Photo by Adam Ewing
It took only one trip to Andre Lucero's Goochland studio for B.J. Kocen to recognize the artist's talent and agree to represent him at Glave Kocen Gallery in Richmond. "I'm really impressed with his work," Kocen says. "When he does an impressionistic piece of art, he tips his hat to the Old Masters."
What the gallery co-director saw as he looked around the studio's moss-colored interior were dozens of paintings, some hanging and others neatly stacked against the walls. He immediately realized Lucero's deep passion for his work. "He has shaped his life around his art," Kocen says.
That was Lucero's goal from the beginning. "In my life I've always followed what I love to do," he says. "Painting was my thing. I didn't give concern to money or a career."
Born in Tehran, Iran, to a U.S. military family, Lucero grew up in Springfield, when his father was stationed at the Pentagon. His interest in art was sparked early on; as a child, others recognized his budding talent, he recalls. "They would tell me, ‘This is your thing.' "
Lucero's art was showcased at the prestigious Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., after he won awards in Scholastic Art competitions during his junior and senior years at West Springfield High School. That was a special moment, he says. "It was an honor to have it displayed in a beautiful place like that."
Lucero honed his skills at the Maryland Institute in Baltimore with artist Jacques Maroger, who dedicated his life to researching and replicating the Old Masters' techniques, and with John Bannon at Northern Virginia Community College, who taught him a traditional Renaissance-era technique to creating contemporary art. "That really laid a foundation," Lucero says.
At Virginia Commonwealth University, he majored in illustration, winning the first Mallory Callan Memorial Scholarship during his junior year. Illustration was a pragmatic choice because it was the only track teaching a traditional painting approach, allowing Lucero to continue his fine-arts training. All of the illustrations he completed were oil paintings in full color.
After his 1989 graduation, he landed some plum assignments at the New York Times and Playboy, but the work didn't live up to Lucero's expectations. "It was more about business and less about art," he says. He became increasingly frustrated, and after 10 years, decided to quit commercial illustrating cold turkey and focus on fine art. "One of my goals from youth was to never have a job," he says. "If you enjoy what you do, you never feel like you are working at a job. It was the right time to do it."
Lucero and his wife, Erin, married in 1997, two years before he plunged into painting full time. She remembers the day he made the switch. "He went out to paint plein-air [outdoors] for the first time in a long time," she says. "I was amazed with the painting he came home with. It's hanging in my office today."
Lucero finds joy in plein-air painting because it allows him to discover new locales. "That keeps my painting fresh," he says, noting that he packs his paints on all of his vacations. "I've painted in Maine, Ireland and Italy, and I keep talking about France. Hopefully that is next on the list." In October, he attended the Colorado Mountain Plein Air Festival.
Erin describes her husband as "very disciplined" about his art. He works in his studio just about every day. "He's happiest when he's painting regularly," she says. "Sometimes he gets blue if the weather keeps him from painting outdoors, and Virginia's winters seem very long to him. He's always on the lookout for the first signs of spring."
Lucero was hooked on the property in Goochland the minute he spotted its wildflower meadows and lily-pad-topped pond. "I knew in my heart that this was the place for us," he says. "The view from the house opens up to the sky and down the hill to our pond, which is surrounded by large trees."
A thoroughbred farm the couple visited a few years ago inspired the studio's barnlike exterior. Lucero envisioned the studio down to its smallest details. "He knew what color he'd paint the walls, and stain the cross beams and the floor," Erin says. "He personally saw to those finishing touches himself. I did have some input on the exterior color."
Inside, the vaulted tray ceiling and exposed beams give the studio a warm, homey feel. Along with the artwork, the spacious room houses a variety of props and costumes used by Lucero's models. Most of the items are neatly hidden behind a small screen that serves as a resting place for a pair of pink ballet slippers. The corner of the room holds a collection of the artist's hats. "It's a must for a plein-air painter to wear a hat," Lucero jokes.
For Lucero, painting is about having fun and not about painting to someone else's likes and dislikes. "I look for something that is beautiful and interesting to me in hopes there is someone with the same [taste] that would be interested in the work I do," he says.
His paintings, which range in price from $1,000 to $12,500, are mostly landscapes, still lifes and figures. They have caught the attention of several art aficionados like Kocen. Currently, Lucero's work hangs in seven galleries from Massachusetts to Florida. He normally sells between 50 and 70 paintings a year.
J. M. Stringer Gallery of Fine Art in Bernardsville, N.J., has been showing Lucero's art since 2006. "Immediately I could tell I was dealing with a highly professional and talented artist," gallery president John Stringer says of his first introduction to Lucero. "Andre has been featured in annual group exhibitions where he has garnered an impressive core of prominent collectors."
Stringer admires Lucero's desire to continually grow as an artist. "He continues to push himself in his quest to become a more versatile artist, painting landscape, still life and figurative paintings. His work is passionate, employing bold brushwork and brilliant use of color. He is dedicated and hardworking. It's always such a pleasure dealing with Andre. He is a true gentleman."
Lucero's personality is laid back. He never keeps a schedule or a calendar, and he doesn't always have a concept in mind when he's painting. "A lot of plein-air painting happens by chance," he says. "You go to a spot and something will catch your eye."
His success puts to rest any notion of the starving artist. "Every time I hear people's surprise that Andre makes a living doing what he loves to do, I'm reminded how fortunate he is," Erin says. "It's a difficult path, and not many artists are able to build a successful career. He gets so much joy from creating those works, capturing a scene that he thinks is lovely."
Barbara Buhr, director of Warm Springs Gallery in Warm Springs and Charlottesville, says there is a poetic, somewhat idyllic feel to Lucero's art. "[His art] is filled with optimism. The broad, luscious brushwork creates an impressionistic feel."
His painting style and palette are different from my other artists in her gallery. "His paintings fill a niche," she says.
Kocen looks for not only the unique when he represents an artist but also the passion. Lucero has that and more, he says. "He has command of his skills. What he sees in his head, he's going to get on that canvas. He's really a good painter.