Today we’re talking to Lawrence Hammett. Lawrence is probably most well known for his tattoo art, however he is an accomplished artist in other areas as well. He also volunteered to help children with their art endeavors. Like many artists, Lawrence has had his share of troubles, and once you’re in the hot seat there’s no escaping the hard questions.
I wasn’t born in Montrose. I was actually born in Monroe, Louisiana. When I was young my Ma, sister, and I traveled quite a bit to see family in Louisiana and in Chicago. We lived in Utah for a bit, and, after my Ma got married we traveled even more. We spent a lot of time in Texas, Mexico, and in the east in places like New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, St. Louis. So Montrose was always more of a home base. I got to see a ton of art and historic landmarks on these trips like The Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, Mount Rushmore, The Great Arch. And I was also sent to do mission work and soup kitchens in Mexico. All that culture and art opened my eyes to different thoughts and ways to look at life and art that you’d not get through pictures. One of the few things I appreciated about my youth was the sheer amount of traveling we did, and it was always by car rather than plane. You experience a lot more, but Colorado (and Montrose in particular) has always had a certain comfort and security that other places I’ve been to seem to lack. I don’t know if it’s because of the familiarity of it, or being surrounded by mountains on all sides. I used to think they valley was stifling because it was like being walled in by all these huge peaks, but now I get more ease from them rather than anxiety. That’s a large part of why I’ve stayed in the area, and, also, the friends I’ve made. I’ve traveled doing tattoos a lot in my career and even lived in Southern California for 5 years, but there is something to be said for going into a grocery store and you’ve known the checker at the counter your whole life and they know you . . . you don’t get that in a big city like L.A or San Diego. It’s never been about money for me I guess. It’s more about the substance of life than the ease of life.
Um I don’t think it’s that black and white really. Well, I guess I think it is inherent in everyone, and, at the same time, how each person uses it is a learned skill. Some folks make pretty pictures while some make disturbing pictures. Some use it to write a sonnet and some write a punk rock song. I think that we are all born with a drive to create, and some of us use that to produce visual or audio arts and some choose to create literature, or an engineering feat, a mathematic or scientific theorem, or a family; hell, even a thought process or a religion or myth. To me, all humans strive to create. Up bringing has a lot to do with where we focus that creative need. Sometimes it’s in line with, and sometimes it’s to rebel against what we were born into. I certainly like to snub my nose a little at my upbringing, but for me it’s all in good nature. I think creation of whatever our life paths bring us to is a search to learn at the end of the day though. It’s a way for us to make sense of things that we don’t understand. From nature to good vs. evil to our past and future . . .and death. I guess that’s why it is inherent and also learned. We have to find our own ways to be okay with who we are and how culture, society, and our neighbor are. We don’t tend to like mysteries. Painting and drawing and tattooing and the discussions about those things create/help me grasp some kind of understanding of the world around me. I think most people in their chosen fields would tell a similar story. While the paths are different the end goal is the same for the most part. Happiness.
Ah, ha ha, thank you for the compliment. One person’s trash . . . haha. I didn’t want to be a tattoo artist until later in life. My goal, in youth, was to be a background artist for cell animation or comic book illustrations. Like the old Disney films, or Looney Toons or the old Marvel, DC comics and the like. I was kinda talked into tattooing by the guy that first apprenticed me (albeit for a short time) after he saw some of my paintings. Tattooing was kinda coming out of the dark ages at the time and most shops were still street shops reproducing flash images from Cherry Creek, Spaulding and Roger’s, and Sailor Jerry. Most tattooists were learning by trial and error or from a book. There wasn’t much artistic input at the time, or a learning method, so I considered it a bit of an embarrassment to be learning the craft. Pretty white trashy, and usually the same regurgitated images that didn’t hold any personal meaning or integrity to me. I didn’t really become enamored with the culture until much later; after I had paid some dues and realized what an amazing and beautiful struggle the artform is and has been. Only then did I really become serious about it and not think of it as a fall back career. I worked in auto body for a number of years after cell animation turned to CGI and that was my other fall back. Turns out I hate working on other peoples’ cars and it wasn’t at all my calling, though I still enjoy working on my own cars. I did learn a lot about metallurgy and chemical compounds which ended up helping me in what became my chosen profession.
I did some free children’s art classes at Haven House in Olathe, which is an amazing program. I enjoyed every second I spent there with those kids. I also did another weekly, free, all ages art class at the Montrose Public Library. Both of them for about a year, and in the end, I think I got more out of it than the students did . . . that’s not blowing smoke either. It made me rehash the artistic theories I took for granted and did without thought, and reinforced the ideas in my head and made me use them much more intelligently. I actually miss teaching those classes very, very much. The funny thing is, the kids picked up the ideas I was teaching far quicker than the adults. I don’t know that I would have the patience for it as a career though. It was so much fun to do and I have so many great memories of the classes, I was doing it because I enjoyed it. The moment you put a price tag on something, anything, you enjoy it becomes a job and loses a certain amount of magic. When you put a profit rational behind something it becomes profit driven and some ideals have to be placed to the side to make a living. I would prefer to keep teaching and self-driven art in the category of “for myself and others”. I don’t take painting commissions or play music for the same reason.
I would refer this to the ” artists seeing the world differently” question. Art helps you to figure out your direction in life. While some use that to overcome obstacles, some use it as inspiration for or inspiration to commit atrocities. Art is so personal and so open to interpretation that while I do think that abuse can (certainly has for me) inspire creation I don’t think that it, by definition, can cause abuse. Abusive people already have that seed inside them from whatever external force. That might be childhood, mental issues, cultural influences, or insecurity. Art might reinforce that for that person but I don’t think it is the driving factor behind actions. “Catcher in the Rye” seems to have that negative connotation but people read into it what they want. Everyone has their demons to deal with. No one’s childhood or life have been perfect, no matter how it looks to outsiders. I could pine for many a better day, but in the end I wouldn’t trade my lot for anyone else’s because mine is mine and I am happy with myself and what I’ve become from where I’ve been. Some people can’t say that and hold onto things that can justify their personal insecurities. Not sure if that answers the question?
I don’t think it’s a modern creation and I don’t think it’s a strictly artistic domain. Mind altering substances have always been around. Always will be around. And people will imbibe. It’s an escape from reality, so in a way it is a soul freeing experience, but can also be a self-made jail cell. Both use and abstinence have their pros and cons. I was put on some pretty extreme drugs in my youth by doctors who thought they were helping and maybe it did. Jury is still out on that one, I guess. I know the majority of artists, be it visual, musical, literary, or philosophical have all had their demons that had a positive influence on my life. Culture now a days seems to demonize it where, I think, that it is a far unhealthier and detrimental outlook than a substance could ever potentially create. The judgements, disdain, brow beating, and physical actions by peers and family have been far more detrimental to me than any illicit substance has ever been. For me, personally, substances have been a way to cope, much as art has, and so in a way they have certainly fed off of each other. Sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. I’ve never seen the world as black and white. Most of us live in grey areas and I find that black and white realities tend to bring nothing but sorrow, dissonance, anger, and knee jerk reactions that hinder rather than cultivate. So, to answer the question: it’s both I think. A totally distorted reality isn’t a reality at all, but it can help to step outside yourself and see the world from a different state of being. Doors of Perception, I guess.
Complete unadulterated, immutable, unforgiving, thought processes. Taking things as they come and unapologetically interpreting them as they physically are. It inspires envy honestly, but I am from the outside looking in. Who knows but them?
Thank you to Lawrence Hammett, and everyone else, who has participated in 7 minutes 7 questions. We’re learning as we go, here, and it is the willingness of our interviewees to be completely honest that makes this whole thing work! If you think you’d like to be featured in this column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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