Kent Lacin

Contagious Color

“How did we sound?”, asks Sofia Lacin, excitedly. The artist and her partner, Hennessy Christophel, have just delivered a speech in their new studio to an intimate group who have supported their most recent project, “Contagious Color”, financially and otherwise. I tell her they sounded great, which they did –confident and natural, almost like a married couple who have mastered the ability to balance each other’s energy in front of a crowd or among friends. Their colorful, new mural on 12th St. in Downtown Sacramento stands out, not just amid the somewhat shabby neighborhood it inhabits, but against the current landscape of mural design in Sacramento. Bold, yet graceful, their designs range from botanical to abstract to geometric, and color always seems to carry the narrative of their paintings.

Together, Lacin and Christophel make up L/C Mural and Design, a partnership responsible for many murals around Sacramento, in addition to San Francisco, Chico, and Los Angeles. They each wear their artistry on their sleeve, possessing that muse or “It Girl” quality, straight out of an art house film. At the event, Sofia’s coif has sort of French New Wave flair, with short, blunt bangs that frame her face, and Hennessy effortlessly pulls off a hot pink sweater and bright teal pant combination. If you ever catch them in the middle of a mural job, like I have, and see them with paint-flecked jeans and faces, you better believe they look just as cool as they do all dressed up. Appearances aside, they’re clearly committed to figuratively painting the town red with every vibrant color imaginable. Rooted in their identities as artists, but open to new directions, the pair is growing their business in exciting ways. All while making this city explode with color in a way that makes Sacramento B.L.C (Before L/C Mural & Design) seem like the dystopian city from The Giver.

We caught up with the artists at their studio event, and asked them all about their working relationship, their secret first mural, and why a little bit of tension is a really good thing.

VANESSA: How did you meet?

SOFIA: We met in junior year of high school. We sort of became best friends and used to kind of daydream about having a business together and then we did our college thing and both studied art and got our degrees and came back to Sacramento and got invited to create a mural. We had never created a mural before but we said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ (Hennessy: We can totally do that). And we did, and the momentum that happened from that first mural is what organically created our career.

VANESSA: When was that first one?

HENNESSY: 2009. Our first one was in 2007 but it wasn’t very good.

SOFIA: We don’t tell anyone where that is.

VANESSA: Is it still up..?

SOFIA: Yes, it is.

HENNESSY: Which is why we’re not going to tell you where it is!

VANESSA: How has your artistic style changed since your first mural?

SOFIA: We started getting the jobs that we could get, because we didn’t really set out to be mural artists. But we just started getting a second job, third job, and they were very commercial and representational. Kind of an old-fashioned idea of a mural. And I think they’re very charming. And I think as we progressed though as public artists, I think, for one, we’ve gotten a lot bigger in scale.

SOFIA: Yeah, the size has changed. We for some reason have no inner limitations, like when we think about a project, we’re not like this seems a little big. I don’t know why, we should probably start feeling that out.

HENNESSY: And I think we’ve done a lot more abstract work lately, especially this past year where we’re really focusing more on trying to capture a mood and a feeling where we’re trying to create and ambiance and an atmosphere, not an image or an illustration of something.

VANESSA: And that was what you were commissioned to do before, a particular image?

SOFIA: Well, we always had a rule that it was very important to us that a client not tell us what to make. That never interested either of us. The design part of what we do – being someone who goes into that space – whether it’s a restaurant or a public space like a tunnel or under a freeway – we like to go and examine it based on its strengths and its weaknesses and go and design it based on that. So I think that it’s not so much that the subject or size is limited, it’s more that it’s really important that our work starts at a really creative, open place where we are the designers.

VANESSA: That’s interesting. So for Contagious Color, the location being kind of in a downtrodden area – was that a strength or a weakness?Photos by Kent LacinSOFIA: It was a strength for a lot of reasons. For one, it provides the most shock value for the transformation itself. It’s sort like, ‘Wow.” If you just look at a four by four, up-close shot of the wall, before and after, it’s really insane how big of a transformation it made. And the other thing is one of the things we love about making public art is the – I hate the word juxtaposition so I’m going to use another word – the um, comparison or the contrast between the people, the space, the noises, the smells, and then the actual fine art work. I love that, and I think it makes our work stronger because I think it gives it a lot of tension.

HENNESSY: I would say that because we try to make every piece site-specific, to have different information around the site is great, it’s always great. Even if it’s like, crappy concrete walls and power lines, that’s still, it’s different from our other projects.

VANESSA: Do you ever, not just play off it, but incorporate it? Like if there’s a tree, do you ever make that part of it?

SOFIA: Yeah, we like to use nature a lot. I feel like people become a really big part of it. Like, what kind of restaurant is it, what kind of tunnel is it? I think people really add a lot to a painting. And that’s what the photography [of Contagious Color] tonight shows. There’s the beautiful painting and then there’s that amazing person and it’s richer together. The most direct way we’ve incorporated nature into our artwork was with the piece named sun, which was a public piece we were commissioned to do for the city of Davis. We finished it in 2011 and it kind of harnesses the power of the sun and creates shadows that interact with the painting. Nature is really woven into our work.

VANESSA: Have you thought about continuing to expand more outside of Sacramento?

SOFIA: We’re actually rebranding at the beginning of this next year. We’re calling ourselves LC Studio Tutto. ‘Tutto’ is a word that means ‘everything’ and ‘all,’ and it really captures our interests and sort of venturing out as designers as well as large scale painters. In LA we designed custom hand-painted wallpaper for this beautiful four-story loft in Venice. And we painted – it’s really cool wallpaper. If I do say so myself!

HENNESSY: Yeah, it’s really dreamy.

SOFIA: Dreamy and so different. It’s really a talking piece. If you’re an entertainer, if you’re someone who likes design, I think having custom, handmade wallpaper that’s painted onto your wall rather than pressed up against it and printed, it’s just a cool thing. So that’s an example of our direction.

VANESSA: Wallpaper is kind of rad, and LA is a good market for it. Good move! In your speech, you mentioned you each have strengths and weaknesses, that you have complementary strengths. What would you say those are?

HENNESSY: Well the way we generally describe it is, you know, Sofi does the abstract painting so it’s larger scale. She’s really tuned into color.

SOFIA: And also totally out of control.

HENNESSY: Yeah, I have to reign in the design sometimes.

SOFIA: Or just me, personally. Hennessy works on a smaller scale and does really intricate pen and ink or washing, and it’s based on detail and focus and precision. And so it’s a dramatically different way of working and I think it really perfectly reflects our personalities. I, for example, was really frustrated with moods that were happening for Contagious Color and I’m cussing and punching the wall. And Hennessy’s like, ‘Hey it’s cool, it’s alright.’ Our strengths and weaknesses are about yin and yang, you know, very complimentary energies.

VANESSA: What’s next in 2015?

SOFIA: We have a lot coming up. This is new. We just finished Contagious Color.

HENNESSY: A few weeks ago.

SOFIA: And that’s our most recent piece other that the wal installation in the courtyard called Hanging Mist. In a week or two, there’s going to be a new piece we created for WAL, which is going on the exterior of the alley way portion of the new building. It’s called Cloud Resting on Wall. That one’s going to be installed in a couple weeks. And then we’ve got Bright Underbelly coming up which is the monster that we’re about to tackle.

VANESSA: And that’s underneath the freeway, right?

SOFIA: Right, that’s the canopy, the underbelly of the freeway.

SOFIA: Yeah, we’re going to get started on that in the beginning of winter. We just have our sights set on large scale, transformative pieces.

VANESSA: What about smaller pieces? Like if people see your work, can they commission you for a painting?

SOFIA: If people are interested in meeting with us and talking about a piece, for anything from a law firm to a restaurant to a public space, we’d want to meet with them in our space. That’s kind of how we run our business. It just helps a lot to get to know someone and understand what their needs are and all the practical underpinnings of a project

VANESSA: So still public, not a home?

HENNESSY: We make exceptions for exceptional residential situations.

SOFIA: If you have a super sweet situation and insanely good taste, we’ll consider it.

HENNESSY: Generally, we like to keep it in the public realm.

VANESSA: Is the thought behind that that it takes a ton of your time?

SOFIA: I think it’s just more interesting to work in public spaces because there’s so many more – there’s environmental factors, like it’s being used generally. Like the freeway is holding your car that you’re driving to your mom’s house on, and that’s cool that we’re painting that, there’s something interesting about that kind of pairing. And if you’re putting a painting in your house – which, I do, I like canvas paintings – that’s good in a different way. But as a team, we’re more interested in environments. We’re really open, we’re interested in working –

HENNESSY: …in tutto! All.

SOFIA: Yeah, in tutto. That’s right.usHennessy ChristophelSofia Lacin

Photos | Kent Lacin