Jacksonville has lost another friend with the passing of Lawrence Hugo, known better as “Lawr.” Lawr passed away on April 4, surrounded by family. Enjoy this piece written on his life and artwork from the Review archives.
Jacksonville Review¸ July 2007
Back to Simpler Things
by Carolyn Kingsnorth
“Trying to get back to simpler things—that’s what my art is all about,” says Ruch artist Lawrence Hugo. Hugo’s work has recently been featured on the local PBS-TV program, “Oregon Art Beat,” and in Jacksonville’s Gallery Élan.
“People don’t exactly know what they’re looking at, but they like it. It’s the simpler aspect that appeals to them.”
Hugo’s artwork is both simple and complex. To begin with, his medium of choice is leather. Every piece is first drawn, and then transferred to leather. Once transferred, the images are engraved and beveled. “The beveling gives it a 3-D effect,” he explains. “It gives it dimension and depth. It’s a relief.
“It adds to the quality of the art,” he continues. However, one slip of the knife and an entire piece could be ruined. You can correct mistakes in a lot of media, but leather is unforgiving.”
Once the leather is engraved, Hugo paints his images with acrylics. “It’s really two craft aspects sandwiched by two art aspects,” he observes. Individual works may represent up to a year of actual labor—time sandwiched in between working as an arborist and raising a family.”
Hugo’s work has a certain ‘naïve’ quality, with characters and events depicted in a flat plane. At the same time, the images are extremely detailed. “Every inch will have something. It’s real up front. Whether it’s a tree or water, everything will be broken up so that the final product is similar to a paint-by-number piece when it’s done. Everything is a closed system. Every color gets its own space, so I design it more or less like a mosaic.”
Hugo considers the works themselves as stories compiled from a range of symbols. “Each of these pieces is a kind of philosophy. Before I draw them, I write the concepts down so I can study the words, the subject matter, the theme, the archetype. There’s a lot of study that goes into them, a lot of research.”
Many of Hugo’s themes come from growing up in rural Pennsylvania in an Irish Catholic family. “My Catholic upbringing and training exposed me to symbols and icons that my life seemed to be based on. I wanted to understand these images, and diagram them into pieces rich with basic symbols and relationships.”
When he sits down to a piece of paper, Hugo has a concept in mind, but not a finished image. “I have an idea of what the piece is going to be, but I don’t have a vision of the piece being done. Since there’s so much going on in these things, the first thing is to get an idea of the central theme. As that gets drawn, other pieces start appearing in my mind, and it just kind of unfolds.”
The complex detail of Hugo’s work is reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Bruegel the Elder, late 15th and early 16th Century Dutch and Flemish painters. Symbolic images of demons, half-human animals and machines depict sin and human moral failings in Bosch’s complex, imaginative, and iconographic work. Bruegel, too, satirized the folly and sinfulness of mankind in his eye-level panoramic stories that combined multiple scenes into a single painting.
Hugo’s pieces often depict such images as wild animals, devils, and flying demons. “I’m trying to explain, trying to visualize, what I perceive is going on in life. It just seems that there is conflict—if anybody hasn’t noticed that, they haven’t been around long enough. Part of my artwork is to render it in a beautiful way, with all the natural wild animals and wild scenes. The world is beautiful, but within that beauty, there is conflict.”
Hugo believes that much of the conflict arises from the complexities of modern life. “We’ve gotten lost in the networks. For example, now we have techical communication like computers and i-pods, but they’re still communication, like drums were an early form of communication. Things that seem complicated really have simple origins.
“I think we’re in such a state of Prozac and antidepressants because we’ve gotten so far removed from the simple life. People have developed microcosms in their big homes and cars—they’ve cut themselves off from each other. But I think they are starting to see that and are trying to establish more community.”
He feels that too many contemporary lifestyles emphasize differences. “We need to look for our unity, for how we’re alike. That’s where I’m trying to focus—on foundational premises—to bring communication to a level where it’s clear, where it’s pure. Again, that’s what my art is about—going back to the simpler things.”
Hugo has never had formal art training, although he did have art classes in school. He and his brother learned leatherwork as youths in summer arts and crafts classes that their aunt taught at the local playground.
“As we got older, we started making our own designs. And then we started using acrylic paints. Then I started getting away from the small things—the belts and purses and stuff. I wanted to do bigger pieces. It just became an interesting combination of the craft and the art.”
Hugo has themes he still wants to do—much bigger images. “The secret is going to be to find a cow that’s big enough,” he laughs. His largest work to date depicts the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse. He has an even larger piece in mind that would be an allegory of the fall of Adam and Eve. “It’s a very complex piece, with all sorts of images and symbols. Then I would have Genesis and Revelations, the Alpha and the Omega. I think even Bosch might sit up and take notice!”
A tribute to Lawr – by Eric Morrell
Jacksonville lost one of its iconic, treasured sons this week. Those of us who knew him mourn the loss of Lawr Hugo. Lawr was a well-known fixture in the Jacksonville community – a free spirit transplanted from Pittsburgh with a dashing style, a smile, and a heart of gold. ‘Benevolent’ captured Lawr’s spirit, and I doubt that many who knew him thought otherwise. Authorities were frustrated at times by his countercultural leanings, but his spirit transcended such petty concerns. His artistry was exceptional, as was his capacity to cross spiritual and philosophical barriers. Lawr was at once both conservative and liberal in his view of God and the importance of being good to one’s fellow human being. His art work captured the tension of his beliefs, and few could argue that its Inferno-like quality was not mesmerizing. I was privileged to spend time with Lawr, and his wisdom penetrated my thinking in many ways. I wish he had been with us longer. Here’s to you, Lawr. We will miss you. Eric Morrell Jacksonville, OR