Artist of the Week: Doug Lawler, From The Island of Za

Nearly two years ago, the Oakland, California based printmaker Doug Lawler, began a creative voyage that has taken him deep into the cavernous, enchanted, and shapeshifting world of the “Island of Za.” In 100 intricately-detailed, sepia-toned dry point etchings he has created, what he calls a “wordless fable.”

“The idea of a ‘wordless’ story means the viewer is naturally involved,” says Doug. “Images are universal. They transcend age, knowledge and many cultural roadblocks. To read this story, the viewer must become invested in the story and consequently, it becomes their story, too.”

Doug working in his studio

Doug working in his studio

The series follows three central characters: a magical girl, a friendless dog, and the mythical Island of Za itself. By depicting these character’s adventures, Doug envisions and develops the environment to totality. The details of the images suggest that the world of the Island is filled with its own set of cultures, fears, values, and obstacles.

Despite a uniformity in size, color, and style, these are not the folios of a flipbook. The plot constantly twists and turns – introducing new settings, revisiting previous storylines, and connecting the characters. Because of this, the story does not move in a linear fashion and the episodes are not bound to each other.

“My intent was that the story to be simple and complex at the same time. But most importantly, that it might delight those of us who enjoy a good adventure,” says Doug.

The series’ connection to adventure stories give the work a simplicity, or at least a familiarity; however, the series’ narrative flow – with its stark shifts – gives the work its  complexity. Furthermore, the narrative viewpoint pivots its focus between the girl, the dog, and the island itself, suggesting a richness and intricacy in the fantastical fiction.

When Doug first began the series, he did not have a predetermined storyline. The story unspooled image by image over the course of many months. 

The nature of the fable genre precludes a moral at the end of the story. In Doug’s fable, the moral is not meant to preach a message. Instead, it’s meaning is dispensed slowly— both episodically and holistically – and is individualized to the viewer.

A look inside Doug's studio.

A look inside Doug's studio.

“My hope is that ‘The Island of Za’ will be interpreted differently by everyone who views the story,” says Doug. “That, the viewer will find something new each time they look at the scenes and perhaps find a sub-story in some of the sequences.”

See Doug's full portfolio on UGallery.