Interview with Lucas Nagel på 123 Art Magazine, NYC, 2021/01/26
"Find", 29,5x41,5 cm, mixed media on paper, 2020
Nagel was born in 1974 and raised in Basel/Switzerland. He grew up in
an artistic family, where the father worked as a musician and the mother
as a graphic designer and gained insight into art since childhood
For the last 28 years, he has lived and worked in Sweden and underwent education in free arts in Stockholm and on Gotland. During the studies, he also worked as an assistant and apprentice with sculptor Bengt Amundin both in Sweden and in Italy (Pietrasanta). After graduating, he started freelancing, bought a studio, and did national as well as international exhibitions. After a couple of years without creating art due to his large family including five children, he now works continuously again in his studio, teaches as an art teacher, and plans upcoming exhibitions.
In his art, Lucas Nagel pursues his fascination with nature's diversity, especially shapes and structures. The hunter's and gatherer's instinct is strongly present when he is in the wild, and several small finds later end up on the work table to be photographed or depicted. The photos will be processed by "destroying" or distorting them with collage and color and built up in a new reality that was not in its origin. One of the core themes in Lucas's art is to focus on the simple and beautiful details of reality that we often let pass us by so fast that we do not take notice or feel connected. The thrive is to emphasize our origin and reconnection in nature, showing how to take advantage of it and at the same time, with humbleness and respect, participate.
You grew up in Basel / Switzerland, an artistic family. What were your earliest memories of doing art?
Lucas: My upbringing was largely characterized by art in various forms. My father was a musician who dominated the soundscape at home and my mother was a graphic designer working at home. Their common interests revolved around art and art history but also to experience and walk in nature. As a child, I was sometimes bored at the big museums, listening to my mother's explanations of the works of art, but as a teenager, I sought myself back in there. In nature, I found the real fascination. There was something incredibly resting and inspiring in being outdoors and to be one with nature and its life. During long walks in the woods and along the beaches, dad and I collected small findings and brought them home for species determination. At the age of 20, I became sedentary after a knee injury and began to create small abstract drawings. At first, it was more of a pastime, but it felt meaningful, fascinating and something I clearly wanted to continue with, develop and deepen.
"No.2 Fallen star", 120x122cm, mixed media on board, 2021
Tell us about your artwork, style, subject matter etc.
Lucas: My pictures are always about tracks from nature, what surrounds us and where we come from. I want to create an image or a map of how I see the present and add a story of a possible continuation. My aim is to inspire a rising awareness of how we are part of the perishable nature and how fragile and beautiful life and nature are. I am fascinated by life cycles, not least the beauty of decay but also the rebirth. Humans relate to this theme throughout life; where do I come from, where am I now and where am I going? The aesthetics in the pictures are usually quite raw and built with several layers. The colors are subdued and down to earth, it is the play of lines that is characteristic, requesting the observer to reorient.
Composite,2020, 55x75cm, mixed media on paper
Do you see that your art serves a purpose beyond art?
Lucas: I find it important to have a balance between aestheticizing and telling stories. I am extremely fascinated by nature and the incredible diversity that we much too often just pass by. I want to highlight it and arouse curiosity and interest in it. We destroy our planet more than we care about it and that may be the overarching theme of my art. I like to play with thoughts such as life cycle, destruction, last breath, resurrection, and tracks, in other words, new beginning after decay. For me, every art expression has an educational purpose, in this context so does mine.
Embeded sleep, 2020, 48x52cm, mixed media on paper
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into creating an artwork? If you do, what are you trying to solve at each stage of it?
Lucas: Every time I walk in nature, I constantly look for inspiring images or objects. It could be certain foliage, seed capsules, a dead fish, driftwood, and more. For me, the object carries a story that I become inspired by. The beautiful and sometimes grotesque makes me want to clarify, distort or continue. Most often it is a motif of something in decay, as the structures on the object have been sharpened, the traces are clear and a story exists. I photograph or take the findings home and process the images on the computer to highlight certain details. Thereafter they are usually printed in black and white or in subdued colors, to keep the shape in focus. The most important part is then to put these perfect photographs of reality in a different context, to abstract and give a different expression, delete and add new ones. I build the images in layers of different natural materials such as sand, earth pigments, horsehair, or linen fabric to enlarge the object with a kind of collage technique. I paint with acrylic paint and pigments that I mix myself. I do not plan in detail but like to work with themes or series, usually with 3 or 4 pictures at the same time. Then I have both the color scale and the main motif's basic tone with me.
Flowering roots I 2020 71x60cm mixed media on paper
Tell us more about your technique, as you say, "destroy" or distort the images. What inspired this process?
Lucas: The photo itself is the perfect image of reality, however, perfection is not as interesting to me as it is distorted. By distortion, I mean to continue a story beyond what is already given. For something new to appear, I must first delete, or "destroy" the photograph, and that can of course be difficult. There is a risk that I remove the most important things in the form and what inspired me from the beginning. I also take strips of rags or fabric to lengthen and highlight lines and compose the image as a whole. Then I put fields of a, for me, relevant color on or into the photograph. That is when the photograph leaves its origin and is placed in a new context, determined by me. Sometimes I wipe the photo again so that the color only leaves a tone behind. I combine the work with oil pastels to emphasize lines, color fields, or areas and leave drawing traces. This sculptural "construction" process is repeated a number of times to lay layers upon layers and also to shift the perspective of the front and back so that the spectator can discover more than what he/she sees at first glance. I reinforce this shift in perspective by creating a line game with ink (black and white) or oil pastel that gives the image new dimensions where a line suddenly unexpectedly appears or continues, an abstraction process. The lines are essential, they lead and mislead at the same time.
Last breath, 2020, 29,5×41,5 cm, mixed media on paper
What is the work you have done that you are most excited about?
Lucas: A memorable project was when I and two other Swedish artists worked in Berlin in 2005 in old disused glasswork. I sat for several days in a sandpit and glued together shards of glass for an installation called "Ur-sprung" ("Origin"), and the photographs became new variations of my work. The whole project ran for three weeks, which gave me enough time to deepen and reflect on my work there. The paintings were shown in three different following showrooms, including at a successful solo exhibition in Lörrach near Basel/Switzerland in 2007. I am also very happy about some of the recent work I have done; "The Monument", with the three sunflowers and "Flowering roots I + II". In these, I found an essence that I am proud of. Overall, the current production is often the one I am most connected to.
Resurrection 2020, 121×83 cm, mixed media on board
Who are some artists/people who really inspire you?
Lucas: I have many role models in the art world! The greatest of all, I think, is Anselm Kiefer with his monumental works and his strong clear line with the theme of Germany's history and human existence through decay. His way of painting and use of materials has inspired me a lot. Some of my other favorites are Eduardo Chillida, Joseph Beuys, and Antoní Tapies, both for their aesthetics but also for their themes.
The nest, 2020, 26×32 cm, mixed media on paper
What memorable answers have you had to your work?
Lucas: Every handover of a work of art is memorable, and gives me the feeling that my ambition and purpose has been fulfilled and is appreciated by someone else. In connection with an exhibition in Basel in 2007, a reviewer wrote in a German newspaper about my art: "he wants to achieve a change of consciousness in the spectator so that it gets a seismological description of our situation: a man of his time." For me, it was an appropriate and fine formulation of what I wanted to achieve with my works, and that my intention was recognizable.
From the sea, 2020, 62×82 cm, mixed media on paper
What is the best way to reach people who are interested in your art?
Lucas: The digital landscape has definitively opened new possibilities to reach a broader audience within the art world. I use both Instagram (#artbynagel), my own website (lucasnagel.se) and I am represented at the online gallery Singulart.com based in Paris where people can contact me in different ways. This also broadens my chances to build a network with artist colleges and galleries. However, conventional physical art exhibitions will always be of great importance and these opportunities will hopefully soon reoccur after the pandemic is under control.
Blooming, 2020, 83×121 cm, mixed media on board
What's next on the horizon for Lucas?
Lucas: The most important thing now is to continue producing my art. I try to have enough time for my work process as well as concurrently taking care of my large beloved family with 5 children. This past autumn, we went on a wonderful trip to Portugal, from where I brought over 250 different pictures that I will work on, including the theme "The fallen stars". With this production, my hope is to arrange exhibitions in 2022 in Sweden and in other countries. I work continuously on my digital channels and have ambitions to apply to art competitions and to be able to reach an international audience.
Ur-sprung, (Origin), 150 cm diameter, glued glass, installation Berlin 2005