creation story: Sandra Luckett 

Installation artist

Her current installation at the gallery is a departure from her previous, heavily decorative work. Three square wooden panels of different colors sit on a rectangle of mocha brown that she painted onto the wall. Each panel has scrolled or rippling fuzzy material highlighted with pin-sized fiber optic lights poking through. The first pea-green panel has accompanying music and a boom box painted green to match.

Why she went back to art school at 44: “I was always at my most blissful when making art and thought I had a gift for it, but really needed some structure to fully develop as an artist.” After raising children and working in nutrition, fitness and the music industry, Luckett began school at 44, as an undergrad studying painting. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but I think it’s to your advantage if you’re studying art to have had a full life.”

How she moved from painting into installation work: Luckett was a painter until graduate school. “I always controlled the environment around my work, and if I didn’t, I was very uneasy about it.” She would often make a sculpture to accompany her paintings, paint the wall around her paintings or bring her own lighting, rug or furniture.

Why she likes her work to be ephemeral: “For me art is never perfect, there’s no perfect painting or sculpture; it’s just in the moment, and art for me is a learning experience, it’s something I’m studying.” That’s also why her installations reference water, because like life, water is in a constant state of change. “[The ripples from a wave] react immediately to their environment, which is the way I make my work.”

How 9-11 effected her work: Luckett had only made one painting in grad school before Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after, an artist from New York spoke at VCU; he had a studio close enough to the World Trade Center that he lost everything. “I thought, ‘Well, you can make all these paintings or sculptures and lose them all in a minute. You can’t assume that anything is going to be there forever.’”

Luckett began to consider the ephemeral. “Some of the most beautiful things in life are ephemeral. The best meal you’ve had, when the day is just perfect, a flower at its peak, sex. All those things are in the moment. That was in my mind.”

How her dollar-store materials reflect society: A professional artist came to Luckett’s studio in grad school and started asking questions about what was important to her. “I thought ‘Wow, my paintings don’t define me.’ And that’s when I started exploring other materials, shopping and gathering all this stuff.

“Painting still can be really relevant today, but we’re such a transitional, disposable culture, and an artist today is supposed to be a reflection of the society that they live in. These materials can do that for me in ways that painting never ever could.” — Carrie Nieman

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