Alex Lukas is AS220’s Artist in Residence for March. Lukas hails from Cambridge, received a degree in Illustration from RISD, and is now based out of Philadelphia.
Perhaps being lazy, I was about to describe your drawings as “post-apocalyptic” but now I see that you might not really be a big fan of that term. Anyways, they portray scenes of urban decay, a resurgence of nature over the man-made world, and so on. What inspires these? You’re from Boston and went to school in Providence, surely you’ve seen your share of crumbling old cities and towns.
Yeah, Philadelphia (current location) has it’s share of dilapidated areas as well. I’m not really interested in the “post-apocalyptic” label, although I see why it’s often applied to my work, and I don’t think it is necessarily a lazy characterization. I feel generally “post-apocalyptic” narrative in popular culture focuses on the specific moment of the apocalypse as a turning point – zombie attack, nuclear bomb, pandemic. Addressing “what happened” isn’t very interesting to me, I guess that’s where my frustration with the label comes in. I try to direct my work more towards ideas of rebirth and the quiet, implied, violence in society today. I’m also interested in engaging with the historical tradition of American landscape painting and depictions of ruins from previous artistic eras to see what questions contemporary versions of those images raise.
More recently, I’ve been examining “analog” communications, like people writing on walls, or carving their name into a tree. I’m interested in this commemoration of the moment an individual experienced a place, like “Mike was here”. When you find this message, you’re sharing the personal experience of standing in the same place as Mike and seeing what he saw, but in an anonymous way because you know nothing else about the circumstances surrounding Mike. I think there are parallels with this and the idea of a crumbling, overgrown structure.
On an intellectual level, I’m interested in the way that it serves as a mirror for the city – from it’s celebrated opening in 1908 as a new commuter route to the East Bay, the fatal blow from the 1938 hurricane to a failing and obsolete system, a freight railroad line eventually abandoned in the ’80s with the collapse of local manufacturing and industry, an art party spot in the ’90s, a graffiti hub, and finally to a parking lot for luxury condos in the early 2000s. That’s a simplified timeline, but the correlations to the city at large are intriguing.
I’m also interested in spaces that exist outside of normal rules and regulations. My experience around the tunnel was that you could do whatever you wanted on prime East Side real estate. You had RISD kids making art installations, kids smoking weed after school, graffiti writers, kids breaking into the Mickey Mouse Law Offices, all in broad daylight with a laissez-faire nod-of-acknowledgment when you saw someone else down there. Everyone was breaking the law in one way or another, so everyone let everyone else be. I think places where that type of occupation of a parcel of land can exist are incredibly important.
Even with all of that gone, something keeps attracting me to the tunnel. I’m not 100% sure why, but I guess that is what I’m trying to figure out.
Cantab is a name I started putting on ‘zines in college. It has changed and morphed over the years, and there have been long dry spells. There have been comics, collections of drawings and photographs, sets of interviews, and historical compilations like the RISD Tunnel ‘zines. I’ve never published any poetry and I don’t think any of the ‘zines have made any money. The most recent project has been a series titled OF NOTE, collecting a group of themed photographs, i.e. Palm Tree Murals, Graffiti on Rocks, Copy Shop Signage, etc..
I’m really eager to work with everyone in the print shop on some projects I have in mind. I’m so interested in printmaking but rarely have the opportunity to work with people who actually know how to print. I’m also planning to work on a bunch of drawings and just seeing where the month takes me.
Were you aware of AS220 as a student at RISD? To what extent?
In January of 2000, I volunteered spackling the 2nd floor bathroom at 115 Empire Street, and maybe stenciling the back of some folding chairs. I remember coming back once and working the door at a Tuesday night show, but I’m sure I could have engaged more. I’m really excited to see how much AS220 has grown.
INTERVIEW BY DAVE DVORCHAK