Video © Lucas Samaras

Pace Live

Lucas Samaras

Virtual Studio Visit

This spring, in light of Pace Gallery's closures in New York and abroad, Curatorial Director Oliver Shultz sat down for a virtual studio visit with Lucas Samaras, whose artistic practice has often been rooted in isolation in his studio in New York City. Samaras shares an intimate and autobiographical reflection on his life and photography and delves into some of his recent and earlier works, all through his own computer screen.

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Oliver Shultz (OS): So, Lucas, we're here together in a virtual studio visit. And right now, because of the Coronavirus, so many people are sitting at home in front of their screens and communicating with the outside world only by way of these little technological devices. Now, you are an expert in creating a kind of very rich life in this creative space of your home and your studio and your apartment. And I wonder if you could take us virtually through your work in a kind of electronic studio visit that we can all participate in vicariously through your screen.

Lucas Samaras (LS): I've been alone for 20 years, so being stuck in my apartment now, again, is not a big deal. All that's different now is the possible destruction, of all the things that you knew were around. Other people may not know how to live by themselves for weeks or months, a year or many years. I found even early on that what I liked about it is to spend time working on artwork. Every day I would spend like four hours. And I must have tackled with my brain in a way where I was in joy for four hours. I used those four hours or five to say I'm living in heaven for a minute, for some minutes, every day. And it's terrific.

I began to have a direct interest in photography. Either photographing myself or using photographs that were taken by other people from the time I was born to now. The interesting thing about that is that over the years, before the 20 years that I'm living alone, I would go over the album and say, gee, I looked awful there. Later on, I began to see my past a little differently so that every aspect, every chapter became interesting to me. And I could deal with the ugly ones. There wasn't ugly anymore. They were me and I was trying to remember if I could.

Photography is such a magic thing. That it helped us to remember things by many, many years. We've had photography for over 200 years now and they produce the reality of people. They don't have to have to wait for somebody to use words to explain what this individual was. I began to love the pictures. It's like they were a gift of God knows what. But it was a fantastic gift that continued for 200 years. If you didn't have that, you wouldn't know 90 percent of the time of how you looked at other times. You just would have no idea of seeing your past. Photography is fantastic in that sense.

So now you're going to see some of the stuff that I've been doing,

OS: That would be fantastic.

LS: Here is a new thing I started a couple of weeks ago. Where I'm using the millefiori, and I started working on them as if they're are the ones, they are the subjects. And sometimes you see them as being people. As if there's a mouth here, maybe this is a younger person. That's a conversation that takes place between those millefiori.

Ok, so here is the stuff that I have of catalogue. This photograph was taken when I was a baby, like four months old. But then here's another one, and I think, who is this creature? You know, it's a creature it's not a kid. But I combined it with all these elements, which are part of our art making, for 10 or 20 years now. And I added things that are not necessarily symbolic, but they have blood.

And then here's another one of me and my father, when my father was about to come to America. It's like he said goodbye. And that's why he put me next to his leg. And I remember he threw a gold coin when I was on the floor afterward. And then he left and that was it. You know, no father for nine years. So it's important. It's fantastic. To have a section like that about what your life was pictorially.

Here is a way I used to have those millefiori, but also other stuff from very different countries, you know, hundreds, hundreds of these things. And I had them and I loved them. And then when all of these went to the Pace Gallery for the show, the last year’s show, then I had empty areas.

You know, it was empty for me. So I took about two or three days, with emptiness. And I'm saying now, what am I going to do? I mean, I don't want to just see that. And lo and behold, I had something to put. It's not real stuff, but it looks three-dimensional and each area has these things. So I got such a thrill. It's fantastic.

OS: New York City is such an important part of your work.

LS: Yeah, of course, I love it. I mean I live in it.

Well, I'm going to tell you that story. I had a camera and I used to go from my apartment at that time to the gallery and I passed through our park. And I could take 100 pictures and none of them were very good. And then five, ten, fifteen years later, I bought a Leica, a small one. And the park became heaven for me. It was just all of a sudden, my brain, found a different way of looking at the park.

And then at the same time I was going to the park, I was going to the streets of New York. I would go to a place on like Saturdays or Sundays where there were tables with hundreds of stuff, and I started photographing the tables because each one was a world of our worlds, not one world, many, you know. And to me, they were heaven. These tables were heaven. That was for me, art, you know? But it was just great. I spent like ten years or 20 years doing that. So to me, that's also New York, you know.

Things happen. Special things that I find myself in different parts of the art world. You know, like, wow, am I doing this? And is somebody liking it? Strangely, I'm sad in a way, but then I think how fantastic my life has been in giving me every 10 years or so a fantastic thing that I never would have known that it existed.

OS: Lucas, thank you so much for this. It was wonderful.

LS: OK. Be happy in your life.

OS: You, too, take care. Bye

  • Pace Live — Virtual Studio Visit: Lucas Samaras, Jul 7, 2020