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SGV Connect #103 Interview – Julian Lucas by Chris Greenspon

Chris Greenspon (CG) : For this week, I have a narrated profile of Pomona street photographer Julian Lucas. He’s got an exhibit up at the Bunny–gunner Gallery in Claremont. I met up with him to talk about the streets of Pomona, and his take on what’s become of the city’s art scene. And just fyi, he swears a couple times in this piece. Reminder, that the opinions expressed here are strictly his own.

Julian Lucas (JL): My name is Julian Lucas. I'm a photographer and I live here in San Gabriel Valley, Pomona to be more specific. I've lived there for about 10 years. I've actually lived in Pomona twice. This is the second time I lived in Pomona.

CG: Julian told me he’s lived all over: 

South Side Chicago, Inglewood, and here – in Covina and Pomona. He’s been photographing Pomona for about 20 years,

And a lot of that is in his show at Bunny–gunner.

JL: The first photo they'll see if they're walking in is going to hit them like nothings ever hit them before and I say that because it's gonna be something that's never been done in the city of Claremont

CG: Is it gonna be big? 

JL: Yeah

CG: It’s a blown up, life size portrait of a homie on a beach cruiser

Waiting at a crosswalk at night, next to a pawnshop. 

You can almost hear the cars rushing by, 

And the homie’s headphones… chirping music.

JL: The scale of it's pretty big. So what I'm doing is immersing people who aren't used to the streets in the streets.

CG: But that’s not all that’s going on in the show. There are also protest photos.

Because it’s a Synthesis. Literally. The show is called Synthesis.

JL: Synthesis. So what synthesis is, it's a mixture or combination right, of things that bring to the center of one meaning or one, I guess theoretical meaning maybe. So you're gonna have a little bit of hood. You're gonna have a little bit of photojournalism with protests. So it meshes together the narrative right? So you people are fighting for social justice. So people, you see the people fighting, right, BLM and women's rights. But then on the other side, you see hood stuff, right? Gangsters. I have portraits of gangsters, portraits of just street stuff, right? Street shit, as I like to say, street shit. Those people are fighting for that. They're fighting to make that better. You know? But then there's other people that want to keep the street shit going because the street shit that - if the street shit continues, then that's the bottom feeding the top. In order for capitalism to work, you have to have a bottom; period. So what's at the bottom? People that are broke, people that are desperate, people that commit crimes. They commit crimes because there's… that's desperation, you know. So then you have people over here trying to make that better and trying to make people better so they're not committing crimes, but the people at the top need the people to commit crimes, because crime, crime pays, jail pays. A lot of people don't know I worked in jail. I was a guard in jail. I started at LA County Probation and moved to Youth Authority. And then I did a little bit of adult. Each inmate costs around 80 Something K per inmate per year that taxpayers pay.

CG: Julian says when it comes to Pomona’s black population, 

There are clear structural causes for life in the streets.

JL: I mean historically there was disinvestment, right? There had been black people living there, but then there was an influx of black people in the 60s after the Watts riots, moving out east and suburbs. And then the crack era, the crack cocaine era took place in the 80s. So then there was disinvestment, but there was also redlining and that doesn't get talked about. There was also redlining in Pomona... Ganesha Hills was redlined and then parts of South Pomona. And then I think most of it was yellowlined also. So, you know, with disinvestment, you're gonna get what you get in the streets. You know, if people don't have resources, then they're going to create their own resource that's slinging dope. That's prostitution, which Pomona has or sex work.

CG: Quick reference, redlining was the banking practice

Of not lending to home buyers in a certain area… generally because of the color of their skin.

Yellowlining is similar, but not as severe… Banks would consider making these loans though discrimination was still in place.

The legacy of these practices lead to devalued real estate in places like

Echo Park, Downtown LA, Highland Park, and Pomona. Artist communities sprung up in them, and eventually they gentrified. Julian was part of that 20 years ago but he says there’s no longer a real grassroots scene here… Just a city sponsored artwalk that he doesn’t believe values art.

JL: Very shallow, very watered down. It's not underground. It's not organic, you know? I can't stand that word. "Community, community, art communities!" You don't build community by force. Communities are built organically. When I was there 20 years ago, it was organic. The spaces were there. People moved there. The artists moved there. And we created our own community. You didn't have these political leaders trying to brand themselves up in the coffee shops. You didn't have none of these people up there, you know, going from one coffee shop to the next trying to brand themselves. I see it, you know, but the average person won't see that. They just see it as "Oh, he's interacting with the community." That's bullshit. He or she. Bullshit!

CG: Well, why have your show - this show - in Claremont then? 

JL: Why have this show? Okay, well, Pomona has cheapened art. It is what it is. Art openings, they call it -- I can't stand the word Artwalk, they've watered that down right -- so art openings that were in Pomona before it was, those were stepping stones to emerge, right. You don't get stuck in them. You grow up or you grow out of it. And you move on right? Now, people get stuck. And it's crazy, dude, like they're branding Artwalk. Like what the hell dude?! Like in their actual personal deal. No! Brand yourself and brand the gallery. Like for me the gallery needs to brand itself. You know the progress gallery featuring this artist boom, not Artwalk - progress gallery - this. No. Artwalk isn't featuring me. You know what I mean.

CG: And it seems Julian Lucas isn’t gonna wait for official channels to back him. So he self-publishes: as the Mirrored Society Bookstore, an art and literature journal called The Pomonan, and he’s organizing the Print Pomona Art Bookfair for 20-23. His current photo show feels like another iteration of that.

CG: So how do you hope or expect people to react to your show? 

JL: I'm hoping people will get pissed off. I'm hoping people will be happy. I'm hoping people will get sad, you know. That's what art is. The viewer is supposed to get mixed feelings or get angry or that's what art is for. It's not... Art isn't always about pretty things, decorative art, you know, and that's what I think cities like Claremont and Pomona... There's this whole deal where they feel like “Well, how can I put a photo of sex workers on my wall? I can't do that.” Well, why not? It's framed, professionally framed. It's not frames from IKEA. So why wouldn't you? You can absolutely put photos of sex workers on your wall. You can absolutely put photos of the dude on a beach cruiser on your wall or, you know, people hanging out in front of a liquor store. I have them on my wall. You know, I have kids and they understand like, this is this. This exists because of this. This… you know, it's all about education.

CG: That was Pomona artist and writer Julian Lucas. You can see his photo exhibit, Synthesis, at Bunnygunner in Claremont until October 27th. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays.