By NOAH BECKER August, 2019
Painter Keli Lucas invited me to her studio in Bushwick Brooklyn a few weeks ago. My painting studio is in Brooklyn Heights, so I caught the A train and transferred to the L Train and had an interesting afternoon seeing her paintings and discussing art.
Noah Becker: Why do you paint people?
Keli Lucas: I paint people because... I don't know. I feel like I'm obsessed with this sort of finding the soul through people that enlighten me in some way, whether it's someone I have a personal relationship with that taught me something, or somebody I just met that taught me something in another way. Their soul, and what they strive for, and what's broken them down, or what's made them who they are interests me.
Becker: Are most of your subjects New Yorkers?
Lucas:: No, from all over the place. One is of a friend in Los Angeles. That one over there, on the side wall - she's from Madrid.
Becker: I see. Where are you from?
Lucas: I'm from Brooklyn, born and raised.
Becker: You were born in Brooklyn?
Becker: Have you lived other places?
Lucas: I've lived in California. I've lived in Arizona, but I always end up coming back to New York. There's nothing like it.
Becker: You're painting portraits of people. Is there an artist that inspired you in that way, or do you feel it just came out of your own idea of what you wanted to do?
Lucas: I think, growing up, I had insomnia, so I always watched documentaries on Basquiat, Frida Kahlo, and I was obsessed with de Kooning for a long time, Van Gogh. There's a recent artist, Andrew Salgado, who inspired me a lot. He's a Canadian painter. Yeah, I think just being inspired by artists, I guess, things come out naturally, maybe.
Becker: Did you go to art school?
Lucas: I did. I went to SVA. I dropped out when I started working in fashion. I wasn't getting backed by my family anymore, because I had a girlfriend. Jewish parents don't really want to back you up when you're doing that kind of thing. I dropped out, and, I don't know. I just kept doing my thing and making art throughout it.
Becker: It was difficult for you?
Lucas: Yeah, it was really difficult, but I think I was able to triumph it, and I ended up getting paid to teach at SVA later.
Becker: Are you still teaching at SVA?
Lucas: Yeah, if I call them up again and schedule it.
Becker: I see. Yeah.
Becker: Teaching painting.
Lucas: Mm-hmm, yeah, expressionistic painting, just letting it loose.
Becker: What is it about de Kooning that you like?
Lucas: I love feeling his emotion and feeling his aggression. He doesn't give a fuck to get messy, and throw shit down, and put everything that's inside of him and what he's feeling onto a canvas.
Becker: What about Basquiat? What is it about Basquiat that inspires you?
Lucas: Very similar. He was very free. He didn't follow any rules. He just threw everything up from within him.
Becker: Do you feel like a self-taught painter, or do you feel like you were actually taught to paint at SVA?
Lucas: I definitely have been painting since I was a child with insomnia. That's why I went to SVA later.
Becker: A lot of it you feel like comes from your own soul?
Lucas: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I started creating anything just out of pure boredom, and trying to pass the time at night, and ended up loving painting.
Becker: That's great Keli, I think it's important that we had a chance to talk. WM
The link for the official fundraising medium for the Keli Lucas "Perspective" world tour is below. Funds raised on the tour will go towards the production of her as well as development efforts by SUN in disenfranchised communities across the globe.
After Seattle, Keli returns to her home of NYC, to the Bushwick Generator for the closing fundraiser group artshow she curated for SUN to return to Vieques, PR with more resources, Doctors, contractors and humanitarians before Hurricane season. The next day Lucas will embark on her journey across Israel and Palestine.
Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023.
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