Jim Lukens: Possessed by his Passion
Foxgloves at Chanticleer
Jim Lukens is an Impressionist painter from Bucks County, Pennsylvania who got in touch with us about the magazine. We exchanged emails briefly, yet after connecting with him and seeing his work on his site, www.jimlukensart.com, I said to myself, “We have to interview him!” And I must say, I found this to be a most enjoyable interview. His candidness was refreshing and his humor belied the maturity of an artist who, possessed by his passion, has accomplished much and continues to do more; working and giving of himself to causes that benefit those in his immediate surroundings and beyond.
STM: Hello Jim Lukens! It is a pleasure to get the chance to talk about you and your work. Thank you for taking time out to talk with us.
JL: Hello there, and thank you Thom. Glad to be a part of this!
STM: What is the reason for art? What meaning does your art have in your life and how did that meaning develop?
JL: I think the question “What is the reason for art?” was the toughest to answer. I don't know that anyone can answer. I might replace “reason” with “opportunity”. I'm blessed to be able to pursue my passion, so I hold this in the highest regard. I don't want to try and sound profound, and I don't define others by their job titles, but art has been with me since I can remember, and I have some “way back” memories.- like from in a crib. To work in the Arts, no matter what arm or degree of commitment, for me means a “home base”. I have a starting point to my day, and with grateful humility I have a purpose. I've been immersed and all consumed from the get go, and feel like I’m just hanging on for the ride. I'm 57 and this has been a culmination of a lifetime of pulling myself up from the bootstraps. There's a lot of learning from my missteps and licking my wounds along the way- no doubt about it. I still have a lot to learn, sheesh.
STM: What drew you to painting? What drew you to Impressionism as a painting style?
JL: I remember seeing a painting my grandfather did when I was young. It was a portrait of Lincoln, done from a penny, I was told. Not sure if it's true, and he never said two words to me, so oddly I must have been sparked into “I'll show you” complex... I must have liked the smell of turpentine too.
STM: How have you taken Impressionism as a concept and made it your own?
JL “Impressionism” is a box I must have checked when filling out a form early on. I wasn't a realist, or abstract, and being “reminded of Monet” must have felt good back then. Having an initial attraction to color and light is understandable, but getting my drawing and value to read well has been a bigger goal as I struggle on. I was always attracted to the soil, so ochres and umbers seemed to define my palette early on. Developing one's self is a natural progression. I work to keep it honest. Hopefully, I'm still evolving,
STM: What are you intending to communicate with your art?
JL: It's funny, all I ever wanted to do was paint landscapes. I was inspired by a local artist who came to our schools – Taylor Oughton. He was an illustrator, well known and liked. I wanted to be a working artist like him from the 4th grade. It's what I do. So if there is any message to communicate, it would be to think about what passion possesses you and then work diligently at it. Deflect the naysayers. If I can pull something out of thin air, so can you.
STM: Tell me about your creative process.
JL: God, it seems mundane to say, but seriously, I'm bombarded by subject matter all day. It's just how I look and see and think- in compositions and values. I imagine what I see on a canvas, then I get to work. I wrestle with a new piece, and can pretty much tell quickly if it's going to come to fruition or not. If not, I scrape it off and turn somewhere else. I have 9 or 10 pieces going at any given time, so I'm at different stages to keep varied – it gives me an escape route if I'm stuck. I try to get my commission work or deadlines done first because I really used to drag my feet with those situations. If my mind said I “had to” do something in the past, then it seemed like “work”, and I avoided it. Immature, I know. So, I get those done first thing, then I'm free to coast. At night, before I sleep, I'm reviewing in my head, troubleshooting. Then, I wake up with a to-do list. My studio is in a converted garage out back, so I can pop out if I'm hit with a revelation at 2am. I'm generally happy being there, which wasn't always the case, so I tool around in the garden or yard. These days I prefer to stay put. Chasing the brass ring, running the show circuit, glad-handing, doing charities and filling a social life are all well and good, but I pick and choose more carefully lately. I'm also fortunate to have a great teaching space in Quakertown two blocks away at McCooles Arts and Entertainment Center. I'm also opening my own gallery space nearby, so I can trim a lot of running around down and focus on my little neighborhood dog and pony show.
STM: Your paintings have a softness; a warmth; a calming, quietness, no matter the subject. What within you, do you think contributes to these qualities in your paintings?
JL: I'm attracted to art by others that disrupts or makes me think of something new or focuses on current events but when I think of my own work, I want a respite, a home base to reboot and recharge. If I veer, it's usually towards humor. I know it's milk- toasty, but I need it.
STM: As you are a teacher of oil painting in private classes, how important do you think art education is in schools today? Should every child be taught art?
JL: I can't stress enough how important I feel art education is. Just drawing lessons and the problem solving it requires, for example, extends into the boardroom or running a household. It’s a tragedy that it's so easily cut from budgets. I don't even think art teachers today are equipped with the best skills to teach drawing effectively. I'm working on making a supplement available where it's not, even if it's just in my own corner for now. .
STM: How do you compare natural talent with talent that is learned – if there is such a thing as natural talent? Is one better than the other?
JL: I'm not a big believer in natural talent, like being blessed with thick hair and a great ass. ”Natural talent” might just be a case where he/she knew what they wanted early on and focused. Richard Schnid gave a long list of what he thought “talent” actually was- hard work, great teachers, luck, etc.
STM: How do you think art should relate to society or social issues? Are you involved in any causes or special issues?
JL: Artists tend to be the mouthpiece to change. I push myself to evolve and bust my hump to leave this place better than I found it, and being a middle child, I lean toward the mediator role. More than ever since this last election do I feel it. Fortunately, through my being an artist can I find common ground with others I would normally keep my distance from. That, at least, provides a space to have a dialogue in. But respecting the opportunities I am fortunate to have been offered to me tends to help me rise above pontificating or grandstanding No one really cares about my personal tantrums and political views, or wants to be preached to. I'm a little more choosy about which convictions I want to highlight. At the same time, to think that my paintings might bring some money to a charity floors me. My causes and charities I am a part of fills me to no end. I'm careful not to get too mouthy or proud, but I'd like to think that I’m happiest giving away more than I keep.
STM: You are “An Artist”, so, what things inspire you? What are the things that make you laugh? What are the things that make you sing to yourself – or someone else? What are the things that get your heart racing?
JL: Change of seasons inspire me. I lived in the desert out West. Decorating Christmas trees in shorts was fun for a minute, then it got old fast. The Northeast is in my blood. Also, I used to think that I needed to go to the ends of the Earth for that perfect scene, when in fact, they're right at my feet.
Instant karma makes me laugh, farm animals get my heart racing. My steer Bob is on my Facebook home page, kissing me. Working the land turns my head--plowing, growing, harvesting- that kind of thing
I wake up in a good mood when I know I have I class to run that day.
STM: Many people, sometimes even artists themselves have the view that the starving artist’s image is true. Do you find that to be so? What bearing does that view have on your efforts in an artistic career?
JL: I always had a job in a restaurant. I hate suffering. I did what I had to do to keep the lights on. I'm also vocal when it comes to getting support- does my town want me here or not? If you do, then pony up. Maybe a union??
STM: How have you struggled to get to where you are now? How have your struggles affected your work? What have been your greatest obstacles?
JL: “Artwork” is work. That part I never minded. Any struggle I've had was more self-imposed. I happily took alcohol out of the mix - getting too old to bounce back- and not processing rejection in a healthy way can be a set-back. So can trying to please everyone.
STM: Considering money, fame, and notoriety, artists always have something they want. What do you want? Do you consider yourself to be succeeding in getting this and why?
JL: Self capping paint tubes or brushes that regrow. Oh, all of my hair back too. All the other stuff I've had on one level or another.
I traveled a lot, driven high end cars and rescued animals on a big farm. I have a loving, supportive relationship of 15 plus years. I have a studio where I paint, a classroom where I teach, and my own gallery on the horizon. I have a key to the city where I live and work, and the opportunity to do some good before I move on. I have enough ribbons and shows under my belt, I like it when others do well.
STM: What was your biggest setback or failure? Where did it take you?
JL: I remember moving to Palm Springs in the 90's with all of my hopes on high. I found a gallery and busted my ass to fill it in a year or two. Then it burned down. That was a fun year in court. I stay insured.
A Willow Grove
STM: What’s working for you in your artistic career/endeavors? What things have you found don’t work so well?
JL: Well, I sell more $500 pieces than $500, that's for sure. Painting direct- from a still life setup, a model or on location always gets me better results. Nothing wrong with reference photos or studio time, but my results are always, always better for me when I can see my subject.
STM: On occasion, people who are not artists may ask questions which artists sometimes feel are not appropriate, like “Do you make a living from your art? How much?” or questions not easily answered, like, “How long did that take you to make?” How do you feel about those types of questions? How do you answer them?
JL: My stock answer is” If you forgive me for not answering you, I'll forgive you for asking”
Creek at Deep Run
STM: To what other activities have your creative abilities taken you?
JL: I love gardening. We've been on our local garden tours. I open my studio for a local Holiday House Tour also, when I can. I present lectures as much as possible. I'm really, really funny, by the way.
STM: Looking back on everything you’ve done, is there anything you’re most proud of?
JL: A group of a dozen of us put on a show one weekend a year that I helped start up; The Traditional Artist Show. We've given the SPCA over $50,000 so far from proceeds.
Also, I helped restore a tower clock recently. It was built by a great uncle Isaiah Lukens, who built the clock in Independence Hall and was a founding father of The Franklin Institute. This clock is in Hatboro, Pa. My mother actually went to High School in the building before she met my father, so it was especially exciting for me, to say the least. I donated a painting of the building when its clock was up and running. They can sell reproductions to help in its upkeep.
STM: What do you want people to know about artists?
JL: Be patient, it's hard balancing right/left brains.
STM: Who is “Jim Lukens”? What is one thing you want people to know about you?
JL: We have a disco pavilion in our backyard - complete with a mirrored ball, fog machine and laser lights. We dance a lot here.
STM: Where can people find you and your work?
JL: Up and coming Main Street Gallery, Quakertown, Pa
Chapman Gallery Doylestown, Pa
STM: Thank you Jim. This has been a real pleasure.
JL: The pleasure is mine!!