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Annette Lawrence has her hands in her pockets in the arboretum on UNC

Annette Lawrence’s work can be found in museums including the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. (photo by Jess Abel)

Artist Annette Lawrence emphasizes the process of creating and teaching students to embrace unexpected discoveries during the artistic process.

Annette Lawrence was walking to her childhood dance class in Queens, New York, when she first spotted the easels and art supplies through a door down the hallway at the Long Island School of Music, Dance and Art.

Eventually, she followed her curiosity past the dance studio to the drawing class.

“As soon as I looked in, I thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” she said.

While earning a BFA in sculpture at the Hartford Art School and an MFA in painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Lawrence began to explore the elements that would shape her work throughout her career: text and time, data and music, handwritten messages and found materials.

Learning about sculptor Gordon Matta-Clark’s Conical Intersect, a critique of urban gentrification in 1970s Paris, made a lasting impression on Lawrence that continues to this day. As an undergraduate, she meticulously assembled paper sculptures out of scrap pieces of cardboard salvaged from the framing shop next to her home. She was left with both the cutouts and their negative space and was fascinated by that relationship.

Lawrence said she avoided addressing social or political elements in her work until graduate school, when she realized that it was “impossible to go forward without acknowledging glaring omissions in my formal education.” A desire to explore race and power dynamics in her art led her to study writers and artists that would become her inspirations: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, June Jordan and more.

Lawrence’s canon of work includes pieces in over 20 solo and 30 group exhibitions in museums and private collections across the country that examine “what counts, how it is counted and who is counting.”

In her 2009 work Free Paper, Lawrence used the unsolicited mail she received after she moved homes to investigate personal environmental impact.

In Standard Time, a 2016 solo exhibition, she codified and transcribed 25 years of personal journaling into 12 graphite drawings and a dynamic, translucent suspended installation that resembles a circular maze. The exhibit allows others to peer into Lawrence’s life story while maintaining the privacy of her thoughts.

Lawrence encourages that same personal investigation in the classroom and studio at Carolina.

She began her role as the Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor of Studio Art and chair of UNC’s department of art and art history last August. She brings with her 24 years of teaching and leadership experience from the University of North Texas College of Visual Arts and Design.

“I’m committed to facilitating the experience of making and unmaking, looking and waiting and finding or recognizing what is in front of us by paying attention,” said Lawrence.

This semester, her MFA studio critique class is home to eight student artists of differing disciplines, including photography, sculpture, painting, mixed media and performance art. She is deeply grateful for the time she has with her students and for the support of her UNC art colleagues.

“I have an amazing team,” she said, “and I do not take that for granted.”

Lawrence is currently at work on a project honoring her nephew, Lawrence Wade Kimbrough, who died tragically at the age of 20 in 2021.

“He was with us physically for 7,444 days,” she said. “I had a walking practice while he was alive and committed to walking a mile for every day of his life.” She plans to represent the miles through drawings and paintings in a color palette “that reflects his sensibilities.”

Lawrence is also in the early stages of starting an artist residency in Georgia, West Orchid, with her sister, Jo-ann. The chance to give fellow artists a space to create without boundaries fuels her mission to provide “the gift of time and space to work in a beautiful location supported by other artists.”

By Jess Abel ’19

Published in the Spring 2024 issue | Faculty Up Close, Tar Heels Up Close

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