Interview: Sculptor Luke O’Sullivan Discusses His New Series “Cool Shelter”

by Nathan SpoorPosted on

Luke O’Sullivan (previously featured here) creates three dimensional art that brings the worlds of drawing and sculpture together. Inspired by dystopian science fiction films, O’Sullivan builds environments composed of peculiar buildings and subterranean lairs. Using textured façades as well as screen-printed surfaces, his latest series of works entitled “Cool Shelter” creates a fantastical scene of overworld and underworld labyrinths. The artist will present his latest series on Friday, July 24th at Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Hi-Fructose was invited to have a special exclusive preview into Luke O’Sullivan’s latest layered industrial landscapes.

HF: We’ve learned from your earlier interviews with us that you’re originally from Boston, MA and now live in Philadelphia, PA. Do you feel that your location adds to the narrative that you are constantly working on in the studio?

LO: I’ve been living in Philadelphia for 4 years and the city has definitely had an impact on my work. Local architecture, row houses, and moments of industrial and urban decay have really crept into my drawings. The city has broadened the range between polished buildings and broken down structures in my art. I’m like a sponge in this place, always soaking up the bizarre surroundings. I rarely draw directly from representation, so it’s hard to say specifically what it is about Philadelphia that is in the work, but I’m sure if I was living in the woods in Maine or Oregon I would be drawing lots of trees and I would say I just like drawing trees.

HF: Tell us a little about this new series, “Cool Shelter.” It seems that you are now creating scenes from some sci-fi or stop motion film, but have found a way to display that scenery as wall sculpture. Do you take the audience into consideration when producing your sculptures?

LO: The viewer is meant to experience the wall-mounted sculptures for “Cool Shelter” alone. Kind of like exiting a bunker after nuclear fallout and discovering these things as relics. In the movie Pans Labyrinth, the lead character Ofelia is always off exploring places alone. That experience, which is super creepy, is also highly rewarding because at every twist and turn you are able to create this whole narrative. With the newer works, even with the titles I am trying to inspire a sense of wonder. There are a various directions your eye will travel from the top of the pieces through to the bottom, and I hope when looking closely you can be transported into the underworld.

 HF: What are you pursuing conceptually – Is there a narrative element that connects this series with the previous works?

LO: My work has always been inspired by architecture and I’ve been drawing and mapping out worlds for as long as I can remember. When I was in college I spent a lot of time doing observational drawings of buildings and eventually started inventing them. By the time I was in graduate school, I developed an interest in actually building these worlds. Dioramas are some of the earliest projects I remember approaching like this. The rules and structure of the diorama are great. If you’re using a shoebox, then you already have a scaled environment that you’re responsible for bringing to life. Nintendo games and maps are some of my earliest inspirations and, in both cases, continue to serve as a vehicle for my imagination. Most of the narratives and concepts in my work are rooted in ideas of exploration and invented space. I often imagine a building facade as skin and the windows and ornamental treatments as clothes. The free-standing objects I’ve made in the past are props linked to these worlds through their surface treatment. The wall-mounted sculptures are structured spaces and the individual objects, such as the boomboxes and benchpress, are life sized detail studies of these environments. The scale shifts in my work allow me to focus on environments or specific items or structures. I guess If I was an animator I would be able to unify all of this work more easily, for now I’m making wacky three dimensional worlds that can actually fit through a doorframe.

HF: What is it that inspires you? Is it the world around you, your neighborhood or city key in this process, or does the imagination just take off and beckon you to follow?

LO: I’m interested in the idea of exploration and enchantment in nature and urban areas. I’m always inspired by looking behind and underneath things to reveal secret passageways and rooms. My instincts and imagination tend to make something out of nothing, like creating a new story out of a burnt out structure that has a crazy foundation still stuck in the ground. I often find myself re-contextualizing a space as I see fit to better suit my imaginary version of what that space could be. In that sense I feel like I am constantly inspired by the buildings and structures that exist around me. That being said, it’s rare that I see an actual architectural element that I need to draw. I find that I’m always seeking the rabbit hole, sometimes at the expense of missing some remarkable moments in the city.

HF: How is your studio or creative space set up? Do you have a place to yourself where you create these works, or do you share a workspace?

LO: I do have a large shop to myself. I work out of an old middle school in Philly. It is about as weird as it sounds. The building is full of other artists, designers and even a personal trainer. One of the reasons I moved to Philadelphia was because of the affordability and access to spaces like this. In order to continue making the work I wanted to make I needed a wood shop and a silkscreen studio. After years of working in basements, garages and running back and forth between print shops It is great to finally have everything in one place. It really speeds everything up. Not having a bandsaw in my kitchen has also been great for my relationship with my lovely girlfriend Emilia. Who knew?!

HF: Do you think in terms of scale, the size of the work, when you start a new sculpture? How do the dimensions of a finished work affect the idea itself?

LO: Scale is always on my mind and I think I naturally gravitate toward making large things. Over time I’ve forced myself to be more conservative with scale in order to make meaningful things that I can physically manage. I think it’s a good question because so many people experience art from their computer now where scale can be lost in translation. As impressive as large-scale art can be, I feel like it is difficult to get good documentation. I wish I didn’t concern myself with it so much, but making a huge sculpture is much more cumbersome than making a huge mural. I feel like my ideas are sometimes determined by how large I am willing to work. That said, I did take on a commission 4 years ago that took me about 3 years to finish. The piece is titled Industry/Entropy. The guidelines were to make a ten foot long wall mounted city using wood and found material, similar to a few pieces I had made in the past. The scale of the piece certainly gave the work a presence and a heavy impact. In order to make something so large I created a whole new series of drawings. These screen-printed drawings are what I am currently using for new works in “Cool Shelter”. My background in printmaking encourages me to think in terms of multiples and upon pursuing the commission I knew I was going to use these drawings as a vehicle to create a new body or work. I love playing with scale, there is a lot of room for trickery and oddities in the drawing process that keeps things interesting for me. I get great satisfaction when people ask me if the buildings I draw actually exist, and I grow concerned when architects think they should actually exist. I have no background in engineering, but standing next to one of my buildings would make me nervous.

HF: These new ‘Cool Shelter’ works are for an exhibit that opens Friday, July 24 at Paradigm Gallery. As an artist that has shown mostly outside your local setting, how is it to have a hometown advantage to show your work?

LO: I’m so excited to be showing in Philadelphia. It’s awesome to finally have the opportunity to exhibit some work in this super cool city I call home. Working with Sara and Jason from Paradigm Gallery has been a treat. I’m just pumped to be part of all the cool stuff that’s going on here!

HF: You are involved in other projects and always have something cooking for the future. Tell us a little about what you have coming up.

LO: I have a few projects lined up this Fall and hope to keep the ball rolling as they say. Ill be sure to update all news and things of interest on my website, instagram account (@the_lewko) and, as always, I’m working on several projects with my art collective !ND!V!DUALS!

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