As local artist Rik Lazenby eats his lunch, he discusses his philosophical views on life. “I believe that we’re all linked together in some way or another,” says Lazenby. “I believe that everything is meant to be. And we all take away something from one another and in turn pass that on to other people.”
What Lazenby has been passing on to others is his artwork — large three-dimensional paintings depicting various spiritual and emotional occurrences.
Lazenby’s resume includes many careers at various Birmingham schools, including art teacher and principal at Minor High School back in 1968. “I ended up at Shades Valley High School [specifically the International Baccalaureate School located on Shades Valley’s campus] several years later and I stayed there for around seven years. I then went on to be director of the Board of Student Services.”
In 2000 he retired and went back to his real passion: his artwork. He started Lazenby Decorative Arts Studio, which specializes in fine faux finishes for walls, ceilings and furniture. “I started the business by myself and then my daughter took an early retirement and came to work with me. … It’s something we both enjoy doing.”
Lazenby works in mixed media using objects ranging from gold leaf to burlap. “I was originally trained to be an oil painter, so most of my early work is oil. But as I evolved I started using acrylic-based paint and now I use pretty much whatever I can get my hands on.” Lazenby loves incorporating new materials into his work. “Whenever I discover something new that I can use, I jump right on it.”
His work took a turn into another dimension when Lazenby decided one day to combine painting with what he was doing in his decorative arts studio. “All of a sudden it started to spring out at me. It took on a life of its own and that’s how I got into the 3D area of art,” he says.
His paintings take about a month to finish, but he also doesn’t work on just one at a time. “It takes a while for things to dry. I may start a piece and it may be three or four days before I can work on it again because it has to dry,” he explains. “So then I’ll just occupy myself by starting on a new project. Before I know it I have four or five pieces that I’m working on at once.”
Most of Lazenby’s subject matter is Biblical. “My work comes from either the Torah or the Bible,” he says. Currently he is working on a replica of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for Temple Beth Hallel in Hoover. Lazenby said he allows his spirituality to guide his art. “I never know what I’m going to use until I get in front of my painting and find what I’m led spiritually to put on that board.”
A recurring motif in Lazenby’s work is the Tree of Life, but lately, he’s been looking in another direction: toward quantum physics. “I’m not sure exactly where it’s going, but…well, it all started because one of our synagogue teachers will use the quantum theories in relation to God,” he says. “I was already experimenting with those ideas, but when he started doing that, it started to all link together. If you study quantum you get various theories including you can transcend time and space. I’m trying to create that cosmic type of painting that gives you the illusion of that kind of transcendence.”
Lazenby’s best-known works are a series of paintings that depict The Seven Days of the Creation of the World. “There are seven different paintings that go from day one to Shabbat, which is the seventh day. That’s really where I started getting into the spiritual realm of painting,” he explains. Lazenby’s series, which he started three years ago, was featured in a joint display with fellow artist Barry Graham. Their show Genesis — The Nature of Life was featured at Artists on the Bluff in Hoover in 2013.
Some of Lazenby’s former Minor and Shades Valley students come to him at Artists on the Bluff for more art instruction. “Several students have come forward and asked for me to teach them techniques,” Lazenby says. “So that’s what I’ve been doing in my classes: teaching techniques and helping to guide them on their own artistic path. I have quite a few students who are turning into really talented artists. It’s a very good feeling to see them grow and evolve in their work.”
When his students’ work resembles his own, Lazenby takes it as a compliment. “We all pull from other artists when we first start,” he says, adding that he was influenced himself by the work of his uncle John Thomas, an artist from Bessemer. “That’s what I try to do with my students: to just light that fire inside them to find who they really are as an artist.”
To see who Lazenby is as an artist, you might look at the painting Night Bird. “That painting is where a lot of things changed for me,” he says. “There was a bird sitting outside my window one night singing, and I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘Why is that bird singing when none of the other birds are singing?’ And that sort of spiraled into this painting. I believe there are people out there — I call them night birds — that live differently from the rest of the population. They were put on this earth to do things differently. And then they pass that uniqueness onto other people.”
The idea resonates so strongly with him that Lazenby includes a night bird in each of his paintings. “Sometimes you have to look harder to find it [the night bird] in one painting than in another. The night bird is very important to me, so I like knowing that it’s there in my paintings.”
For more information, visit the Artists on the Bluff website, Lazenby’s Facebook page or lazenbydecorativeart.com.