The Art of Lupus Garrett

“History, Louis XIV, photography, Picasso, African-American quilts, French furniture, Frank Gehry, standard poodles, the Missouri River, Bjork, Cajun music, rock walls, farmhouses, Victorian furniture, modernism, abstract expressionism, Native American relics, William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, children’s drawings, Mexican masks, folk art, deer, hay bales, sex, religiosity, Louise Nevelson, architecture, sloppy gardens, pop art, Coca-Cola advertising, red and green …” Lupus Garrett quickly ticks off a list of influences that go into his artwork.

“Yes! Create,” “Follow Your Weird,” “Art Alone Endures” and “Love Friends” are the most visible words hanging in his studio. Most days Garrett will be there, off the blacktop, tucked into the Missouri River hills on the farm his family settled in 1832. Depending on what calls to him in the moment, he might be fashioning a flower from wood, embroidering an old photograph of a boy on a pony or adding pop-bottle images to the depiction of a saint.

For the group of mixed-media portraits on display this month at Columbia College, Garrett worked from actual photographs printed on canvas. He lets the image determine what treatment might be appropriate and it could be anything, literally — boxes of paints and brushes sit next to a rainbow of embroidery thread, tins of buttons, beads, military medals, Mexican milagros, silk flowers and cloth patches from the fabric store, just for starters. If he needs an image of a potato, he scans it and prints it. Representations from the very nature that surrounds him — frogs, snakes, bugs and flowers — wind their way into the work. And it might be he has used the actual leaves of a plant or a painted depiction.

His palette is audacious like his ideas, oozing with dayglow pink, metallic gold and tomato red. This collection of large portraits, 24 by 40 inches, provides an irreverent glimpse into the more peculiar aspects of our culture. Members of his own family do not escape his whimsical embellishments. Both Grandma and Grandpa Garrett are now sporting tattoos. When asked why he chose to decorate the portraits of generals, he says, “Because I’m tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

The humorous, the macabre, the tragic, the beautiful — all force their way into the paint, the pictures, the scans, the flowers, the flies, the stitches and the hours. It’s all about the work; the immediacy of answering the call to create, and the reward he finds in the doing.

Born in Moniteau County, Garrett attended the University of Central Missouri at Warrensburg before continuing his studies at the Art Institute of Chicago. During that time period, a professor told the young artist, “There’s nothing for me to teach you. Just go and be an artist and make art.” Garrett took him at his word and has made art every day of his life and continues to do so, eight hours a day.

He loves his work and is compelled to discover what each moment will reveal. About his workspace he says, “It’s the best studio I’ve ever had. Of course they are never large enough.” A friend remarked, “Someday you’ll be working on a little bitty card table painting tea cups because there won’t be room for anything else.”

Garrett’s art has been featured in many magazines including Esquire, Art Forum, Chicago and Country Home. Galleries in Chicago, around the Midwest and most recently the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art have displayed exhibitions of his work.

Lupus: Portraits of Family and War
Through Oct. 21
Greg Hardwick Gallery
Brown Hall, Columbia College