The bohemian life and creative mission that drove Henry Lawrence Faulkner encompassed more than visual art, but it is perhaps his stylized and sometimes colorist work that most indelibly left an impression on the world.  Extraordinarily prolific, Faulkner left behind more than 5,000 works.  He was both a romantic and pragmatic, at times knowing that his messy financial affairs could be addressed by simply creating a few still lifes to keep the wolf from the door.  Well shown and collected throughout his life, and since his death in1981, Faulkner’s stylized figures with their Keane-esque eyes and surreal coloration place his work in the latter half of the twentieth century, but his landscapes often seem inspired by the naive/faux naif works earlier in the century.

“Henry Lawrence Faulkner: The Lifetime Collection of Lawrence Lewis” at Caza Sikes gallery presents a grouping of Faulkner’s paintings and some ephemera including hints at his relationship with Tennessee Williams.  Faulkner was a poet as well and it is this passion which perhaps inspired “Edith Sitwell Taming the Beasts”.  Here we see Sitwell depicted long-limbed and with a serene expression incongruously seated on a purple armchair within a verdant forest.  She is adorned with a halo while playing a harp as doves light on the furniture.  This perhaps tongue-in-cheek beatification is further explored as she is attended by a long-horned goat and medieval red lion.  Whether semi-serious or not these figures clearly show the reverence Faulkner felt toward Sitwell, a fellow poet and one who lived a life as outside the restrictions of convention as Faulkner.  Faulkner travelled to Italy in 1961 and incorporated religious themes in his work at that point.  The styling suggests a mid-century work and her saintly appearance may have been inspired by her death in 1964.

“Edith Sitwell Taming The Beasts”
Oil and Casein on Masonite

Although formally trained in art beginning with the Louisville School of Art, Faulkner incorporated some Naive elements, more so in his landscapes.  “Gratz Park and Fayette County Courthouse Lexington, KY” is an excellent example of this .The skewed perspective and non-parallel windows seem to come from an untrained hand, while the beautiful ochre of soft moss on the brick walls and impossibly perfect clouds hanging in the sky belie a skilled and experienced artist.  Leaves on trees and outsized vines hanging from the Federalist houses are composed of green hearts with red and purple hearts interspersed.  This cheerful snapshot of his adopted home shows his appreciation of the architectural and natural beauty of Lexington.

“Gratz Park and Fayette County Courthouse, Lexington KY”
Oil and Casein on Masonite

Among the darker works within “The Lifetime Collection of Lawrence Lewis” , “Jack of Spades”  is a portrait of a villainous character with another halo but a with a more sinister tone than the depiction of Edith Sitwell.  Seen in profile as on a playing card, the Jack has a curled goatee, moustache, and eyebrow, resembling to some extent the early Christian depictions of Satan.  Through many traditions, the Jack of Spades represents selfishness, evil, and a bad omen.  Faulkner could not have dashed this off to pay a few bills, as the dark tone and heavy symbolism of a halo-adorned Lucifer figure must have been a hard sell in mid-century America.  This is what makes “Jack of Spades” so interesting.  The varied blue to white hues of the background and impossibly intricate details of his costume tell of the care taken with this portrait.  The “spade” which he is holding is composed of a candle at its center.  Is this because the knave is illuminating a symbolic direction?  His cross-adorned halo and light-giving candle either confuse the religious imagery which influenced Faulkner or show his feelings on libertines showing the way to salvation.

“Jack of Spades”
Oil and Casein on Masonite

Faulkner’s popularity may well be connected to the bon-vivant bohemian life he led.  Collectors desire to connect themselves to one they see as a fellow traveler down the unconventional avenues of life play as much a role in the desirability of an artist like Faulkner as the work itself.  Coalescing the Lawrence Lewis collection around the ephemera related to the Faulkner/Williams relationship certainly speaks to this.  But this fetishization of an artist’s work can overshadow at times the true talent and mad inspiration that may indicate the true and lasting value of an oeuvre.  Maybe it is that artists like Faulkner can’t help but overflow their identity from the canvas to their persona.  And maybe there is no division between the live lived and the work created.

“Henry Lawrence Faulkner: The Lifetime Collection of Lawrence Lewis”

Caza Sikes Gallery

December 7 through January 14

–Will Newman

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