In a world gone a little bit crazy, buffeted by anger, hatred, distrust and despair, painter Tanner Lawley’s art offers love and hope.
Perhaps you have seen Lawley’s creations; they’re hard to miss. Cacophonies of color, usually oil on canvas, and often anchored by big, sprawling hearts, they express the abundance and compassion that anchor Lawley’s own life.
Perhaps you’ve seen his gallery as well, Lawley Art Group on Dragon Street in the Design District. A hotbed of expressed emotions, it houses his artwork and his studio, serves as the premier venue for pop-up art shows by up-and-coming artists and accommodates events, like wedding receptions and parties, in a 4,000-square-foot space.
Lawley’s paintings are to be felt more than studied, paintings that elicit strong emotions in those who purchase, or just admire, them. A mash-up of impressionism and abstract expressionism, his work has been compared to Peter Max for his bold colors, Jim Dine for his dedication to the heart and Gerhard Richter for his movement technique.
Lawley’s pieces sell for as much as $20,000 in Miami, New York and in the Dallas Design District. Art Business News named him one of 50 artists to watch in 2010. Art Expo New York awarded him Best New Exhibitor in 2014. His gallery won the Red Dot Miami show’s Booth Design award in 2016.
One example is Lawley’s 4-by-3-foot depiction of the Eiffel Tower, with its solid lines against a dappled blue background, overlain with a ragged red and white heart. The painting hung in his studio for two years until a man saw it and froze. His wife and daughter had been in Paris during the November 2015 terrorist attacks that killed 130 people. In the chaos that followed the bombing and shooting, he lost communication with them for three days, unable to determine their fate. “That piece was made for them and I didn’t know it then,” Lawley says. “I almost painted over it three or four times, and to think now that my painting became a bridge for that emotion I felt for my loved ones in that exact moment in time when I was creating it.”
A third-generation paint contractor, Lawley did not set out to be an artist. Instead, art bided its time while he searched for meaning in his early years. After spending his 20s as a bouncer and bodyguard, he realized he needed another path. That’s when art grasped his hand and led him to the destiny he was meant to fulfill.
Lawley says being a contractor taught him about the tools of painting. Even today he is more proficient as a painter with a knife than with a brush because it harkens to the taping knives he used on drywall.
In 2006, Lawley found himself managing a fine art gallery that showed the works of acclaimed artists such as Alexandra Nechita, JD Miller, Alexandre Renoir and, most significantly, Peter Max. He caught the painting bug and began to dabble.
Lawley had just begun to hone his new craft when he met D’Anne Bragg. On their first date he painted a heart for her—his first one—and there began two fruitful relationships, one with the woman who would become his wife and mother of his two daughters, and another with the symbol of love and forgiveness that anchors many of his paintings.
To encourage the careers of young artists, Lawley makes his gallery available in short bursts—like a day or a weekend— so they don’t have to spend large sums to rent space long term. This is one way he is paying forward the support he received early on from Reflectionist artist JD Miller.
With large open space and the promise of a live painting performance, Lawley rents his gallery out for dinner parties, birthday bashes and the like. Guests enjoy the unique experience of attending an event where a mountain of a man paints hearts bursting with color. Lawley loves the live performances because they allow him to share his art in the moment with those who connect to his work. “Art is a bridge, a connection,” he says. “I can take that heart anywhere in the world.”
Barry Waldman is principal of Big Fly Communications, a PR/marketing firm for nonprofits and small businesses.