New Hope Gazette
This article originally appeared in the January 17, 2002 issue of Happenings, Newton, PA©. Reprinted by permission.
Coast to Coast
Painter James Lucas migrated from the left coast to the east coast in the early nineties. His art work is a diary of faces and forms that have caught his eye along the way.
By Scott Edwards
At what point does one realize that his talent is exceptional?
Some are fortunate enough to hear the beckon of their calling during their lifetime. While others’ gifts go unrealized.
Though no such formula could possibly exist, just imagine that for a moment, if for every one artist, athlete or entrepreneur that actually “broke through,” another hundred spent their lives in obscurity.
It is the great American story unrealized potential.
No dirtier word exists in our society than “underachiever.”
But this is already drifting from the point. To call someone an underachiever is to infer that that person is not living up to the brilliance others believe, for one reason or another, he posses.
Before that moment even arises, an artist, for example, must already have seen a gift within himself. A reason to aggressively pursue a particular interest, such as painting. A sense of being special that instills in him the ambition to go to school, to study technique, to endure the rejection.
At what point does a doodler realize he’s an artist?
In James Lucas’ case, it was a matter of one dream going unrealized before he could make sense out of his natural ability.
He was a doodler in high school. And his friends came to him when they needed posters to make a run for student government.
Lucas wanted to be an engineer. No other career path even crossed his mind. That is, until he flunked physics.
He began looking at his little sketches through a different perspective from then on, and he was accepted to San Jose State University he enrolled in several art classes.
It was like adding fuel to the fire.
Lucas is the guy all of the unfulfilled doodlers out there should be rooting for. He doesn’t seem like he should belong in the discombobulated world of the artist. He’s got it too much together for that.
He paints subjects that are of sheer interest to him. He doesn’t paint from the subconscious. There is no hidden meaning behind his work. His whole creative process is just far to organized.
But to call his paintings glorified doodles would be an extraordinary injustice, even if he is living the doodler’s dream.
Lucas’ paintings are spread across every wall of his cramped Cranbury, NJ apartment.
Each wall infers a different phase that he’s gone through in the 10 or so years he’s been painting.
Down the hall to the bedroom is a series of portraits of beach volleyball players in action (each one is signed by its respective subject).
One living room wall is covered with images of surfers (Lucas’ personal web site issrfboy.com), while adjacent surface presents an abstract weightlifter striking a pose.
These are from his old school days spent on the beach in California.
Across the room, tracing the margin between the wall and the ceiling is a series of small, square celebrity portraits. Represented are the likes of Spike Lee, Tim Allen, and Jon Stewart (there are over 60 altogether in his collection). Each one is signed.
Lucas pulled this feat off in 1996 while he was working in New York (he moved to the East Coast in 1992). A nearby Borders bookstore frequently hosted celebrity book-signings.
Lucas would drop by to have that day’s featured celebrity sign his portrait and then he would leave another as a token of thanks.
In a corner of the neighboring kitchen is where his latest creations reside. The colors are bold, almost like the glam pinks and oranges that reigned supreme in the eighties.
The hues stand in such stark contrast to the “conservative” paintings in other rooms.
If it’s one thing Lucas has noticed in his evolution as a painter, it is his increasing confidence in applying color. The earlier pieces are much darker, as though the subjects were meant to be hidden in the shadows.
He’s beginning to experiment with jazz images, which seem to be an ideal fit for his style.
His paintings have an impressionistic sense about them, but not so much so that the subjects are vague and lost in the distortion.
Each piece is almost like two separate paintings, the background and the foreground. One is fully capable of standing without the other.
“In ’92-’93 I really started with the soft backgrounds, watering down the paints to give it an abstract feel and then putting a solid picture on the front of it,” Lucas said.
A graphic designer by trade, Lucas uses the computer as an extension of his paintbrush.
He begins with a photo of his subject, scans it into his computer, makes slight adjustments, and then projects the final version onto a blank canvas.
“I’m very organized when it comes to what I want to do,” Lucas said. It’s the remnants of the engineer in him.
If this sounds like “Painting by Numbers,” you’re not entirely incorrect.
This is the point, however, where Lucas’ natural abilities take over.
Where most would find great satisfaction in accurately tracing the projected image, he does not.
His technique may be simple, but in the leap from projected image to the end result, it’s obvious that Lucas sees something that most cannot.
He follows contours and shadows with his brush and accentuates them to make them his adjectives, in place of detailed features.
Lucas cites Jackson Pollock’s abstract expressionism as a heavy influence. His breakthrough approach that led to a truly original and free form of expression is the uniqueness that Lucas aspires to in his own backgrounds.
He appreciates Andy Warhol’s pop art approach to the human form. Lucas’ own recent use of color is equally as dramatic as Warhol’s.
Lucas is extremely modest when it comes to his subjects. He paints what he knows, from where he seeks his pleasures outside of art. He is not ashamed of featuring trinkets from the contemporary world.
He looks to Kandinski for the way he juxtaposed figures against faux backgrounds.
Lucas’ style is a conglomeration of all of these masters’ techniques. There he has found his niche and is living his dream.
The beauty of his paintings is that they strike at the essence of being in the moment.
Sitting on the sofa in his living room, Lucas is surrounded by the faces and images that have filled his life for the past 10 years.
They are his timeline.
They are his measuring stick.
They are his personal diary.
James Lucas is exhibiting at the “Ellarslie Invitational 2002,” an Artsbridge Members show by invitation of the Trenton City Museum, Cadwallader Park, Trenton, NJ. The show will run through February 24. An opening reception wil be held January 19, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Call 609-989-3632 or visit artsbridgeonline.com.