If art is an abstract representation of society, then artists work to capture their interactions with society—and Lawrence Matthews III is an excellent example of art in action. As a Memphis native born in 1991, Matthews grew up in a racially charged environment and created his works of art as a complex representation of his experiences.

Through his paintings and photography, Matthews has continuously presented visually appealing modern art infused with a touch of pop and urban elements. Ultimately, his works scream to one unified theme: what it’s like to be an African descendant living in America.

Early life

Lawrence Matthews III is no stranger to the art world. From a young age, he was exposed to and encouraged to engage in art, and his family ensured he had the freedom to explore his artistic interests in many different forms. By the time he graduated from Germantown High School in 2009, he had tried out multiple styles and influences as he worked to refine his message from the perspective of a young African American male.

Education and experiences

Matthews recently graduated from the University of Memphis as a Bachelor of Fine Arts, and cites his educational and social experiences as the impetus for his desire to express the journey of African Americans throughout history. Specifically, he seeks to unveil society’s minimal attempts to understand people of color.

Matthews’ work traces his increasing awareness of race and what it means, sometimes speaking specifically to the plight of the African American male who consistently encounters both social and economic prejudices. Drawing upon his background as a person of color raised in a predominantly white neighborhood, Matthews shines a personal light on many of the social issues depicted in his work.


Matthews expresses himself in many different forms, using oil paintings, collages, photography and more—all the while infusing musical elements of hip-hop, electronic and alternative rock.

His photography has been highlighted in multiple exhibits and was named “Best of Show” at the University of Memphis’ 31st annual Juried Student Exhibition in 2014. Only two years later, Matthews received an Arts Accelerator Grant from Arts Memphis that allowed him to further explore painting, photography, sculpture and film.

Notable photography pieces

While Matthews’ artistic portfolio is wide-ranging, perhaps his most notable pieces are his photographs. Etched in black and white, the piece below draws attention to the deep economic and social considerations that come into play within African American culture. Is education the key to equality for this segment of the population?

Meanwhile, the below photograph of a young African American boy could be considered to represent a younger version of Matthews himself. What does the future truly hold for him?

There is no easy answer to the questions posed by Matthews’ work, but one thing is for sure: His creations inspire deep thought, reflection and an urge to change society for the better.

For more info on Matthew’s work, check this out!


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