By Carrie Haderlie
SHERIDAN — The way the light hits a familiar building, or the play of one color against another at dawn — these are the things a world-renowned artist sees that another pair of eyes might pass over.
In a true “local boy made good” story, world-renowned artist T. Allen Lawson has come home to Sheridan, and will exhibit his newest work at SAGE Community Arts this winter.
“Tim is internationally known and only last year moved with his family of five children back to his hometown of Sheridan,” said Kate Harrington, executive director of SAGE Community Arts.
In the past year, Lawson has created a body of work that encompasses this community to display for the first time at SAGE. “Hometown” is an exhibition of 35 small-scale paintings, mostly snapshots of Sheridan.
The show runs from Nov. 7 through Jan. 2, 2019, with an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center. An opening reception will follow Nov. 15 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at SAGE Community Arts.
“This is the biggest show SAGE has ever done in terms of artist fame,” Harrington said.
Lawson is known for gorgeous landscapes that are often large in scale, and collectors of Lawson’s work have been waiting a long time for smaller-scale work. Harrington said she’s been warned about “Lawson mania,” or a phenomena in which collectors descend on his shows hoping to take home a piece of his work.
Lawson was born in Sheridan in 1963. He was educated in Sheridan public schools and spent his first 17 years living here. After high school, he left Wyoming, spending much of his life becoming a professionally trained artist. He has traveled a great deal, living, studying and painting throughout the United States, and visiting Western Europe, Russia and Southeast Asia.
He has returned to Sheridan with a fresh set of eyes — but the memories of an idyllic childhood.
“I was born and raised here, so this is my hometown. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic childhood,” Lawson said. “I had total freedom to roam and play, and we were never threatened.”
Coming back as a middle-aged adult, Lawson said he sees Sheridan differently.
“I’m familiar with neighborhoods and areas of town, and I have childhood memories here, but I do think Sheridan is unusual in one sense,” Lawson said.
In his travels across the country, studying his surroundings as he goes, Lawson said he noticed something about towns similar in size to Sheridan.
“They are either dying, and their population and economy is crashing and declining, or they seem to have been ‘discovered’ and they are growing faster than they can handle,” Lawson said.
“Sheridan seems to be unusual in the sense that it hasn’t been ‘discovered,’ but it is not dying either. There is a nice, slow steady growth,” Lawson said.
He pointed to a vibrant YMCA, the WYO Performing Arts and Education Center and all it has to offer, Sheridan College and the Bighorn Mountains among the things that make Sheridan unique.
Lawson said he did not paint Sheridan’s most iconic locations, like the Trail End Historic Site or The Mint. While he may one day paint those locations, in “Hometown,” he focused on the light as it falls on a familiar building, or the view of an iconic place from the back alleyway.
“We really don’t stop to look at our surroundings,” Lawson said. “The best scenario for me would be that if people come in to the exhibition and recognize a few locations, but they say, ‘Wow, where is that?’ and look at the community in a new way.”
Lawson said his inspiration often comes from abstraction.
“My work is representational because you recognize what you are looking at, but as I’m inspired by things — the abstract qualities of light hitting a surface, or a play of one color against another — that has nothing to do with the subject matter,” he said.
People may find certain aspects of the exhibit strange, he acknowledged. For instance, he painted the Sheridan Elks Lodge from the back entrance, because on the day that he observed the building, his artist’s eye found the back the most attractive part.
“This exhibition is my attempt to paint my hometown, the town that formed who I am, a place I have always loved and, at one time, couldn’t wait to escape,” he said. “I’ve intended to paint the town as I see it now, a show devoid of sentimentality, but with decided sentiment.”
The project even opened his own eyes, those of a world-renowned artist, to what is right in front of him.
Lawson has received numerous awards for his work, most recently the Prix de West Award at the Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibit and Sale at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center. His work is a part of many private and public collections, including at the Denver Art Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Portland Museum of Art and Whitney Western Art Museum, among others.
Even Gov. Matt Mead has an appreciate for Lawson’s work, and can remember meeting him as a young artist in Jackson three decades ago.
“I don’t remember when I saw my first Lawson painting, but I do remember thinking that he saw and understood Wyoming,” Mead said in a letter from his office on the show. “He captured the colors, the atmosphere and the landscape. … Tim’s paintings in ‘Hometown’ speak to coming home again — and of renewed appreciation for what makes Sheridan, Wyoming special.”
Harrington said Lawson is a maverick, brave and a risk-taker.
“For SAGE, this opportunity to represent Lawson is a pivotal moment. Clearly, Lawson could exhibit anywhere in the world, but he chose us, and we chose him,” she said.
The timing could not be better, according to Harrington. SAGE moved to its downtown space two years ago, and has been working tirelessly to put a pin in the fine art map.
“It is with pure joy and optimism that Lawson and SAGE together launch this compelling series,” Harrington said.