The Post-Urban Cityscapes of Alex Lukas

Alex Lukas’ (NAP #92) works on paper are like historical mementos of an event that has not yet occurred. But the artist is careful not to attach a didactic or moralistic message to his work, disliking the term ‘post-Apocalyptic’ for its negative connotations. He says, “The whole idea of post-apocalyptic fiction in our common cultural dialogue focuses on a singular event or turning point, and I’m more interested in a time after that. It’s not so much a depiction of a particular event that changed things, but an ambiguous time [after that]. In this way I hope not to express so much a clear message—stop global warming or nuclear proliferation—but to keep my work open-ended, allowing people to bring their own ideas to it.” His work explores the duality of depicting the aftermath of a violent or traumatic event, but portrayed in a peaceful manner. - Nadiah Fellah, SF Contributor

Alex Lukas | Installation View 2011, Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

This message comes across the more time one spends with his work. At first it seems that his scenes are completely devoid of human presence, but then one begins to pick up the subtle signs of people, in the murals and graffiti on cars and billboards. The messages and tags are Lukas’ way of “hinting at community without actually showing them.” The presence of foliage, drifting fog, and calm waters in many of his works also hint at life, and a landscape that resides somewhere between urban and pastoral.

2011 023 Untitled, ink, acrylic, watercolor, gouache and silk screen on paper, 25" x 72"  Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

The centerpiece of the show is a monumental drawing that Lukas has mounted on a concave structure so that it literally encompasses the viewer, eclipsing one’s entire field of vision. The piece is inspired by cyclorama paintings from the 19th century, works that often depicted battle scenes or panoramic cityscapes to incite feelings of pride and victory within the audience. The artist wished to use this format to portray defeat rather than triumph. The surrounding scene is an expansive landscape that is at once eerie and serene. Deteriorating structures and graffitied walls punctuate the site under an ominous, gray sky. The sense of ambiguity transcends all levels of one’s consciousness, creating a time-less, season-less vista that is in stark reaction to the idyllic American battle scenes, and sometimes religious scenes, the cylindrical design was originally intended for.

Alex Lukas | Installation View

In addition to the massive panoramic drawing at Guerrero Gallery—a work that is alone worthy of a visit to the gallery—are two dozen other works Alex Lukas, ranging in scale and format. The smallest of these works are done on appropriated vintage book pages, in which the artist has painted and silkscreened over pictures of American cities, adding descending clouds and rising waters. The current show is also the first time Lukas has expanded this technique into a poster format, using pre-printed imagery intended as commercial use, for his own artistic purposes.

2011 010 Untitled, acrylic and silkscreen on book page, 10.625" x 12"   Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

Lukas’ use of multiple techniques to produce a single drawing is not arbitrary. He plays on the advantages of each technique in his works—the “split-palette” effect possible to achieve by silk-screening, and the shaded depth created by airbrushing—augmented by his draughtsman abilities. The final product comes together to create engaging and compelling landscapes that draw the viewer in, particularly when used on his large-scale works.

2011 022 Untitled, ink, acrylic, gouache and silkscreen con commercially produced poster, 20.75" x 37.75"   Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

As I spoke with the artist, I asked what made him think to create these eerie cityscapes? He answered: “For me it was a lot about personal exploration. I’ve spent the past several years living in northeastern cities like Philadelphia, Providence, and Brooklyn, where parts of them remain or have become abandoned and desolate. The next leap of the imagination has been: what if it’s not just this area? And taking that feeling of solitude and tranquility, and adding to it an air of apprehension—you never know what’s around the corner.”

2011 017 Untitled, ink, acrylic, gouache and silkscreen con commercially produced poster, 20.75" x 37.75"   Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

‘Alex Lukas Featured Solo’ is on view at Guerrero Gallery in SF through October 8th.


Alex Lukas was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1981 and raised in nearby Cambridge. With a wide range of artistic influences, Lukas creates both highly detailed drawings and intricate Xeroxed ʻzines. Lukasʼ imprint, Cantab Publishing, has released over 35 small books and ʻzines since itʼs inception in 2001. A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, his drawings have been exhibited in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Stockholm and Copenhagen as well as in the pages of Swindle Quarterly, Proximity Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, Dwell Magazine, Juxtapoz, New American Paintings, Next American City and The New York Times Book Review. Lukasʼ work was recently included in the 2011 Philagrafika Portfolio as well as the 2011 West Prize Final 10. Lukas lives and works in Philadelphia,PA.

Nadiah Fellah is a curatorial assistant at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

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