Blending into the background is not something artist Maureen Lazarus does well.
Preferring to be known simply as Lazarus, her dynamic personality is reflected in her art, with vibrant colors and three-dimensional representations of Cayman’s beautiful natural settings and island foliage.
Born in Jamaica, Lazarus grew up in the parish of Clarendon with her sister and single mother. She was interested in art from a young age, a fact that did not go unnoticed by teachers who often chose her to draw diagrams on the chalkboard, and by her mother who would catch her drawing on the less desirable surface of her bedroom walls.
Lazarus’s interest in art led to her attending the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, completing a four-year diploma in fine arts. After graduating, Lazarus landed a job painting commercial billboards.
“I was the only female in a man’s world painting these huge billboards,” says Lazarus. “I did well for many years doing this and juggling my art which I had learned at Edna Manley, doing portraits, landscapes and entering art competitions.”
Lazarus’s artistic journey was briefly interrupted by personal tragedy, when her husband was brutally murdered by gunmen, leaving her the single parent of a seven-year-old.
“My painting was affected by my tragedy,” she says. “I threw out everything.”
The horrific incident also prompted her to leave Jamaica in 1998, and she spent time in the United States before arriving in Cayman. It was only then that she picked up her brushes and resumed painting.
“After strong motivation by friends and family I started again,” she recalls.
Her artistic evolution then began, with new ideas and methods forming from the acrylic-on-canvas approach she was using.
“My art was going through phases, finding a unique style and finding Lazarus,” she says.
One theme that has become evident is fruit trees, inspired by island surroundings full of coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, and the most beautiful sea grapes showing off their vibrant colors.
The sea grape and breadfruit trees are perfect for her artistry, with no two leaves ever being the same.
“The sea grape leaves are so interesting individually,” she says. “They are my favorite.”
As well as their individuality making them perfect artistic subjects, sea grape leaves also lend themselves well to Lazarus’s three-dimensional art style, which has evolved over the years from her traditional acrylic-on-canvas work.
She calls this three-dimensional work “more modern and contemporary, and full of life.”
Her style evolution has also involved a change in mediums. Lazarus now uses recycled newspaper in much of her art, molding it in a papier-mâché fashion to create rigid leaves and raised structures protruding out of her canvas creations.
This method creates realistic images, and works perfectly with the beauty of the saucer-like sea grape leaves.
This method of “recycling art,” as Lazarus calls it, came about due to her wanting to do something different and unique.
“I was doing some voluntary work at a school and was given a pile of used Compass newspapers to clean up my dirty work,” she recalls.
“It was a lot and the idea came to me then.”
As well as providing a unique material for her to work with, the use of old newspapers also fits in with the increasingly important topic of recycling.
“The little we do is of great significance,” says Lazarus. “I use scraps of canvas, cord, paper, leaves, anything I can recycle to create a work of art.”
In addition to her three-dimensional wall art pieces, Lazarus creates jewelry from the recycled newspaper, and has taken part in several fashion shows with her clothing design.
“My painting ideas are transferred over into my creative clothing and jewelry,” she says.
“These paper jewels are accent pieces forming beautiful chains, collars and necklaces.”
Lazarus creates many of her masterpieces in the morning and at weekends, around her daytime job at Super Stitch fabric store.
Her studio is a large space in her back garden lined with breadfruit trees, which feature in many of her pieces.
The inside of her home is an extension of this creative space, where her paintings line the stairwell and walls, and she has even painted directly onto the wall in some areas, as she once did as a child in Jamaica.
Lazarus’s work is displayed in Pure Art Gallery & Gifts and at Kennedy Gallery and she is also exhibiting her work in the community gallery venue at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands from December 3-18, 2015.