'm 64 now," Lawaetz says. "When I was seven or eight, it was the police station. Back then we had a lot of problems with the mongoose. There was no such thing as a frozen chicken -- everybody had chickens in their backyards, so the government put a bounty on mongoose. I trapped them out in the rain forest. They gave me 25 cents for males and 35 cents for females."
His exhibit at the fort includes 16 pieces in the style Lawaetz pioneered, the modular triangular system. He literally wrote the book on it, and you can find more information or purchase the book at his website. The juried Manhattan Arts International gallery also recently began exhibiting the artist's works, as seen at its website.
The system primarily involves paintings done on triangular canvasses, often with several canvasses juxtaposed or overlapping. Lawaetz grew up in a Danish family and draws from deep roots to convey Caribbean culture and history in works such as "Rum Barrel Girl," "Sea Flower" and "Face in the Sugar Mill."
"As soon as you use those triangles in combination, things start happening," Lawaetz says. "The angularity motivates a certain dynamic factor." Breaking out of the conventional European rectangular canvas, he says, "provides artist with a wider support base for innovation."
For inspiration in developing the modular triangular system, Lawaetz went back to the region's pre-history with the Taino Indians.
"The Indians had a triangular stone, the zemi, known as a fertility stone or spiritual stone," he says. "They believed it would ensure enough water, food, a good harvest and so on -- give them all the best things in life, basically. They hinged their hopes in life on it, much like people do with religion."
Another inspiration for his triangular art system came from the slave trade that brought many Africans to the Caribbean, a triangle involving Europe, Africa and the Americas.
"The triangle has had a very significant role in the Caribbean," Lawaetz says.
The artist has climbed to the heights of the art world after starting relatively late in life. Lawaetz says he never drew or painted regularly as a child. "I was about 28 years old when I started," he says. "I had been in the U.S. Navy for four years. I studied languages before that. I stumbled onto it quite by chance."
When Lawaetz talks about his work with school groups, he emphasizes the growth he experienced and the education he received well beyond the conventional school age.
"A teacher will say, 'Ah, look at that guy, he was probably good at geometry,'" he says. "I wasn't! I found it quite boring. It was the one class I flunked." Only later in life did Lawaetz rediscover art and geometry, a lesson he considers important for children: "I tell 'em school is just an introduction -- it's just the beginning."
The artist's work extends beyond the shape of his canvasses, of course. Lawaetz incorporates vivid colors into his works.
"My color is very influenced by the colors of the Caribbean," he says. "The colors underwater, the exotic flora and fauna. I grew up in a plantation setting, and a lot of my relatives were very influential as far as flowers. My uncle, Kai Lawaetz, grafted hibiscus -- he was always striving for a blue one, but he never did manage it. My mother was an avid orchid collector. She has exhibited over the years many times. There were always all these flowers around when I was a youngster."
The structure of Caribbean flowers brings Lawaetz back around to his modular triangular system. Overlapping triangles, he says, can make his works "look organic -- almost flower-like." A conventionally beautiful European flower like the rose follows a predictable, overlapping structure, he says, akin to the rectangle used for most European works of art. His system, Lawaetz says, allows him to get closer to the unconventional, irregular beauty of his native region.
"When you look at a very rare, exotic orchid, it also has a structure, a rhythm to it that just seems to jump out," he says. "That's the difference between classicism and being exotic. I tell the kids there are two types of beauty: exotic and classical."
As Lawaetz layers his canvasses and sometimes incorporates other media and textures, he says, many of his pieces "become very sculptural."
"I work from the void to fullness," he says. "Sometimes I utilize the void between triangles. The respective relations between them can be dramatically increased." It all began years ago with a single, odd triangular painting among many conventional rectangular ones. Lawaetz spent years painting in an abstract-expressionist style. "It's been years of working," he says. "I didn't get there overnight."
The process has gone on for decades since Lawaetz first began working with his mentor, acclaimed Hungarian-American artist Victor Candell.
"He told me right up front, whether you've been sketching or painting, you have to learn to bring your life experience to the canvas," Lawaetz says. "Life is not about learning to draw pimples on noses. That's illustration. Art was invention. You have to invent your style."
The Lawaetz style will stay on exhibit throughout March at Fort Frederik, with a couple of important events leading up to the 90th anniversary of Transfer Day March 31. The artist's wife, Marianne, is from Denmark, and Lawaetz learned to speak Danish starting at age 19 after hearing his grandparents and parents speak it throughout his childhood.
"I always felt sort of left out when other people would speak it," he says.
On March 21, Lawaetz will participate in a "big celebration," part of a week-long festival exchange involving a visiting group of Danes and members of local Friends of Denmark societies. "I'll be touring them around," he says.
On March 29, Lawaetz will help launch a new art organization, the Society of Caribbean Artists, or SOCA, directed by Norma Krieger. That event will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at Fort Frederik. Finally, on March 31, the artist will participate in the Transfer Day festivities.
The reception for Lawaetz's exhibit at the Fort Frederik Museum will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. this coming Friday, March 16. For more information, call him at 340-773-0030 or email him.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please inc lude headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.