Lucien Shapiro is a maker of things.
The Bay Area artist takes usually discarded objects and puts them all together to create ornate sculptures and masks to reflect personal emotions, struggles, and the routines to get through them all. By combining his creations into a visual narrative, Shapiro gives a unique experience to his work. His upcoming show at San Francisco’s Guerrero Gallery his pieces pair together and coincide with specific rituals that examine and acknowledge intimate moments in life.
In between all the hustle to wrap up his upcoming show I got a chance to grab an interview and to learn more about Shapiro’s art and his life around it.
photo via Guru Khalsa
Looking at your older work and, in regards to your current art, you can see a bit of similarities but, it’s all definitely a bit of a change. How did you jump from your sculpted characters to the beginning of your weapon making for ‘Urban Obsessions”?
I feel like it was a natural progression, I guess the “jump” happened when I felt like I was repetitively making work with no overall goal except to improve skills with figurative forms. It was a few changes in my life that really cemented where the work was going. But, ultimately, I wanted to create urban artifacts, pieces of our culture. The weapons were made because I believe I was subconsciously wanting to protect myself and the masks were a way to cover the faces of those not honest enough to just be and do what they needed in life. When worn, a mask can be something to hide behind but, when hung on a wall it is a hollow shell, which was and sometimes still is how I view some people: hollow, filthy, scared to show truth but, also beautiful and able to explain a life without a word, a mask.
How did Urban Obsessions and your Relics of the New World series start getting developed? Could you talk a bit about what you’re exploring with that?
The “Relics for the New World” work was all based on finding myself after change. I was protecting myself and through creation stripping the layers away. It was a solidifying process of realizing beauty in time and repetition. In the end I realized how much patience and persistence is relevant in my life and in my works.
I’ve seen it written in many places and heard from others that your work makes them think of some items for an upcoming post-apocalyptic future. This is mostly in regards to your weapons but, I could see the idea in your masks, specifically the ones with little baggies sewn together. Is this an idea you thought about while creating or did someone just see your work and run with their own thoughts?
Yes, it is a commonly said term but, I feel like my work is more than that. I am trying to build bits and pieces to form a giant whole. The underlying truth in my work is that of a shell, or protection, it’s always dealing with what I am doing or wanting in my own life. For example this show Vessel at Guerrero Gallery is all about things I want, rituals I need to perform if I want to rid the demons, and negativeness in my life, and the things I want to offer and share with the people surrounding it.
The performance art/videos that you’ve created, were they always an idea you wanted to express or a narrative you later on realized needed to be created while building this series? Who did you work with on these videos?
The videos were never a thought, until I realized with the help of friends how alive the pieces could become. These artifacts and objects should be documented and used. With the help of Henry Kim at Empty Kingdom we documented the relics of the new World Series. And with Reymundo Perez I have begun documentation for the new series entitled Vessel. This will be a series of videos each based on a mask and vessel that are used as a ceremonial ritual. So far we have only shot the mating ritual, but the light collecting ritual will be next.
Photo via SF Art Enthusiast
You recently exhibited your work at the California Academy of Sciences in a pretty unique way for a sculpture artist. You were a part of a fashion show with 5 other local designers. Who got you involved in this event? What was it like curating your work in such a format as opposed to putting together a show in a gallery?
Negar Siadatnejad contacted me and I thought it would be a great experience, the more work I make the more I realize the need for it to be functional. This was a strange experience but so fun, seeing the works come to life and the elements that show others a different side to a stiff wall or pedestal mounted piece. I make most of my works to incorporate a bit of movement and sound and without video this is a great way to showcase it live.
How has living in The Bay and being involved with the art community here influenced your work and process?
I love the bay and of course our environments shape who we are and what we become, but, specifically, the influence behind city life is the repetitive addiction in my work. As well as the fine gents and ladies that help the bottlecap collection campaign, you included. As for the community I have met some amazing people and friends here who inspire, push, and question me. So I’m grateful for that, especially the ones that don’t let me get away with shit, no short cuts, work till your fingers bleed forever.
Speaking of bleeding fingers, the construction and process of your work is extremely meticulous yet, you give the impression, you knock out work at a surprisingly quick pace. (I mean, you’re out at all the shows with me most nights, haha) How do you go about threading together bottle caps? Applying metals studs to vessels and bats? How long on average does it take to create a piece?
I’m addicted to creation, most nights after you see me out I head home or to the studio to work. More times than not, especially in the last couple months I actually fall asleep while working. I’m tired, and will be concentrating on taking a bit better care of myself soon. But, the bottom line is to create works like I do with the little help I do get in the studio it is just a sacrifice. I try to bring bottlecaps that have been pre drilled or studs out with me, I work in the middle of a movie at the theatre, while out at the river with friends, or just a day at the park. Anywhere I go I must bend studs or string caps because this part of my process is barely the beginning of the number of steps that go into my works. I work on multiple pieces usually 4-5 at a time so time isn’t really something I can break down into pieces. For example I have to collect the caps, sort the caps, drill the caps, string and pattern the caps, then glue and form them to the masks or vessels, etc. I love it
photo via Guru Khalsa
Can you talk about your studio space and work environment? As in creative rituals, music you may listen to, any other artists working/sharing your space and how these elements may influence your process.
My studio space here in Oakland is pretty nice. My good friends rented me this weird warehouse garage space attached to their apt/flat. But, in October, I’m moving back to San Francisco and will be starting a fresh new studio regime there. My rituals are simple: coffee , work, food, work , work , work . Usually I listen to music, too many to describe in a long list that will bore anyone that’s gotten this far in the Interview so I’ll keep it at this obscure you probably never heard of these guys list. Check out decorative stamp, cleaver league, glk, babelfishh, Edison buttons of doom, papervehicle, evak -1,and if I left you out I’m sorry I’m so sleepy.
It seems pretty straight forward how artists that create illustrations or paintings solicit their work but how do you go about marketing sculptures and installations, especially works as unique as yours? Any advice for up-and-coming sculpture artists?
Make what you want, and if you work hard enough and long enough and never give up you just might have some good fortune like, magical genie bubbly cloud flying dragons type of stuff. Apply to everything and anything, and just don’t let the work get the best of you, although I am my worst critic, well we all are, except those jar headed thumb suckers, don’t be a thumb sucker.
Any final words?
Just thanks, I appreciate it, and if any of you got all the way to the end of this I’m kissing you right now. Do you like it? I do…
ATTACK LUCIEN SHAPIRO!!