As youngsters, identical twins Joe and Will Lawrance looked so much alike that people took to calling the blond-haired boys JoeWill – one name – when they couldn’t tell them apart. But the nickname also spoke to the inseparable bond and rare artistic genius the brothers shared.

As they aged, another of JoeWill’s unifying features emerged: The twins shared deep-seated mental health struggles that ultimately resulted in each of their deaths by suicide.

In the years since their deaths, their family has immersed themselves in the captivating collection of art the brothers left behind as a way to keep their memories and talents alive. In the process, they have been reminded of art’s extraordinary power to heal.

The Lawrance family has bravely chosen to share their story and Joe and Will’s art as a means to help others… those who are struggling with mental health… those who are grieving… those in search of community and support… those who seek hope in times of darkness.

“It feels like they’re still talking to us, like they’re still present. They were expressing themselves through their artwork, and we’re still hearing them loud and clear.”

– Jan Lawrance, Joe and Will’s mother

Young talent

Will and Joe both gravitated to art at a young age. In elementary school, their parents signed them up for an after school cartoon class. Their comics and other drawings demonstrated skill not typically seen among grade schoolers. Years later, the teacher – a professional caricature artist so impressed by their work – would continue to inquire about their artistic journey.

As students at North Central High School on the northside of Indianapolis, Joe and Will blossomed, impressing teachers, winning state and national awards, and producing professional-quality art. Their creations demonstrated technical acumen, but also vulnerability and raw emotion.

One of Will’s most memorable pieces created during his high school tenure was a massive self portrait, painted in oils. In it, his look is somber, his hair unruly, and his teenage face blemished. Dubbed Big Face by his family, the radically realistic and honest painting was a finalist in the Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery’s first-ever portrait competition in 2006.

Not to be outdone, Joe’s senior portrait was a mixed media masterpiece, made from thousands of strips cut from colorful magazines, each perfectly placed to create shape and gradient. Joe’s portrait exudes a sense of seriousness and sadness, with eyes cast off to the side and lips turned slightly downward. The piece won a Scholastic Art Competition award and was later displayed at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.

A grueling separation

As high school graduation approached, Joe and Will each sought to continue their studies at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a highly prestigious school for art, architecture and engineering in New York City. Joe was accepted to the architecture program. Will’s application to the art program was declined, and his second attempt a year later was also unsuccessful.

Will ultimately began his college experience at Ball State University and transferred to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Both brothers relished their coursework but struggled being apart, so much so that Joe attempted suicide and took a leave of absence.

Following graduation, Joe and Will returned to Indianapolis. Joe realized his dream of becoming an architect and worked on several high-profile projects in his home state. Will remained dedicated to his art, working more predictable jobs and doing commissions with the hope of eventually making a living as a full-time artist.

But their challenges persisted. Each sought treatment for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorder, and they were beset by mental health conditions for the remainder of their lives. Will died by suicide on September 10, 2011, at age 26. Joe died by suicide six years later on October 30, 2017. He was 32.

Finding hope in pain

Joe and Will are survived by their loving family:

  • Parents Mark and Jan Lawrance
  • Sister Erin Salewicz, brother-in-law John, and their children, Theo, Nora and Arie
  • Sister Devin Mandel, brother in-law Jason, and their children, Lewis and Elaine

Together, they are committed to finding meaning in their unimaginable loss. The family established a scholarship for up-and-coming artists at Joe and Will’s alma matter, North Central High School. And the BetterTogether Creative Wellness Fund at the Indianapolis Art Center will support the use of art to promote mental health.

More broadly, the family hopes that by continuing to share Joe and Will’s story, they can eliminate stigma around mental health conditions and help inspire those who are suffering to seek help.

“We want to send a message of hope. Joe and Will’s artistic endeavors gave them a vehicle to communicate in a way that is strikingly visual. Now, their art can give us a vehicle to connect with others who may need resources and support.”

– Mark Lawrance, Joe and Will’s father

The Lawrance Family

To learn more about Joe and Will Lawrance, read journalist Mary Milz’s heart-wrenching story, Twin Suicide: A Tragic Symmetry, published in Indianapolis Monthly magazine in April 2022.


If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, or a mental health or substance use crisis, please call 988 to reach Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and speak with a trained crisis specialist 24/7. For more mental health resources, including access to support groups, visit NAMI Indiana.