For the majority of his 82 years he has been continuously capturing what is casually going on around us in his oil paintings – and he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
“I live to paint and I get irritated and tired if I am not working. I have not wasted a moment of my life and have enjoyed it all including superb wine and wonderful food, my cats and dogs and fly-fishing.
“My whole philosophy is about the ordinary. It is pure – nothing added, nothing taken away. Other people may not look at the ordinary and think, but I do. And that is what I paint.”
The work of the master painter is extremely sought after by collectors and can fetch a tidy sum these days. He is not so modest as to evade the subject and is quite proud that his work can command such a premium. Even the videos of him at work are selling well, he quips.
Art critic Brian Sewell, whom Lawrie describes as a very dear friend, says few artists can handle the medium of oil painting as well as he and last year a lavish book full of his astute musings and reproductions of his paintings was published to commemorate his 81st birthday.
Lawrie was born in Heanor where his father ran a butcher’s shop. His family ran the Williamson’s bus company and one uncle, Audley Bowdler Williamson, was the inventor of Swarfega and the founder of the Deb factory in Belper.
On his mother’s side he is even related to Derby’s great painter Joseph Wright.
It is safe to say the man has a Derbyshire pedigree and his paintings are heavily influenced by his observations from those early days.
“Well, yes, I did spend a lot of time in pubs looking through the bottom of a pint pot watching life in front of me,” he says with a chuckle, promising that he could tell me many an amusing anecdote from the past if I were to share a tipple with him today.
He is proud of his Derbyshire roots and doesn’t suffer fools gladly – especially in the art world. The work of Tracey Emin is dismissed in a short sentence that includes a few mild expletives and he adds for good measure that ‘contemplative work’ should surely have been thought about rather than have the appearance of being just thrown together.
He is most definitely a little irreverent and it isn’t a manner he has adopted in old age. He admits has always been one to say it how it is and recounts with glee how he was once described by one of those types he dubs insufferable art officials as a “coarse northerner”.
That happened in the early days as he was making his mark on the establishment At the age of 16 he won a Major Exhibition Scholarship to Nottingham College of Art followed by Nottingham University and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.
He is a winner of the Canson Prize at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists, the Cornelissen Prize and twice the Stanley Grimm Prize at the Royal Institute of Oil Painters.
His work has always been influenced by the Florentines and although he can work in many media he mainly sticks to oils. The common factor in his paintings is light, whether it is in the beery pubs, on the beach, beside a river, a bonfire party or the Grand Canal in Venice.
He spent two decades living in Melbourne but 13 years ago moved to Ireland with his wife Gill who also paints. They each have a studio on the side of a hill in County Tipperary.
He retains his love for his home county and is returning to Derbyshire this month for an exhibition at the Ingleby Gallery near Melbourne which is on until November 9.
Owner Gill Watson is a good friend and he appreciates her love of paintings, saying that he wants people here to have the chance to see his work.
Ill health has hindered his work in recent years but he now declares that he is recovered and plans to work to the end.
“My wits and my hands work pretty well and I can stand, which is essential as I like to move about and feel the space as I work. I have two cats and three dogs with me as studio assistants and that is as ordinary as I like it.”
Go to http://www.lawriewilliamson.com for more information.
This feature appears in the November issue of artsbeat which is out now.