David Lazarus likes reinvention. As a young man, he left his home in England for life in the United States. “I left on a whim. I just wanted to see this part of the world,” he says. Visiting the Pacific Northwest, he discovered scrimshaw. “I found it to be the perfect traveling medium for me; I was backpacking around and the whole studio fit into a cigar box.” His interest in the craft led him to Nantucket. While he stopped his scrimshaw work years ago, he still has island connections, showing his paintings at Sylvia Antiques and the Four Winds Craft Guild, with whom he has been associated for years.
Lazarus has also shifted from printmaking to painting, getting looser and bolder along the way. He picked up a brush about 15 years ago in his Nantucket studio. While his subject matter may at first appear typical of the island—landscapes and seascapes—his approach is not.
“My creative challenge is to make that somewhat mundane image into something more interesting,” he says, “to push the envelope and make the ordinary extraordinary.” He is constantly contemplating the old and familiar to conjure up something new.
With definitive brush strokes, the landscape provides Lazarus with a structure for capturing abstraction. “I love loose, verging on the abstract,” he says, “but I also like realism expressed in a very physical way.” His current work keeps close company with early 20th century artistic traditions, somewhere between impressionism and early modernism. Lazarus’s forms oscillate between the representative and splendid gestural expressions.
Color provides both a surprise and a curiosity. Whoever noticed that sand was so ruddy pink? Somehow it looks right. You won’t find the usual crystal blue sky amongst Lazarus’s paintings. “The sky is not that color at the horizon,” the artist says. “It’s green with reds and browns in it.” For Lazarus, it is the challenge of pushing beyond that blue sky and those typical visions that drives him to go beyond realism. “I don’t paint from life very much. I paint from memory,” he says. “I kind of deconstruct realism and then reconstruct it as paintings.”
Using a broad brush, Lazarus’s works are bold and decisive. “I’m a big brush guy. I don’t like fiddly things,” he says. “The muscular, physicality of paint is what I really enjoy. I don’t like glazing; I’d rather slather it on with a palette knife.” Working alla prima, or “all at once,” Lazarus’s process is a fast, active one. “I love to just do it in one sitting,” he explains. “Having said that, I love taking an old painting, turning it upside down, and starting over.”