I first met Lorenzo 34 years ago in his studio. I had originally went there to see his art. Our conversation quickly grew from art to morality to all areas of spirituality. A conversation we have kept up through the years throughout many changes in our lives. Lorenzo’s art has evolved along with his many ventures into all forms of spiritual questioning. His artwork has primarily been in stone creating a juxtaposition of the hardest material against the fluidity of spiritual thought. Lorenzo has often said that, “Stone does not easily forgive.” A poetical phrase that has stayed with me over the years. Several of his pieces have a totemic presence, an unspoken West Coast influence of Native Culture and the forest of his new environment. Lorenzo grew up in the heart of Rome amid the marble fountains and sculptures. He told me he often heard the ghosts of centuries past murmuring through the paved streets where he walked and played as a child. All of these influences have gathered to create the unique pieces being shown. Of all the artists I have met in Vancouver Lorenzo has managed to blend his artwork and his spiritual search the most completely. There is no separation between Lorenzo’s thoughts and his work. It is complete.
- Chris Harris, painter
Lorenzo De Francesco’s art embodies an otherworldliness. Our society is fabricated with layers of synthetic products but Lorenzo’s sculpture is carved in volumes of quarried stone. His techniques are the precinct of traditional guilds and masons who were integral to their communities before the age of steel and concrete, when carving, quarrying and tool-making skills were passed on from maestro-mentor to apprentice. Like a linguist determined to revive an endangered language, Lorenzo keeps his cherished practice alive and dynamic. He communicates through his carving with the virtuosity of Bernini or Germain Pilon. He’s an island of sculptural production, an institution all his own. There are a few other sculptors on the coast that maintain the stone carving trade, but none with roots in the Italian Renaissance, and none with Lorenzo’s virtuosic passion for stacking carved components in seemingly precarious towers. His images climb vertically on foundations bound to his rich ancestry.
While a young student at the Vancouver School of Art (Emily Carr University of Art and Design), Lorenzo absorbed contemporary art theory and the rigorous sculptural events of the 1970’s. This was an era when the post-war humanist instructors who taught sculptural know-how were being challenged by a new generation of minimalists and conceptualists. As an industrious student Lorenzo acquired a professional work ethic and stone carving skills through his employment installing marble and granite architectural details. This experience influenced his studio practice where he juggled the practical with the sculpturally experimental; both avocations mutually informed and supported each other. Lorenzo’s major exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery in 1987 included a forest of juxtaposed vertical motifs composed of richly coloured and laminated marbles. He employed the striking colour and grain as dominant elements in his compositions. These magnificently crafted pieces functioned like bold signage but with ambiguous messages. This work attracted the support of the British-Canadian painter and assemblage artist Alan Wood, who wrote a curatorial forward for the show.
Lorenzo’s milieu is surrounded by Indigenous Aboriginal cultures. These carving cultures hold very different values from North American heirs of European legacies. Their views of the spirit world contrast Christianity, as do the compliment of many ethnic groups in Vancouver. Equally divergent for artists working in Vancouver are the genres and layers within the art community that challenge each other’s values. Lorenzo has also seen the impact of colonization while assisting the disenfranchised in his role as counsellor. He negotiates the tumultuous landscape of religion, politics and class through his carving, a process of sublimation that aspires to a universal paradigm.
As with any serious artist Lorenzo’s search for meaning has taken various directions at various periods of his life. His early abstractions eventually shifted to figurative carving reminiscent of ecclesiastical art with symbolism and physiognomy that could be read in the conventions of medieval iconography. Lorenzo’s latest work is a continued search for the universal but he has returned to the language of pure form, free of allegory while still addressing humanity in all its complexity. His new columns are composed of disparate carved artifacts, each geometric and organic part revealing clues to its diverse function and origins. These standing motifs hold an anachronistic presence; their metamorphic personas dominate the gallery and appear to be observing the viewer, sensing us from multiple points in time and space. These pieces are the result of Lorenzo’s determination to express his unique experience through his chosen medium; magnificently rendered stone.
- George Rammell, January 2015
I first met Lorenzo back in art school. He brought a large soap stone sculpture that he had carved and captivated everyone in the class with his passionate nature and obvious love for working in stone. It was always interesting to see him at work, graduating to marble and watching his visions come to life. Few of the sculptors could keep up with him as he quickly produced one sculpture after another. His ideas and technical skill grew quickly and he seemed to be a natural sculptor, The one to watch. I made a point of going to an important gallery show he had not long after, to see how quickly he had gone from being an art student to a master carver and craftsman. Several years ago I met Lorenzo again as we were both sculpting on a movie set. I visited him in his studio and watched again as he still had the same passion for stone. As I am now privileged to share studio space with him, he has taught me the quality and subtle differences about different types of marble, sometimes tapping a block with a chisel to have me hear how one stone can even sound different from another. He seems to have a sense of the stone he works in, from the inside out.
Now I marvel at how he takes a hard stone like granite and coaxes it into his latest art. The stone seems to yield and let him take over. His current sculptures are as esoteric as his concepts. The new works are both contemporary and at the same time as traditionally grounded as any sculpture you would find in a museum in Rome. I am still as fascinated to see him working at sculpture with the same enthusiasm he had back in the art school days. This is the work of a true sculptor. Fads in art will come and go. It is a pleasure to experience work that comes from the heart and from the soul and from the vision of Lorenzo.
- Russell Moody, sculptor