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Lucas Soi Interview

Written by Niall Hamill   
Tuesday, 05 October 2010 12:03

*Vancouver based Lucas Soi opens Cradle Stories at The Shooting Gallery in SF on Saturday, Oct 9th. Niall spoke with Lucas and touched on his working method, living and working in Vancouver and how the work in Cradle Stories focuses on suburban teenagers and the dark undertones prevalent.

There’s this excerpt from Life After God by Douglas Coupland that comes to mind when I think about Cradle Stories.

Oh yeah?

Coupland grew up on the North Shore, and now lives in the same neighborhood as you in West Vancouver: “It was the life of children of children of the children of the pioneers - life after God - a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven.”

Oh cool. Growing up in West Van is crazy. It's great, but you definitely grow up with a warped sense of reality; you're totally ignorant to how other people live. It's this weird combo of beach town and retirement community. The only people you find in West Van are babies, teens, MILFs and old people.

The drawings in Cradle Stories depict events in the lives of privileged suburban teens, often in the safety of their own homes. The images have very dark undertones. Are you commenting on the Millennial Generation’s self-destruction?

I think being young, you're closer to conception than to existence. Meaning you're really closer to death than life. If you're fourteen years old, surrounded by your parents who are, say, triple you’re age, you're closer to "just being born" than to "everyday life". So destruction, which is a kind of creation in reverse, is closer to your understanding, maybe? When you're growing up you're always looking backwards, comparing what you can do now to what you couldn't do before. There's not a lot of forward thinking, no matter how many adults are helping you navigate the way. So maybe the darkness that you see in these drawings is just the connection all youths have to that unknown place where we come from, and where we go when we die.

We don't see the consequences of their actions in the drawings.

I think as mature viewers we know the general results, which would be dealing with law enforcement, or a parent's discipline. But the drawings aren't told from our point of view: they're from the teenager's. As the artist I'm putting you the viewer in their shoes.

The landscape format you use is similar to that of 19th century French painters. But I see some really distinctive contemporary elements in there.

Totally. I wanted to reflect where we’re at in our culture right now, but show that we've always been here. We haven't changed that much. Ancient myths are really eternal truths, you know? But I love the old school painters. Since I'm self-taught I didn't learn about contemporary art until about three years ago, so my whole concept of pictorial composition and narrative was informed by these old dead white guys. Thinking about this project I looked back through art history for contemporary takes on society in painting. My favorites were guys like Courbet and Manet, who just painted their surroundings without editorializing. They painted regular people doing everyday things: farmers, bartenders and prostitutes took center stage instead of the aristocrats. The panoramic format I stole from Courbet's “Burial at Ornans”; I saw it in person in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris in 2004 and physically experiencing it changed my life. It's a painting the size of a movie screen. So then I thought, our culture is so influenced by Hollywood, and show business is so influenced by books, particularly by graphic novels right now. So the drawings are made out of multiple sheets of paper, symbolizing the pages of a book.

The scene in “Black Mass” is compelling. It looks like something out of the dark ages, aside from a few distinctive objects and the clothing worn by the subjects.

Yeah. I mean, they are performing a ritual that has been practiced for hundreds of years. You know there are no set rules for a black mass? I did all this research and found that each country and time period had their own way of doing it. The constants were human sacrifice and some sort of parody of the Catholic mass. So I came up with my version.

I think your visual style is pretty unique, with you keeping to a monochrome palette and filling the space with millions of tiny dots. Were you consciously referencing any artists in particular?

Other than the composition, not really. The look happened pretty organically on the page.

You're showing Cradle Stories at The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco opening October 9th. The work has been almost two years in the making. Are you ready for a much deserved vacation from the studio?

It's kind of scary to not have something to work on. It's a weird feeling to have nothing, after working on something for so long. But I'm looking forward to just soaking up life and seeing what stands out to focus on next.

You haven't exhibited a lot in Vancouver. The majority of your shows have been in the USA and Europe. Did you have to travel a lot, or know people in the cities you’ve shown in?

Not really. I researched every gallery in the world I thought my work would fit with and emailed them. Always made sure my website was up to date. I’m lucky because drawings are easy to read on the Internet, so the gallery can make a decision pretty quickly if they're into them or not. They’d respond right away and I'd usually send a single piece down for them to see in person, and we’d be in business.  Curators can be a big help too. In the beginning Tim Barber helped me get a lot of exposure through tinyvices.com and took my work to London, Paris, Tokyo...

What do you think of the opportunities to show work in Vancouver, or lack thereof...

Well, my goal was always to sell work and I learned pretty quickly that the art economy in Vancouver works very differently. Non-profit artist-run centers dominate the scene and operate with a very academic brand of non-commercial work. I think that stuff is interesting, but for it to be the only game in town is a bummer. Other than doing underground shows you’re left with only three commercial galleries in town that do millions of dollars worth of business annually, which is what I’m going for. To get in there you need a reputation. So since the beginning I’ve focused on showing outside of Vancouver, and that focus has really paid off.

Have you thought about moving to a larger art scene in another city, or do you like the degree of anonymity that comes with living and working out of Vancouver?

Vancouver is my home. I’ve traveled a lot and learned that I don’t really wanna live anywhere else. I like it here, and the people are great.

I find that some aspiring young artists heavily promote their self-indulgent lifestyles, which often overshadow their work. How important is it for you to remain focused on your work?

Back in 2008, when I was trying to find my direction after finishing the Found Alive series, I talked about this with my friend Chloe (R.I.P.). We didn't go out, just stayed home and watched movies, listened to music and worked. She told me that I wasn't missing out on much. Artists are producers who need consumers. The people who party are part of a two-way street, you know? The hipsters, who I feel get a lot of flack unnecessarily, they're a valuable part of the equation. They feed off the people who do all the work, but the workers feed off their encouragement and support. Since I was starting out and trying to make a career, I felt like I had to make a choice: get high or get down to business. Chloe really helped put me at ease about living a quiet life and just working.

What does your daily routine consist of? Your work schedule is very well-structured.

I’ve always worked from home. My drawings are made out of multiple sheets of paper, so size has never been an issue, I can work as big as I want. I work at a flat desk next to a big window. I use the wall beside me to do all the layout and composition stuff. I like to start early in the morning when all the good radio shows are on: Rush Limbaugh at 9am, Q on CBC at 10am. At 2pm Charlie Rose is on TV, I play that in the background; then Oprah at 4pm. I quit around 6pm and go out.

How long do your panoramic drawings take to complete?

On average it's 30 days, working 8 hours a day. But since I don't work every day they take two months each.

What kind of pens do you use?

My distinctive fine line and dots are made with a 0.25mm Rapidograph. I love Koh-I-Noor ink. But I also use the cheapest BIC ballpoint pens, and expensive Montblancs, and brush-tipped Faber-Castell pens. My favorite paper is Strathmore Bristol Vellum; I’ve been working with their 14” x 17” pages.

I think that just about sums up everything I wanted to talk about today. Thanks for your time, Lucas. Before we sign-off, is there anything you would like to add?

Buy art!

Edition of 20 + 3 AP
Copper plate etching on archival Rives BFK 300g white acid-free paper
Signed and numbered on reverse
14" x 17"
Printed by New Leaf Editions in Vancouver, B.C.
$200.00 USD


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