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Velvet underground

No longer the medium of art sold on street corners, velvet is a fave for Trent Lawson.

Eric Webb December 23rd, 2013

By day, Trent Lawson is a mild-mannered preparator at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, helping to display other people’s work. But by night, he’s a superhero of the local art scene who recently has gained increasing notoriety for paintings featuring pop-culture mashups with nods to art history and absurdist humor on that most refined of material, velvet.

“It has its own set of rules, but painting on velvet produces a unique result that, much like the material itself, envelopes viewers in a rich, smooth, luxurious pocket of gooey satisfaction,” he said.

Before working on velvet, Lawson spent a decade creating work for his Pareidolia series featuring surreal, organic forms designed to be subjec tively interpreted.

“Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon where one sees a vague or random stimulus and perceives it as something recognizable,” he said, “like cloud shapes looking like animals, Rorschach ink blots or Jesus in the burnt tortilla.”

His artistic destiny was forever changed in 2010 when aka gallery hosted an exhibition of velvet paintings.

“I had never painted on velvet,” he said, “and thought, ‘I’m an artist. I should paint on velvet at least once.’” His first velvet piece paid homage to the history and perception of velvet paintings.

“So I did a take on Dogs Playing Poker, but instead of poker, my dogs were playing mah-jongg,” Lawson said. “That pretty much set me up for everything that followed.”

That painting was named best of show. Since then, Lawson has created 55 works on velvet with hilariously diverse subjects such as Prince lusting after a plate of nachos, Elvis as Han Solo, a Joker-inspired rendition of Ronald McDonald, MacGyver as St. Sebastian, and Thunder mascot Rumble astride the Devon Tower à la King Kong.

“I want my audience to have fun and laugh,” he said. “Humor in art isn’t something that’s taken seriously in the art world, and I’d like that to change.”

The series has been a hit with art lovers and collectors. Some pieces sold before even being displayed. For those not lucky enough to own an original, Lawson is planning on a limited-edition run of prints for some of his velvet works in 2014.

Lawson also has created meme-infused portraits of notable Oklahomans Chuck Norris and Gary England. The Norris painting, which includes the Internet’s popular “Chuck Norris Facts,” was purchased for Norris by his wife for Christmas.

“The only feedback I’ve heard is that Chuck found some of the facts I chose to be distasteful,” Lawson said, “but his wife sent me a lovely card.”

The England portrait features excerpts from The Lost Ogle-inspired Gary England Drinking Game and was displayed at the veteran weatherman’s retirement party earlier this year.

“His wife said Gary liked the painting because it looked like I’d whitened his teeth,” said Lawson.

While Lawson has earned roughly a dozen awards, had 14 solo exhibitions and has participated in more than 130 group exhibitions, his work has never been displayed in the museum where he works. That’s because not long after he started working at OKCMOA, he asked a curator about showing local artists. The response was that there weren’t any local artists doing “museum-quality work.”

It turns out that designation is a bit of a catch-22.

“Museum-quality work is work that is being shown in a museum. That’s about it,” said Lawson. “A curator somewhere gave the artist a shot, and once you’re a ‘museum-quality artist,’ it seems easier to get your second museum gig.”

He’s not as bothered about it for himself as he is for local artists in general. “I’d like my work to be in a museum someday, and it would be really great for it to be a museum where I’ve worked and lived, but maybe I haven’t done my signature work yet,” he said. “It’d be depressing to think that I’ve already peaked in my art career.”

In the meantime, Lawson has four pieces on display through December at Grease Trap Gallery, 5100 N. Classen Circle, for its Cantina Christmas show featuring sci-fi-related works.

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