By LISA CRAWFORD WATSON
Posted: 05/28/2010 02:41:54 AM PDT
What you see when you look at the painting of a woman whose eyes seem to look deeply into yours is paint, artistically applied on canvas. What you perceive as you look, not at the paint but at your response to her image, are all the experiences and feelings and beliefs you have brought with you to the gallery. What you take away is a slightly different sense of self.
When artist David Lazarony paints a figure, he executes his technical mastery over the medium to represent what is there. Yet he also layers in his sensibilities and those of his model in order to create not an impression of his subject, but her essence. Who she is and how she feels. The viewer rounds out the experience with what they bring to the painting.
“I am curious; it is part of my human nature,” Lazarony said. “One day, while looking at one of my paintings, I felt like the person was looking back at me. How was that possible? There really wasn’t anyone there. How could a few strokes of pastel cause me to feel like I was being seen? Then it occurred to me that I was doing the seeing. The painting was simply mirroring my experience back to me in a way I hadn’t noticed before.”
This weekend, Lazarony invites the viewing public to craft their own experiences of his work in “Experience Being Seen,” an exhibition of recent paintings at the Pacific Grove Art Center, which poses direct questions about his art.
“During the process of creating these paintings, I stayed present to my experiences and tried to express those feelings to the viewer. But their journey to this moment in life has been different than mine, and with it they bring their own unique experiences. As they look at the paintings, I encourage them to notice how their life is being mirrored back to them. Once they’ve looked, I encourage them to go a little deeper and see what my added questions say to them. They may be surprised.”
When Lazarony painted a portrait of a friend, he engaged in a technically facile process of creating the figure. Yet to paint it so the image became her, he actually painted five or six different paintings before he felt he had achieved something that didn’t just look like her but had become her.
“It is easier to paint a figure of someone you don’t know than someone you do,” he said. “I can get the technical part down, but the spiritual part that enables one to recognize her, to find her in the painting; that’s the challenge. How do I paint what she’s feeling? How do I paint what I know of her? And what will the viewer find there? I titled it, ‘Well?’ The viewer can make the next move.”
Lazarony, himself, has made a few perceptive moves in his life. Formally trained at The Ohio State University as an electrical engineer, he spent more than a dozen years working with the graphic elements of software for Adobe, a company that creates digital content and applications.
Yet 10 years ago, in an apparent phase of right brain rising, Lazarony decided to get back into fine art painting, an aspect of his life he had all but abandoned since high school. He began by enrolling in a portrait painting class taught by Bob Gerbracht, an award-winning master and member of the Society of Western Artists.
“Ever since David started coming to my classes,” said Gerbracht, “he has been very enthused and committed to working at his painting. He got deeply into it and has been painting faithfully and diligently to the point where he has become very, very good.”
Every Wednesday night, for more than seven years, Lazarony showed up for class, an experience he credits with getting him back into his art and to a place where he was able to move beyond craft to concept.
“Bob is like your ideal grandfather,” Lazarony said. “He definitely knows his stuff. He is the most talented yet laid-back mentor. No matter where you are, how lost you may become, he’ll gently lead you back by suggestion. I have reached the point where, I understand the craft; now it’s a question of what I want to do with it. A painting can be technically beautiful, but does it move you when you look at it. This is the art of it.”
Lazarony was first exposed to the beauty of art by his grandfather, Thomas Hill, an artist who loved to wander the Scottish landscape in his painting; who understood the craft and cherished the art of painting. He also loved to share it with his grandson, who exhibited an early proclivity for painting.
“Simple praises for my crayon sketches encouraged me to explore my art,” said Lazarony. “Throughout my childhood, I heard my parents say, ‘You definitely have your grandfather’s talent, David.’ It was often my mother who was praising me, but she didn’t consider herself an artist. Instead, her sister, Margaret Symmonds, gave me my first painting lessons.”
What most viewers bring to their interpretation of his early paintings is an understanding and observation of unusual early talent. Lazarony’s high school art teacher, Bea Van Meter, was his next mentor. Soon, Lazarony’s paintings were “being seen” and winning awards.
Yet Lazarony, fearful of becoming a “starving artist,” opted for a high-tech career which, ultimately, fed his coffers and ransomed his inner artist. In addition to Gerbracht’s training, Lazarony studied with artists Linda Harris, Randy Sexton, Nelson Shanks, Brian Blood, Warren Chang, Sherrie McGraw and David Leffel. Four years ago, after working nearly 20 years in the high-tech arena, Lazarony moved, with his wife and high school sweetheart, Barbara, to coastal Pacific Grove. He has been painting ever since.
“The engineer in me thinks I should be painting on a schedule,” he said. “But the painter in me won’t have it. I am a technical guy, and technique is important, but when I paint from life, the verbal part of my brain becomes quiet. I have no words, no verbal direction. It’s about what I’m seeing and feeling; striving for that balance between having a vision and not being so attached to it that I completely lock it down. This experience is, in some ways, similar to meditation. It is a silent space, like a runner’s high. And that experience is why I wanted to leave Adobe and focus on my painting, on life.”
In addition to engaging viewers during his exhibition by posing direct questions relative to his paintings, on June 12, Lazarony will host a discussion, facilitated by Barbara, about the collective experience – how it feels to paint and to view his work.
“Ironically,” he said, “I cannot paint feelings. All I can paint are shapes of color in a particular location. That's it. But I can use my feelings to direct my painting. It is about slowing down and really looking at my subject and then looking at my painting. How do those two experiences compare? What feels different to me? What doesn't feel right? What feels like it is missing? Those questions lead me to continue refining the areas in the painting that interest me as well as removing the unnecessary and leaving only what is essential. That is what I call elegant painting.”