PRINT January/February 2021

Project: Lucas Samaras

AND SO WE’RE DONE with that weird year of distortions, when everything got stuck, and yet everything moved so quickly.

To understand how the suspension of one set of forces might stimulate another, you have only to visit the sky-scraping studio of Lucas Samaras, the eighty-four-year-old self-described “urban hermit” and legendary artist-transformer. That Samaras knows how to live alone gave him a unique advantage when New York went into its first lockdown last spring. Perched before two iMac Pros high above the epicenter of the global pandemic, he got to work, “living in heaven for a minute, for some minutes, every day,” on Photoshop.

What emerged is one of the great projects of quarantine: hundreds of empyreal images of a rapidly expanding universe of outlanders. Sometimes they hover above beds of pins or long gray hairs the artist pulled from his head. Other times they play against photos of the streets near his apartment. Mostly, they stand still or menace or pray on top of gradient oceans. These schism-beings, what Samaras sometimes calls the millefiori, sometimes the performers, came from . . . where? I don’t think these are simply exteriorizations or dramatizations of some inner self. (It’s a strange article of faith among critics that artists who work in self-portraiture are narcissists.) There’s a feeling that these chromatic tendrils were already alive, channeling themselves through Samaras. They “have blood,” he says. They are “killing his old work.” They come from elsewhere and arrive somewhere else. They look alien because the human eye isn’t dumb, and appearances don’t always deceive. We know what we’re looking at, and what we’re looking at is other.

Which is not to say that these beings are new to Samaras. He’s been luring them into empty spaces in his studio and living among them for years. In the late 1990s, against Samaras’s wishes, gallerist Marc Glimcher brought a computer to the artist’s apartment. The notoriously curious Samaras couldn’t resist. His first body of computer-generated work, “Photofictions,” arrived in 2003. More made it to the Greek Pavilion at the 2008 Venice Biennale, and the digital has infused much of what he has generated since. Everything in Samaras Land is recursive. And the computer is an inviting space for an artist who likes to repackage and kitbash his own mythos.

The nine images in this portfolio were created between July and December. It’s overwhelming, the sheer quantity. More arrive every day, immigrants from some distant axon in the nervous system of spectacle. Lucas Samaras is, finally, maybe, no longer alone.