a man standing in front of a painting
a person is laying out art supplies on a red table

photos by Aidan Wilhite

Luz, a New York-based painter, illustrator, photo-video artist and curator, is captivating audiences with his colorful, large-scale painting and mixed media art. A recent group exhibition he curated, BLAQ SHEEP, highlighted Black creativity in untraditional ways. Luz’s vibrant, abstract work is inspired by his fascination with gore, anatomy, cartoons and mythology, and has been displayed from Los Angeles to Tokyo.

“Gifted,” a project by photographer Aidan Wilhite featuring artists, their talents and the gifts they’ve made, serves as a platform for discovering new artists and encouraging gift-making.

In this Q&A, Wilhite interviewed Luz about gifting, art inspirations, and more.

By Aidan Wilhite

Can you tell me about the gift you’re presenting?

The most recent gift I made was for my dad for Father’s Day last year. I painted a T-shirt for him. I used to do a lot of hand-painted wearable pieces. I haven’t made any in a while, but hope to resume again soon. I’m glad that my dad has one of the few I ever made. He is typically hard to buy presents for and I didn’t want to get him a typical “dad” gift.

What gifts do you typically give? Where does your head go when Christmas or another gifting season approaches?

I tend to give something that I know they have mentioned needing or really liking. I typically get people clothes, a little accessory of some sort, or something for a hobby I know they enjoy. During gifting seasons, I think about how I can communicate my love and understanding for someone through the gift I get them. I want people to feel seen and know that I listen to them when they open it — especially during holidays. It's easy to feel lonely on holidays and receiving a very thoughtful gift during those times (at least for me) makes it feel very special and less isolating. Not in a materialistic way but maybe more so the energy of the exchange, like during Christmas I don’t really care what I get... it's just a nice warm feeling receiving something I really need (or didn’t even know I needed) from someone that I love. Especially when it's a surprise!

Have you ever been inspired by a gift you received?

Yes, growing up there were a few types of gifts I’d get often that I always loved but they were also gifts that helped expand my imagination. Action figures, how-to-draw books and video games — those were my earliest examples of story, character, and art technique. I think there’s studies about video games leading to increased imagination or something so I’m sure a lot of people can relate to that. I remember making very bad little stop motion animations with the different action figures, crafting random scenarios with the various characters, using the drawing books to try and draw the figure, etc. I appreciate the worlds I went to mentally when I would play with those things, and I’m glad that they have never left me. I go to a similar mental space when I paint or write currently.

What's the best gift you've ever been given?

The Vivienne Westwood skeleton chain that I wear nearly every day. I don’t know why, but it just fits everything that I own and it feels like a part of my “uniform.” One of my uncles gifted it to me directly off of his neck because I had mentioned liking it two summers ago. I never forgot how selfless that was to me. Will always appreciate him for that. Will keep this necklace forever, literally wearing it right now and in the photos lol.

You recently curated BLAQ SHEEP, can you tell me how that event might've satisfied some goals for you?

Yeah, two large goals for me before leaving LA were to start curating art shows and to be in a large gallery before I left. So it was definitely a blessing to achieve both simultaneously. I felt like Black artists were only being given attention for a certain type of work and I just wanted to highlight Black artists who work outside of that expected category. A very simple idea, in my opinion, and I’m so happy with how it turned out / how it was received.

How has it inspired future ambitions?

It has definitely inspired me to continue curating and to learn more about curation from the perspective of it being one of my art mediums. I want to learn more about art history and exhibition design but also want to continue experimenting with putting shows together so that I can develop my own style and way of doing them (similar to my painting). Making the curation and exhibiting an art piece itself. It has also inspired me to continue to pivot in my journey as an artist, the word “artist” doesn’t have to just mean “painter” or “illustrator” etc. any idea I have can be executed as art even if it isn’t technically a physical work of art.

a white t - shirt with a painting on it
a man with his face painted with many different pictures

What emotion would you say is dominant while you're creating?

Whatever I’m trying to communicate at that moment. Anything I make is a reflection of how I feel in the present moment so whatever I feel in that moment is the dominant emotion. Lately, it has been less of a particular emotion, but while I work I have been thinking a lot about the importance of doing things consciously. I fell into a pattern of repetitive, self destructive habits that were majorly affecting my body and creativity. I was painting the same thing, doing the same sketch because my mind was too active thinking about everything else when trying to create. I make my best work when I allow myself to be still, typically blasting some sort of white noise or instrumental so I don’t get distracted by lyrics/dialogue. I used to watch movies while I paint (which I still do from time to time) but while it does inspire me, voices are really distracting when I need to be empty headed.

On your website you mention that you pull inspiration from film when making your art. Can you tell us about some films that inspired you?

All things horror really inspire me. I love anything with gore, body horror, sci-fi, and blood. I find those tropes visually appealing and I think you can see their influences in the distortion of the figures/people in my work. Especially on screen depictions of hell (Personal favorite is “Jigoku”). Some movies I really like off the top of my head: “Mother” (2009), “Climax,” “The Wailing,” “Invisible Man,” (1933), “Psycho,” “Eraserhead,” “Society” (1989), “Rec,” “Hostel 2,” “Saw” franchise, etc. Film is also a huge inspiration because my ultimate goal/dream is to be a writer-director. I like to think that everything art related I do now is helping me for the films I will make in the future.

It's almost as if you've created your own species in regards to the subjects in your paintings. Can you tell us about their personalities? Are these living breathing creatures to you or are they more still frames, reflective of something else?

Love this question. It’s kind of changed throughout the past two years. I think they started as characters, especially within my illustrations. I love the planet Saturn and liked to think that these characters were its inhabitants called “Saturnians.” That’s really only for my illustrations, I think those characters have more personality and are more so breathing creatures that could talk or be animated.

My painted figures still have a lot of similar traits but those are not intended to be characters. They are physical representations of different sensations or states of mind, communicated through the familiar human form. I want my painted figures to be more of a blurred distant memory of a person, like abstract remains and less of a literal body.

Have you ever lived in Liberia? If so, can you tell me a little bit about that experience?

Never lived there or even been there sadly. Both of my parents grew up there though and hopefully we will go and visit this year. They said it hasn’t been safe since the war that caused them to leave but we

still have a lot of family there. They still have the homes they grew up in too, would love to see those.

Do you have anything you want to plug? A show, an upcoming piece, Chestah's birthday? (Luz’s cat)

Stay tuned @sikoluz. Also got a studio so planning to expand into more sculptural and photo-based work. And yes Chestuh’s birthday is April 20 lol! Also follow the letterboxd account @luz

four pictures of a man playing drums