One of the great things about getting older is an expanded awareness that I don’t know as much about anything as I once thought I did, and knowing that what I see on the surface isn’t all there is to the story. The area where I find the most joy is in discovering a person’s past ~ The heroic adventures, tragic heartbreaks, triumphs and tribulations that in some cases now only exist in a person’s memories. Lives lived before social media began documenting the entirety of our lives in digital form.
In our last issue we introduced you to James Croone Sr, the pastor of Risen Church in Columbia City and shared his remarkable story of transformation from recording artist, to prison inmate, to community leader and man of faith. This week I had the privilege of sitting down with one of Seattle’s most prolific artists; Lawrence Pitre, for what I feel is another amazing story of personal growth.
Over the past year, Pitre has been one of the most recognized and sought-after artists to ever rise from Seattle’s art scene, with Seattle’s mayor on the growing list of recent patrons. In this same time period, Pitre’s murals have received wide-spread media attention, community support, and praise from local arts organizations, resulting in multiple showings in venues such as Seattle’s African American Museum and the 4Culture galleries. The recognition is long overdue, as Pitre has been actively producing art for over a decade, and has produced several hundred original works of art. (Most of which are available for sale, buy some!)
On the surface, Lawrence Pitre is a phenomenal artist who has established himself with the use of a variety of mediums including ink, acrylic, mixed-media, digital art, and more. But as I mentioned earlier, the most fascinating thing about Pitre is the history behind the artist and a childhood that included very little art exposure during his elementary and adolescence years. “I remember doing paint by numbers,” shares Pitre, explaining that his engagement of even rudimentary arts was very limited growing up, due to a neighborhood focus on sports and athletics. “I would keep them under the bed or in a closet. I didn’t have any friends that were into that sort of thing.”
Lawrence Pitre’s early life showed only the slightest hints of what was buried deep inside of him. The tiny-seed which grows into the mighty oak. A spark of genius so small that even he was unaware of its existence until the right mentor stirred his spirit and woke the sleeping giant. But we’ll get to that part of the story down the line.
Pitre, along with friends from the neighborhood, spent their time and energy playing a wide range of sports, and by the time Pitre graduated from Garfield High School in 1981 he was an exceptional football player with a sought-after skillset that landed him at Wenatchee Junior College and eventually the University of Washington. Lawrence Pitre was on his way to a career in football with dreams of the NFL. Except for one thing, the new passion for painting, which he had discovered while attending a few art classes at Wenatchee JC. Shortly after, Pitre made a decision to leave the football program in order to pursue an arts-focused education.
Like many of the great masters, Pitre’s early works found resistance from the status quo. A common problem encountered even today, as many arts administrators lack true artistic experience and understanding. It didn’t help that Pitre found few other students and no instructors who shared his background, ethnicity, or culture. The lack of encouragement in the classroom further caused him to question if he had made the right choice.
“I really struggled with deciding what I was going to do,” says Pitre. “I was confused. In class, I was highly criticized for my work, yet when my work was graded the instructors gave me high marks. It was very frustrating. I thought about dropping out, and began looking at graphic design or architecture as an alternative.” Then in 1986, as Pitre wrestled with doubt and insecurities, he was introduced to Jacob Lawrence, the man whose mentorship would show Pitre what he was capable of.
“I heard his voice. I knew it was an African American voice. He introduced himself as Jacob Lawrence and said to me, ‘I’m going to be your instructor.”
In Professor Lawrence, Pitre found the mentor and guide that he needed. Pitre enrolled in as many classes taught by Lawrence as he was able, soaking up every word, lesson, artistic approach, and word of advice that he could. And when the day came for Pitre’s graduation came, Professor Lawrence sat him down a asked him to promise him one thing, that Pitre would never stop painting.
Upon Pitre’s graduation, he has some limited success with sales of his prints to some retail locations such as Nordstrom’s, but had a desire to move from freelance work to steady income and shortly after found himself at an advertising firm interviewing for a position. It was the early 90s and the company was looking for someone with the computer skills to digitize and enhance their artwork. Although Pitre had no computer experience, the company manager promised Pitre that if he were to obtain a computer of his own, that he would be given thousands of dollars in computer software at no charge, in order to help him to develop his skills in this area. Although doubtful, Pitre received a loan from his father allowing him to purchase a $4500 model, and true to his word, the manager granted Pitre a box full of discs containing the latest software programs.
However, as a new father, Pitre’s perspective had to change. He needed a steady check to support his family, and there was no time to wait. After deliberation and conversations with his family, Pitre joined the Army with immediate deployment to Iraq. Upon his return he held positions with DSHS and VBA (Veterans Business Administration) and served in the Army reserves for 13 years. But Pitre still had a hunger to express himself artistically, a passion that was not unnoticed by his children who pushed him to return to his love of art by applying for graduate studies.
My children came to me and said, “Dad, you have sacrificed so much for us. We think that it’s time that you concentrated on your art.”
In 2017 Pitre graduated from Seattle University Masters Program, presenting as his graduating thesis his “We Are One” acrylic series ~ A vibrant collection of paintings documenting the Central Area from 1851 to today which has received wide recognition and accolades throughout the city and beyond. The series, Pitre says, was inspired by his mentor and friend Jacob Lawrence’s epic Migration series.
“I studied the roaring 20s, when we were doing well, then the depression hits and Black culture got pushed aside. Not just Black culture, but also contributions made by the indigenous people, Chinese immigrants, and others who inhabited the Central District at one time or another.”
Pitre, a Roman-Catholic, says his next project is titled the 14 Stages of the Cross and is expected to be finished at the end of 2019 or early 2020.
Additionally, Pitre continues to experiment with new mediums as well as develop his work with mixed-media, including mud, foliage, and other earthen resources. These works and this highly anticipated series will undoubtedly meet and exceed the high bar that Pitre has set with his previous work. We can’t wait!
Although the past year has seen a meteoric rise in the acknowledgment and admiration of his paintings, Pitre is still looking for new partnerships with some of our larger museums and galleries; as well as universities and other centers of learning that would like to support his work by grants, purchases, or other opportunities.
Find out more about Lawrence Pitre at LCP Fine Arts, www.LCPitre.com.
Email Lawrence at email@example.com.
Article by David Toledo & Candace Kydd-Bailey