Zeshawn Luc is the Hometown Hero Who Uses Movement and Icons To Capture Overcoming
by Lilac Burell·
Luc doesn’t avoid the violence, instead, he allows his work to pierce the political framework of what’s socially acceptable.
When unmitigated violence saturates news and media, being present is an unrivaled challenge. Processing never-ending conflicts in America is an obstacle for most, but 18-year painter and fine artist Zeshawn Luc (@zelucn on IG) takes inspiration from ever-present brutality. His neo-expressionistic works couple iconic imagery with ferocity in motion to capture how instability operates in contemporary issues.
Neo-Expressionism: This style portrays deeply subjective and recognizable objects in raw, emotional, and sometimes abstract forms. This style contrasts conceptual and minimalist art and is the characteristic style of artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Norman Lewis
“The Prestige’s Fault to Make the Riots Stop” 36” x 50” (with frame), mixed media on canvas (2022)
Born in Florida to a family of trade workers, Luc is the only artist in his family. Throughout his life, artistic criticism from his family could not shape his work, so his support system trusted his vision for excellence. Using sports and fashion, Luc reinforces the cultural significance of Black cultural symbols to survey how status, stereotypes, and territorial identity can be explored under capitalism.
Like many Black artists, Luc’s early expressions were plagued by inaccessible spaces that lacked artistic freedom. Limitations like being unable to paint over carpeted surfaces or wash brushes in the kitchen sink forced him to challenge his imagination and find creative means to practice art. Fortified by his limits, Luc budgets his time and workspace to overcome containment by transforming all of his areas into artistic free grounds.
Luc experiments with resourcefulness in a way that calls back to classical paintings by building his own canvases. By day he’s a fine artist and painter -- painting every day between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm -- and by night he’s a design contributor at Carbon Fiber, a Latin music record label. His after-hours are spent practicing transportation design and brainstorming new concepts.
Nearly all of his pieces have strong associations with violence to glorify and highlight how respectability, through contact sports, influences impudence. Luc doesn’t avoid the violence, instead, he allows his work to pierce the political framework of what’s socially acceptable. Each piece functionalizes race and labor to reflect on expectations of infamy cast upon stereotypical icons like Black performers and the police.
See our conversation on the root of his inspiration and artistic practices below:
BURRELL: How would you describe your workflow?
LUC: “My work is a mixture of an entire event happening. I've always been super obsessed with like, things happening, but then when I go to explain what happened, it almost seems as if like, the fragmentation of me explaining it doesn't really give the whole event its necessary amount of justice.”
“I remember when I was like six or seven, I got the book animal locomotion by Edwin Whitebridge. I always thought it was interesting how he was very influential at his time because he didn't think about still images. He thought about the action of images that go together to create the sense of something happening. Relaying that sense of something happening gives you a better sense of what happens in each still motion of a frame.”
BURRELL: Which mediums do you work with?
LUC: “Okay, well, for my paintings, they're mixed media. They're acrylic, pastel chalk, pastel, graphite, and charcoal.”
BURRELL: Which one has the greatest connection with, you know, your storytelling?
LUC: “ I would say oil painting because I think that oil painting is one of those things that it's like a give and take. I found my health rapidly declining from using oil paints. I have to be more responsible with the use of it. That responsibility of the use told me that I need to have the preparation to fully be a lucid thinker and to explain exactly who I am. Without the proper use of oils, you're killing yourself with those chemicals.”
BURRELL: What do you think your work “Same story, Different Nigga, Same Guttas” says about vulnerability as a Black person in America?
“Same Story, Different Nigga, Same Gutters” 6’ x 4’, oil on canvas (2022)
LUC: “It's actually a piece I modeled after my brother because my family and I recently had a conversation telling him: hey, we can do more. I was talking to him and he had this ideal mindset that was like, ‘every single day, no matter what I'm going to do, I'm going to be out in the field.’”
“That’s a really strong notion to me because it was almost like a callback to not only how Black people have been in this idea of working super hard, but it's like no matter like, what area it is -- business, athletics, being an influential figure or designer -- we are literally, always in the field running towards an unforeseen goal.”
“I wanted the shoes and the glove to call back to two people: OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson. Because of the role he (Michael Jackson) was playing, it was like society totally consumed him. I think about OJ as this individual who pleased society and there’s a super comforting contradiction between them. Then, the designer shoes while running through the field shows a complete disregard for whatever is obtained materially, because no matter where you go it consumes you. It's the same exact story. Different nigga in the same gutters.”
“Famous” 6’ x 5’, mixed media on canvas (2022)
BURRELL: What is your commitment to your community and your commitment to art?
LUC: “My whole family does trade work. They are all people who are committing to these American ideals and I'm here as a practicing artist. I've always felt a weight on me. I use ‘hero’ a lot because it's like, you have to be the person to carry your people upward and forward.”
“I feel like it’s my obligation to come back and give my home the significant push that it needs in areas of creativity. I find all of the environments that I’ve gone through, no matter how contemporary society is, it’s always predominantly white settings. That’s something I want to see more change in.”
Lilac Burrell (they/ them) is a cultural curator and multimedia journalist currently pursuing a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Lilac uses journalism, digital art, photography, and film to canvas community and intimacy, and explore the relationship between spatial agency and creative freedom through a Black cultural lens. They aim to use storytelling to archive the modern Black experience and have career goals of being a creative director in advertising.