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Native Greensboro artist returns home to Revolution Mill studio

I’ve watched Jan Lukens stick to his goals for years despite the many twists and turns his career has taken. We were studying commercial art and advertising design in 1978 when he took a job as an art director for an ad agency. In 1980, after working for a few agencies, he began freelancing as a graphic designer and then as an illustrator until 1992 when he left advertising after feeling burned out.

Lukens had an idea that people who owned horses would be interested in paintings of their horses. He called a dressage trainer who referred him to Parker Minshin, who not only invited him to her stables but also helped him select, groom and pose horses for his reference photography. “That was my first break, back in 1992,” Lukens said. “I did several spec paintings, framed them, printed up business cards and became a horse show vendor.”

Yet, he left his first two shows in Blowing Rock and Asheville with no commissions. 

When Lukens visited his friend, Pattie Harris Boden, an art director who rode hunters (a type of horse in competitive horseback riding), she noted that few horse painters could paint people as well as he did and suggested he paint a girl with a horse. Minshin was happy to have him paint her 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer, with her hunter. This painting landed him three commissions at a Raleigh horse show and a new client, Joanne Boyd.

Lukens recalled the day he photographed Boyd with her horse, “she liked my work and said if I came to Birmingham, Alabama, she’d throw a cocktail party and invite her equestrian friends.” Three months later, Lukens left that party with 13 portrait commissions. 

“That’s when I realized I could make a career out of this,” he said. “I owe my success in equestrian portraiture to a handful of generous, influential people who just wanted to help me succeed. Parker and Joanne were the first.” He added, “I enjoyed the equestrian community, painting portraits, and being outside with the horses. My new career really suited me.”

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REVOLUTION MILL CREATES RESIDENCY FOR LOCAL ARTISTS

 

The current political climate seems sure to bring about some amazing protest art, but in Greensboro, local artists will have the revolution brought to them. The new Artist In Residency Revolution (AirRev) program at Revolution Mill gives politically and socially critical artists of the Triad a work space, resources and a platform from which to share their work with others.

AirRev is in the middle of its first season, which began in February and will end in May. The residency gives participants four months of reduced rent in a 1,774 square foot studio space shared with local artists of all stripes, including painters, poets, and filmmakers. AirRev Program Director Rachel Wexler conducted interviews with area artists to tailor the residency to their needs.

“A lot of them expressed a need for building an artist community of folks who are newly graduated,” said Wexler. “There are several arts programs at universities here in Greensboro, so there’s a young arts community, but there’s not enough space to work.”

The first season of AirRev hosted both group arts projects, like Paper 2 Film and the Greensboro Mural Project, as well as solo artists, including Lavinia Jackson, Terri Shalane, Larry Wright, and Kori Sergent.

The AirRev artists come from different backgrounds and favor different mediums, but all are current locals, and all have an element of socio-political commentary to their art. The AirRev program sought out applicants who represented marginalized groups, and whose work encouraged community engagement.

“One of the program requirements is giving back to the community. That may mean giving back to Revolution Mill itself, or to the Greensboro community as a whole,” said Wexler. “Lavinia works with disabled veterans. The Greensboro Mural Project does murals throughout town and builds engagement around the content of those murals.”

Resident artists gain access to Revolution Mill resources, as well as 24/7 access to the studio space. That means there’s no such thing as a typical work day.

“Usually half the artists are here at night,” said Sergent. “There’s not really an average day because we all have jobs.”

Artists often find themselves in the studio in groups of two or three, painting or typing away at odd hours of the night. Sergent, whose mixed media art deals with the fragile state of women’s rights in modern America, said working near the other residents has informed her own creations.

“It’s really inspiring to be around so many different types of artists,” she said.

Participants are required to spend at least 15 hours per week working in the studio, but Sergent estimates that most spend between 20 and 40 hours. Fitting in studio time can be difficult, but some residents view their hours at the Mill as a retreat from the outside world, a haven where they can reflect on their daily life and find meaning in that raw material.

“My art is a representation of me, my blackness, my feelings, and most importantly my babies. It’s me trying to escape,” said Terri Shalane, a resident who uses her paintings to bring awareness to overlooked mental health issues in the black community. “I have also been working on having events that will empower people of color and give them a place where they can show their art.”

The outreach efforts of Shalane, Sergent, and the other AirRev participants join the work of other local groups trying to grow the Triad’s art scene. It seems to be working: Sergent chose to move to Greensboro based on the city’s creative reputation.

“My boyfriend and I had the choice of moving to Greensboro or Savannah, Georgia,” Sergent explained. “I wanted to come here. I love how focused Greensboro’s artists are.”

The second round of residency applications opened March 1, with the second season to start in July. Wexler aims to make future seasons of AirRev a little more structured and a lot more affordable.

“Residents pay $100 a month for the space. In my ideal world, we’d be paying them,” said Wexler.

Wexler wants to set up an exchange in which a local businesses could sponsor a residency in exchange for commissioned work from the artist, be it a mural, an art installation or a workshop.

“In the next round of applications, we’re hoping people can apply for these client-based projects,” said Wexler. “We’re trying to get the word out.”

Client sponsorships would be sure to draw in more talented locals who may have been discouraged by the program’s initial cost. But even with the current rent, Sergent said she has gained valuable experience from connecting with other artists who differ from her personally, but share her passion for the craft.

“I think that’s the best part of a residency,” said Sergent. “It’s about being with like minded people who are on the same grind as you, who still work on art when nothing is saying you have to be an artist.”

Applications for the second season of AirRev are open now through April 15. For more information about AirRev or to apply, visit www.revolutionmillgreensboro.com.

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REVOLUTION MILL CHURNS FORWARD INTO PHASE II

The folks behind the revitalization of the old Revolution Mill property are moving forward again, this time with even bigger and better projects. The property will continue its growth as a small business center, but with additional emphasis in Phase II on making this a destination property for work, home and recreation.

Nick Piornack, Business Development Manager for Revolution Mill, said initial work on Phase II of the project began this past spring, but things were really picking up steam now.

“The project is slated to run up to about $100 million by completion,” he said. “Once this phase is done, we’ll have about 520,000 sq. feet of renovated space under roof.”

He explained that the original Phase I development plan for the property renovated about 130,000 sq. feet of the property into office space.

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In the News: Revolution Evolution

An iconic structure from Greensboro’s past as a textile empire continues its renovation for a second life as a mixed used complex.

Revolution Mill is part of a nearly two million square foot campus hidden away just blocks from State Street and Greensboro County Club.

Brothers Moses and Ceasar Cone started Revolution Mill in the 1890s after realizing that it would be easier to process the raw materials needed to make denim and other textiles closer to where the cotton was grown. Cone Mills operated the building until 1982.

Revolution Mill is symbolic of Greensboro’s history as a textile capital. Historic preservation efforts led by Self-Help Ventures Fund of Durham and architect Eddie Belk, are continuing to turn the space into a business and residential center with a style that fuses industrial and modern.

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