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Q&A with Resident Artist Lucien Shapiro

Nov 13, 2017

In a single mask, artist Lucien Shapiro packs a lot of punch.

There’s the found material element. Shapiro often transforms items on the lowest end of the found-on-the-street food chain — bottle caps, pull tabs, plastic bags — into stunning tools, masks, and weapons (many of which are completely functional). Even the most observant of patrons might not notice the street diamonds — a unique-to-Detroit parlance that describes the tiny pieces of shattered glass leftover from a car break-in.

Shapiro’s work flirts with couture fashion, too. It’s not a stretch to imagine one of his masks adorning a model in a Richard Avedon photo.

In his performances, Shapiro adds yet another shade of intrigue to his work.

“With all my projects, I’m just trying to challenge people to look into themselves and make them part of the pieces,” says Shapiro. “I’m trying to do more performance so I can have a stronger connection with the viewer than just making something for someone to look at and judge on the wall.”

There’s a sense of ceremony and extreme honesty in Shapiro’s performances, which can often result in a cathartic release from the artist himself and the audience.

“What I’m creating are ways to dig into myself to pull out all the shit and then display that in hopes that other people will see the shit in them and wanna face it,” says Shapiro.


How did the found materials end up factoring into the design of your masks and other items?

It started with bottle caps. For me, it was more about the shape than the object itself. It was a circle, so everything comes around full circle — that’s my belief. So, that was the initial thing and then the punker studs that I used pretty regularly are for kind of like a conversation with that culture. With the other found objects and stuff, I just have always been kind of like a collector. I like to turn people’s trash into treasures or what other people think is nothing into something that’s more. I’m not one for gold and diamonds, but I do believe in jewelry as forms of protection just like the masks are also forms of protection.

What sort of impression do you hope to leave on the audience with this latest body of work?

I’m not trying to take anything away from the Detroit audience — more like add to it. I feel like I’m stepping into someone else’s zone. I don’t usually go to a place for this long and make work. And since I am making most of the work out of things I find in abandoned warehouses and on the street — someone else’s world — but I’m just kind of borrowing it, not living it, you know?

There’s certainly some sensitivity there.

Yeah, for sure. Definitely, respect people that have been here for however long they’ve been here especially with all the gentrification — not just here but in every single place I go. Because I’ve been on the road for almost three years, so I’m in a different place. I haven’t been in one place longer than a month and a half in three years, so I’m extra sensitive about being in other people’s places.

You’ve been pretty clear about there being a spiritual wire that runs throughout your work.

Most of it for me is a spiritual channeling. It’s become a very different practice than it used to be. It started initially making masks because I used to be a figurative sculptor and then the masks came to remove the figure and make myself the figure. Through that, it became this other thing. When the mask goes on, it’s not me anymore. It’s just a figure or a form helping myself by helping others in a way.

By Ryan Patrick Hooper