The Art of Salua Saleh

Written by Alexander Greco

June 13, 2020

“I Due”

From São Paulo, Brazil, Salua Saleh is an expressionist painter whose paintings depict dreams, emotions and everyday life with a myriad of colorful forms. Though our conversation was unfortunately impaired somewhat by our language barrier, Salua and I talked at length about her artwork, as well as the inspirations and stories behind much of her art. Carrying the torch of the expressionist movement of modern art, Salua reimagines the human figure and identity, and projects the colors and shapes of dreams onto the world around us. Through her artwork, Salua provides us with waking windows into landscapes of the mind, body and soul.

Salua is from São Paulo, Brazil, though she and her art have traveled across the world. Having been born in Brazil, she was exposed to a new generation of Brazilian artwork in Ribeirão Preto. After receiving her degree from the University of Ribeirão Preto, Salua moved to Italy, where she took painting courses and further developed her expressionist style, as well as London. Through her life and her travels, Salua’s work proliferated into a number of countries, including Britain, the United States, Lebanon, Greece and Brazil.

“As Tres Mulheres”

Salua’s style is primarily expressionism, though her artwork also has influences from the impressionists and the abstract movement, with similarities also to the fauvist movement. Her primary influences were Matisse, Klimt, Modigliani and Frida Kahlo, and these influences are quite prominent in her strong use of color and contrast, her alteration of form in landscapes and cityscapes and the expressions of her paintings’ subjects.

Salua’s paintings feature a wide range of settings and subjects. We see many paintings of figures, often nude figures, as well as portraits of people. Other paintings showcase a landscape or cityscape, and some are still life paintings, while others are much more abstract pieces that have ascended far enough from tangible, waking reality that they become difficult to readily describe.

In many of Salua’s figure paintings, portraits and nudes, we see the influence of artists like Modigliani and Klimt, as well as some of Matisse’s style.

With paintings like “As Tres Mulheres” and “As Quatro Mulheres”, there is certainly an influence of Modigliani in the reimagination of the subjects faces and expressions, as well as in nude paintings like “I Due”. Where Modigliani played with the shape of the nude form, as well as with the shape and proportion of expressions of individuals, Salua likewise transforms her subjects into new visions of an otherworldly humanity. In “I Due” and others, we can also see an influence from Klimt and the emotional dynamic of many of his nudes.

“As Quatro Mulheres”
Portrait of David Bowie

However, Salua also incorporates the fauvist style of Matisse into much of her work, including her figures and nudes. With pieces like Salua’s portrait of David Bowie, or “Blindness”, we see both the transformation of figure and form from Modigliani, as well as a vivid use of vibrant colors, replacing our normal expectation of colors with an almost otherworldly color scheme.

With the David Bowie portrait, the typical skin tones and shading are enhanced and transformed with yellows, greens, whites and blue greys for lighter tones, and reds, oranges and browns for darker tones. His hair is a blooming explosion of blues, yellows, reds, greens, turquoises, ruddy red-violets, sky-blues and sea-greens. All of this pops out even more with the dark contrast of the background, ranging from darker versions of the sea greens to the red violets of his hair, in addition to the contrasting dark and light blue on his clothing.

“O Negro”

With “O Negro”, one of Salua’s first pieces, there is a very strong resemblance to Matisse’s portrait work, particularly pieces like “Green Stripe” and “Woman With a Hat”. Regular skin topes are replaced with reds, blues and oranges, while the white’s of the subject’s eyes are made green, and his hair mixed with some orange. His lips are painted a pale dark orange, and much of his skin is highlighted with dark-pale greys, tans and peach-tones

With paintings like “Hoje è Dia de Festa”, Salua incorporates even stronger elements of abstraction and fauvism into her artwork. The figures in this painting are practically mosaics of colors, their forms transformed into simpler renditions, and their expressions are entirely obscured in the colors comprising their bodies. The landscape surrounding these figures is similarly comprised of this colorful mosaic, both land and sky. In the distant background, there is a city made of pale blue and pink tones.

“Hoje è Dia de Festa”

Salua’s abstract pieces, while they resemble in some ways the fauvists and expressionists, for me are more reminiscent of some pieces from Pollock, as well the orphists and the wilder side of abstract expressionism.

“Metamorfose”

With paintings like “Caminhos” and “Metamorfose”, Salua uses similar color schemes as Kandinsky in many of his paintings, but also uses the geometric designs found in some of Kandinsky’s work, as well as many of the paintings made by the orphists. There is a chaotic explosion of vibrant colors, at times complementing each other and at times contrasting, as well as swirls and circles, paths of colors tracing across a wild landscape of color.

“Conexões”

With other paintings like “Abstracões” and “Conexões”, we still see the Kandinsky-esque color schemes and the orphist geometry, but there is a chaos that is only really comparable to Pollock’s pieces. Salua maintains something of a semblance of rational design in the background layer of the painting, but the upper layers are storms of colors fervently blooming and bursting off the canvas.

“O Rio Amarelo”

Many other pieces are far more tame than this, such as “Anni 70”, “A Danca das Cores” or “Passagens Secretas”, though these pieces still employ vivid colors and energetic movements across the canvas. Others like “Tropicalismo” and “Todos os Olhos da Floresta Encantada” employ geometric patterns very unique to many of Salua’s other pieces. Pieces like “Tropicalismo” are almost landscape like, with many similarities to the landscapes and cityscapes Salua has created.

Salua’s cityscapes are often quite like puzzle pieces in various shapes and sizes and of various colors fit together. The colors she uses for her buildings create a fascinating arrangement of emotion across hills, mountains and other landscapes, and the composition of the shapes and forms of buildings in these cityscapes likewise suggest a sort of geometry of emotion.

“San Lorenzo Bellizzi”

One of my favorite cityscapes of hers, “San Lorenzo Bellizzi” feels truly like a representation of a city from a dream, with buildings of odd proportions stacked on top of each other, with roads and paths stretched across the city architecture, curving and wandering in and out of the blocks. It becomes difficult to distinguish wall from rooftop from road from doorway, and the proportions and shapes of each section of the painting cause the viewer’s brain to scramble trying to understand what it is seeing.

“Sogno Lùcido”

Another quite dreamlike city painting, “Sogno Lùcido”, we see buildings through a doorway or window frame at night. These buildings are oddly proportioned and shaped, giving them a surreal aesthetic, and the door frame or window we are looking through is surrounded with designs quite similar to the dream-like textures and fabric designs created by Klimt. The night sky in the background, in tandem with the strange architecture of the buildings and the cool colors filling much of the center of the painting, give an almost eerie or uncanny feeling to them—a feeling that can only be found in the stranger hours of night, in dreams, or captured in a painting such as this.

With Salua’s natural landscapes, as well as in her still life paintings, there is a more impressionist style similar to much of Monet’s work, as well as the post-impressionist style made famous by Van Gogh. Paintings such as “Paisagem Livre”, there is a very pronounced impressionist/post-impressionist style, with much of the emotion of the piece shown through the movement of the brushstrokes and slight derivations of natural colors. Still, other pieces like “Caos Calmo” still lean more heavily toward an expressionist style.

“Caminho Ìntimo”

In other landscape paintings, such as “Caminho Ìntimo”, which may be one of my favorite pieces by Salua, Salua blends the styles of post-impressionism and expressionism into an almost Wonderland-like dream-world of paths of vibrant colors walled on both sides by swirling patterns of flower-like designs. This painting, as with many of Salua’s paintings, is like something from colorful, beautiful dream—a landscape that possibly could only be conceived in the mind of an artist.

Salua spoke with me about how this dream-like quality of her art comes from one of her primary inspirations: her own dreams. This inspiration is quite evident in Salua’s surreal depictions of people, still life images and landscapes. There is an element of the unconscious in Salua’s work, an element of uncanny otherworldliness to her work, that can be quite difficult to capture in words, but that Salua has quite adeptly captured in paintings.

“Solitudine”

Another inspiration for Salua’s work are everyday events and settings, or even passersby in towns and cities, that many of us may take for granted, but Salua finds much beauty in. Still, other inspirations come from Salua’s own emotions, and her artwork is an expression of these feelings. At times, her artwork is an expression of inner turmoil, such as in her piece, “Solitudine”, which Salua told me is a painting of her sitting at night, staring out a window, smoking a cigarette, and dealing with personal suffering.

Despite the unique beauty of Salua’s paintings, she spoke with me about how she used to destroy some of her works of art. She often didn’t feel they were good enough, and her inner critic railed at her until she gave in and got rid of these pieces. Still, Salua felt much regret about destroying her work, and received advice from a friend that many artists, writers, musicians and other creative types might find invaluable. It is not your place to judge your own work, it is your place only to create it, and let others see what you have made for their own consideration.

It is difficult for so many of us to silence our own inner critics. As helpful as they may be—as useful as it can be to have that voice always telling you to do better and to try harder—these inner critics may also tear us down at moments we need to be built up. These acts of destruction, or other similar acts of self-inflicted emotional violence, may seem appropriate in the moment, but they cannot be the guiding force of our creativity. We must strive to follow the voices telling us, “Yes! This is good”, and “Carry on, keep creating, keep building what you have”.

It has been a delight getting to talk with Salua about her artwork, as much as it has been a pleasure going through her art and pouring over every detail of her work. It is quite an achievement for an artist to be able to capture such subtle and nuanced emotions as Salua captures with her expressionist style, as well as the uncanny quality of dream-like visions in art, and both are quite a joy to see. If you enjoyed Salua’s art and want to see more, you can find her on Instagram @saluasaleh_artgallery. Please give her artwork a deeper look, and if you enjoy what she’s made, follow her, and comment or send her a message to let her know!

The Art of Gradi Nitert (Studio Sacre Bleu)

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 6, 2019

sa·cré bleu

/ˌsäkrā ˈblə/

1) The expression today is not used in the major French-speaking countries, France, Belgium or Switzerland, but in the English-speaking world it is well known from Agatha Christie’s books about the fictional Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.

2) A stereotypical French curse that is never used by real French people. Similar to the mustache and the beret—something only non-French people think is typical of the French.

Gradi Nitert

As with many artists, it’s difficult to pin-point exactly what makes Gradi Nitert’s artwork stand out from others’, but it is immediately apparent that her artwork possesses an original style. Yet, Gradi’s work ranges across a wide spectrum of subjects and technique so, what common thread brings her artwork together?

“I think I now deeply realize my deepest core desire or ‘why’ is creating worlds where others—and myself—can find wonder; be surprised by the estrangement and alienation.”

Gradi Nitert is a dutch illustrator, maker and creator from Zwolle, in the Netherlands. Her work spans across collages, paintings and digital artwork, and her art incorporates elements of surrealism, fauvism, and abstraction. Drawing inspiration from dreams, oddities, music and a sense of nostalgia, Gradi pushes the boundaries of conscious and unconscious perceptions, and creates small pocket-realities of memories, imagination and fragments of reality.

With this kaleidoscope of the unconscious, the strange, and the familiarity of the past, Gradi’s artwork stretches the walls of reality, until Gradi simply steps over those walls. Outside the confines of a prescribed reality, Gradi defines her own rules, shapes her own landscapes, and gives life to her own people and places. Yet, for all the absurd strangeness of her work, Gradi has managed to build a bridge between her imagination and the world we inhabit.

“Vision”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

“As a little girl, I started creating little worlds—sometimes with small, hidden moments in them that made me laugh. When making 2D or 3D work, I always want to create an ambience where people feel nice, and with every piece there is a journey of discovery. I love to get out of reality, stepping or crawling into a new world—not to escape reality, just to discover a new one. Creating new worlds is my passion, and in surrealism I can do that infinitely, with a sense of connection.

“The curious thing is that I often like a sense of nostalgia in my work—a hint to the past. So, again, by creating a new world, I don’t want to lose our connection to reality. With things from the past, I want to give my art a cozy, comfortable feeling. The past is like our own, personal collection. I love to collect old, curious and peculiar things, so that I have that comfortable sense of nostalgia in my personal life. Surrounding myself with nice things, it gives me space to create and simply be.”

From the start, I found Gradi’s connection to music quite interesting.

“Music is the oil that makes the ideas come out. For all my ideas I do first visualize them in my head, which sometimes is a problem because by experimenting you’ll find yourself in things you never thought of in the first place. I try to do both, pushing myself to experiment with materials, and ‘to just do it’ and make ‘mistakes’, but I think still 70% of my work I see in my head. How? I don’t know. Maybe the music is a trigger; maybe the ambience or mood creates unconscious links and triggers. I love instrumental music the best; classical music, music from movies, or orchestras. Orchestra plus rock or electronic beats and other mashups are perfect too. I love Rob Dougan, as well as big band music—music from the 20’s to 40’s.”

In music, like in art, meaning is formed from the relationships of small components, and the patterns across a piece. Chords harmonize from notes across a scale. Chord progressions and rhythms form a landscape of sound, with melodies and improvisations roaming across that landscape. Together, these things form a cohesive whole. Formed from the placement of many small parts, the composer creates their own, unique space within the sound.

In art, colors, lines and shapes harmonize into the fundamental forms of a piece. These come together into the images or symbols of the piece. The placement and composition of each image forms a relationship with the other images, and together they create a new world of the artists design.

What’s peculiar about Gradi’s artwork is that, despite the seeming arbitrariness of her art, she forms something cohesive and meaningful. Similar to jazz, orchestra, and other instrumental music, Gradi’s art doesn’t tell you what you should be thinking about, and yet it still feels familiar. The worlds she creates define their own rules, patterns and relationships, and it’s from these patterns and relationships that Gradi creates its meaningfulness.

“Decoupage”
Digital Collage/Illustration
2014

“I was asked by producer-duo Seven League Beats to create a cd-cover while they were finishing their music. I saw their process develop from “sketches of sound” to the final CD. It was an amazing project. They gave me very personal notes of why they created that CD, what drove them to make the music, and what inspired them. Since they were a duo, there were two experiences I had to fuse into one ambience-world. Listening and isolating myself with the music made me create the final design. Sound and music have always been a huge inspiration for me—it easily takes me into that ‘world’ in my head, and the creations flow out of my head onto paper. Some movies, I listened to over 200 times, and never fully watched them, just because the sound design and music is so inspiring.”

The two most prominent ways Gradi portrays her small worlds are with her choice of imagery, and her application of color theory. Gradi’s work achieves its dream-like effect by pairing random subjects and objects together, and by blending realism with abstraction. This is seen particularly in her collage-work, where she pairs together animals, people, plants, architecture, and other random objects.

Some of her work anthropomorphizes animals, or clumps odd arrangements of visuals together. Some of her work pushes towards more uncanny cliff-edges of the weird and strange, but never comes across as disturbing, or so strange or novel that it’s unpleasant to look at. By toeing the line between strange and familiar, Gradi pulls us into the worlds of her invention, and invites us into spaces created from her dreams and imagination.

“Weirdscape”
Collage
2018

With “Weirdscape”, from Gradi’s “Nation of Nonsense” series, Gradi combines three rocks, a planet, a bear, and a pathway of boxes. The bear is walking across the path of boxes, with a planet emerging from its body, and the rocks projecting up and out from the planet. It’s arbitrary, it’s random, it’s nonsense, yet it feels meaningful to look at.

There is an orderly placement of each object, with the direction of the bear, planet and rocks centered and perpendicular to the boxes, and there is a hierarchy of size with the objects. There is a single, small rock at the top, the bear and the planet at the center, and the endless rows of boxes at the bottom. Despite its apparent nonsense, there’s a pattern and an organization to the image.

Beyond the selection and arrangement of images, a major part of what gives “Weirdscape” and other pieces of Gradi’s meaning is her use of color. Much like the Fauvists of the modern art movement, Gradi uses color in a surreal, dream-like way. Rather than depict reality as we know it, Gradi colors her new worlds in muted tones and unnatural hues.

Though some of Gradi’s art appears to have random color schemes, Gradi’s use of color is just as organized and meaningful as it is dream-like and strange. She uses scales of complimentary and analogous colors, but also uses scales of values—from neutral tones to brighter, vibrant colors—to create dreamy, pleasing and cohesive color schemes.

In “Weirdscape”, she uses a light, muted purple as her background, with a dark purple bear and a light blue-purple planet at the center. The two uppermost rocks are colored with orange/red-orange and purple/red-purple, with a few hints of blue. At the bottom are the neutral-tan boxes, which contrast with the other colors, but also pair with the muted and lighter shades throughout the rest of the piece. Though the colors are strange and otherworldly, they’re arranged in a pleasing pattern, which clicks in our heads as something meaningful and familiar.

“Cult”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

Another example of this use of color can be seen in “Cult”. The background is a chalky black, which transitions into the dark, red-purple bodies of the figures. The heads range on one end of the color spectrum from red-orange to violet, and on the other end, blue-green to yellow. Despite the abstract use of color, the hues of the odd figures are tied together like notes along a scale, with the purple-red bodies grounded in the black background.

While “Cult” can be analyzed technically, this piece also ties back to Gradi’s interest in the unconscious—which is actually her inspiration for the color choice.

 “This is one of my paintings I made in response to some dreams I had. A period of my life I couldn’t sleep during the nights and barely stayed awake during the day. That period had some really inspiring visuals for me. The dreams were so complex, so deep, I had to recreate them. I even tried to make myself have lucid dreams, but I never really succeeded. The colors I saw were so consistently intense, it took me a while, but I managed to ‘catch’ them and transfer them on my canvas. That period was one of the darkest in my life, you can imagine lack of sleep is a real killer. When I look back at the works I created that time, I can still see and feel the darkness I sunk into.”

Across cultures and throughout history, humans have a fascination with dreams, and, since Freud and his contemporaries, there’s been a fascination with the unconscious parts of our mind. It’s become apparent to many that there seems to be some connection with the unconscious and art, music, or writing—with creativity and ingenuity in general.

This connection between dreaming and reality has been a major inspiration for Gradi and her art.

“I think I can analyze my work more and more after looking back at myself when I made the piece. Dreams are a way of processing. By not giving yourself time and rest to do so, it will be a mess starting with intense dreams. I don’t think dreams give you literal answers or views of your mind, but I think you can learn from them sometimes; maybe you have to think things over more. Maybe you have more difficulties with a subject than you thought. But also, the weirdness of dreams is amazing, right? It’s funny to think you sometimes dream unthinkable weirdness, but it’s still your head thinking it. That makes you think, don’t you think?

“I love how endless your brain can be, the unique ideas and images you can create, and how unfortunate 80% of the stuff we make looks like each other. Unfortunately, I don’t remember my dreams anymore the last few years—though, for me personally, I know that is a good thing. I have some peace—some rest in my head—but my unconscious is of course still influencing my work. In a good way, but also some times in a bad way.”

On her piece, “Dreamsight”, Gradi stated:

“Dreamsight”
Acrylics on Wood
2013

 “In the same series as ‘Cult’, is Dreamsight. Notably, I always hid the faces during that time. I think it’s an unconscious choice I made. I wanted to hide—trying to understand this intensely confusing feeling. I still often make my paintings like that.”

Dreams, daydreams, the unconscious, and the storm of thoughts that can invade our waking minds, can all be seen as a window to the soul, or to the Self. Yes, we must mediate between our personal selves and the selves we put out into the world, but we must do so without obscuring our inner realities, our inner selves. I think this might be one of the greatest challenges of the modern era—of rediscovering the things that made humanity, and that make each of our lives, meaningful.

Gradi shows this with her piece, “Block”.

“Block”
Acrylics on Wood
2015

“I think this is the painting that describes my most dominant and recurrent topic in my personal work and life. Trying to escape the mold of society. I painted myself stuck in the structure (I call ‘the mold’) and the pressure I feel very deeply in the Western world. We constantly get shown how we should live. People just assume it is the way you should go. And how simple the solution looks like, I still have to remind myself as an adult to follow my own path. It’s easy to float in the stream, you know.

“Stuck, oppressive, trying to get out. The world walking numb in circles around you.”

When I asked Gradi to explain this sense of pressure from society, she explained:

“I think it’s the unnatural overload of advertisement, the core of materialism and capitalism, and the acceleration and the growing presence of social media everywhere. The way ‘normal’ is portrayed, and the way it must be in your life is constantly rubbed in your face. It’s really a struggle, the jealousy (really nasty feeling), and thinking 10,000 people can do what I do better, so why should I make this stuff.

“What can I contribute to this (art) world? All slowly slipped in my mind. Good thing you can go offline—literally stop or unplug—but it had me, and I didn’t even know it… …it is just something that unconsciously slips into my life, and by not reminding myself, I will do and make stuff I don’t want.”

My favorite piece of Gradi’s—the beautiful, vibrant and expressive, “Silence”—expands on this idea.

“Silence”
Acrylics on Wood
2018

 “This one I made more recently. I think my style constantly develops. I also believe that experiment and development is crucial to your work and your own, personal development. I don’t want to stand still. I always try to find new, other, or better ways to express myself.

“’Silence’ is made with the feeling that you have to be your own explorer, instead of listening or looking at others. I think this is an important topic in my work. Look at ‘Dreamsight’. So many influences with the same eggs. Don’t create the same egg. Create your own.”

Let it out. Let yourself, your ideas, your creativity—your inner reality—flow out from your head, and into the world around you. Let the space you inhabit be your own, and don’t let the world constrict you so much that you lose sight of what’s important and meaningful—don’t let the world constrict you so much you lose sight of who you even are. Bring your own vision to bear upon the society that bears down on each of us.

When talking about developing her style, Gradi stated:

“I can’t remember not wanting to be an artist; it is my love, my why. It never was and still is not easy—to be an independent artist, to make art most of my time. To develop my own style, I always push myself to reflect my work and myself—reminding myself why I want to make art, what inspires me, and what has always driven me.

“After being ‘lost’, and not being true to myself as an artist, I slowly started making stuff I thought others would love to have. Since I had to make money, pay my rent, pay my bills, and not really have other degrees or skills, I HAD TO MAKE IT, I HAD to make MONEY. People had to love my work and pay for it so I could make art and not have to work elsewhere—elsewhere meant no energy or inspiration left to make art. Otherwise it was office jobs, and that would slowly dull me out. But I realized that I only want to inspire people, make people feel good a little bit by looking at my work.

“Not money. I just want to MAKE. And the only way to do so, is make what I love. Make what inspires me, only then can I give that spark to someone else. And so, I try to experiment, and also remind myself often why I make what I make. And that makes me go forward, and it makes me happy.”

The last piece of Gradi’s in this article, “Circus”, is a simple yet beautiful example of what makes her work unique. It’s like a photograph taken from a distant mindscape—possibly an image from a textbook on the geography of dreams and the unconscious.

“Circus”
Collage/Illustration/Paint

“Okay, after the previous works, I want to show you the other side of creating. The fun just drips off this work. It was made after I read Kafka’s ‘Ein Hungerkünstler’ [A Hunger Artist] (1924). Shuffling and combining collages and pieces of paper, until I created the right ambience of that masterpiece by Kafka. It shows my hints of nostalgia, my love of paper and oddity, and the experiment I always recommend.

‘Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.’

—a quote by Albert Einstein.”

I was a little surprised that the inspiration from this came from Kafka’s “Ein Hungerkünstler”, as it’s a rather dark read. It’s about an artist who starves himself in a cage for days on end for the entertainment of others. When the artist finally dies from starvation, they are replaced by a panther, which the crowd finds far more entertaining than the artist. However, I thought about this for a little while, and it began to make sense to me.

I don’t want to speak too much for Gradi’s interpretation of Kafka, but, relating it back to her other artwork, between the self-starving artist and the panther, the crowd found the panther far more enjoyable. Why? Because the original artist became a hollow husk for the sake of others’ pleasure, but the panther was something wild and true—something full of life, something that didn’t apologize for its existence, or seek to please others with its own demise.

Gradi likewise overcame her need to please others with her art, and became an artist as wild, true and full of life as the panther. We’re not searching for artwork that was designed to entertain, we’re searching for creations that emerged out of someplace deeper. Gradi’s art not only emerges from that deeper place, but creates a bridge for us to cross over and join her in the worlds of her creation.

If you enjoyed Gradi’s work, you can find her on Instagram @studiosacrebleu. You can purchase prints, original artwork, and other products of her design at https://www.studiosacrebleu.nl/. If you’re ever in Europe (or, if you live in Europe), her work can be found in a wide variety of shops (which you can find on her website), and—if you catch her at the right time—festivals, galleries and other events.

The Art of Pierre Lucero

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 5, 2019

Pierre at the Grand Canyon

Pierre Lucero is an artist from Aurora, IL, who creates wild explosions of colorful imagery with marker and pen. Each of his pieces showcase a command of color theory and detailed linework, while also displaying insane supernovas of psychedelic visuals. With artwork that spans across a vast multitude of subjects, and near-infinite variations of his style, it’s difficult to know where to begin with Lucero’s art.

“Zig Zag”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

For each piece of art, Lucero seems to open a small bottle of inky chaos, then pours the contents of that bottle over a blank sheet of paper, until all the irrational contents of a dozen dreams and a dozen nightmares cover the page. Many of Lucero’s pieces show a storm of multicolored guts and flames, and fluids and brains, all radiating from some insane epicenter. In some pieces, the images converge at the center onto an eye, or a mouth, a skull, or an alien head. Other pieces have more concrete images or designs, while others portray landscapes, creatures, or people. Many pieces are just nightmares emerging from fever dreams, with no primary subject or object to focus on.

Then there are pieces like “Spongebub”, where Lucero takes everyone’s favorite sea sponge, and transforms him into a tornado of texture, objects and imagery.

“Spongebub”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“A tribute to one of my favorite cartoon characters growing up as a child, “Spongebub” is a psychedelic doodlebob originating from none other than Nickelodeon’s classic SpongeBob. I incorporated transparencies as the arms flailing throughout the piece, since I didn’t know exactly what to do with them from the start. The effect is achieved by not adding any line work inside the shape, but still coloring it in as it would be, then outlining it with white highlight. Maybe I’ll return to this little series with a Patrick.”

Much of Lucero’s art is seemingly pulled straight from the ether, with only a small thread of reality being cast into a gulf of imagination, where some irrational leviathan is caught and hauled onto Lucero’s blank bristol. On “Bloomer”, Lucero had this to say:

“Bloomer”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2016

“This piece means a lot to me in terms of the direction I try to achieve in my artwork. An obvious centerpiece filled with an explosion of random objects protruding outwards. I made it in the summer of 2016. The idea was given to me by my girlfriend when we took a photo together, and I had put a flower over my eye. The bottom pyramid piece was made to poke at the Illuminati joke I always get from people, claiming that my art is so good I must have sold my soul to get to where I’m at. Or maybe I actually did sell my soul at one point, who knows.”

A few glances at his work, and it’s not difficult to believe Lucero’s ideas might come from some sultan of a yawning, artistic void.

Yet, calling Lucero’s work pure chaos, or chalking it up to infernal intervention, would not do it justice, as each piece is a feat of time, effort and creativity. Lucero’s artwork is meticulously detailed and colored—with Lucero pulling infrequent all-nighters to finish various pieces—yet much of his artwork comes from spontaneous imaginings, rather than planned pieces.

“I’m still unsure where my ideas come from… …Very often do I have any idea what I’m actually going to create next. It’s always a blank sheet and continuously caking things on that I think would look unique bunched up together.”

On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:

“Broken”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“This is another random drawing that probably has no real meaning, just solely for the purpose of looking weird. Repeating hands didn’t become a thing in my artwork until 2018, and I’ve been addicted to incorporating them ever since. This also makes me more interested in animation. I think this piece also is a good example of how bright and vivid my work can look when there is no limitations. We may be finite physically, but our imagination is endless.”

Lucero typically utilizes graphite, copic markers, and ink, though he also uses watercolor and acrylic in some of his work. His pieces typically begin with a small idea drawn with graphite, and then another small idea, and then, perhaps, another, until a pile of ideas are laid out across a formerly blank sheet of paper. From there, Lucero goes over his initial drawing with a size 1 micron (if he hasn’t already been going over them), and then goes over everything with thicker microns and fills in any black space. Lucero then begins with the base colors of the image (almost always starting with any hands or mouths), before filling in the entire image with color. To finish each piece off, Lucero shades all the images, goes over them with different shades of gray, and finally adds highlights to the piece.

Though many of his pieces are wildly ambiguous, and filled at times with seemingly arbitrary images, much of Lucero’s art coalesces into themes present in all our lives.

For “Caterpillar”, Lucero said:

“Caterpillar”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“I created this piece with the thought of insect evolution and how far it may go. Exaggerated for dynamic effects in the art piece alone, but the idea remains. I’ve always wondered if certain animals or insects would follow the same evolution path as humans did. Will any species’ make it past a point where their ancestors branch out a different route and become as highly intelligent as humans are? Extinction plays a big factor in this question, seeing as every living creature’s goal is survival, so what is the pinnacle of intelligence and are humans #1 when it is all said and done.”

In “Caterpillar”, we see a tangled mass of multicolored brain matter (presumably) in the bottom right corner, and arms reaching from the same corner. Then, swerving across the page, we see a series of images, all eventually converging into a caterpillar head. It begins with octopus tentacles and a butterfly, then morphs into a strange face, then a demon-like head, mouths, skulls, fluids, hands, eyes, and a pharaoh’s mask. The last leg of “Caterpillar” is a flaming head, roses, a variety of ribbons, colorful spheres, a burning animal head, and finally the caterpillar head.

Lucero demonstrates a sort of evolutionary shift from one image to the next—from a brain, to tentacles and a butterfly, to peace signs and angry, gaping mouths, to a caterpillar. It shows the movement of evolution as one continuous thread, the movement of states of being across thousands of generations of existence, and ends with an insect that naturally shifts and metamorphoses across time.

Just how the caterpillar evolved across time to become something which metamorphoses throughout its life, humans are a creature who’ve evolved across millions of years to become what we are now—a creature with the capacity to metamorphose itself. And yet, it’s possible something else may take our place at the top of the food chain. Reality is not static, it is dynamic and ever-changing, and the lives we all know and believe to be firm may one day fall out from beneath our feet.

For “Fallout”:


“Fallout”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“This drawing was made after the election of Trump. The idea of mass destruction and nuclear weapons didn’t become a reality until that for me. Although I’d rather not be right about the situation, the idea of it will always be there. Its crazy to think how many nuclear weapons are already made and ready to detonate, I find it highly, highly unlikely that nothing will ever be set off again. But I also fear that in this modern are, it’ll be the last time they do, when they do.”

“Fallout” depicts a skeleton flying through the air, filled with multicolored organs of some sort. Though this presumably depicts the physical effects of a nuclear war, I wonder also if this depicts the psychological effects of the threat of nuclear war. Since 2016, how many of us worldwide have been affected by the political and cultural shifts we’ve seen? How many of us still regard life in the same way? How many of us—right or left or center—have walked away from the 2016 elections unchanged? How many of us have returned unharmed and unmutated by the bombs that were so carelessly dropped—from the left, right, and center—and how many of us have escaped the fallout that remains today?

And, for “Mankind”, Lucero says:

“Mankind”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“Sometimes I wish I could see the linear timeline for the human race. What will eventually make us extinct? Future discoveries/inventions, wars not yet had, evolutionary traits, space exploration/alien contact, and so on. I wonder how different the year 2019 will be from the year 14780—if we’d be living far more advanced lives, if we’d nuke ourselves back to the stoneage, or maybe we’d colonize another planet by then.”

“Mankind” is a head melting away from some internal explosion of information and chaos. It almost harkens back to “Caterpillar” and “Fallout”, and depicts our minds as we grapple with life. We see the good in here, we see the bad in here—creativity and progress, spaceships and confetti, and gnashing mouths, barbed-wire fence and melting brain matter. We see the future, and the progress of mankind. We see extinction, and we see lost civilization. And we see us, staring out at the world from a ruined head, wondering what we’re looking at (though we can’t seem to turn our eyes around and gaze at the realities in our heads).

However, try as I might, Lucero’s art isn’t intended to have one, specific meaning. Some of his artwork isn’t intended to have any specific meaning, other than what we see when we look at it.

“People are free to think about whatever they’d like when they look at my art. I hope people can take away more than the usual “I wonder how long this took him!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but its often what people are left wondering with. I believe there’s so much more in each piece of mine that makes it hard for people not to take away something. Some objects in my work, or entire pieces, might correspond differently to different people and vice versa. I only hope people are left inspired to create something themselves after viewing one of my pieces. Not only that, but to view composition and contrast differently, being able to alter reality through a piece of paper on canvas holds tremendous power.”

“Blue”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2019

This last piece, “Blue”, seems to show everything that makes Lucero’s art his own. It’s an amorphous, tumbling and roiling glob of texture, images, objects, and forms. We see a skull at its epicenter, and Lucero’s somewhat-signature mouths and hands. We see chains and spires and eyes and signs and organs and fluids and tendrils and limbs and stars, and even a fetus near the center, still in the placenta.

And this is the art of Pierre Lucero. It’s wild, it’s chaotic. It’s amorphous and ambiguous. It’s mildly insane, but it also come from much discipline and practice. It comes from hours upon hours, multiplied across days, across months, across years, and the result is a portfolio of incredibly detailed and fascinating images. Do they all have a purpose and meaning? Perhaps not, but they’re all capable of eliciting some deeper, internal response upon seeing them, which makes you wonder, “Where do these ideas come from?”

Pierre Lucero has been included in a number of expos and galleries, so, if you’re in his area, look him up, and try seeing his art in person if there are any shows he’s currently in. If you’d like to buy any stickers, prints, pins, shirts, or original artwork of his, you can find his work here:

www.AbnormalPerspective.com/PeeAirs

If you want to see more of Pierre Lucero’s work, you can find him on Instagram @peeairs. If you’ve enjoyed his work, give his work a like, or leave him a comment letting him know what you think.

The Art of Lauren Power

Written by Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

Lauren with her children’s book, “A is for Art”

Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.


Eye in Mouth
Watercolor
2018


Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t look away from.

“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”

“Kiss of Death”
Oil on Linen Canvas
2019

Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.

“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting the vibrant greens and lush pink.”

Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know. Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.

In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.

“Rainbow Guts”
Watercolor, India Ink, and Gel Pen on Paper
2019


“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others, or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.

For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with. However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions, the more our emotions strive to burst forth.

“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a twisting mess of color and confusion.”

“Dreams”
Multimedia
2015

In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors, and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy, content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and morning runs help too.)

With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings. However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.

“Electric Heart”
Water Color and Gel Pen on Paper
2019

“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity, concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up front about feelings.”

What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.

Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing, Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.

“Garden Skull”
Alcohol Marker, Watercolor, and Micron on Paper
2018

With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.

“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor, but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and Prismacolor markers.”

In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework, the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each other a formed a dazzling whole.

“Smokey Eyes”
Alcohol Marker, Micron and Gel Pen
2019

While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.

“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”

With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.

“Jessica Rabbit”
Oil Paint on Canvas Panel
2019


“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”

With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors, blends, and sparkly highlights.”

However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital art.

Rainbow is my Favorite Color
Gouache on Panel
2019

“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted digital art, I felt very disconnected.”

As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization, many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical, tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.

On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her 2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them something fun and creative to flip through.

“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter, but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.

“The Letter R”
Alcohol Marker and Micron
2019
From “A is for Art”

“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”

Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her family, friends, students and fans.

If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.

“I ❤ You”
Dropper Paint
2018