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A New York artist that explores the city's dirty layers, brilliant light and subtle transparency

Slowly and steadily, time sculpts the urban landscape. Pollution, graffiti and precipitation leave their indelible mark on the city through a simple addition and subtraction of materials. Rain erodes and soot creates, building up on windowsills in a minuscule geography that often goes unnoticed. Often, but not always.

Fortunately, there are some that take notice. Brooklyn-based artist Julian Lorber has integrated all of the city’s forgotten landscapes into his art, recreating the complicated layers of material and light. Through the use lesser explored environmental materials such as soot, he creates what he calls an “architecture of pollution”. Prior to his upcoming show at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston in Houston, Texas, we asked the artist a few questions about his craft.

What materials are you currently incorporating into your work?

For my works in my project titled “Externalities”, I layer archival tape, sometimes up to 6 layers, then I sculpt those layers using a ceramics rib, pressing in the edges to create a sculpted surface that resembles a kind of architecture. I then add acrylic mediums over the tape, along with soot collected from my windows that are added in as a material reference of what I had been observing as inspiration for this work. Those materials are covered with more mediums before I begin painting. My painting is another process of layering acrylic color that is carefully sprayed with air tools. Recently I have been making resin castings of my layered tape panels. They have a similar look to the tape, but are different in the sculptural approach to how they are made. In the layered tape paintings, I am creating something unique by hand, but with the castings I’m also involved in the industrial production of the surface material. What is under my paintings and sculptures have a different intention conceptually.

What are the materials that you most enjoy working with?

The tools play a large part in the pleasure I’m getting from using paint, tape, soot, or 3D printing filament. Those being from very rudimentary to more technological. I still use a normal pair of scissors and a ceramics throwing rib for layering and sculpting the tape. Using a HVLP spray gun and an airbrush have really shaped my method of applying paints. I also incorporate a normal hair dryer to help dry the paint and mediums correctly. Most recently, 3D printing is a tool I’ve started working with for realizing new fan sculpture pieces, however at the end of the day I need to paint because that was what brought me to this artwork in the first place. I wanted to paint with color.

Is there anything that specifically influences your choice of color or form?

I was looking at landscape, more specifically the sunrises and sunsets above polluted cities as well as on architecture. The soot collecting on the bricks of urban buildings as well as on my studio windowsill, were creating shadow and colors, and I just thought that would be an interesting way to paint. It has an impressionist approach in a way, with a less formalistic hierarchy in the representation of the landscape in regards to the light and color.

The physical layers are my way of creating my own surface or creating my own architecture on the surface. Falling bricks, bandages, or just the act of covering up with tape, allowed me to make statements about surface and make walls that I could paint on. I’ve been referring to it as a sort of architecture of pollution. The physical tape also allowed me to build up colors on the edges in the same way soot accumulates on bricks and other surfaces.

When you start a piece, where do you begin? At the top? At the bottom?

I begin with observing and breaking down the landscapes and other influences into visual layers of what I want to include. The layers I’m making are informed by what I intend to do. It is a structural approach, planning lines that will be created by the physical edges of the layered tape. If the tape lines up too horizontal or too vertical, after being painted, those lines might carry the eye across the surface in a way I may not intend. So a lot of planning and vision has to go into layering the tape, deciding on colors and representing the landscape imagery, light and dirt that influenced that piece. Since much of the work is created flat on a table, I rotate the panels and sculptures so I can work on the piece at different angles. That is how I approach deciding what is the light and what is the shadow; what is the top and what is the bottom.

How do you achieve the incredible impression of transparency through so many layers?

My ideas and artwork have been progressing towards this current project since I was an undergraduate. I used to mix my own ink and repetitively draw the rectangular motifs overlapping to create a surface and then paint over that. Layering the drawing and paint was about creating tension, between the mediums, but also between the cerebral and the emotional. I was thinking about what was underneath the exterior of our surroundings; the layers of buildings and land, and the pollution in the air and how that distorted and changed the light and colors of the skyline. I included the gestural line used in landscape painting to separate sky and land, as a way to break up the communication while increasing that visual tension.

My techniques and style eventually evolved into the works you can see now. I think about the line and color of those lines that will live on the surface of the painting. They either remain or penetrate the more gestural background colors that in-turn do the same thing to sculpted architecture of the panel. Balancing these layers is that same tension between the cerebral and emotional I think.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you ever feel that a piece is left unfinished?

I make the artwork that I would like to see. I sometimes like to see the artist’s hand in their piece, usually through the details and marks that could be considered imperfect. Those differences in the intentions are really interesting for me, and I hope for the viewers that see my artwork as well. Removing the evidence of the artist’s hand can be done digitally or by having a machine make it for you, and so it comes down to the artist’s intention. I have started over on many pieces that I felt were not what I intended, and even that act had a positive effect of absolving me of the mistakes and my personal attachments to them. Since our work evolves from both the successful and the mistakes, as well as through expanding ideas, concepts and the tools and technology we are using; I believe most creative things are being perfected over time, in both positive and negative ways; and that everything is unfinished. I am finished working on a piece when I exhibit it in order to gain critical feedback.

What are you currently working on?

I am making larger paintings, and also using 3d printing technology and laser cutting to create my new kinetic sculptures, which will be exhibited soon.

I recently had a show of some new work in Brooklyn. I am preparing for a group show at the Contemporary Art Museum Houston, Texas, and a solo show in Houston, both in March. After that I will be exhibiting at Hilger NEXT project space in Vienna in May.

Julian Lorber, Lipstick Hits the Pavement, 2013, acrylic paint, soot, archival tape on wood panel, 25x20cm


  • United States
  • Julian Lorber