Quite a few of us play an instrument, in a group or by ourselves. Some of us are painters, and have at least some past work to prove it. Fewer still of us are poets, least of all with enough work to fill even one anthology. Brian Lucas is all three. Playing bass in both psychedelic explorers, Dire Wolves, and the group of numinal frontiersmen known as Cloud Shepherd (our interview here), Lucas has his musical aspect locked down. A prolific abstract artist, specifically in the medium of painting and ink-work, he also boasts a lengthy back-catalogue of work, which have enjoyed presentation at the gallery level. Lastly, Lucas is a published poet, including several full-length works and chapbooks also. Safe to say there was no shortage to discuss when we corresponded in the following discourse. Enjoy. Interview by Daniel Sharman.
Q.) How and why did you first get into crafting poetry?
A.) Like many adolescents I listened to a lot of music. Once I got out of Top 40 radio I started paying more attention to the lyrics. I liked Bob Dylan and Crass. A lot of dark, lyrical music. There was a mention of the Beat poets in my US History textbook so I went to my high school library and found a Ferlinghetti book. I read Poe and Plath, the Songs of Solomon, and William Carlos Williams. A close friend loaned me The Young American Poets anthology so I had exposure to the NY School poets as a teen. I was pulled into the mysteries of poetry. I moved to Santa Cruz and read a lot of contemporary, experimental poetry, most of it typified by Nate Mackey’s journal Hambone, which is still going strong.
A.) No main influences. Lately I’ve been reading Julien Poirier’s new book, “Way too West,” and Frank Lima, Aase Berg. All my poet-friends continuously blow my mind. Octavio Paz. Philip Lamantia and Barbara Guest, as always. Cesar Vallejo. Joseph Ceravolo. Norma Cole. Will Alexander. Spicer and Duncan. I like City Lights Books’ Spotlight Series of contemporary poets. Aime Cesaire. Artaud. So-called “visionary poetry.” There’s so much world literature that I miss out on, so I am thankful for translations. I’m curious about what’s happening in Latin American poetry especially. I’ve read some Venezuelan poets that are amazing.
Q.) You're a prolific abstract artist. What motivates you towards the abstract?
A.) I started painting non-figurative, non-realist paintings as an adolescent. I made deranged figurative works in my early 20s then crept back into doing more abstract pieces a few years later. I find it the ideal mode. Photorealism or figurative work doesn’t appeal to me. I find it didactic mostly. The micro and macrocosmic, the biomorphic…some of it is what I call “eye-embroidery” … It seems natural for me to paint the way I do. I’m not interrogating myself about what motivates me and why. It feels innate. I’m self-taught, non-pedigreed, so I didn’t go through art school or a writing program where one has to defend what they are doing, bend it to someone else’s taste or expectation.
Q.) Who influences you as a painter?
A.) Enduring influences are the Dynaton painters, especially Onslow-Ford and Lee Mullican; Francesco Clemente (an early inspiration), Hilma af Klint, Agnes Pelton, Forrest Bess, Brion Gysin; the artists around Semina, Leo Kenney, Mark Tobey, Paul Klee, William Burroughs, Sigmar Polke, Charles Burchfield, Philip Taafe. Filmmakers like Stan Brakhage, Harry Smith, Maya Deren, and Jordan Belson. I’ve recently discovered Chris Martin, whose work I like a lot. Fred Tomaselli’s epic collages. There’s also tons of art being produced here in Oakland; it’s a very dynamic and motivated urban art scene. Amazing murals and graffiti works. I try to get out and see what’s going on as much as I can.
Q.) Building on the last question, what connections do you see between your art/poetry and your musical work, such as with Dire Wolves and Cloud Shepherd (whom we recently interviewed, see here)?
A.) Making music in a band is a collaborative effort—both CS and DW traffic in improvised music, though both are completely different. Writing and painting are very solitary activities. They orbit around each other, but rarely do they ever touch for me.
I’m interested in the marvelous, the numinous, and the undomesticated. I think my output in these three mediums reflects that. I like rough edges and a bit of placenta to remain. “Good taste” and clean lines are for commercials.
Q.) You upcoming work, Eclipse Babel (link here), combines both your art and poetry. What do you see as the links between these two mediums?
A.) Most of the drawings were done in Spain and Morocco in September 2014. The text came about a month or two later back home. There aren’t any inherent links between the two. The text doesn’t serve as captions to the images, and the images don’t illuminate the text. Of course there is a long tradition of the two being fused…Blake, Rene Char and Miro; and Henri Michaux, of course. A year or two ago I did a couple artists books called POETBOOK where I handwrote poets’ works and did very spontaneous watercolors along with them. That was probably the genesis for doing Eclipse Babel, along with doing the drawings for Andrew Joron's chapbook, Force Fields (link to that here).
Q.) I've been following you on social media for a while now, and noticed your inclination towards the esoteric, the occult, and the bizarre. What do you feel causes this? (Zardos!)
A.) I think I was unknowingly initiated into some esoteric order as a child. Ha! Fringe ideas and Fortean type phenomena intrigue me. I have witnessed and experienced totally bizarre occurrences, especially while living in Thailand. Reality is a highly debatable concept.
The world is irrational, fragmented, disorderly, and can’t be explained adequately. I think it beneficial to have multiple tools at our disposal to help navigate this morass. Thinking there is only one way to explain or define the world is a mistake. There is a lot of insight, a lot of teachings that shouldn’t be overlooked because they’re unfashionable or unsupported by academia or “the establishment.” With that said, I am also a sceptic.
Q.) What are you upcoming projects, and what dates should people be watching out for?
A.) Dire Wolves has been in the basement recording recently. We play Sept 5th in San Francisco at the Lost Door Gallery. Nov 7th at The Hemlock in SF. There’ll be a reception on Sept 15th at Bird & Beckett bookstore (SF) for Eclipse Babel. I’ll be reading on Oct 3rd at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn and Oct 4th somewhere in Philadelphia (tentative?). I’ll have another art exhibition with Derek Fenner and Ava Koohbor in February 2016 here in Oakland. Cloud Shepherd is still alive!
Make sure to keep up to date with Brian's artistic output here.
DYEP? would like to thank Brian Lucas for taking the time to complete this interview!