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93 Queer, Jewish self-portraits: Keli Lucas visits Seattle

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Installation view — Photo by Kylin Brown
Installation view — Photo by Kylin Brown

Art exhibits need not be removed from the art of exhibition. Until Thursday, Dec. 18, visitors to the City of Light gallery are welcome to view "Portrait of an Emotion," the latest soul-baring exhibit from Brooklyn expressionist Keli Lucas.

In the exhibit, ink is mingled with metallic spray paints, charcoal mixes with acrylic, and canvases interact with projected media images that overlay them. Through this mixed-media approach, the artist's emotions come to life, showing just how multidimensional the human experience tends to be.

Installation view — Photo by Kylin Brown  

Identity and art
Lucas' work as a portrait artist typically fixates on delineating the "soul" of another subject, but this time, she looked inward.

Consisting of a whirlwind 93 self-portraits, the exhibit is informed entirely by Lucas' lived experience. Confronted by emotions most would typically aim to avoid, viewers are forced to explore themselves and their own relationship to each piece.

On opening night, Nov. 18, I met the on-site art agent, Ramona Lee, who said, "The pieces bring out a face that we all know, even before we've ever met Keli Lucas."

According to the artist, who spoke with the SGN before opening night, each piece captures a specific moment in time for her. She stated that her decision to display the works for the first time felt both extremely vulnerable and necessary.

As a Queer woman, Lucas said she sees people "for who they, rather than what they are." She holds the belief that connection lies in the soul. This has a definite influence on her art, she said, and allows her portraiture to transcend binaries and other physical limitations in traditional ideas of self.

"Questioning is a part of life, and we should all be celebrated for questioning. When we are questioning something, that means we are engaging with it," she said.

Installation view — Photo by Kylin Brown  

City of Light gallerist and founder Jewel Wesley said he has known Lucas for several years. "I know for a fact that there has never been a point in her career that queerness hasn't had to be something that has had to be navigated," said Wesley.

Growing up Jewish, Lucas initially hid her sexuality from her community. She said she never came out to her family on purpose — her mother found out about her first girlfriend on an Instagram post.

Isolation in religious institutions is a common experience in the LGBTQ+ community, but for Lucas, Judaism has remained of great importance nevertheless. She said she is able to laugh about her accidental coming out story with her mom today, and shared that she now practices daily prayer.

The artist hopes to someday find or make more space for the feminine and the Queer in Judaism, and said her art demonstrates her still-deepening connection to source. "Each piece is its own spiritual practice," she said. "The more I learn, the more religious I become. Maybe one day we will reopen the Torah."

From portrait to portrait, viewers of Lucas' new exhibit cannot escape the plurality of the subject or themselves, including our dark sides. "Sometimes we all need to confront our darkness and go further inwards," said Lucas.

On opening night, City of Light welcomed dozens of contemplative admirers, not to mention the artist herself, and nobody left without a memory or a feeling to take home.

"As a gallerist, I want people to feel this art and to take something home that speaks to them spiritually," said Wesley. "Artists like Keli create invincible moments, which we should all seek out as often as possible."

City of Light will host "Portrait of an Emotion" until December 18. Find more information about Keli Lucas at https://kelilucas.com/, and more about City of Light at https://www.cityoflight.gallery/.