NGV Triennial

Des Lawrence
Janet Leigh, Deborah Kerr and Farrah Fawcett



Des Lawrence makes paintings and drawings inspired by newspaper obituaries. He creates portraits of recently deceased noted individuals through a likeness, an image of their accomplishments, or something associated with them. Rendered in enamel paint or fine silverpoint lines, his works – like most images chosen to memorialise the dead – present their subjects in idealised form. Three works on paper – Janet Leigh 2010, Deborah Kerr 2011, and Farrah Fawcett 2012 – each feature a portrait of their namesake. With Lawrence particularly interested in replicating the different visual aspects of colour photography that defined the publicity material for Hollywood actors in the late 1950s, these works also mark the first introduction of colour into Lawrence’s work.

A fourth work, the large-scale painting Henry Worsley 2019 will depict an ice-breaker ship in the arctic representing the late British explorer. Worsley died in 2016 while attempting to complete the first solo and unaided crossing of the Antarctic. ‘The [painting is] both a tribute to the deceased and a meditative process in depicting the detail of an image,’ says Lawrence. While the use of obituaries as the source for Lawrence’s subject matter frees the artist from the burden of decision-making, they pose complex questions around portraiture, the role of history and mortality itself.

Des Lawrence studied at Glasgow School of Art and Goldsmiths College, London. His practice includes painting, drawing, text and installation. Lawrence’s work was exhibited in The Real: Three Propositions at White Cube, London; The London Open at Whitechapel Gallery, London; and To Hope, to Tremble, to Live at Hepworth Wakefield. In 2005, Lawrence was awarded the Abbey Scholarship at the British School in Rome. His work is held in the collections of The Wordsworth Trust, Grasmere; The Donaukurier, Munich; and private collections.

Producing realist drawings and paintings inspired by current newspaper obituaries, Lawrence’s artworks are memorials to the lately departed. As such the artist considers his work a kind of history painting – a genre rarely explored in contemporary art.

The NGV warmly thanks Triennial Major Supporters Christopher Thomas AM & Cheryl Thomas, Triennial Supporter Jennifer Lempriere, Triennial Lead Supporters Michael & Emily Tong, Triennial Supporters John & Cecily Adams and 2019 NGV Curatorial Tour donors for their support of the works on paper.

The NGV warmly thanks Triennial Supporters Neil Young QC, Jahn Buhrman, Suzanne Kirkham, as well as E. & D. Rogowski Foundation and donors to the 2020 NGV Annual Appeal for their support of the painting.