Alex Lukas is a solid dude who means business. I met Alex through a mutual friend two or three years ago. Ever since then, time and again, I've been awed by his artist's energy and quality of work. Looking closely at his portfolio, whether it's his drawings, prints or zines, one can sense the command over his media, as well as an attention to detail. Alex works out of Space 1026 in Philadelphia, and was nice enough to chat with me on the Google box. He touched on his most recent series.
DS: So I see that you've got some newish work up on the website.
DS: I guess I'm just curious how you feel about it. It seems like an upgraded version of the stuff done previously.
AL: Yeah, I think that I am just trying to explore some of the same ideas and thoughts but in a more, I don’t know, visually complex way?
DS: Yeah I see that. Is that mostly aesthetic for you or are there narrative things going on too?
AL: Well, I have been thinking a lot about that lately. I think the newer work, because maybe it is a little more complex, it might lend itself to clearer narrative ideas. I have some mixed feelings about that. I think before, when I first started on this series of work, it was very much about conveying more of an emotion, and less of a clear story. The goal was to inspire some vague sense of anxiety or un-ease, the drawings were intended to be "moody" in a way. Whereas now, as they get more complex and more involved, I think they look more narrative, and that makes sense, but it is a struggle to not have the work be overly illustrative. It is something I am trying to be conscious of.
DS: And that sort of parallels the apocalyptic subject matter.
AL: Yeah, I mean, I think especially with the newer work—the flooded cityscapes. People immediately jump to some global warming theme. I mean I fully understand that interpretation but these pieces are not strictly intended as "warnings". I hope the interpretation can be more open then that, but I guess that is also something I am working on. I like the work to be open ended.
DS: Well, I've always liked your work. I think that destructive tone gives it this sidelong glance at other things going on in art, namely street art. Maybe that’s just me.
AL: Yeah, I mean, I think that [destruction] is also a larger theme in our cultural dialogue right now. I hate saying "cultural dialogue". But I think that you look at Hollywood and television and popular culture, so much of it, for a long time, has been obsessed with depicting the destruction of America. What I find interesting is that today, these images are being mirrored in reality. I think that you look at images of 9-11 or Katrina and while the reality of these situations is almost incomprehensible, the images are not all that foreign, they are not hard to understand. There is a familiarity where we have seen, and continue to see, these images in a fictional setting so often. On top of that, the reception of these images, on Television, it can blur the line between reality and entertainment. I don't think I am expressing this very well, but I just remember, right after 9-11, someone on TV said that while the act was shocking, the imagery, the way buildings looked when the planes hit, that was not new. In a way we were accustomed to it, and because we were viewing it in a medium that we so often see fiction depicted on, there was a constant need to remind ones-self of the reality of the situation.
DS: I guess that’s where the vagueness of narrative must help.
AL: Well, yes. I try to leave the drawings very open ended, but the downside, like we were talking about before, is some people just see the work and the first thought is "Global Warming, Done, next piece”. So I am trying to be conscious of that. The other interesting thing that happens with a lot of the work is people immediately recognize the city depicted. It is understandably, and in some ways, unavoidable, but I want these images to be a little more universal, and less focused on a specific, or known, location. I got into a little trouble showing some scenes of San Francisco in San Francisco.
DS: Tell me more about that.
AL: Not trouble per say, but people were more focused on "that’s my house" or "that’s my office" as opposed to looking at the image, and I think the risk is the work can become a novelty.
AL: Exactly. I mean, no matter what, people are going to recognize the New York skyline but I think that part of that balance between evoking an emotion versus creating a specific narrative is distancing people from what they immediately recognize. Hopefully I can tilt the balance towards evoking an emotion over creating an immediately recognizable narrative. I guess a lot of it is figuring out the balance between familiar and foreign.
DS: Are there any artists that you've been looking at or referencing?
AL: For contemporary work, I have been looking at a lot of photographers like Edgar Martins, Richard Misrach, and Edward Burtynsky. All of those guys create images I really like—and Hopper for painting, of course. I really enjoy a lot of contemporary drawing but it doesn't really get incorporated into this body of work. I also love comic books and what not, but that is a different thing.
DS: You want to plug the thing you've got going for March?
AL: Yes, I'm working towards a show of new works on paper opening March 14th at White Walls in San Francisco. Then I'm trying to organize and exhibition of Philadelphia zine makers for the end of April in Denmark, but that is still very much up in the air.
DS: You've got a few things brewing.
AL: Yes, hopefully a batch of new zines from Cantab Publishing by the end of the spring.
DS: Nice, I'll be sure to link that.