Lucas David has killed his idols. He makes them bleed, vomit, and die with hazy, empty eyes. But he also makes them beautiful. It’s not the typical airbrushed, shimmering beauty of a fashion magazine, but it’s a dark kind of beauty immersed in truth, vulnerability, and the harsh realities of life. Originally from Mexico, and still in his early 20’s, he’s achieved the ‘American Dream’ in a world of social media, punk rock queens, and a public yearning for a different way to look at their heroes. When I saw one of his pieces for the first time, I was immediately transfixed. I then compulsively went through his Instagram and saw so many of my own idols: Joan Jett, Marilyn Monroe, Amy Winehouse, Cherie Currie. And none of them were smiling, or pretending to give a shit about looking like death. I loved it all. A year later I got the chance to have a long, in-depth discussion with him over the phone, and I was nervous. I didn’t know how to talk to this exceptionally talented person who’d made such prolific work in my eyes, and in the eyes of so many others. But Lucas David did not end up being a stereotypical, pretentious artist type in the least. Talking with him, he was shy, slightly self deprecating, earnest, incredibly open, and most of all, inspiring. He’s a person who contains multitudes, but speaks in a way that makes you feel like you could talk about the heaviest of topics with him for hours and not feel overwhelmed. He’s quietly sweet and refreshingly honest about himself, and I’m truly honored to have gotten to speak with him. I know that he will go on to be even more successful, and when he does, I’ll be able to say that I was lucky enough to talk with the man who has killed all of our idols, and got away with it.
I: I’m so excited to talk to you! I’ve been a fan of you and your work for a while, I’ve never seen anything like it.
L: Thank you!
I: And I know you have a solid following, have you gotten used to it?
L: Not really, I don’t feel like they’re ‘fans,’ but just followers that watch you grow. Because that’s just the era that we live in, people can see anything they want with social media and Instagram, like I could never imagine being able to have an art show if it was not because of the internet. That would be so difficult.
I: I mean I think you’re not giving yourself enough credit, because your work is amazing and you would have gotten attention from it eventually. But you’re right in saying that social media has definitely made things more accessible, and it makes it easier to put your work out there.
L: Yeah, I think it helps a lot. For example, I’m from Mexico and there it’s so different, like people don’t appreciate what I do there like they do here in LA. In Mexico I could never have a show. I tried to contact galleries, but they were not really interested. But here it’s so different. Like four days before I came (to LA), I was contacted to do a show. I didn’t know that would happen.
I: Wow, that’s a huge change. You said in Mexico they didn’t appreciate what you did, what do you think it was? Was it the culture, did some people just not understand what you were trying to do?
L: I think that there are a lot of old trends in Mexico, because I don’t think that they support young people as much as here. They’d rather support fine artists, and I’m not a fine artist. I didn’t study art. I tried two times to get into art schools in Mexico, the best ones, and the second school told me that I didn’t have a perception of art. They told me, “Oh you can make comics or whatever.” They just told me that I didn’t have a vision, and yeah I had a heartbreak. But then I started putting out my own stuff, making more of it, and trying not to do the traditional thing.
I: So many people have very specific ideas about what art is, but it’s all so subjective. To one person something could be a beautiful piece of art, but to another person it could be just utter trash. So who’s to say what “real art” is?
L: Yeah! And the weird thing is that at that school I was rejected, but there’s a teacher who works there that uses me as an example. He talks about me and my art, and shows it to inspire the students. He contacted me on Facebook saying that he included me, and that he didn’t know I was rejected from there. It’s funny.
I: That is funny! Because for me, I love your style and would definitely call it art. It’s like if a Tim Burton concept artist was super into punk rock and decided to merge the two. Do you consider your art to come from a combination of influences, and if so, what are they?
L: Totally. I’m gonna tell you what inspired my art, it was 2010 and I was just getting out of school. I was a huge fan of Tim Burton because he made things that were spooky, but they were also romanticized. I wanted do do something that sarcastic, in some way. I was also a big fan of Taylor Momson, and I started posting drawings of her because I wanted to get noticed by her. Because she’s like the queen, a goddess, she’s everything. She will always be my muse. So I started sending my drawings to her fan page, I would make drawings of her every day while I was in school. And then one day I saw on her Twitter that she posted a drawing of mine and I don’t know… That inspired me a lot. She said my name. That inspired me to have a name, to work on it, and I think the aesthetic came from doing hundreds of drawings of her. It didn’t come from her aesthetic, but from the way I saw her at first. And a lot comes from music as well, like Sonic Youth, who I’ll love forever, and Courtney Love… But take Sonic Youth for example, every time I don’t know what to do I just put on one of their records and I’ll end up making something. They have a song that says, “Kill your idols.” Courtney Love also says that in one of her songs, so I made a painting of her, and I killed her. And people loved it, they loved when I did that. And that’s when I started getting followers.
I: There is something weirdly beautiful about the dark deterioration of these celebrity subjects. Do you think that’s a projection of your own darkness onto them, or do you see this other darker, demented layer to them that you wanted to materialize in your artwork?
L: Yeah, yeah. When I was in Mexico the first person who believed in me and my work was this older guy I used to work with, Alejandro, and he’s an art dealer who’s spent his whole life collecting and selling and appreciating art. He was working with Dolores Olmedo, and she used to work with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Someone introduced me to him and he became obsessed. He didn’t know who the celebrities were, but he was fascinated, so we started working together. I’ve grown from him and he’s taught me a lot. But he told me that my art was expressionist, and that he sees them as self portraits. That whenever there’s a girl with her eyes (prominently shown), it’s actually me. He goes, “That’s Lucas David, that’s not anything else.” Because everything I do, I feel.
I: When I first found your work I could definitely tell that there was a lot of emotion in your paintings, and that you put a lot of yourself in them.
L: And the thing is that I was not into being famous or anything like that. I was just working. I didn’t think that it could be a lifetime’s work. That’s why I’m so grateful that it’s coming together like that. Life sends you the right people at the right moment, and you have to be working when that happens. But there was a time last year that I didn’t want to post anything because I was ashamed. I felt like I was showing myself, showing my feelings to so many people. I felt fragile. Like I was throwing away my feelings for everyone to see. But maybe that’s what makes an artist an artist.
I: Have you ever created a piece that you were afraid to make public because it was too personal?
L: I have a lot. I swear to God that there’s not a day I’m not painting. When I first started I told myself that I was going to make a drawing per day. So there’s a lot of things that I don’t post because it’s too personal. People go through a lot of things, and maybe that’s why I only post my celebrity art.
I: And that’s your right. Because no matter how much of a following you have no one should feel entitled to see something you’re not comfortable with showing people.
L: But, you know, that’s what people want to see. People want to see the darkness in artists and celebrities. They want to see them drunk, or dying. But I’m not romanticizing it, that’s what a lot of people say about me. I’m just drawing things that have happened to me. Things that I’m going through. For example, when I had the Marilyn Monroe puking painting, she had pills on her face. There were a lot of people mad at me, people that e-mailed me thinking that I was making fun of her death, or addiction, because she died from it. But it’s not like that, like I’m going through stuff too. And it’s true. She’s portrayed as this Hollywood princess, a goddess, but she died from addiction, she died from an overdose.
I: Completely. I think you were showing her in a more real way, because like you said, we’re so used to seeing celebrities in such a curated context that it seems almost ingenuine. And your art shows them in a different way that we’d never get to see otherwise.
L: Yeah, I don’t worry about people not liking it. It’s about knowing that you’re making something great, so I just keep going. When I paint, I’ve already been painting in my mind throughout the day. I can create something so fast, in only an hour or two, because I’ve been thinking about it for days. It’s fun.
I: Does it ever get distracting when you’re supposed to be thinking about something else?
L: Sometimes it’s self destructive because your mind is always creating. When you’re in a normal situation, in real life, you tend to over-analyze and overthink the situation until you have no more escapes. I think most artists suffer from that, because your mind is always flying. Like when I’m doing a big painting, it feels like I’m out of this world. I forget about everything, everything. And I’ve been drawing all my life, so it doesn’t feel like a job at all to me. I want to have a job, but with my name.
I: Like start a brand attached to your work?
L: Yeah, something like that! There’s a Patti Smith quote that I love where she says, “Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful – Be concerned about doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” I just want to focus on making good work.
I: I also wanted to ask about the feminist messages in your work, is it important for you to use your platform to express these views? Because I love seeing these powerful messages next to the bad-ass people that you draw.
L: Thank you, that’s amazing. I’m totally a feminist, I was raised by just women, by my mom and my sister. I had a dad but he was always traveling, and I grew up with my mom doing everything and having money for the kids. And this era is so much under the control of the male gaze, and I really don’t like that. I have four sisters, but it’s also just my way of thinking. It’s not like I want to sell something. I just want to do it for my followers, especially the ones that are younger, because I’m just so worried about them. The world is weird. So I want my young followers, the girls, or the gay community, to know that it helps me too. I want to do it.
I: That’s good, because a lot of people have platforms but they don’t really say anything.
L: Exactly! Yeah, I won’t tell anyone the message of anything, I just have ideas and do them. But I want to spread good things. I get worried though. For example, Taylor Momsen was never seen as a rockstar, and that used to make me mad. She was just seen like, “Oh, she just wants attention. Shes a fame whore. She’s trying too much.”
I: Ugh, don’t even get me started on that. One of my favorite bands is The Runaways and they were never respected as much as they should have been.
I: Like they were the quintessential rock band, and they were never treated like that because people saw them and said, “Oh look at these hot chicks,” but it’s like, they’re not just that! They’re rockstars!
L: Exactly! It just makes me mad because we are in the future and things haven’t changed! I think Taylor Momsen is the queen of rock ‘n’ roll, and there were people I knew in Mexico who were actually mad that I was good at painting and obsessed with this “trashy person.” I’m not friends with them anymore, obviously. But they just didn’t get my vision. I want to make artwork of her because she doesn’t give a fuck.
I: Is she your favorite person to draw?
L: Yes, she is.
I: Is there anyone you want to draw but haven’t yet?
L: I want to do an amazing painting of Amanda Lepore, but it’s just so difficult. And I want to make an iconic Courtney Love. I have a few paintings of her, but I want to do a portrait, a big one because she’s been so inspirational to me. She has my work in her house.
I: (Cue dramatic gasp) WHAT?
L: Yeah, that was the biggest part of my career. Frances Bean contacted me last year and requested a picture of her and her mom, and she gave it to her as a Christmas present. Frances is so nice, and yeah, it’s just the best thing. I didn’t talk about it that much at the time because I wanted it to just be for them. Because there’s something so special about this. And it means so much to me because it means so much to them. It’s so special that Courtney wanted a drawing of her and her daughter done by me.
I: Wow… that’s amazing! When you get that call, or that message, does it even feel real? Like, “Oh hey, can you draw a picture of me and my mom, Courtney Love?”
L: It was an interesting situation for sure. I was just so excited, like I said to her, “Yes, fuck yes, I’ll do it.” Frances and I talk and have collaborated together. She’s so great, she’s an amazing artist too. But there was a time when she was obsessed with everything I did, and I see other people on the internet being interested in my stuff too. But then there are other people I know that don’t give a fuck about what I do. I don’t know… do you think it’s just taste?
I: Hm, that’s a good question… I think if it hits you, it hits you. It’s almost like meeting a person for the first time, you don’t know what it is about them but you either like them or not. It’s just so personal, and if it’s not personal to you then you’re not going to understand it.
L: That’s true. Some people will think, “Oh lame, he’s depressed.” Other people will be like, “Oh cool, he can express himself.” And I have a lot of friends that aren’t into art, and I don’t get it, but sometimes it can be helpful.
I: It takes all kinds, yeah. There has to be people where art is their life and there has to be other people where building bridges is their life, you know?
L: And for me art is my life. I can’t imagine myself without music or making drawings. I listen to music everyday.
I: What kind of music do you listen to when you work?
L: Yeah, I’m really into that. I listen to Sonic Youth, Hole, Nirvana. Lana Del Rey is amazing. I spent all of last year only listening to Lana Del Rey. It was a special time in my life, just creating, just listening to Lana Del Rey. Her music makes you just float. It’s the same feeling. When she’s singing, and you’re drawing, you’re not thinking.
I: So is it safe to say that if your art could speak it would be in Lana’s voice?
L: Um, no. I got that question once from Alejandro, and he asked me to put a voice and a melody to my art, because he thinks that’s important to know yourself. And there’s a song by Alice Glass called, “Stillbirth” that is the only song I can think of that speaks for my drawings and expresses how I feel. I’m friends with her. She says that my art expresses what she feels, and the feeling is mutual.
I: That must be such a special feeling, knowing that your art speaks to people and helps them.
L: The first time I listened to her song, I cried. And I never cry at movies or anything, but that was totally what was happening in my life. The song is like being reborn, living your past, and starting again. And you can be yourself. Like when I was living in Mexico, I was living with my dad, and he doesn’t agree with all the things I do, and I was sometimes pretending to be someone else. And when there’s something inside you that you can’t express – maybe that’s why I do celebrity drawings, there’s something in their eyes… I don’t know, it’s weird. But I’m so excited for the things that are coming, because I love doing that.
I: I remember seeing a Tumblr post from you a little while back that your work had gotten less dark because you were in less of a dark place. Are you feeling happier as a person?
L: I’ll tell you about that situation, yeah, I don’t know why so many people saw that (laughs). I got calls from my friends saying how happy they were that I was in a better place. And I posted that because I was so excited and so happy for a month or two; I was good with my Mom, and I was so excited to come to LA, so I wasn’t in a dark place. I was better, plus I made more clean, colorful work. I was also dating someone too, and everything was so cool. But things changed, and as soon as I got here I started to feel alone, with no friends, and I got in a dark place again. I get super affected by things like that so I started to do terrifying things, less colorful, but less confused than before. I don’t know why I have this masochistic lifestyle… but I feel like now I’m in a better place for sure.
I: And it’s totally understandable that you would go into a lower place, because that’s a huge change!
L: Yeah it was a huge change! But yeah it was about heartbreak, I haven’t posted most of it, but that’s pretty much what my art show is about. It’s called “People Are Strange.” And I think it’s cool how it shows the way I’ve grown, that it’s more mature, honest. But I’m also nervous about it, I don’t want to feel awkward. I feel like being here in LA has made me feel like a man putting his head into a lion’s mouth.
I: Have you always felt like that?
L: No just here. Because in Mexico I was just mysterious, the mysterious artist. And that was fun. But here I actually have to work at being a person.
I: I think I get what you’re trying to say, because before in Mexico you were actually hiding, so you didn’t have to worry about showing yourself. But now –
L: Now I’m living it. Exactly, you said it right, that’s what I was doing. I was just sitting and planning. Not playing the game. But the game is going to start with the show, I guess. But it’s going to be amazing. I could never have imagined having a show in Los Angeles. Everything’s been so exciting because there’s been no expectations.
I: Is there any kind of advice that you’d give to someone who wants to be an artist?
L: Don’t dream it, just do it. Just be it. Work for it, go for it, dream bigger. Don’t think about the things that are going to get you down or not help you. Try it, there’s nothing left to lose when you want something. Like for example, when I was rejected from art school I could have stopped and done something else, but I didn’t. But they were wrong. They were so fucking wrong. There were people that liked me, that liked what I do. It’s something that I’ll never forget, it’s something that will inspire me always. People can be wrong, and you can be fucking right.
His first art show, ‘People Are Weird’ is July 14th in Los Angeles. If you’re in the area and over 21, you should definitely check it out!
Lucas David’s social media
Interview conducted by Veronica Brevik
Twitter: @VeronicaBrevik (x)