One to Watch

Lucas Lai

Lucas Lai is an emerging artist currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York, United States. He studied at the Parsons School of Design and the American University of Paris. Characterized by a muted color palette and softer focus, these works often depict elements of the natural and urban environments. Lucas focuses on the beauty of the quotidian to create images that serve as catalysts for emotions.

Lucas’ works have an international audience. He received an artist residency at La Porte Peinte Centre Pour Les Arts in Noyers sur Serein, France in 2011 and has since exhibited in Europe in countries including Germany and France. His works were most recently shown in a Young Artists Exhibition in Berlin, Germany.

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

Beauty and transience.

Even though beauty is subjective, it is also something we recognize unmistakably and immediately. In the presence of beauty, our intellect is gladly overwhelmed by our emotions. Beauty is extremely substantive and powerful; it has the ability to inspire us. What is the purpose of art if not to inspire and conjure emotions and ideas, whatever they may be?

Transience is closely linked with beauty, for beauty is often fleeting.  The nature of life is changePhotography is evidence of this by the very mechanics of the medium: a slice of time captured, which is unique from the moment before and after it. I try and stay tuned into the presence of each momentso that I am able to see the beauty that surrounds us and share it with others.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

I worked for a time at Ai Weiwei’s Beijing studio organizing his photography retrospective. Once I had to create a model of the museum hosting the exhibition. I can’t remember why, but I rushed in putting together the model, and it honestly was just a bit of a sloppy job. Weiwei looked at it and turned to me disapprovingly and said, “If you are going to bother doing something, do your best.”

I have often thought about this simple, though ultimately cliché directive which we hear all the time.  Coming from a mentor and someone who truly embodies his ideals, it resonated with me and still serves as a reminder when I am making art: be sure that I’m really giving it my all, and not selling the work, or myself, short by compromising.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

It depends on exactly what I’m doing, but generally I listen to podcasts like OnBeing, which talks about spirituality and life’s “big questions,” or programs like The Moth, which features true life storytelling.  Listening to words and ideas while I am working often sparks my creativity. Sometimes I listen to classical music, particularly Mozart. I like to imagine that some of his profound genius miraculously finds its way through the airwaves and triggers my own imagination.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

Picasso’s The Blind Man’s Meal. Like many kids, Picasso was my first “favorite artist” and as a young boy I remember seeing the painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  As I grew older and started making more of my own art, I loved how Picasso did not limit himself to one or two or even three mediums. He was committed more to the process of making art than anything else, and that really inspired me to think about my creative process without borders. It is a relatively simple painting portraying the quotidian activity of having a meal, but it captures it with such grace and subtlety, reminding me that beauty can be found in the everyday. Blue has always been my favorite color; it evokes the sky and the sea which both express limitless possibility. The fact that Picasso painted it when he himself was poor and depressed also reminds me that even the greatest artists have periods of struggle and uncertainty, and only by persevering and working through the hardship does one emerge. Hopefully with beautiful work to show for it!

Who are your favorite writers?

I often carry with me a copy of the Dhammapada, a pocket sized book of the teachings of Buddha. I find them more like poems than religious teachings and can read them endlessly. Each reading gives me new meanings. I also have been reading a lot of Mary Oliver. I love her work because it is more like having a conversation with her than reading her. She brings me into her world and invites me to see through her eyes, much in the way I strive to bring viewers into my photographs. Simon Van Booy is my favorite novelist; his way with words is itself an art.  No other writer’s precise and potent use of words conjures such vivid images in my mind; just one sentence can inspire me to create an entire work. I often find the written word just as fertile ground for inspiration as visual art.

“Mind is the forerunner of all actions.

All deeds are led by the mind, created by the mind.

If one speaks or acts with a serene mind,

happiness follows,

as surely as one’s shadow”

– The Dhammapada