Telegraph Herald: Wanderlust Finds Art
Dubuque native finds inspiration amid COVID-19 capturing his travels on canvas Originally posted in the Telegraph Herald May 21, 2021
Artwork by: Lucas Stoffel Written by: Megan Gloss
Lucas Stoffel has watched world events unfold before his eyes as a New Yorker of more than 20 years.
Relocating from his native Dubuque to the Big Apple in 2000, he was present for 9/11 and the start of the Great Recession in 2007, as well as the day-to-day moments of beauty and chaos that collide living in such a diverse city. But it’s what takes place outside of that city that has been captured by Stoffel’s camera lens in recent years.
“I studied graphic design and theater in college,” the 42-year-old said in a recent Zoom interview. “When I moved to New York, I worked designing for Broadway plays.”
Artwork by: Lucas Stoffel
Then, approximately five years ago, Stoffel’s sense of wanderlust kicked in. Working as creative director in graphic advertising with a roster of big-named clients to pay the bills, Stoffel also dedicated his time toward travel photography for three months out of the year.
Through that work, he has explored such destinations as China, Laos, Taiwan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Bali, Japan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cuba and Hawaii. Just to name a few.
His images have resulted in various New York City exhibitions, in addition to being featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post and Vanity Fair, among other media outlets.
Stoffel launched a Kickstarter campaign in which a portion of the proceeds netted from the purchase of a book of his work would be donated toward a school in Southwest Asia, enabling that school to build a classroom.
However, as the severity of COVID-19’s spread became more apparent in the early weeks of 2020, Stoffel found his work and his travels take a detour. He began the year in Singapore, then though a series of canceled and rerouted flights through other countries, he made it back on New York soil — just as COVID-19 was tightening its grip.
Taoist Temple Dragon, Artwork by: Lucas Stoffel
“I had landed in the epicenter of the pandemic,” Stoffel said. “It was insane. I had to quarantine for two weeks. Friends brought me groceries. Everybody was out of toilet paper.”
From there, it only got worse. “After two weeks, things were pretty devastating,” Stoffel said. “The news was reporting that thousands of people were dying, and it was happening so quickly. I could see where they were taking dead bodies and storing them in a truck across the river. It was a great trauma — and worse, if not more terrifying, than 9/11.” By June, Stoffel was grappling with unemployment, isolation and the reality of his “new normal,” when an unlikely twist of fate occurred.
“Taylor Swift launched a new album, and I couldn’t believe someone was writing songs during a pandemic,” Stoffel said, with a laugh. “But it lit a fire under me. There were still people out there creating. I could spend the rest of the pandemic, which didn’t appear to be ending anytime soon, playing Nintendo games. Or, I could create and snap out of my sadness and my sacredness of the whole thing.”
Between July and August, Stoffel began using photographs he took from his recent travels prior to COVID-19 to inspire a series of vibrant and imaginative paintings.
The large-scale canvases tapping into his use of acrylics depict images of Buddha and Confucius, as well as Vietnamese warrior dances, Balinese dances and other themes that evoke a spiritual reflection.
Stoffel said the creative outlet has provided him with a sense of calm during the relentless uncertainty, as well as a return to inspiration.
“Every day I’d use it to calm myself, but it started to become the start of something creative for me as well,” he said. “It helped me to create again, and it shifted my perception of what the world was to what the world could be.”
Artwork by: Lucas Stoffel
While Stoffel always has counted painting as part of his creative arsenal, he usually credits photography with helping him arrive at a more realistic visualization of how he interprets the world.
However, Stoffel’s shift toward painting as his primary medium in the past year also brought his religious interests to the surface — something evident in his latest work.“My fascination with religion comes out of their collective sense similarities, even though there strives to be a difference of opinion within them,” Stoffel said.
“I grew up Catholic in Dubuque, so my core belief is to do good in the world. But I’ve always felt a strong pull toward Buddhism as a way of life. I think part of that comes from growing up in a smaller community like Dubuque, too, where you have this sense of innate goodness. In New York, it’s not always warm and welcoming. It can be a cold, hard environment.”
Stoffel’s use of color also is apparent. Although bright and bold, it also yields mystery.
“I don’t know where it comes from; it just comes,” Stoffel said. “My mom always said I was a rainbow kid. Everything I’ve created always has been in a rainbow of large, vivid colors.”
While Stoffel said he has no plans to sell the pieces at this time, the vast and varied collection might warrant a possible exhibition in the future.
“Now that I have so much work, I’ll probably have to do a show,” he said, with a laugh. “In the meantime, I have five more large canvases that just arrived today.”