Lucas Samaras

(b. 1936)

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(1936– ).

Painter, sculptor, photographer, and installation artist. Employing a wide range of materials and techniques, he follows the imagination where it takes him. Usually it follows a narcissistic route back to the self. His own body, experiences, and psychological tensions supply major themes. Often bizarre, frequently obsessive, his disturbing art extends the surrealist spirit, while also acknowledging the 1960s impulse to conflate art and life. Born in Kastoria, Greece, in 1944 he settled with his family in West New York, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. He was naturalized as a citizen in 1955. In 1959 he graduated from New Brunswick's Rutgers University, where he studied with Allan Kaprow. There he also made the acquaintance of George Segal, Robert Whitman, and others he joined in happenings. Until 1962 he continued his education with classes in art history at Columbia University, where Meyer Schapiro numbered among his teachers. He also studied acting. From around 1960 he began to develop the constructions and assemblages that first brought him recognition as an artist. Of particular importance, a series of boxes, variously altered, produce a range of effects. Some, like reliquaries, are covered in opulent materials, while pins, razor blades, or other menacing materials transform others into objects of terror. Interiors often reveal mirrors, photographs, texts, or intriguing finishes. In the late 1960s, he applied similar alterations to other ordinary items, such as chairs. When he moved into the city in 1964, he created Room, a gallery installation evoking his prior boxlike bedroom studio in his parents' apartment. An 8 × 8 × 10-foot variation on enclosed spaces, Mirrored Room (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, 1966), covered inside and out with mirrors, disrupts the approaching spectator's spatial orientation, and then, upon his entry, infinitely reflects the viewer's body in all directions. In 1969 Samaras began using a Polaroid camera to photograph himself, accenting unsettling effects. These Autopolaroids anticipated a more startling series of Phototransformations, which were Polaroids manipulated before the emulsion set, causing the image to distort, often grotesquely. Besides additional photographic experiments, later work continues to indulge the fantastic as it ranges from bronze sculpture through jewelry and sewn patchwork “quilts” to pastel drawings and most recently, digital movies.

Subjects: Art.

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