Solar Lu ’24 Combines “Mystical” Style and Realistic Portraiture to Comment on Identity

Named Suffocation, the painting’s expression, careful depiction of the eyes, and the interplay of light with the transparent plastic wrap creates a powerful effect where the painting seems to stare directly at the viewer.

Plastic wrap stretches over half of Solar Lu ’24’s face as they fix their gaze beyond the canvas. Their features depicted in acrylic paint, this self-portrait, titled “Suffocation,” displays Lu’s signature combination of symbolism with realistic portraiture.

“I like playing with expression and how we can use values, colors, and angles… Because right now I’m pretty young as an artist, I’m experimenting with a lot of things,” said Lu.

Lu works exclusively in traditional art, preferring tangible paper and canvas over digital artwork. Lu has seven years of experience in oil painting, has dabbled in pencil and colored pencil, and now mainly works with charcoal and watercolor in addition to playing around with other unconventional media. According to former Art-505 classmate Abbie Cheng ’23, their style of experimentation and expression-centered portraiture is something that sets their art apart from others.

“Solar’s style is unique because they can depict realism in a mystical way. They have mastered portraits of people and add another layer of emotion with a variety of colors and strokes. Solar’s style is also so versatile as they can convey a similar vibe with watercolor, acrylic, and even dry mediums like charcoal,” Cheng wrote in an email to The Phillipian.

Last spring at Andover, Lu took Art-505 (Advanced Drawing, Painting, and Mixed Media), taught by Rita Obelleiro, Instructor in Art. Lu expressed that the class pushed them to develop and broaden their artistic ideas and further experiment with many mediums and styles. A technically and thematically skilled painting, their final project, “Suffocation,” was a large acrylic self-portrait on wood portraying the stress Lu was feeling at the time.

“I think [Ms. Obelleiro] really helped me develop my ideas, and all the prompts were really broad and open, so it really depended on yourself to come up with creative prompts and how you can manipulate the materials… I got to experiment with more things… and I got more comfortable with different mediums,” said Lu.

While Lu initially used their art as a creative outlet, their work has broadened and evolved into a method of activism. Using color, value, and various forms of media to depict messages about both societal and personal topics, Lu, having lived in Singapore, China, and the U.S., has integrated themes of intersectional race and ethnicity, convergence of cultures, technology, and climate change in their work. 

“It started off as self-expression and being something that helped me convey my words because I was a very quiet kid. I was really shy, so I didn’t speak a lot, so art was my way of having a voice… As I’m growing older, I can use art to help people as well, to raise a message to people to realize things, or notice things that they wouldn’t on their own… But it’s important to remember that art should be first coming from yourself, so I think activism from within [is important], rather than trying to say something to others before saying something to yourself,” said Lu.

Looking forward, Lu is hoping to take Art-505 again and further develop their art style by experimenting with more unconventional media such as Plexiglass, mirrors, various textures, and even trying integrating music with art. Another ongoing overarching goal of Lu’s is to improve and develop their art concepts.

“I know that’s something I’m always working towards, just bettering my concepts… bettering that bridge, that connection between I want to say this versus I’m going to depict this.“ said Lu.

Editor’s Note: Abbie Chen ’23 is an Illustration Associate for The Phillipian.