If you've taken a trip to the Urban Arts Gallery lately, you've been greeted by two majestic, deliciously gaudy life-size figures standing near the doorway. You've been nearly blinded by the dazzling mosaic glass which covers one, or the pristine shining metal which makes up the other. I was blown away by these, and several other pieces by Julie Lucus featured in the gallery. I knew I had to interview her, however, once I saw the hollowed out dress form with a delightfully creepy doll head peaking out from the inside.
Lucus is a multi-media artist, using found and seemingly unrelated objects and putting them together in a way which tickles the brain and inspires our pension for dark humor. If you get the chance, you need to see these amazing sculptures in person. I can't describe what you'll feel. I can only say you will be pleasantly surprised.
Mandy: What kind of artist are you?
Julie: I am a sculptor and artist provocateur. Blurring boundaries, breaking rules, and compulsive experimentation occupies much of my artistic time. I use unconventional materials and concepts outside the scope of traditional art-making to delight the eye, and shock the sensibilities. I use both new and recycled materials, often disassembling them and then reassembling them in new, startlingly exotic combinations. In much of my work there are underlying tones of irony, irreverence, and mischievous humor.
Mandy: When did you first know you were interested in art?
Julie: I developed an interest in art in high school and it’s been with me since. From photography to pottery to growing bonsai, and just about everything artistic in between- has engaged me at some point in my life. I didn’t produce my first sculpture until 2002 or so, but once I did, I pretty much lost interest in all other creative activities.
Mandy: Who are your favorite artists?
Julie: Damien Hirst never fails to impress me with his shocking sculptural and installation works. He is fearless in his use of controversial materials to convey his message. His design concepts are very costly and he is not afraid to put a lot of money into his works. Hirst is a risk taker when it comes to business strategy, and an outright marketing genius when it comes moving his art.
Liza Lou is a bead artist who first gained attention for her room-sized beaded installation, “Kitchen” in the late 1990’s. What I like about Liza is that she elevated “the craft” of beading to a fine art form that even the most pretentious art critics can’t ignore. She has not allowed her material of choice to define her as a “crafter”. She rejected that label rather loudly, and has gone on to show her works in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries.
Mark Ryden is a pop surrealist painter and what I love about his work the most is his color palette. He uses a lot of pinks and greens together. I would re-color the world with his palette if I could because it has such a strong effect on me. His doe-eyed children and animals make me feel warm and fuzzy and at the same time, slightly melancholy and a little devilish too.
Chinese artist, architect and activist Ai Weiwei is a hero of mine because he is not afraid to agitate through art in order to raise political awareness. He makes people mad, but he also makes them think, and that creates dialogue. And in my mind, that is as admirable reason to create art. He is also very much a humanitarian, and has employed hundreds of his country’s poorest people to help produce porcelain objects for some of his large-scale installations.
Mandy: Where do you find inspiration? Who or what influences you?
Julie: I have been greatly influenced by found object art, and I use some parts of that art making process. I love the idea of combining things and rearranging parts and objects to make entirely new objects. I tried for a long time to live with the corrosion and imperfections that are an integral part of found object art, but just couldn’t come to terms with that. When I create, I go for shiny, glossy, smooth, perfection with bold color. Many of my pieces include found or vintage items, but you would never know it because the finished piece is usually quite pristine.
My inspiration usually comes from reflection, or what is going on in my life at the time- but it also includes the peripheral influence of popular culture. I like to approach subjects that are perhaps a little disarming, irreverent, morose, and macabre. I am also more than a little fascinated with death and rebirth.
Mandy: Describe the technical process that goes into creating one of your pieces.
Julie: Oh boy, which one? I use a lot of different techniques in my work. Ok, well let’s say I want to create a 3D creature and then mosaic it with glass. I begin with the sculpture base, using wire, wood, fiberglass and resin, and/or high-density Styrofoam to get the basic shape down. You can carve Styrofoam with an electric knife to create some really elegant lines. I refine the base shape by adding to it with bondo or plaster. I hand-sand the structure and then repeat the process as needed. I usually coat the entire structure with a two-part epoxy resin to create a super hard shell over the structure. I paint the base exactly how I want it to look when it is covered in glass. I hand cut my glass into ½” x ½ “ or ¼ “ x ¼” squares depending on the complexity of the shape. I use the direct mosaic method and glue the glass directly onto the structure. Once the mosaic work is complete, I grout the entire structure.
Mandy: What is your biggest struggle or obstacle as an artist?
Julie: Knowing who you are as an artist is hard and getting people to see you in the same light is even harder. The “craft versus art” debate has been dogging me for years. Am I an artist, or am I a craftsman? Or, am I an artist of craft? Art aficionados tell us that craft is technique driven, and that objects made through the pursuit of perfect technique are decorative objects without any underlying substance. They tell us that fine art is an idea or thought that is represented visually. They tell us fine art is conceptual, and will journey further, intellectually and emotionally, past purely decorative objects.
Admittedly, I do some design work that is strictly decorative, but the majority of my work is conceptual, and does involve thought and emotion. The problem is, the execution of my work is very technique driven, and when I am creating, the process is just as important to me as the concept. I’m torn really, and can’t decide if I am offended or not when critics call my work “craft as art.”
Mandy: Are the people in your life supportive of your art?
Julie: My family is supportive… or at the least, tolerant of my art, and the lifestyle that supports it. My art and work areas have pretty much taken over most of my home; so hanging out at my house is an interesting experience for most people. A lot of the furniture and possessions I spent half my life acquiring have gone by the wayside, to make room for art, supplies, and work areas. In my mind, I’m living the dream, but for some friends and relatives… well they do worry about me not having a couch. (Laughs).
Mandy: Do you like to collaborate? Who have you collaborated with?
Julie: I do bounce concepts off artist friends from time to time, but when it comes down to actually doing the work, I don’t collaborate. Creating art is a very singular experience for me, and when I am creating, it’s all about me being in the moment, and going the direction I want to go creatively. I know that must sound pretty narcissistic, but I think a lot of artists feel that way. I love every moment of the creative process, and would find it difficult to share that with anyone. It’s a journey that I want to take alone.
Mandy: What do you think about the art scene in Salt Lake?
Julie: If you had asked me that a few years ago my answer would have been very different. I think the Salt Lake City art scene is much more contemporary and cutting edge than it used to be. Urban and underground artists are recognized and accepted in most art circles these days, and hip young galleries seem to be popping up all of the time.
When I first entered the art scene in 2004, the majority of what was showing in galleries was traditional, conservative works created in traditional, conservative mediums. I joined an artist-run co-op named, “New Visions” gallery. It was a wonderful showcase for both known and unknown artists like myself, whose work was quite a distance outside convention at the time. Art Co-ops are hard to keep going, so the gallery closed after a few years, but it was a great place for me to start showing my work. And, while I don’t necessarily like to collaborate on art per say, I did enjoy the collaborative effort of trying to keep a gallery open and thriving. All of the member artists were working toward the same goal of having and maintaining a venue for their art.
Mandy: Do you have a favorite local artist?
Julie: Now, answering that would get me in some trouble...
Mandy: What are your goals as an artist?
Julie: Generally, my goals as an artist are to be true to myself and to continue to create things that I am proud of; to not be afraid of chasing perfection through technique; to continue to experiment with new materials and processes; and to never chase after money with art. More specifically, I’d like to have a show in New York and build an art car some day.
Mandy: Have you met any of your goals so far?
Julie: Yeah, I would say so, but the solo show in New York and the art car are going to take some time. (Laughs)
Mandy: If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?
Julie: Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have a career in a creative field (photography and video production), so I am never without the opportunity to do something creative. But, if I couldn’t make art outside my day job, I might very well be institutionalized (laughing). Art… the kind you make for yourself and not other people…. is like therapy, and it’s usually cheaper and much more effective. Most of the time I create art for myself, not for the public. But, if someone else happens to like it, well, that’s really a bonus.
To contact Julie, or see more of her art, visit her website:
Julie currently has pieces showing at the UAA Urban Gallery at the Gateway Mall (137 South Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City), and at the Sugarhouse Gallery (Artistic Framing Company), 2160 South Highland Drive, Salt Lake City.