Tuesday, October 7, 2008
THINK TANK | Julian Lesser
words and photography by Christopher de la Torre
Julian Lesser wants to be interesting and compelling. Revealing but not too revealing. He wants for his work to be worth something. But not just in a ledger. This Astoria-based artist has a gift. He’s modest but not shy when it comes to his art. His acclaimed collection, “Future Gardens and Other Destinations” recently opened in Upstate New York. Some of the same work will be descending on SoHo in
December. He’s no stranger to experimentation. He likes a good challenge. He thinks of New York as home. But to Lesser, life is fragmented. To Lesser, we are all ripped apart inside by ideas and emotions. And when the Molecule recently asked the young painter to bring us in a little bit closer to his art, we found a bit more in the process.
UM: What was a typical “day in the life” at the Lesser homestead growing up?
JL: Good question. It changed from day to day. Things would be normal for some time and then they’d completely get out of hand. When it was normal it was nice. Our family was very safe, very loving. We enjoyed cooking together, traveling and learning together. My mom is an artist as well. When I was a boy I would spend time drawing and painting in her studio. She always encouraged my creativity. Like I said, the good times were good. And then there were the bad times. Difficult. Stressful. There were times when we were in financial crisis and had to move from where we lived. Times my parents weren’t happily married and my brother and I were forced to weather the storms from the sidelines.
UM: How has living in New York affected your art?
JL: Living in NYC has made me realize that I was meant to make art. I grew up in Westchester and went to school in the Hudson Valley, which has a very vibrant artistic community. I was able to focus on my art in the mountains of New Paltz. Then I moved to NYC after graduating from college. I engaged my art in the city while finding a way to survive. I often wished I could quit everything and just paint, but quickly realized the city wasn’t supportive of my kind.
In a sense I’ve always lived in NYC. We would often come to see family or do other things, so I felt like a New Yorker early on. The city inspires me. Not only my art, but my drive. Every day is inspiring and challenging. Every day is a day to create something new, to strive to be bigger, better, stronger. New York City makes you want to succeed. You can’t be passive in any way. It’s fast and rough, and makes you explore your motives and inspirations and goals, your soul.
UM: More and more creative types are relocating to Astoria. How is it living in Queens as an artist?
JL: There is so much energy, very much like the energy you find in the city. And it’s very close – a quick train ride – so I don’t feel like I’m missing parts of the art community. But being here gives me peace and quiet too. There’s also a sense of community you might not find in Manhattan. It allows me the space I need without worrying about whether or not I can afford to eat. It’s ideal here. I get the space I need to create my work and I’m slightly removed from the social distractions of the city, so I’m not always tempted by sex or partying. Well, I still do get distracted sometimes. I’m not a prude. Besides, some of those city activities are part of my inspiration.
UM: What comes to mind when I say the word “bodies”?
JL: Bodies of water. Bodies of land. Collections. Mass groupings of a particular thing. The human body, which in itself is a massive collection of cells and neurons. Bodies are collections, groupings, families. Bodies…it’s really a huge word that can relate to so many things. It relates to my work, I think. It’s an overview of a larger picture, an umbrella with thousands of layers below it. My work is a final image with thousands of layers, ideas and emotions below it, peeking through and lying underneath. A body of work, bodies of work…it’s a very artful term.
UM: Your work has taken several turns with respect to media. Ink, acrylic, mixed. Is there a clear progression? Introduce us to your personal artistic evolution.
JL: [sighs] I’m an experimenter. I love to try new things. I feel like I’m at a place where it’s working, like I don’t have to experiment with materials as much, but now I can focus more on content. My multimedia work comes from the need to create a history and substance. The textures. The layers. I have a process where I create layers and history first, then work with my content. Painting without exploring is of no interest to me. My paintings are journeys, small adventures. Still life is of no interest to me. I’m more interested in creating a history or finding a problem, then figuring out how to visually resolve them in a painting.
UM: You recently had a successful opening in upstate New York.
JL: The opening was great! The show had 51 pieces in it, my largest show ever. I created the body of work over the course of 3 to 4 months. Friends, family, art buyers and others came. I sold 12 pieces opening night. I hope the show continues to sell. It’s showing through November 2nd. I dedicated the show to my nephew, Nathaniel Lesser, who died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) at 4 months back in early July. Whenever I got tired I remembered what, who I was working for. He was my motivation.
UM: You have a show coming up in SOHO.
JL: The show is at Bobby Berk Gallery. Bobby and I have been acquaintances for many years. We know a lot of the same people and share many friends. He has always had an interest in my art but didn’t have a space until early this year. It wasn’t until recently that he decided that my work would suit his space. He invited me to show a past collection of my work – it’s actually there now. He loved my new work and thought it would look great in the space. Of course I agreed.
We’ve grown our friendship and developed a business partnership, promoting his space and showing my work. The opening is December 11. The show is called “Escaping Manhattan: Future Gardens and Other Destinations Continued.” It will be some of the work from my most recent exhibition, “Future Gardens and Other Destinations,” as well as additional work I will complete over the next few months. I’m very excited about it.
UM: You were recently almost set on fire.
JL: Yes I was. Two cars in front of my apartment were parked next to a heaping pile of garbage on the curb. The blaze was bright and crackling and woke me up. I’m lucky one of those cars didn’t explode. I sleep naked so I would have really been fucked if fire had come through the window, or if I had to leave my apartment in a hurry. Since then I’ve been sleeping in shorts.
UM: In “Future Gardens” you fuse city structures with organic images.
JL: The collection is about traveling to cities, gardens and other landscapes. It’s about escaping New York and finding more. Of course I can’t leave right now…there’s too much going on. So, I decided to take a trip in my mind, to create my own adventures. While doing that I’ve found time to relax and reflect in my studio, or on the subway, or in Central Park. I made these paintings all over the city.
UM: Many of your human figures appear fractured. How did this style originate?
JL: As most of my work originates, without initial intention. This started with sketches and spills that were uncontrollable. But it felt right. Soon I realized it was a way to show self-reflection. To show all the sides of the people I was portraying. We are all fragmented, scattered, ripped apart inside by what we want versus what we need; what is right and what is wrong; how we feel versus what we think. The fragmented figures represent the daily internal and external struggles each and every one of us goes through as humans.
UM: What’s next?
JL: What’s next? Ha! Make more art. Keep exploring this crazy, overwhelming inspiring world we live in. There is no next except this! This is what I must do: self-explore. Try to figure out the way we all fit together. Do I make a difference? Do any of us make a difference? What’s the point of being here if you aren’t going to contribute in the best, most eager way you know how? We all must do our part to contribute whatever it is we have to offer the world, to make a difference. To inspire each other. To make this existence worth a damn.
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