Renowned artist BRUCE K. LAWES ( http://www.bklawesart.com ) created quite the stir last year when he set up his tent overlooking the Gettysburg battlefield site and painted all the cannons, cavalry charges and infantry skirmishes re-enacted by thousands of Civil War aficionados. 2013 was the 150th anniversary of the legendary battle and Bruce was so inspired that he decided to return again this year to paint another canvas, and just before he leaves Toronto for the July 4th Gettysburg observances, he shared a few thoughts about painting history:
You’re returning to Gettysburg after last year’s 150th anniversary painting trip….what has happened with the Pickett’s Charge painting since you left the battleground last year?
Well, as most people know that were there on the final day of the 150th year reenactment a powerful downpour happened pretty much as the battle of Pickett’s charge was coming to a conclusion. At this time I was at the edge of the battlefield getting a close vantage point of all the action, all the while the painting of Pickett’s Charge I had been working on during the weekend was on display at my tent. By the time I worked my way back to my battlefield studio the rain came down in sheets. Blowing almost horizontally the large painting in the works was like a big sail catching wind and rain to the point of total destruction. I knew there was no point in trying to save the painting so I would have to start again with a fresh outlook.
This year, what have you decided to paint?
As I had many requests for my ‘Pickett’s Charge’ painting while I was working on it last year I decided to start a new composition, entitled, ‘Pickett’s Charge, When Boys Became Men’. This new painting will be featured on this year’s commemorative poster, available to all the guests (see below)
Do you find you’re more inspired and energized by being there, watching the reenactments?
For an artist, experiencing any situation up close and personal will always help with the creative process as it puts you back there in the action allowing you to imagine the fear the panic and incredible resolve of these young men.
As a “professional observer” of life, how do the park visitors impact your work or working process?
As most artists, including myself, usually work in total seclusion it was a bit unnerving having the 100’s of thousands of visitors watching my progress throughout the weekend, coming back several times to see how much more of the painting was completed. I must say though, like at my studio back home I often would go into a zone and would block out all external influences until a young boy or girl would come up to me in amazement and ask me how I do that? This would bring me back to Earth and realize that being there on these hallowed grounds was a privilege and of great importance.
Are you asked any specific questions while you paint at the battlefield?
Besides the “how do you do that?” from the young ones, most people seemed to be respectful of my concentration and my brother, Keith, who was acting as my manager would field most questions unless it was specific to my technique. I noticed a few up and coming artists would watch and even take notes as I was working which reminded me of when I first started and was absorbing everything I could from the masters of the day. I think a lot of people just do not know what to ask so they just like to watch.
What inspired you most when you set up your easel and canvas for the first day?
Although I was exhausted from the preparation work leading up to the event and the 7 hour drive from home on only 2 hours sleep I think back and realize the dedication Americans have to their history to come and participate year after year was admirable. While setting up my easel, with the help of an enthusiastic young boy, I then realized at that point I could be starting something special that includes me in on their whole experience. It was that feeling of inclusion, while looking out over the historic battlefield of Gettysburg that gave me pause and the inspiration to be great.
The battle ground is known to be haunted by the ghosts of Union and Confederate soldiers – did you encounter any strange happenings last year while you were there for 4 days?
Although I was aware of the stories of the presence of the soldier’s spirits I never had direct conversations with any of them. I think the fact that I was there to honor them with my work they must have approved of my being there as I was never haunted to this day…
Do you “feel” the vibes of those who lost their lives there?
I guess to be successful in my work I must be channeling the essence from somewhere.…do we ever really know?
What artwork or posters will you be taking with you for sale at the park? And is there a charitable component to these sales?
Last year’s poster, ‘Brothers in Arms’ (below) and my new release, ‘Pickett’s Charge, When Boys Became Men’ will both be available. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Gettysburg Association Committee who support the preservation and historical organizations they nominate.
Any comments/observations about painting at Gettysburg you’d like to share?
The whole experience has allowed me to meet many new people and I’ve developed some great opportunities since last year, one of which is a painting I created of General Custer (see below) that was accepted in the exclusive Coeur d’Alene auction this July 26th in Reno, Nevada. http://www.cdaartauction.com/2014/Thinking of heading to Gettysburg next weekend? Check out all the events here: http://www.gettysburgreenactment.com/