Story By Mike Overall, Photo By Susan O'Connor
It has blossomed into a creative match made in the realm of artistic bliss: the universality of singular, original music paired with a series of arresting oil paintings and other visual images which, when combined, form a potpourri of sounds and sights that reflect a world’s worth of experiences, evocations and transcendent feelings and emotions.
Jonesboro composer Chris Lawrence and Ukrainian-born artist Christina Katrakis, the latter a peripatetic painter who is currently working in Europe but has a home in Jonesboro, will have their work featured in a Ukrainian Republic-commissioned film that will be photographed this spring and shown for the public sometime this fall.
Lawrence, 33, a Jonesboro native, is pursuing his doctorate in musical arts and composition at the University of Memphis. The four-movement chamber orchestra piece he is writing for the film – Hero Music – is the work of a minimalist composer whose eclectic tastes in music are far ranging and reflect the world as he hears and feels it on an everyday basis.
Katrakis, whose husband is Arkansas State University history professor Dr. Alexander Sydorenko, studied at the National Academy of Arts in the Eastern European republic and holds an MFA degree from the University of Memphis. Her startlingly original paintings, many of them vibrant with color, show her immersion in her old world past as well as the confrontations she has encountered with modern life in the United States, with its inherent contradictions and paradoxes.
A graduate of JHS who holds a master’s in composition from ASU, Lawrence is a charming and ingratiating young man who, whether he is composing his music at the behest of his doctoral mentor, the noted composer Kamran Ince, or going about his duties as music director at Magnolia Road Baptist Church, possesses a wry sense of humor. He is self-effacing when it comes to his talent as a creative musician, but approaches the creative process with an air of ‘elan that resonates with his admirers and friends.
Minimalism in music is a purely American art, free of modernist angst and inflected with pop optimism. “I guess I would call myself a post-post-modernist,” Lawrence said, his face transformed by a mischievous grin. His Hero Music composition is a case study in the minimalist genre, as it incorporates such diverse sounds as the music of Bach, elements of the Latin Mass, Russian nationalistic influences and the rhythmic pulse of punk rock.
Lawrence said Katrakis’s painting and other visual images blend to reflect her status as “a citizen of the world ... an artist who has the ability to transmit to people through her images the verve and passion and contradictory sense of a world that is constantly in flux and changing almost daily, right before our eyes.”
The heroes alluded to in Lawrence’s composition are many and varied and include the first Russian cosmonaut to orbit Earth, the heroic mind, the whole concept of artistic creation, and the human and democratic interrelationships that are forming what has come to be known popularly as the “global village.”
Lawrence’s composition is a “school project,” he said, as well as a work which will be heard, at least in its debut, a world away from Arkansas’ Northern Delta region.
Once an aspiring marine biologist, Lawrence decided on a career in music when he attended a music program for young people that was the brainchild of then-Gov. Bill Clinton. “I head a presentation by Dr. Jared Spears (a noted composer and former member of the ASU faculty) and it turned me around,” said the composer.
The son of Larry and Kathleen Lawrence, Chris, in addition to his position as music director at the Magnolia Road church, is also an employee of The Edge Coffee House near the ASU campus. The Edge features live jazz and other music on a regular basis and is a popular gathering place for artists and musicians of all stripes.
Jonesboro artist/writer Zach Roach, after looking through a portfolio of Katrakis’s work, said the paintings “... encompass a human eroticism compared to that of Lucien Freud and Eric Fischl. Although her work is not as brutal as Freud’s or as erotic as Fischl’s, she uses the human body to capture the banality of everyday situations in highly caustic and slightly nostalgic renderings.”
The cinema is the medium through which the work and inspiration of two creative minds will, come this autumn, be exhibited to the world.