MARK AND JAN
Lawrance knew their identical twin sons had special talents when they saw the cartoon caricatures and 3-D sketches the boys were churning out in grade school. As Jan says, they were “just a little more advanced” than their classmates. Could mom be a bit biased? Absolutely. But it turns out she was right.
A new exhibit showcasing the extraordinary works of Joe and Will Lawrance opened Monday at the Indianapolis Art Center (IAC). JoeWill: BetterTogether features more than 100 pieces—paintings, sketches, sculptures, mixed media, and architectural drawings from the twins’ days at North Central High School through post-college.
The Lawrances, along with their daughters Devin and Erin, attended a private reception Saturday for family and friends. “I was overwhelmed,” Mark says. “The way it was put together; the total was much greater than the sum of its parts.” The couple says they felt a groundswell of emotion as they absorbed the magnitude of the exhibit, which encompasses the Churchman-Fehsenfeld Gallery and Basile Exhibition Hall. “It was almost too grand to take in with one swoop. I just felt an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude,” adds Jan.
The couple was especially moved by the JoeWill typeface used in the signage and summaries and descriptions of each piece. A graphic artist created it by combining the twins’ writing styles. “It really felt like you were reading their writing,” Jan says. “Their sense of presence was there. You could almost hear their voices.”
The exhibit was inspired by “A Tragic Symmetry,” a piece that appeared in the April 2022 issue of Indianapolis Monthly. It tells the story of the twins’ inseparable bond and their innate artistic talents. Though they were “men of few words,” as Jan describes, the twins never shied away from revealing themselves on canvas, even when it was less than flattering.
A large self-portrait Will did in high school, affectionately titled “Big Face” by family and friends, shows him with disheveled hair and blemishes, a mirror image of the artist. Joe’s senior portrait, composed of thousands of tiny magazine clippings, also depicts a certain forlornness. Both pieces won national awards.
The twins’ deep connection became painfully clear after boys separated for college, with Joe winding up at The Cooper Union’s School of Architecture in New York and Will at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Lawrances say while Joe and Will found their classes challenging and fulfilling, they struggled being apart.
Each sought treatment for depression, anxiety, and, later, substance abuse disorder, challenges that continued throughout their lives. Both died by suicide six years apart. Will was 26 years old. Joe was 32. Given the unimaginable loss, the works the twins left behind were all the more treasured by loved ones. “It’s just good to see what they might have been thinking at the time. That’s what I get, how these [artworks] still talked to me after they passed away,” shares Mark.
In recent years, friends and relatives have suggested pursuing a venue to showcase the twins’ work. The opportunity came last year after IAC executive director Mark Williams read the Indianapolis Monthly piece and reached out to the Lawrances. After meeting Mark and Jan, it wasn’t a question of if there would be an exhibit, but when. Williams calls the twins’ “range of diversity and talent across multiple mediums an extraordinary and rare gift.”
The IAC averages 20 student and community-based shows a year. These are typically planned three years in advance, but Williams didn’t want to wait. He saw an opportunity to link the Lawrance exhibit with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, also adding a “wellness village” to the annual Broad Ripple Art Fair (which runs May 20–21 this year.)
“Being a community art center, our focus is on the well-being of the community,” he says. “It’s a unique kind of place that can host supportive conversations around contemporary social issues, and mental health is at the top of that list.”
Within a few months, JoeWill: BetterTogether was on the calendar with preparations underway. The exhibit also includes a series of videos that follow the boys burgeoning interest in art from childhood on, as told through the eyes of their parents and two high school art teachers. In another video, “Breaking the Stigma,” a mental health counselor addresses depression and suicide, how to get help, and how to help others.
Before opening night, Williams wondered if the exhibit would be a solemn event. “I knew it was emotional for the family, but just seeing the community come together to celebrate [Joe and Will], that was inspiring to me,” he says.
Jan compared the evening to a great, big hug. “When you talk about people who are gone, it keeps them present,” she says. “It couldn’t have been a better celebration.” JoeWill: BetterTogether runs through May 28, and admission is free.
Read “A Tragic Symmetry,” a piece that appeared in the April 2022 issue of Indianapolis Monthly