Paris beckons noted Baltimore artist

January 12, 1992|By Allison Blake | Allison Blake,Annapolis Capital

ANNAPOLIS -- Laurence Hurst's mother, Mary Warren, was the kind of woman a son didn't argue with. One day a few years ago, she stopped by her son's studio with his lunch.

"There was a green pepper, a carrot, and four green beans," said Mr. Hurst, an artist who has long designed exhibitions for the Banneker-Douglass Museum. "They were from her garden. And they looked so pretty, I decided to do a picture. I'm working, and she looks and says, "Laurence, my hair is not green.' "

"I said, "Well, I'm an artist and I can paint you any way I like it. She looked at me. It was one moment she realized she really didn't have a say," he said.

For the noted local painter, it was the last time anyone questioned just who would be in charge of his artistic freedom.

Known for his many exhibitions around Baltimore and Annapolis, largely in public or corporate spaces, Mr. Hurst is about to embark on an international career. This month, he opens at Desir d'Art, a gallery in Paris.

"My wife is French, and we planned this [past] summer to go to France," Mr. Hurst said. "We were walking through the subway and passed an art gallery, and I said, "Wait, I gotta see this place.'

"So we went in and were walking along and the lady who was sitting was following me, and said, "Tu artiste?' My wife said, "How did you know?' "

And the gallery manager responded: "I can tell by the way you look at things."

The way Mr. Hurst looks at things has been compared by critics to the way Matisse, Picasso and Chagall looked at things. On paper, he lays down a pastel backdrop first, blending color. Then he draws his figures: floating representations of the subconscious.

Mr. Hurst's acceptance by the Paris gallery, one of three owned by the same company, should create an excellent entree into the Parisian art world, he said. Other shows in the city are in the planning stages.

In addition, Mr. Hurst expects to design exhibits for a new museum in the countryside called Verneuil Suravre.

Locally, his latest claim to fame is the design for the Banneker-Douglass' exhibit called "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby," a collection of African artists' dolls that runs through February.

"Working with a museum is right in line with my being an artist. I'm mixing information and art," said Mr. Hurst, who grew up in Suffolk, Va., and Baltimore.

"It's a bit of an almost theatrical play that goes on. The actors are the objects, and I'm the director. I can't dictate the story they're telling; that's up to the viewer," he said.

"The first thing I do is look at the objects I'm dealing with, and the appropriateness of space. How can I take the objects and incorporate them? Who is the audience going to be?" he said.

Mr. Hurst, 38, now living in Baltimore, has designed exhibits for the local museum since its inception. Nearly 16 years ago, he started by volunteering to remodel the center of the state's Commission on Afro-American History and Culture. When the commission moved to Annapolis, he stayed on.

He says he started drawing as a grade school student after watching a classmate draw and tell stories at the bus stop. His first thought was that art tells stories. Through his years studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art and other schools, he retained that thought.

His only hope is that he can remain diverse. "I like to do sculpture," he said. "And my artist friends say, "Laurence, you're a painter, not a sculptor.' " But this artist doesn't like to be pigeonholed. No doubt he'd turn from his sculpture to his jewelry-making just at that moment, simply to prove them wrong.

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