Lucas Bononi is an accomplished contemporary painter living and working in New York. After graduating from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco with a Bachelor of Arts in fine art, he went on to complete the core program of Grand Central Atelier in New York. Since then he has gone on to exhibit at leading galleries and museums worldwide, including a recent solo exhibition at Sugarlift (New York). In Bononi’s distinct painterly style, called “Form Expressionism,” he reflects the sensation of nature through the lens of the modern world. It is through this perspective that he invites us to question the relationship between beauty and chaos, as well as figuration and abstraction. We were thrilled to have the chance to talk with him more about how he discovered his creative voice and the artist rituals that have provided the foundation for his motivation and success.

*This article originally appeared in a print issue of Create! Magazine. Become a subscriber to get access first.*

Lucas Bononi

What is your earliest memory of art? Who or what initially sparked your interest in art?

My earliest memory of art was seeing my dad making architectural blueprints. My parents were artists in that way - watercolors and architectural drawings from my father, and painted furniture from my mother. One of the first things I clasped in my tiny hands as a baby were what felt like an unlimited supply of markers and pastels. At five, they put me in my first art class, and one of the very first things I made was a pastel drawing of my mom on the back of a large architectural blueprint.

Lucas Bononi

Talk us through the genesis and development of your signature style of painterly figuration.

Over the next decade of art classes, I had to decide whether or not to pursue my dream of becoming a painter. The pain I'd feel from abandoning the craft for even just a couple of weeks made me feel out of breath, as if living required creation. After a year of full-time art classes in Los Angeles, my hometown, it was time to stretch my wings, so I moved to Italy. My vision was clear; I wanted to be an expressive artist, even though my father advised me otherwise, urging me to focus on the foundations of art. However, abstraction was what I really longed for.

In Florence, I found inspiration from my instructor and began creating abstract artworks that involved folding fabric and paper and drawing the forms. Within those forms, faces began to develop, and I realized that I had a knack for capturing faces. My journey took me to dozens of countries with very little savings, and eventually, I ended up in Buenos Aires, my parents' hometown. It was there that I started producing narrative realism artworks about my travels, especially from Africa.

Dissatisfied with the artwork I was producing, I moved to San Francisco to pursue a BFA in painting at the Academy of Art University. During those five years, I oscillated between studying the foundations and exploring abstraction. This allowed me to understand that "painting what I see" and "painting what I know" were entirely disconnected. Seeking answers to many questions, I then moved to New York and attended Grand Central Atelier for four years, which finally helped me find those answers.

I lived two artistic lives simultaneously: painting abstracts by night and nude academic studies by day. It was a constant struggle, leaving me torn apart. I lost track of the "why" - why do we make art? My abstract journey was guided by the presence of Paula Poons, Larry Poons's wife, who provided invaluable support during those tiresome nights at Art Students League. Abstract expressionism became dearer to me than Traditional Realism, but I felt like a traitor to my peers back at the atelier, so I kept it a secret. The atmosphere of academic puritanism was dreary, filled with judgment and competition, leaving me no other choice. This experience was one of the hardest in my art life, akin to the slow-burn suffering Picasso experienced when he learned the foundations before becoming the Picasso we know today.

Lucas Bononi

How do you achieve a balance between beauty and chaos? What other themes or dualities do you explore in your work?

The "Picasso Method" - leaving behind realistic studies and entering one's own style - led me to create my unique way of working, which I call "Form Expressionism." It involves painting conceptual volume in an academic manner, mixed with abstract expressionism. However, the duality between the two often drives me mad. A painting that is too loose feels elementary, while hyper-realism leaves no room for deeper meaning. Through "Form Expressionism," I feed my soul, making life exciting and full of love and mystery. My head lives in a constant conflict between abstraction and realism. Often, I use abstraction to symbolize the chaos of the man-made versus the organic beauty of nature, while virtuosity (painting realistically) serves as the literal surface of the depicted subject.

We always love hearing the ways in which artists are also entrepreneurial. What business skills have been the most important for you throughout your career thus far?

Throughout my art career, I've learned that success comes from heartfelt friendships with those who believe that you will do great things for this world with your work. This kind of support is invaluable and cannot be quantified. When a gallery hides from you when your work is being sold, it's time to do business with someone else - speaking from experience.

In the beginning, I submitted my work to every competition, show, event, and even displayed pieces in public venues just to get people's eyes on them. This approach helped me gain traction initially, but I knew it was temporary, and I had to be willing to take risks. When I quit my job at a furniture store almost ten years ago, I was scared that I might end up on the streets. However, I realized that fear was unnecessary. You'll be surprised to find that the money you've always dreamed of making from that corporate job can be made overnight when your work is seen by the right people.

It's clear you have a passion for and dedication to your work! While I'm sure there have been times of experimentation and spontaneity, a lot of success comes from consistency. What are some of your rituals as an artist?

For me, achieving a flow state requires killing the ego. When I stop listening to the little voices in my head - the ones that say "what if I don't sell?" or "you call that a brushstroke?" - I lose my creative groove. This can be paralyzing, and most artists avoid painting during such moments. However, the best advice I've found is to work through it. Make marks that aren't safe, tread on thin ice, because that's where the best artwork comes from. Only then will a ritual develop - a sort of addiction toward daily creation that inspires and motivates you.

Lucas Bononi

What is the magic of art? And of painting specifically?

The magic of art lies in its ability to deeply connect with the viewer, regardless of its technical level. It can bring warmth to the soul, transcending the material world. A truly visceral encounter with a painting can move someone to tears, as experienced when viewing a Rothko. Art has the power to reveal inner passions, awaken our core essence, and give us a sense of purpose. Without art, our world would lack culture and meaning.