I was lucky to grow up with a very artistic background. My German grandfather had to flee Germany in the late 1930s due to his jewish heritage and being a writer against the National Socialist regime. He changed his name from Ernst Morgenroth to Stephan Lackner back then, so my surname is only two generations old. He was a collaborator, supporter and collector of Max Beckmann’s work, and managed to get the paintings out of Germany, to Paris and eventually Santa Barbara, as they were considered “degenerate” and would have been destroyed. So I grew up with that story, and those paintings on my grandparents' walls. It instilled in me that art is and important and truly meaningful endeavor to pursue.
I moved from Berlin to Santa Barbara (100 miles north of Los Angeles) with my family, when I was nine years old. After that we went back every summer and I spent 10th grade and some of my undergraduate college years at the Free University in Berlin. When we first moved, I didn’t speak any English. It was rough, but I learned it quickly, as one does as a kid. But this move gave me an outsider perspective which has helped me throughout my life and my work. It has made me become a close observer of my surroundings, always taking everything in, which has also been part of my painting practice.
I make paintings which focus on the phenomena of my surroundings and landscape in terms of atmosphere, color, shape and light. They are oil and acrylic on canvas, often using silver or gold leaf as a reflective element which bring the natural light back into the work. I start with watercolors to work out my ideas, they become quite elaborate, and then I make oil or acrylic paintings from those.
I started by painting representational oil paintings, capturing the Berlin subway stations, focusing primarily on how artificial light abstracts the interior spaces. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2004, I looked for different yet familiar subject matter, settling on the night sky. The dense atmosphere of LA’s night sky has similar attributes to an interior, where the lower region close to the streetlights appears as a closed space, but is then contrasted by the open sky above. The different degrees of moisture in the air interact with the bright and colored lights (from traffic lights, billboards, advertisements, headlights, street lights, domestic lights, helicopters and lunar light) resulting in an endless amount of color variations in the atmosphere. Through that I came to making cloud paintings on silver leaf, introducing an element of reflection into the work, that makes the work itself change depending on time of day and lighting. It came from the investigation of altered vision by darkness, and how would that look in daylight. Coming out of the Cloud Paintings, I painted abstract aerials, where I tried to capture the motion of water as seen from above and in an abstract way through small oval markings, color bands and diaphanous layers. I experimented a lot with shapes and colors and was making smaller oil on panel paintings, comprised of geometric shapes that echo circles and pyramids. In my “Linear Landscapes” series, my emphasis has been in landscape painting with a bent towards abstraction because my true interest lies in how we see color, light, and atmosphere. It’s all about how the color, and their intensity works on the eye. In 2020, I started my “Twilight Series”. Each major shift in my work comes from the pervious series. I work slowly, but I work a lot, and one series always comes out of what I was working on before.
I paint from photos but they serve more as a loose guide than something to copy. The photo is important in the drawing of the painting, but when it comes to finishing the painting, I let the paint do what it needs to do in order to become a compelling painting. I also like to figure out what a painting can do which a photo cannot, and what the differences in the two mediums are.
I enjoy studying the observed colors and then getting as close as possible to the natural color, or deviating from it for effect. This all came out of a fascination of taking photos and painting from them, but then wondering how is the color we’re seeing actually different — what are the things that photos are not so great at capturing, and that’s usually atmospherics, clouds, and darkness.
I spend a lot of time studying observed color and color theory, and making studies which take the form of abstract color bars. That’s where the colored lines in the Twilight series comes from. I find it endlessly fascinating how the same colors can appear differently next to different colors and to get both a harmony and a contrast within the same painting. Contrasting colors next to each other produce the illusion of brightness and make up the twinkling lights. The lights can also convey a distance through a slight color shift as they recede into pictorial space. Traditionally objects in the distance become bluer due to atmospheric perspective, but that is not the same for the night sky, so I had to investigate what it in fact does. Los Angeles’ night sky is very specific color range because of the vastness of the city’s reflecting lights into the atmosphere next to the ocean often tinges it purple and orange.
I live in Eagle Rock, which is the most north east corner of LA. When the pandemic hit in March 2020 and we were all grounded, I decided to paint the view from our deck for the first time, even though we have lived here for 12 years. Before that, I’d search out landscapes to paint: Big Sur, Death Valley, Yellowstone in order to get unusual landscape colors into my paintings. Then it just struck me that what I was looking at every evening from my deck, that precise moment after the sun has set, the slight variations of color in the sky, was exactly what I was searching for before. And the wonderful thing that has happened is that “my view” seems so familiar to a lot of people living in LA. There’s the hills, the palm trees, the twinkling lights, and of course the sunsets.
I think the last two years have been incredibly hard for everyone. I was lucky in that my studio is part of my house, so working from home was not a big adjustment. However, the uncertainty of everything from health to what would happen to the art world was very disconcerting. I valued the amount of time I had in the studio to focus on painting, but I’m also so relieved that things are getting back to a semblance of normalcy.
“Evening Mile: The Paintings of Julika Lackner” is up until May 1, 2022 at the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale. It shows 17 of my paintings, mostly from my Twilight Series with a few earlier work for historical context to show where the different elements originated from. There are three site specific paintings of the view from Forest Lawn Museum. The museum is open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am to 5pm, free admission and free parking.
Julika Lackner was born in Berlin in 1980. She moved to Southern California with her family in 1989 and returned to Berlin for part of high school and undergraduate school. She has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2004. In her work, she focuses on the phenomena of landscape in terms of atmosphere, color, shape, and light. Her recent Twilight Series focuses on North East Los Angeles in the evening hours as her subject matter. She has a BFA from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2001) an MFA from the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena (2006). Her work has been shown at galleries and museums throughout the US and Australia.