An Interview with Lucien Shapiro

March 14, 2016

This March, examining themes of ritual and addiction, Erin M. Riley and Lucien Shapiro set forth a dialog constructed through personal narrative and contemporary craft at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco.

Lucien Shapiro’s practice expands from an impulsive drive to collect and recontextualize found materials. Living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area, the artist gathers items from his surroundings and fashions newborn relics in the form of masks, vessels and weapons. Shapiro’s work references a cycle of dependency and habit, often consisting of bottle caps, broken glass and drug paraphernalia. For “ANEW”, the artist will be debuting his latest series of sculptures, accompanied by a film, derived from the proverbial principle "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Aligned with Riley’s textiles, Shapiro’s new work stems from repetition and self-reflection, addressing a loss of the senses that can only be regained through a ritualistic journey in search of resolve.

What or who have you been inspired by recently? What keeps you motivated?
Lucien Shapiro: Lately my inspirations have been stemming from organic growth, plant life, mold, crystals, etc. I am building work that imitates these same stages of growth. But if you want the who’s that’s inspiring me lately it may throw you off a bit: Thomas Houseago, Sterling Ruby, Aaron Curry, Sheila Hicks, etc, etc. Also, my talented circles of friends are always pushing me and keeping me motivated and if I start naming names then I’ll forget someone and no one wants to forget a name.

The motivation stems from the unnamed, and the fidgeting fingers that are connected to my awkward hands functioning from my heart and brain. I can’t stop creating and questioning and experimenting. I must create new work to help answer the questions in my life that tend to always relate to something in yours.

You were born and raised in the Bay Area, how do you think that influenced your creative growth?
Santa Rosa had as much to do with influencing me as I guess the rest of it. I think the creativity stems from within. Growing up part-time in a yurt, while an off-the-grid cabin was being built may have influenced who I am, even as much as the rest of the time growing up in the Santa Rosa suburbs did. We are formed by what we are surrounded by. But the creativity was always there and would have oozed out no matter what form I came out as and whatever place I grew up in. But then again, I believe this is just one life, many other lives before this have influenced who I am, why I am here, and what I am doing this time around.


Your work takes form across a wide range of creative platforms - fine art, fashion, and film - How does one medium inform the next?
Well it all began with the masks, the initial intention was just building objects. Then someone said we should shoot a video, so I made them wearable. Then because of that, people wanted to collaborate on some fashion shoots, then the films became more a part of the work, a basis of what the masks and objects would be built for - a ritual to help resolve or grow from a period in my life. The whole path has been very natural. And all I can do next is go bigger.

Headwear makes up a large portion of your work, what initially sparked your interest in the iconography of masks?
I took some time off - about a year of not creating much and being a bit depressed, between the small runs of handmade toys and the hair covered beasts I called Chair Dogs. I was looking for something that kept me still sculptural, but not creating the figures that seemed to really do nothing for me. So I decided to make living people - mainly myself - the figure. Also, during that time I had been betrayed and the masks were a perfect way to describe betrayal and to hide myself behind something.

Each of your sculptures incorporate found objects, often discarded waste - where do you search for these materials? Do you look with a particular piece in mind?
During my times of collection someone called me a raccoon and it kind of stuck. I am constantly collecting small shiny objects, I guess this could also refer to ravens: “Common ravens are known to steal and cache shiny objects such as pebbles, pieces of metal, and golf balls. One theory is that they hoard shiny objects to impress other ravens.” I find my materials with no project in mind, just a process of collection, sorting, and using.

The street diamonds I find on different SF street blocks depending on where the break-ins are happening most. The bottle caps I get from bars, friends, and my own collections. And it goes on like that. Many people have helped with the bottle caps and can tabs, because I need so many of them for each piece.

Your work often speaks to consumerism, addiction and identity: how do your materials influence and challenge these themes?
My materials initially form from a shape, I began using the bottle caps because they are a circle and I believe everything you do comes around full circle. Through my addiction to a meticulous process, I realized that I am making something from other’s enjoyments, addictions, and intoxication. I also was beginning to include the small bags that most people get their desired drugs in. The latest most used materials in my work are the street diamonds, which come from another addiction and need to take and destroy.


There is a strong focus of ritualism and ceremony in your work, yet has no definite tie to any one culture, religion or practice; what informs the designs and stories behind each piece?
I have always just built from my mind with no direct intentions and let my creations form through process. Only recently for this show did I have a clear ritual in mind, which evolves from masks and objects based on see no speak no hear no. I think I like working this way now. With the past rituals and masks, midway through their process I realized what they would be used for and what type of object would be created as its counterpart.

We’re excited to have you back at Hashimoto Contemporary, could you give us a hint at what’s to come for your two-person show with Erin M. Riley? What was it like working alongside each other? Did the process open up any new discussions between yourself and your work?
I will be debuting a project I am very excited about, based on the loss of sight, loss of hearing, loss of voice and the journey to find objects that can give back these senses. It will be displayed as one piece, but is actually 6 separate parts. I’m also excited to debut the film that coincides with this project shot and edited by the amazing Shaun Roberts, with a sound score by Edison.

I wish Erin and I lived on the same coast we could have perhaps worked together a bit more. I think the most important thing to think about when seeing our work together, since it is so different, is the commonality of the art of contemporary craft. We are both creating fine art through uncommon mediums. Our work speaks on the same topics in completely different ways, which I like. And the name ANEW is a perfect place for both of our voices to meet.

What kind of challenges have you overcome as an artist, and what challenges do you currently face?
I have overcome years of creating artwork that I wanted to make and not conforming to a trend, even if it meant working many side jobs to support my work. I am currently on that mission to release my fears, be a better person, and basically just be happy and continue creating.

What is a dream project for you?
Creating a play based on my work that could later be turned into a feature length film.


Shapiro's work is on display alongside Erin M. Riley's in ANEW at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco through March 26th, 2016.