Mural with Lady Lucx painted with L I E for their joint 2016 show, opposite Chicago Truborn
If you hunt for street art in Chicago, you'll come across a mural from the artist L I E. A woman will stare out from a wall with soul-searching eyes, and you may wonder who painted such a compelling expression. What happened to them? Are they a lonely, heartbroken artist?
The women in L I E's work wear headgear that is often interpreted as an Astronaut or Speed Racer's helmet
The show, titled BASICS, features several of the enigmatic portraits, along with work depicting the birds and flowers often seen in his murals. Art on custom wood frames is interspersed with canvases, making for a variety of textures and formats. Mid-way through the show's run, many pieces have found homes already. (Sold!*)
Sarah reached out to L I E, as he recovered from putting the show together...
Sarah Sansom: You often feature women and birds in your work. Why are you drawn to them?
L I E: I enjoy painting women because... there's a lot of beauty and vulnerability in many aspects of them. When I'm done with a painting, that's my ultimate goal - to have made something that's beautiful to me.
I love painting birds because they're all so different. They can be any color, size, with long or short feathers. They're just fun and easy to make, so I love to incorporate them.
SS: The women you depict have such a deep expression. Where does that comes from?
L I E: When I was talking about the fight for the good in you, the look comes from that. They're kinda showing you that they're tired from the fight, but they're still in it.
I give them this somewhat indescribable look… almost heartbroken, intense, nervous, helpless, innocent. I'm not sure how I get it, but I'm happy I achieve it.
When drawing portraits, emotion could be the most important factor. I don't care what people think my paintings are about, but I care if they can sense an emotion from the faces. I want them to connect with the intense feeling the character is feeling. That is what draws them into the rest of the painting and it all starts to flow together.
'Machine' - Acrylic, graphite and spray paint on canvas, 36 x 24"
A wall of the artist's beautiful bird watercolors, a great entry-point for collectors
What do birds need? A birdhouse! Constructed from scratch by the artist
SS: You started as a designer. What made you take the leap into full time street art?
L I E: When I graduated in 2008, the economy was in such rough shape, opportunities were hard to come by. I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and took a job as a Design Director for a start-up in Florida. It folded within a year, but I took away a good understanding of what it takes to build a brand.
When I got back, my Mom and I talked about, ‘What if I started my own business?’ A friend from high school who had his share of start-ups and I decided to open a business together. We decided to open a street art-inspired gallery, Paper Crown, and focus on up-and-coming artists of the Chicagoland area. We knew there were a lot of artists out there who had tons of talent, but nowhere to put their work.
As we began to become part of the community, street art became a big part of my life. I was surrounded by it every day, all day, and loved it. It's all I wanted to do. I painted almost every day and then all of the sudden, that was it, I was a full time artist.
Some of the 30 pieces on display, with a personal favorite top right (click for full images)
SS: Congratulations on having your third daughter recently. How do you do it all?
L I E: Thank you! Oh man... I’m the stay-at-home dad and I can't explain how hard it is to go in to creativity-mode after policing 3 kids all day. This show was the hardest yet. That's why I decided to keep the work in its ‘Basic’ form and concentrate on design elements and composition.
My off-show days are to go downstairs to my studio after dinner, turn the music up and try to sink deep inside the weirdness of my creative thoughts, or browse through other street artists’ work to get inspired. I haven't really figured out how to balance it yet.
Every featured artist gets the opportunity to paint two site-specific murals in store for the duration of their show
SS: What’s the story behind your moniker?
L I E: I grew up in a family where honesty was #1. You just never lied. As long as I was honest with my parents, they'd help me out when I messed up. I think that is very important for that transition into adulthood.
Liars are toxic, and I distance myself from them immediately. I see so many people lying to themselves, living lives that they don't want. They're not doing what makes them happy, whether it be their jobs, spouses, circle of friends, or where they live.
So, the name L I E became the thing my artwork is most against. I chose to turn the word into something beautiful and good. The girl in my paintings is the "good" in you; your soul in its pure, innocent form. She's the fight in you to be the person that makes you happy.
SS: You’ve cited Herakut as as influence. What was it like to work with HERA on the Scone City mural?
L I E: That was so awesome! It was a great experience because, of course you're gonna be nervous doing anything with someone you've idolized, but then to see how cool, friendly, and humble they can be was a nice change of reality. It really inspired me.
A friend was documenting her mural at Columbia College - I went up on the roof and watched in awe. I didn't even mention I was an artist, I was so thrilled to be there. She ended up seeing my work later that day. When I showed up the next day to watch her finish the mural, she asked me to help her paint! She told me she'd like to paint a mural together and the next day we painted Scone City.
I learned a lot in the short time I painted with her. She is so talented and fun to watch. it was a pleasure.
L I E: A big goal is to stay relevant. As I'm getting older with family priorities, it's harder to be in the scene. If my work is not able to be constantly in front of people, when I do put something out it needs to be stellar.
Sometimes the talent among all of the street artists is defeating in a way. New and current artists are pushing the limits so high that sometimes I feel like I'm falling behind - I haven't put in the time to get to the levels I think I should be at. It will always be a goal to push myself to learn and be a better artist.
SS: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
L I E: I worked so hard to be able to do what I love to do, and to top it off, other people enjoy looking at what I love to do.
SS: In a non art-related question, what’s the meal you most enjoy, and why?
L I E: Haha. In college, we had an assignment to sketch our favorite meal. Mine was an ice-cold Coca-Cola, a bowl of Rold Gold pretzels, and a cigarette. I think I would still choose that meal. They're my three favorite things, although I try to stay away from a couple of those nowadays..
Sarah also had the pleasure to speak with Chicago Truborn's gallerist Sara Dulkin about the show:
SS: What led you to working with L I E?
Sara Dulkin: Not many people know this, but, Jay (Lie) was actually a guiding force for me and my journey as a Gallerist.
He owned a gallery (Paper Crown) in the Chicago suburbs and I would “intern” there - just hang out, perform menial tasks, watch him paint, get to know the business side of things a bit more. That was really my only view into the “gallery world” at that time. The more and more we talked - the more he encouraged me to kind of start up my own thing in the city. My network was growing and having Lie as one of Chicago Truborn’s represented artists was a large contributor to our early success. I incorporated in 2011 and curated bi-monthly pop up shows along with vending street festival after street festival — many times Jay would even be there on-site selling with me - we were building up his name as an artist and CT as a gallery. By 2013 Chicago Truborn opened an actual storefront gallery space - we opened with a group show featuring many of his pieces.
Soon thereafter, Lie had his first solo show in Chicago with us in 2014 (might have even been his first “real" solo show at a gallery) and pretty much every group show Chicago Truborn has hosted since has included his work. It’s been a real honor to watch his progression and be a part of his journey, and I’m equally honored and grateful that he is a part of my story.
SD: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that first drew me to his work because it’s such a complex answer. First impression upon seeing his art is that it’s just undeniably beautiful work that has an uncanny ability to look effortless.
No matter what the subject matter was from a rat (yes he used to paint rats) to portraits to ice cream cones to his first iteration of “Lie” (a masked character with pointy teeth)- it just made you stop in your tracks and say “wow”.
Getting to know him personally, spending time with the artist behind the scenes, and watching him paint was where I went from viewing his work to really appreciating it and connecting with it on a deeper level. Seeing him wield spray paint in collaboration with acrylics, the way he would add a white highlight to an eye and make it look so realistic, even watching him gaze at his work and then to see where he would go back in and make revisions — it was all a very personal insider-esque experience for me as an artist, art collector, and art dealer. Before that point, I had never really been in artists studios watching them paint so I look back on those years very fondly.
Above: Interior gallery mural, 'Home', Gallerist Sara Dulkin and a detail of the outside mural
SS: How was the experience of putting this show together?
SD: Putting this show together was a treat. As the Gallerist, I get frequent updates and work in progress shots but every time when the entire collection is in front me - without fail - it’s that “Christmas Morning" feeling. I get to literally unwrap all these gorgeous presents that I’ve been anticipating for months… and best yet, I know that I have a solid month to stare at them and get to know them for the duration of the show.
Lie and Chicago Truborn have been synonymous for so long that I often get emails and messages asking when I will have new work in - or when he might be having a show. So part of the excitement behind “Basics” has to do with the sheer anticipation of it all; not only mine but his adoring fans, too. Jay wanted the works on wood to be interspersed with the canvas work so I just took that idea and ran with it. The layout came together fairly easily and then the only thing left to do was measure it out and get it on the walls.
Through the chaos that is “set up week”, a show can look incredible in the days before the opening but nothing really compares to getting that first glimpse of the show on show day: the gallery is clean, the floor is mopped, everything is audience-ready and that’s the moment I live for.
Flashback to L I E painting for his first opening night at Chicago Truborn, 2014
Finally, the first L I E mural I saw, curated by Amuse 126 at the now-demolished Megamall,Logan Square
So as we discovered, L I E is a suburban, family guy surrounded by love, with a penchant for ice-cold soda, a good pretzel and the occasional cigarette. Who knew such emotion could be drawn from such seemingly-ordinary circumstances?
If you're feeling inspired, BASICS is open for another 10 days, or check out the online store and L I E's instagram (links below) to stay in touch.