A Conversation with Lucien Shapiro: Mining Street Diamonds
Multi-faceted describes the artist Lucien Shapiro, who returns to Hashimoto Contemporary for a second show he calls Oculus. With concentrated craft, he creates multiple surfaces and angles that reflect and transform.
Dancing between life and death, Shapiro's works with found objects, textures, cast forms, manipulations, raw substances, oddities, and injections of multiple personalities. Through sculpture, performance and video, he considers perceptions of identity, addiction, and time. Humble materials such as bottle caps, broken automotive glass, and discarded plastic transmute into totemic figures through his meditative practice. Sculptures created for Oculus mix natural materials and urban artifacts collected obsessively throughout Shapiro's travels ranging from Indonesian jungles to the streets of San Francisco. Organic crystals and wood forms embed 'street diamonds' or broken auto glass, spikes, and metal remnants to create armored vessels and abstract figures. Shapiro's work is sacred as at once ancient but modern. Each object reflects the natural and fantastical, performing for or without the human gaze.
Lucien Shapiro working in his Mt. Shasta studio, photo by Shaun Roberts
Dasha Matsuura: Surroundings figure prominently in your work, so tell us about your travels since the last show with Hashimoto Contemporary? Did any particular place influence this body of work?
Lucien Shapiro: I guess you could call me a nomad or follower of the path as the universe sees fit. I trust every opportunity is leading me to the next lesson. Through learning these truths, I discover more about myself and the world around me. Since my last show at Hashimoto, I returned to Detroit to finish out a residency with the Red Bull House of Art, then I was in NYC for a stint, followed by some California time with friends and family. Around March 2018, I decided to move all my belongings to Marfa, Texas, where I transitioned into a different, larger body of work and did a lot of soul-searching.
I did 'normal' travel for shows and projects, but then, in November 2018, I threw everything in storage and went to California. I spent four months in Mexico, working on projects and shows, then came back to California to regroup. A few months before this show, I visited Indonesia and Japan, and while there, realized the need to create a more refined body of work, which can be seen in Oculus. When I returned, I spent a few months in Mount Shasta building Oculus. I would say my life influences each body of work. Mainly, I feel I am just a conduit for the work to be created. I have an idea of what I want to make but no clue what it is until after it is created. I would say the spirit of the work creates itself, and I am the human body that puts it together. I believe all the years leading up to this point influenced the work here, not a specific trip or event, though, I did use some materials collected from Indonesia.
How does it feel to be back in San Francisco?
I love San Francisco. My heart is always here. I feel I am a person of the world, but every time I come back, I feel this is truly the only place I ever felt truly rooted. I lived here for twelve years in total. Though it's changing, I think it has always changed, and I can appreciate growth at any level. As long as the grit still stays, which is truly what I first loved about this city. Now, I am more into Golden Gate Park, but, yes, SF I heart you.
What did you hope to explore conceptually with Oculus?
Oculus is an exploration in transitioning and expanding my usual works of protections and masks into spirit figures and portals. I wanted to use “a round-like opening or design” to push the work into holding energy internally, to give and receive, or allow the viewer to implant an intention or similar energy into the object that could help manifest their own powers and protections. I have never put so much contemplation into a body of work before.
The intent seems to move away from the more aggressive, weapon-like aspects of the protection objects to something that feels more like vessels. You've ￼described them as dolls, possessing a more totemic spirit. What inspired this shift?
I try to never call my protection objects “weapons,” as they are never made with any intention for harm. They're made primarily to help give self-empowerment in the home or workplace, reminders that we can all use a little extra protection when navigating the world we live in. This could be through love, wisdom, growth, and any other challenge. I suppose you could say these new totemic spirit figures are between one of my vessels and protection objects. I never thought about them like that, but it makes perfect sense and definitely ties them all together.
Oculus incorporates a lot of familiar materials to you, such as street diamonds, bottle caps, studs, and crystals, but wood and organic elements are much more prevalent. How has the shift in materials changed your approach to the work?
I just like making stuff out of what I am surrounded by, whether items collected in Indonesia, a shell on the beach, driftwood from a Lake, or street diamonds from a city. I like to see new elements in all things I create; let the voices of the objects melt together into a smile or scream. I wanted to use more found natural objects with my usual city-type environment materials, and combining them seems to make sense. I actually have been working with wood like this for years, I just haven't shown anyone yet.
The masks in this exhibition incorporate a hand motif. What do they represent for you?
The Hands are cast from my own. I was revisiting a style of mask I created six years ago, and it represents me, you, and everyone else. It is the right and left, the white and black, the yin and yang, yellow and green, orange and purple, blue and orange, night and day, etc. In a choice to go right or left, four rights or lefts, you're back where you started with a journey behind you; eventually, a circle is made, which is the number one shape I always return to. Also, hands were used on the mask to help symbolize healing, openness, welcome, and becoming one, of which I believe we are all a part. If only we could get over our selfish egoist behaviors. We are equally as important as everyone else.
Healing chairs in progress, with patchwork done by Ben Venom
Performance pieces are a big element in your practice. Accompanying Oculus, you'll also be creating an installation at our sister gallery's space just a few doors up. Can you tell us a bit about Become One with Ness?
Sure. With this performance, I have created two grounding and healing chairs studded and weighted with chains, armrests made of selenite and upholstery adorned with handmade patches from Ben Venom. The performance, like always, is fairly personal and private. This is for two at a time, where you and your partner can choose right or left and then release something that no longer serves your higher good. I am incorporating sound and time with this one. I collected and made many chimes, bells, and things from around the world, and these sounds will be part of a journey through yourself. My end goal is to always try and help people learn to heal themselves; I do this through holding space in my installation/performances, and individually with my art practice and solitary pieces.
What's next after this show?
I am doing a short stint at Space Program, a residency program here in SF. Then, I will be heading to Vipassana for ten days of silence. Shortly after, I am doing a panel discussion down in LA, before heading back to Marfa for a month-long residency that concludes with a performance from the objects I make. I will then bring this project to Arvia, an alternative space in Los Angeles where I will create new works to accompany the remnants from the performance until mid-November. Then, family time in Northern California before heading back to Mexico for more projects.
Anything else to add?
Thank you to all and any. Let's try to live better together, more equally, and move forward with positive issues in mind.
Lucien Shapiro's Oculus solo exhibition opens at Hashimoto Contemporary SF on August 3rd, with an opening from 6 to 9 pm, and will be on view through August 24th, 2019.