If you’ve been with us since Alma Mater’s first official day of business, you’ll likely be familiar with Lucien Vedego, if not already well acquainted from the various ways he engages in Tacoma’s creative community. He helped open our building as a barista and server at Honey Cafe, has participated and collaborated in many of our events and shows, is currently curating July’s art exhibit in conjunction with Tacoma’s Pride Month, and is currently holding an artist workshop series called Metamorphosis. Beyond that, he’s been wonderful to be around and learn from, and for that reason, we’ve decided to sit down and interview him, so you can get to know him, too!
J: Lucien, you’re an artist in a multitude of ways. Can you elaborate on what mediums you work with, and what you’re most excited about now?
L: So many things. I make electronic music, I make ambient music; I’ve been doing orchestral ambient music with my partner for a bit. And then with the visual arts, I paint using oils, watercolors, acrylic, sometimes drawing- a lot of mixed media stuff. Sometimes I venture into sculpture, but not often since I don’t have anywhere to keep it.
More recently, I’m excited about venturing into video, so I’m starting to make little three to five minute art films and trying to figure out how I want to present those, and whether I want speaking or not. I’ve never done film before other than one or two music videos so it’s very new and I’m probably going to screw up a lot, but that’s how you learn.
J: Is there something you primarily focus on? How did you initially begin creating art?
L: My dad was a musician, so I grew up around a bunch of synthesizers in one room, and was just able to play around with anything. It was great, but also kind of torturesome, because it was just like music, all the time. I also painted when I was really young. My dad bought me a Bob Ross oil paint set when I was around seven, and I just went from there. Many messes were made.
J: Who are your biggest inspirations?
L: With music, it’s hard because I wouldn’t say my inspirations sound like me at all, or that I sound like them, but I’ve definitely taken little bits and pieces from them. But like M.I.A. is a huge inspiration for me. I listened to Matangi and it blew my mind that there could be so many different kind of sounds happening in one song. And Boards of Canada, definitely.
With art, Marina Abramovic, who is a performance artist - she’s sat still across from people and just stared at them- and it’s super cool to me. I mean, she does more than that, but that’s what she’s most famous for. Picasso will always be my favorite painter. I have a cat named after him, he still lives in Pennsylvania. Clyfford Still is another one, but there’s so many cool painters out there, abstract expressionists, especially.
J: What about film, does your interest reside in doing movies or sticking more to something experimental?
L: I think I would just want to stick to small, short experimental films. And those have been very influenced by playwright, Richard Foreman, who makes very strange plays, and I was like ‘that’s it, that’s what’s been on my mind for years’.
J: I’m curious, what’s your experience with art and social media? I know that it can be a great tool for many artists, but also a double-edged sword.
L: It can be a good tool, but it kills me inside. I have a strong distaste for social media. I want to talk to people about stuff, instead of a quick five-second glance at something I made and then scrolling past it. I think social media prevents us from looking deeply into things, but it’s also the tool I have to put stuff out there because everyone is so busy, it seems.
J: Do you feel like you’re dependent on it now?
L: A little bit, yeah. I’m trying to fight against that. I’ve been thinking about doing performance art on the street, because obviously if you see somebody out there doing some weird stuff, you’re probably going to stop where you’re walking and pay attention, but that’s all a work in progress. I just want to hold people’s attention, and that’s hard with social media.
J: Yeah, I think it’s so difficult because it’s the primary way we get our content out there and self-promote work that would otherwise go unnoticed. But it’s simultaneously difficult to have those deeper conversations and have your work valued.
L: It gets it out there, but the thing that I face most is that while it draws attention to me -- or brings my stuff to a wider audience -- they don’t want what I make. I don’t really sell my original paintings, people just hit me up for commissions. They want what I make, but in and on their own terms and I really don’t like that, so I’ve stopped doing commissions.
J: Definitely seems like the more in-person engagement we cultivate, the better. That sounds very demanding, you’re not a machine!
L: Yeah, I don’t want to be a machine!
J: Changing topics, you mentioned earlier that you’re from Pennsylvania, can you talk more about that and how you ended up in Tacoma?
L: Yeah, Pennsylvania is weird, at least the part that I’m from. It’s incredibly different. It’s super conservative. Trump-supporting. It’s an old coal-mining town and it’s like a vacuum that sucks people in and never leave, but I left.
J: I know, good for you!
L: Yeah, I’m very proud of that. I started doing work-aways, I moved to Canada for a while, and then New York, Vermont, and then Florida. And when I reached Florida, my mom was living there, and we decided to move up here because my sister’s here, and then we eventually found our own ways. I originally went to culinary school and dropped out because I realized I didn’t want to cook anymore. It took me a really long time to make friends here, I think two years.
J: Really? In Tacoma, specifically?
L: Yeah, I’ve also never really made friends before, so this is very new to me.
J: When was it that you got here? Did you feel like there was less of an arts scene that you could tap into?
L: 2014. If there was or wasn’t, I was not aware of it because I was too afraid to leave my house. I was super anxious back then, I didn’t know how to socialize. But about two years in, when I started meeting people finally and got a job, I started noticing the stuff that was going on with Spaceworks. I would always walk past the windows of their gallery, and the museums… So I saw supporting elements, but I didn’t know anything about shows or how to be involved, and I forget how that happened.
J: It just happened!
L: Oh, I remember! My boyfriend at the time was DJing at a show, and I wanted to learn how, so he left me in a room to DJ for the first time. And then people started identifying me as a DJ.
J: What made you to stay in Tacoma?
L: I just kept having relationships that tied me to the place. And some of those failed, but others branched out into friendships, and I got introduced to a whole group of people, eventually finding other circles, and I was like ‘Whoa. Community. This is new.’ Tacoma’s full of that, I think. I’m on the fence about it because it seems cliquey at times, but I think that might be a thing everywhere.
J: Is there something that keeps you here now, five years later?
L: I’m in a relationship that is causing me to learn new things about art and about myself, and so I definitely want to be here and present for that. And I see a lot of moving pieces around Alma Mater, especially. I’m at the first job that I love; I really like it here and I want to be here for it to see what else can blossom out of it. Because it’s only been a year, and we’re bangin’, it’s super cool!
J: There’s so much going on all the time, and you’re involved in a lot of it actually.
L: Yeah, I really like that.
J: Speaking of, one of the things you are doing with Alma Mater is Metamorphosis, your artist workshop. Can you tell me how you came up with that name, what motivated you to start the project, and who you are trying to appeal to, because I know it’s a very welcoming environment that you’re creating.
L: Definitely. So the name grew out of why I found importance in painting. I remember being very alone in Florida, and there wasn’t really anything to do that was all ages. So I was forced to paint and make art somehow, which was a way of taking something of a lower vibration, like anger or loneliness, and turn it into something tangible and sometimes beautiful, and I really liked that process so I kept doing it. I’ve found that to be a very useful tool when dealing with anxiety and depression. I used to be on meds for depression and I got off of them by myself, partially using art, because what else are you going to do when you have withdrawl? I could have done something self-destructive or I could choose to do something that would serve me. So I want to provide people with those same tools and also show them that you don’t have to judge yourself constantly while you are doing something, or live up to somebody’s unrealistic expectations when you’re creating something.
J: Especially as you age, I think things become less approachable and more intimidating, like ‘I’m too old to learn how to ___’.
L: Right? ‘I can’t draw’- I hear that all the time. When was the last time you showed up for it? Don’t shoot yourself down before you actually try the thing. That’s what I find a lot of people to do; just say they aren’t creative. And I guess that’s what my target audience is, those who say they can’t do it, because they haven’t been provided a place where the social structures that have built a wall of ‘you couldn’t possibly do this’ are gone- a judgement-free zone. Just make a mess. I’m here for it and we’ll make it work.
J: With that, as the art community becomes more and more transparent in Tacoma, what value do you think it has?
L: I think allowing people to be truly themselves, and seeing that there’s a bit of something for everybody. My thing is that I’m Axi-Ohm the Alien Bird Boy from Andromeda 5000 and people are here for it, and I’m like ‘Whoa, cool! You can live your dreams too!’ I see people, like my friend, Gabriel, who dressed as the clock tower from Old City Hall, and that’s a thing that people were receptive to. There are ideas that are so very different from anything that I’ve encountered.
J: I agree, it’s weird. I mean, you’ve got Seattle, New York, LA, but then you have these satellite cities that are usually not like this, so invested in the culture and arts.
L: I think people recognize the value of being able to have a place where they can be themselves, and pursue their weird art dreams.
J: Do you have any other advice for those who are still too intimidated to explore their artist potential?
L: Yeah, my biggest thing is just make a mess and make as many crappy things as you can. Not intentionally crappy, but if you find yourself going into a painting and you’re not even a fourth of the way done, but you’re already beating yourself up about it- just finish it anyways. I have some really bad paintings in my closet that I keep hidden away, but they’re good reminders of where I come from and what it took to build me up to where I am now.
Especially with music. Music can be super hard! I have terrible beats that I made when I first started, but I save them. I still catch myself in the pattern of ‘this isn’t good enough’, but then I’ll listen again after taking a break and usually have a new perception. You might always have self-defeating voices in your head, or maybe you’ll grow out of them, but it’s important to realize that they’re outer construct voices manifesting in your thought patterns, and to just acknowledge them, that they’re not you, move on, and keep doing whatever it is you’re doing.
J: It’s about the process! Is there a way for people to keep up with yours?
L: Yeah! I have a website, www.hellomisterohm.com, I have Soundcloud and Spotify under Axi-Ohm (the hyphen is very important), and IG @lucien_vedego.
Some photos are credited to Deer Creek Media.