Soot accumulating on old brick buildings, paint and other media discarded by graffiti artists are not typically emblems of a burgeoning creative spirit; rather, the reminders of waste. But, artist Julian Lorber has a peculiar eye: he is also drawn to polluted skies, automotive coats, and cosmetics products. Artifacts of an over consuming society. In Lorber’s current series, he uses archival tape to create defiled landscapes.
Rooms: What does light mean to your practice?
In the work that I’ve been involved with for the past three years, I’ve used light to bring out illusions and visual hierarchies in the painted pieces. The work is painted so that depending on the type of light and the direction of the source, the artwork can have the faux-natural light of a particular time of the day. Part of the inspiration of these paintings was looking at the soot built-up on the edges of bricks and other architecture under certain light and thinking to myself, ‘that would be an interesting way to paint.’
The tape marks and application of paint in your work create an impressionistic quality. Was this intentional?
Mostly yes, and I’ve been resistant to saying my artwork is entirely abstracted. My work is mostly landscape or something objective and I do paint for a certain type of light, in a range of colors that might seem fugitive, for example, when I paint the shadows or soot lines with bright mixed colors. Now that I’m really thinking about it, some of these fugitive color combinations have been something that digital cameras can’t seem to capture. This might alienate viewers that look at documentation of art on the web, but the impressionist colours and styles had the same effect on their audience. Of course, seeing my artwork in person is profoundly better. It’s always interesting when viewers assume they are digitally printed at first, because of my painting methods, and then realize they are physically textured and painted.
In your latest series, as featured in ROOMS 16 Superluminal, you build your canvas with archival tape prior to painting. Has building up your canvas always been a part of your process?
Not always. I used to layer using just the drawing and paint to create tension and dialogue between the layers, but still retaining a surface focus. I was interested in the drawing under the paintings and what was underneath the exteriors presented around us. I presented these artworks in a show called the Real Illusions in Painting but I really felt there was something physically missing that I wanted to include. So I started cutting and layering with different media and eventually used archival tape.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the layers you create?
The physical layers are my way of creating my own surface or creating my own architecture on the surface. Falling bricks, bandages, or just the act of covering up with tape allowed me to make statements about surface and make walls that I could paint on. The physical tape also allowed me to build up colours on the edges in the same way soot accumulates on bricks and other surfaces, which was something I was observing and thought was interesting.
Your work draws from graffiti, urban, and man-made spaces, but also retains colors from natural properties. Color is also restrained on each canvas.
I enjoy color sensuality and the way it elicits an emotional response from viewers. The concepts in my work about the environment complement this response and create the dialogue that I’m interested in having. The dialogue being that one is looking at something that can be considered attractive, like a sunset or layers of paint on architecture, but at the same time there are positive and negative externalities present or being presented.
You control substances in order to create architecture of pollution. Is environmentalism important to what you do?
I care enough about the environment that I’ve dedicated years, and much of my work so far, to conveying ideas through my artwork about the subject. I think it comes down to intentions. Although I’m using materials that are harmful to produce, the fact is almost everything is: if you take an object like a brick, which was a good idea and intention, it just depends on what you do with it, despite the fact that if you go back far enough, it was probably made from Saudi, American or Chinese oil. The point is how you use those resources and what your intentions are.
Does living in Brooklyn affect how you look at decay and progress?
To a degree, yes. I’ve titled the project I’ve been involved with for the past few years Externalities because it is from observing the positive and negative occurrences from progress. Brooklyn is very industry-heavy, but because of people living so close to it, you can see its effects quickly, and also see the proactive response from lawmakers and scientists. Seeing street or outdoor/public art leap forward due to popularity has been another interesting experience. With that said, seeing outside of my town helps to keep perspective and to add nuances to the story I’m trying to tell. I often look at LA, China, and now Houston.
What sci-fi story does your work tell?
It’s dark humor. A story that’s about living with, and relying on, a system that is harming us. We have to look at this story in a type of light which is beautiful, and that pleases us so we can focus, all while knowing, and denying the truth, that we are not only part of, but also responsible for, this coexistence.
Check out Julian Lorber’s work in our current issue ROOMS 16 Superluminal