Roy Lawaetz
by Roy Lawaetz


By Richard Oxman

Mankind’s early artwork was organic in thought and formation, not encumbered by physical boundaries with its creative roots steeped in cultural expression. And one thing that all prehistoric cave paintings have in common is their lack of a frame. Framing artwork is tantamount to labeling. In framing one says: "What's inside of the frame is art, and what's outside is not. And don't get the two realms confused." Prehistoric man had no need for such labels. Indeed, his creations emerged in a more fluid milieu. Life and art were more blended.

The geometric frames which have been commonplace in the art world for centuries have their counterparts in the shapes of city blocks, most dwellings, etc. Paintings echo the configuration of the buildings they occupy. However, the rectangular treatment of artworks is quite arbitrary, of course, an automatic response. The artist buys the material available to him from the art industry and starts to paint.

There are many reasons to question the use of rectangular framing, but perhaps the single greatest reason is to address what Samuel Beckett touched upon when he said, "Habit is the great deadener." Art lovers and artists alike routinely embrace the omnipresent rectangle, and in doing so reinforce a traditional visual experience which is most comforting.

But Art does not exist to avoid making ripples. It certainly has as one of its most cherished functions to stir things up, to stir the soul. Unquestionably, that cannot be done in an environment which is dictated by Habit. Art begs for innovation, for the oblique approach, for a breakthrough vis-a-vis whatever's routine.

Roy Lawaetz, internationally acclaimed artist from the Caribbean, has faced this challenge head on throughout his career. And the Modular Triangular System which he started in the seventies has served him and his viewing public well. This innovator from St. Croix has made a singularly stimulating contribution to the art world by providing an alternative to the Hegemonic Rule of the Rectangle.

Lawaetz's unique format is truly radical, and yet --to cite only one example here-- what is more appropriate for presentation of subjects which echo aspects of the Divine Trinity (deep-rooted in the cultural history of the Caribbean) than a triangle? Truly, the harmony inherent in the artist's blending of form and content begs the question of why triangular framing has not been embraced in Italy throughout history. Why the treatment of  Fra Angelico's non-rectangular work in the Museo di San Marco is the exception, not the rule.
At the very least, one would think that the triangle is a much-needed complement for traditional framing. The art world can never have enough radical breakthroughs. Non-conventional concepts and treatment invariably provide an infusion of fresh blood, new revelations. Camille Pissarro, from the island of St. Thomas, was born only 40 miles away from Roy's birthplace. Perhaps it is a point worth noting. The Father of Impressionism was a radical in the Nineteenth Century. And we all know how radicals are greeted regardless of the realm in which they work.

Roy has been more fortunate than most radical innovators, having been applauded worldwide for his creations, almost from the start. This is quite amazing, considering his revolutionary approach.

The cave artists who descended deep into the bowels of the earth to practice their mysterious art provide an excellent image for contemplation of Roy's uncommon creations. For one, they were not restricted by parameters which didn't serve them. And their artwork --once viewed by the arrogant and the ignorant as "primitive"-- has had an overwhelming impact on artists ever since.

Roy Lawaetz is one of the participating artists of the 2007 Florence Biennale where approximately 800 artists from around the world will be participating this year. He was invited to exhibit when the Internal Committee observed his unique works on the internet.

Indeed, Classicism’s own path reveals rare sidesteps committed by the great masters who also on occasion preferred to reject the familiar rectangle. El Greco’s Count Orgaz’s Funeral ca. 1586 utilizes a partial oval hybrid, and Sandro Botticelli’s round format was adopted for his Madonna Del Magnificat, in Galleria degli Uffizi. Ingres' “The Turkish Bath” is another round format that departs from the usual rectangular tradition. Yet these were all exceptions in the overall oeuvre of the masters. Nothing more than the occasional diversions of an habitual choice.

In contrast, Roy Lawaetz has made this rarity of art history his all-consuming passion: "Prototypical shapes are built on extreme premises outside the box as if they belonged in a category of their own," says one critic. Roy believes that the dimensional qualities which define his configurations suggest a true blend of two artistic disciplines, painting and sculpture.

Pre-Columbian history of the Caribbean dictates this unusual blending. When Columbus landed on his first voyage he met the Taino Indian race, docile beings in contrast to the fierce Caribs (from which the region gets its name today). These Taino Indians revered a triangular sculpted stone known as a Cemi or Zemi. They believed these triangular shaped stones would ensure all the good things in life: bountiful harvests, personal well-being, and protection from evil spirits. 

Roy Lawaetz has dug into the culturally rooted archeological strata of the Caribbean to redefine art for himself, and make a seminal contribution. The affinitive example Italians possess would be their old Etruscan heritage, the rich ethnographic past of Italy that has also influenced some of Italy’s greatest contemporary artists.

Does any artist --in his drive to produce groundbreaking contemporary art-- reject everything before him? Is that really possible? Desirable?

To wit, Roy's cluster, anchor, and butterfly shapes (among others) have a direct relation to nature whilst incorporating the Divine Trinity and his pre-Columbian heritage. But he does not stop there. He doesn't ignore the compelling African contribution to the Caribbean Diaspora. The inhuman "triangle slave trade" is also a referential component in his work, a permanent record of the region’s history. He combines archaeology, religion, and human fate into formatted projections of non-conventional expression. The artist distills the Caribbean’s fragmented past and present into an iconic presentation. In its style it is quite different than what Italians are accustomed to, but it speaks to ethnic differences (and a number of other issues) which prevail in the world today.

Roy Lawaetz does not consider himself "the Rimbaud of Contemporary Art," a label some of his French fans have given him. Rather, he incorporates that which has inspired him in the Classical World, and that which he has designated as Exotic Art. He is less interested in endgame strategies geared to the Art Market than in establishing a cultural breakthrough that adds to art diversification. His is an art of ideas, one that uses deep Caribbean roots to transcend boundaries, whether those on the canvas or those imposed by arbitrary geographical limits. His island art is being exposed to the rest of the world in increasingly more prototypical combinations. Participation at this year’s Florence Biennale is just one more example. Yes, his art relates to consciousness in another early sense: that primeval urge to express oneself outside an enclosed space. And in its strange hypnotic way his refusal to be framed within a rectangle also says he has found his own way to bridge the gap between the early primitive and the postmodern. His work comes full circle encompassing our beginning and present history.

Richard Oxman, is a former professor of Dramatic Art/Comparative Literature/Cinema History.

July 17, 2007

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