Good Fortune: Thinking Out Loud with Artist Lisa Luck

Lisa Luck is a talker. Not a fast talker or a nervous talker or a talker who talks to take up space, but rather one whose neurological leaps and lands are verbalized at felicitous length. It would be more accurate to say she’s an out-loud ruminator—and that anyone would be lucky to catch an earful.

“I’m doing more serious work than I ever have,” starts the Minneapolis visual artist. “Work under-toned with my experience as a woman navigating a world feeling isolated. As a person, I love sharing and connecting with people. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can do my work and be honest with myself and also support the communities that are precious to me. I do that with my family, with how I treat my partner and peers, but also my work.” Here her voice slows a beat. “I’m trying to learn more about empathy and connecting with people who aren’t exact mirrors of my experience.”

In between cogitative spurts like this one, Luck tends to sigh at her sudden gravity. “I can’t believe that was so emotional to me!” she laughs at one point.

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Spanning media and methodology—whether five-minute portraits painted in gouache, hand-painted art toys or “weird hand-drawn textiles in simple unisex shapes” through the fashion collaborative MegoLisaLand with designer Meg Browning—Luck’s creative output comes across as both droll and conscious, irreverent and celebratory. Pastel profiles of pensive children pop from a night-sky canvas; a mermaid angel with heavy brows hovers over a desert; nudes drawn in loopy strokes spread their legs and smile. Think Chagall meets Pipilotti Rist, or Picasso meets Elizabeth Peyton.

Visually, her figuration betrays an interest in playfully upending gender norms whenever possible—especially when depicting female sexuality. “I love the new movement of women supporting each other and sharing instead of—to use this gross word—‘trumping’ each other,” Luck says. “I love that that is no longer the thing. I try to show those parts of me through sexual references, but also through portraiture. I feel luxurious that I can mix portraiture with my contemporary artwork.”

Across the past five years, her practice has evolved from the need to self-express. Now, there’s a call to forge a kind of solidarity through the art of portraiture itself—a genre historically fraught with male renderings of female figures that can read as much as a lens on patriarchy than on the individual women represented. “I’m starting to do body-positive nudes,” Luck shares enthusiastically. “Lately I’ve been doing these types of portraits by request. I recently did a partial nude portrait of a transperson who had just done top surgery—it was a really vulnerable piece, and I felt honored. I’m comfortable with nudity and bodies, which is ironic, because that’s not how I was brought up.”

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Luck grew up in Connecticut and, after earning an MFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art, moved to the Twin Cities for love about 10 years ago. “I was about to move to San Diego, and I met my husband at the going-away party,” she explains. “The party was at a bar—a Connecticut biker bar, which was kind of magical. After dating long distance, I moved from California to Minneapolis—where he lived—in a couple of months.” Self-described as a “messy, all-over-the- place person,” Luck has implemented a disciplined schedule to sustain her creative life as a working mom. “Both my husband and I made the choice when we decided to have children that we were still going to have our professional lives, which has meant making space to figure out how I am going to do my art in the best way possible. I’m okay with failure, but I really want to succeed at this.”

“Failure” is a word that comes up more than once—as a way to gauge the relative success of a new venture, rather than bemoan what doesn’t immediately take off. Planning her future in two-month increments, Luck balances long-term goals with improvisational instincts. “I didn’t used to be okay with failing at things, but now I think about something for a month, and if it’s good to go, I move forward. If it’s not, I throw it away.”

At 33, Luck has lived a lot of professional and creative lives. In art school, she nannied for a child on the autism spectrum and eventually worked six years in the field of applied behavioral analysis and early childhood intervention. “I learned all of these basics of human interaction that I had never picked up on innately. I’m a thoughtful person, and I’ve been learning to basically do applied behavioral analysis on myself the last 15 years. Some things about my personality used to come across before as harsh or inappropriate, but I’ve learned to do different things to solve that problem.”

As it turns out, such self-awareness has proven an asset to the act of capturing the spirits of others; Luck’s ability to swiftly gain trust among her portrait subjects is no small thing. “I’m the sort of person that people immediately tell their secrets to,” she admits. “In the grocery store, or wherever. I think I have a rigid way of thinking in some ways, so I try to be purposeful by being empathetic.”

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In an overtly anti-rigid way, her business Daughters and Suns is more than anything a means to market her skills as an artist who dons a shelf full of hats, though portraits remain her bread and butter. Typically completed at pop-up events at area businesses Luck supports, the portraits range in price from $25 to $65. “I use a gouache that usually comes in tubes and is really convenient to travel with,” she explains. “It dries in only three seconds. I set out my easel and paper varieties, and people just sign up. It’s how I sustain my business, but I also love it.” She also does acrylic on panel, typically for portrait commissions.

“I’m out of my experimental media phase,” she goes on. “I’ve weeded out what doesn’t work for me. I love gouache on paper and pigmented paper—it sets the vibe immediately. I work with the paper—grounding the painting, putting the pigment on the canvas, setting the tone.” With a new art studio in Northeast Minneapolis, Luck will keep doing portraits but is expanding her purview in an organic manner with each new connection and creative venue.

“I want to continue what I’m doing now, but just refine it,” she says. Part of her long-term plan is to tour with pop-ups in cities across the United States, but she’s also keeping busy at her home base—whether putting out a zine with Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh (with whom she earlier collaborated on an “anarcho-kids book” that is both “cute and thoughtful”), or working with Rachel Zaidman on “Pink and Blue for Me and You,” another children’s book due out soon. “One thing about Minneapolis is that there’s a really thriving female artist scene, as well as an emerging trans and non-binary scene. That’s not why I came here, but it’s definitely a happy spot that I’ve been involved in lately.”

In a lot of ways, Luck is living the dream—humbly, happily making a living by honoring the faces, bodies and personalities of those both like and unlike her. “I’m proud. I really am,” she responds when asked how it feels to keep at it. “I’m proud of myself—and a lot of other people, too. You have to look at your good qualities, and you have to push forward. That’s what I believe.”

Photography by Attilio D’Agostino.

This story originally appeared in ALIVE Issue 4, available now.

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