Born in Kastoria, Macedonia, Greece, Lucas Samaras immigrated to the United States at the age of eleven. Of the generation of iconoclastic artists that includes Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Claes Oldenburg and Andy Warhol, he stands out as the most difficult to characterize. 'His excursions into minimalism and post-minimalism, expressionism and neo-expressionism, surrealism, environments, assemblage, body arts, decorative arts, and photography have, in every instance, altered or expanded existing perceptions of those modes,' writes curator Dianne Perry Vanderlip.
This fundamental experimentalism spilled over into all parts of his artistic practice. Samaras was untrained as a photographer, and therefore carried within him none of the technical rules that restrained others. The immediacy of Polaroid materials suited his working methods and emotional makeup. He approached the print in the same way he might a painting or sculpture; he was a very hands-on artist.
His first use of Polaroid materials was in 1969, after having acquired a Polaroid 360 camera. It was then that he began his series of AutoPolaroids, self-portraits that featured physical interventions in the print as the image developed. During the early 1980s he was given permission to use Polaroid’s 20-by-24 inch camera, which was at one point installed in his New York apartment, as well as a massive room-sized 40-by-80 inch Polaroid camera which is housed in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.
In 1983, a major touring exhibition of his groundbreaking work in photography, and particularly with the Polaroid process and materials, traveled from the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, to the International Center of Photography, New York, with roughly ten other stops in between.
This large scale Polacolor assemblage was once in Sam Wagstaff’s collection; it then passed to the artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and was eventually sold in his collection sale in 1989. The lily flowers represented here were a favorite of Mapplethorpe’s and it is easy to imagine this hanging in the artists’ studio loft.