Interview with Maya Lujan

© Maya Lujan and Figure/Ground
Maya Lujan was interviewed by Dr. Julia Schwartz. December 13th, 2012.

Maya_headshotMaya Angelique Lujan is a native Angelina. She grew up in Topanga Canyon and currently lives and works as an artist, curator and publisher in Venice.  She recently exhibited at Jancar Gallery and Texan Equities, and has exhibits planned in 2013 at LA Contemporary Art Fair and again at Texan Equities. She has curated extensively, most recently Caesura at The Annenberg Beach House.  A long-term goal is to travel in space as part of an ongoing art project.

What attracted you to the arts? What were your earliest experiences of making art?

When I was about 8, I discovered a set of oil paints, brushes, turpentine, etc. in my father’s study and became instantly enchanted with the textures, colors, smell, etc. and the fact that I could actually use these materials to make alternate, private worlds constructed purely from my imaginings. At that point, by practice, I was able to draw anatomically correct horses from life, so I applied this natural propensity of rendering to painting, although I quickly realized that it was a very different and physical method of making gestures. I then took many art classes at different places such as UCLA extension and pretty much continuously trained since.

Who were some of your mentors? inspirations? influences?

The people who had the biggest impact on me were the faculty members at Art Center, and the former director of the Fine Arts Department, Laurence Drieband. I have to say that everybody was extremely supportive and I really felt like I was in a community. The specific people that really stand out in my mind are John Millei, Christopher Williams, Yunhee Min, Dean Ruth Weisberg and of course Andrea Zittel and Frances Stark of USC. All are really good teachers, and great mentors.

I am influenced by so many things: Nature, space, physics, light, maps, geography, history, philosophy, literature, culture, dancing, stop-lights, fonts, certain sounds, shapes, patterns, etc. and, other artists, authors, filmmakers, architects, etc.

There are so many people via image and text, living or not, that I will name just a few to be succinct: Albert Oehlen, Lynda Benglis, Rachael Whiteread, Vija Celmins, Viera Da Silva, Blinky Palermo, Steven Parrino, Banks Violette… all of these artists deal with heavy spatial concepts and abstraction.

Can you describe your first projects/ exhibitions?

My first works were always based in drawing and painting, but I have really made it a point to experiment with pretty much every medium. I graduated from Art Center in 2004 with a BFA and studied everything and left as a painter. I got my MFA from USC in 2008, and graduated as an installation artist that made large painterly sculptures and paintings. Now I make sculptural paintings and sculptures. I have learned that “installation” as a concept, is always inherent with painting and sculpture.

One early piece from 2004 was this very cerebral and elaborate bronze and plexiglass work that I made originally as a trellis. It was a big, domestic, live installation and I made a video for the project. Eventually, I installed it downtown where the cockfights used to be and left it there, out in the world. It stayed intact for a good seven months. That was the nature of the piece – growth and entropy.

There are several things I learned from that project; the problems with romantic art and ephemera and also to always make art that is made to photograph well as sometimes the documentation can be more long-lasting than the work itself. Last, how to really let go of a piece when the time is called for.


Could you talk about a significant success? Or a noteworthy failure that was an important turning point in your career?

It is always a success to sell work. One tainted non-success but not necessarily a failure was the Wight Biennial situation in which I was censored for installing a mandala in a student group show at UCLA in 2008. The piece resembled a swastika a bit too much for the inexperienced curators and they altered it without my consent. The situation got overblown and there were a couple of write-ups about it in the LA Times. Although it felt bad at the time, including the controversy of it all, I suppose it was ultimately good. I managed to turn the situation around and make it work for me.

Do you start  work with a concept or does the idea come later?

I always start with concept, if only materially driven. All of my works are essentially manifestations of the continued discoveries of spatial concerns. For example, the Intervals and Extensions works are very different approaches to describing object/void concepts and bodily relationships to objects that are Cartesian in nature. Whenever somebody asks me what medium I use, I always reply that I am primarily a painter but I use whatever material necessary to best describe the idea. This can be glass, solar reflectors for cars, titanium capsules, encaustic oil paint or even set-flats usually used for props in set productions.

There is something cinematic in your work, the building up of materials, constructions, very much like being on a set. Can you talk about that?

My old studio was a part of a large set design facility for Hollywood, and that environment really influenced my work. I was amazed at how there was such a high level of craftsmanship and how rapidly objects or scenes were created and made to look good on camera. You would see things like five guys making a huge walnut bed in two days; a bed four times as large as a California King because a certain shot required it to be so. And it also had to be made efficiently so that it could fold up neatly in order to transport to the shoot location.

I really liked was that it didn’t have the pretense of being an art object and was somehow so functional yet disposable. The use of set props, in my eyes, is a way to break down the differences between high and low art. The set props also helped me to question the nature of a studio, and the constructs walls make in describing space, as my studio walls were nothing more than some set flats allocating a sectionalized space. I also just see them as larger, three-dimensional canvases, with more square footage to work with.


Can you describe your rituals or routines in the studio – ie, daily painting vs. sporadic, music, etc.

I don’t have any specific rituals other then I always finish work within a personal deadline that allocates plenty of time to sit and stare at it. I always have to try to discover all possible reasons for the decisions made.

Other then that, right now, I prefer not to have people in my studio and I prefer silence. I also always try to have two studios rather than one.

I tend to work on several things at one time. Sometimes I get an idea for a really large-scale project and I am able to execute it as I envisioned it, relatively quickly. Other times it will take me two years to finish a large painting when the time is right. The way I operate is that I am always working on something, but I am not a slave to the studio.

Can you talk about your recent show?

I just had some large pieces in a show called New Times Roman with Sean Higgins and Victor Liu. It was the second show in a new space called Texan Equities. Alan Weiner is the Director and Eric Nordhouser, formerly of Show Cave, is the Gallerist. I made five sculptures called Bastions based on the dimensions and specifications of the gallery; departing from a slight slope on the floor where the wall meets it. The sculptures can be configured differently and can really force the viewer to negotiate bodily movements. It all depends on the positioning; whether a bastion is really close to the wall, or with an abrupt angle or even somewhat blocking the entrance. The term Bastion, essentially, takes on many definitions and psychological elements, either of obstruction, or a crossing point that can serve to open controlled lines of communication. The overall effect was that the gallery looked like a spaceship.

Can you describe what are you working on now?

I am currently working on a series of paintings based on the “Black Magic” painting from The Gap show. These paintings are shaped substrates with very alluring and textural finishes. They are very much about obfuscation and cancellation, hiding and revealing. That, and strict geometry, of course.

Then there’s one painting from left field I am working on that is about the windows and view of the cockpit of a space shuttle. It has a huge blind spot right in the center of it. I looked into this- and I was so surprised at how limited in vantage point/ horizon the actual windows of the shuttles are. Basically, the astronauts up there are really just blindly navigating this large ship, floating through the huge expanse of space without really seeing where they are going! And then when they might look up and out- all there really is to see is either the blinding glare of earth or, most likely, the lights or equipment that are already inside the shuttle as the black of space enhances these reflections. This really sparks my imagination and I wonder about the complete sense of disorientation the astronauts undergo and how that affects their perception. For me, all of this speaks very much about the mystery of painting and it’s also mimetic of the traditional “window” in painting and the historic notions of peering into a painting.

I plan to make more of these.


What’s next?

What’s next is involvement in The LA Contemporary Art Fair and after that, most likely a solo at TE.

Any advice for future or emerging artists?

All I really can recommend is being acutely cognizant of the history of contemporary art, and most importantly, doing everything possible to understand the aspects of selling art. Sometimes, it’s just through experience that this happens.


© Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Maya Lujan
and Figure/Ground with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Suggested citation:

Schwartz, J. (2012). “Interview with Maya Lujan,” Figure/Ground. December 13th.
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