Artists I Know: Lawrence Argent

This post is in memoriam of Lawrence Argent, renowned Denver-based sculptor and professor emeritus of the University of Denver’s School of Art and Art History. I received word yesterday that he had passed away this week at the age of 60.

An artist is not shaped merely by their aesthetic explorations. There is more to being an artist. Jeffrey Keith used to liken it to being a shaman; there are other metaphors. I was lucky to be one of Lawrence Argent’s students and mentees in the late 1990’s at the University of Denver. His influence on my life is profound, which I don’t think he ever knew.

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I See What You Mean, Size: 40ft x 24ft x 22ft  /  Material: Composite materials and Steel  /  Location: City and County of Denver, Denver Convention Center Expansion Public Art Project, Denver, Colorado
Completed: 2005

Lawrence is now best known for his sculpture “I See What You Mean,” a large blue bear standing outside of the Colorado Convention Center. It has affectionately been titled “The Big Blue Bear” by Coloradans. He created the piece after experimenting with 3D printing, scanning his son’s bear toy and liking the results. He didn’t change it, he just enlarged it, and so we have a big blue bear, a child’s perspective on our city.

Earlier work by Lawrence had this same sense of playfulness. He used cast bronze baby dolls in installations, street-sweeper brushes sculpted to reference testicles (“Cojones,” 1999, pictured above installed at the William Havu Gallery),  spiraling cast glass pyramids, and drawings and prints that coupled everyday objects and abstracted, simplified forms. A drawing from that same show at the William Havu Gallery in Denver in 2001 (also pictured above) included his baby doll head from years before beneath a spiraling form and a vortex in a cup. These works were puns, plays on words, references to pop culture from a distant vantage point. It was up to us as viewers to get the joke.

And what did Lawrence mean to me, an abstract expressionist painter, more concerned with color and emotion than pop culture and language?

UnbearableLightness
Unbearable Lightness, mixed media on canvas, 36″ x 48″, ©2015 Julia Rymer

When I look back on my time at DU, he was one of the first people that made me understand what an artist is, and recognize that I wanted to be an artist. He was randomly assigned to me as a mentor, which was a fancy word for advisor, but he did more than just help me pick my classes. He brought us mentees, all in our first year at college, to his home for dinner, and gave us a tour of his incredible studio. He took us to a Rockies game at one point, and we talked about the architecture at Coors Field. I took sculpture class from him, where he taught me to weld, and cast plaster, and we discussed Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book I still make art about (pictured above). And yes, he also helped me pick my classes.

As my art developed, he watched. I occasionally asked him for critiques of my work outside of my classes, because I liked his insight. I do not know what he thought of my paintings and drawings, or what he thought I would become. That was not our relationship.

He represented the ultimate artist to me, a person who could transform and create, whose life was dedicated to art. I used to joke with my parents that I wanted Lawrence Argent’s life, as if I could pick a life off a shelf and live it. But in a way, I did pick that life, even though it looks nothing like his. I create contemplative, emotional abstract paintings, not grand public sculptures, but my life is no less dedicated to art than his.

I think now of his family that he leaves behind. I am sending my love and condolences to them. He was beloved by the University of Denver and Denver art communities, by his students, colleagues, friends, and by those that daily pass his work wherever it lives in the world.

Rest in peace, my professor, mentor, and friend.

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