Combining photography and painting in artistic exploration
Steven Llorca has a joke: when what he terms the “economic implosion” happened, he did what everyone did—he became an artist. Like any good joke, that’s only part of the story. What that quip fails to reveal is the shrewd business sense he brings to his career and through work within the Chattanooga community, other artists’ careers.
In 2006, Llorca, then working as the Director of Creative Media for Buckaroo Communications, relocated with the company to Scenic City. He and his wife had lived in Los Angeles since 1999. The move got them closer to family in the Atlanta area. As the company downsized, the East Coast journey also proved opportune timing to turn his focus toward a lifelong hobby: photography.
Llorca has fond memories of the trade’s more old school techniques. The apprentice-like dedication required for learning the balance of temperatures and chemicals in developing film, the slight adjustments in aperture, carry for him an “aspect of behind-the-curtain magician-ship.” However, in the 1990s, he also recognized the craft’s direction toward digital and expanded his professional skills to commercial photography.
Fast forward to the recession. Llorca applied for available positions, but either was overqualified or heard nothing. His hobby become more and more of an attractive, full-time alternative.
“I felt like I owed it to myself to do this,” he said. “Even if it messes up my retirement, I needed to try to be a content 80-year-old. If I didn’t, I knew it would be a life regret.”
Llorca started at the Chattanooga Market, selling his photographs. A two-part business at stevenllorca.com has evolved since. The practical arrangement combining creative services and fine art both nurtures his own artistic exploration and provides a living. For the commercial clients, some of whom he’s worked with for decades, he is a jack of all trades photographer, copywriter and graphic designer. He also offers commercial and portrait photography services ranging from family sessions to headshots.
Artistically, Llorca is headed into more experimental territory. His initial work in Chattanooga adhered to his love of landscape. Viewing his portfolio is a tour of the Scenic City you’ve always seen, but never noticed: the classic shots of the downtown bridges, the mountain bluffs and the Tennessee River’s curves all pictured in stunning color and fervent movement, an energy in the art that matches its subject.
“It’s a good mix of frozen in time aspects and geographically,” Llorca said of Chattanooga. “It’s situated in a unique spot. It’s perfectly aligned for sunsets and sunrises. The other thing is, people are just passionate about it.”
Strategically nodding to that passion, Llorca applied a nano-business philosophy to his work, branding his fine art as part of the niche, hyper-local market. He sells greeting card and even cell phone case reproductions of his Chattanooga images. Though his most recent show, “Artist in Transit” at the Chattanooga WorkSpace Gallery, which included photographs stretched on canvas from a 30-days trip to the Grand Canyon, demonstrates a departure in subject, it rings true of his arresting style. The shift in style appears in Llorca’s growing use of mixed media.
“I’m in my own version of grad school,” he explained. “I don’t feel like I need to spend a lot of money to further my career, but I know I need to spend all the time that people in [grad school] put into it. Part of what I’ve done is use the opportunities in this town.”
Beyond the Chattanooga Market, those opportunities include the Chattanooga WorkSpace and Friends of Local Artists and Galleries, or FLAG. As one of the first in the West 6th Street building, he and fellow early members helped shape its direction, namely including professional amenities such as gallery space and participation in First Friday events.
Like any good grad student, he also leans on his cohort to hone his craft. Llorca is currently concentrating on paints—how they mix and dry and what layering acrylic paints and glazes on manipulated photographs creates. He discovered a few of those new techniques thanks to fellow artists in the Chattanooga WorkSpace building.
“The community nature has helped accelerate and broaden my learning,” Llorca said. “Everyone here has a different story for how they’re making their art.”
The exchange of ideas extends to the more practical aspects of art, like strategies for showing consistently, classes they’ve taken and helping promote each other’s work. The same impetus led Llorca to FLAG, a collective project aimed at helping Chattanooga artists couple their craft with the same kind of business savvy he brings to his own career.
The two-year-old organization connects gallery owners and artists and welcomes anyone interested in art curation. In addition to hosting pop-up shows, group critiques akin to workshops and social events, FLAG was instrumental in the creation of September’s Artist Appreciation Week.
“We wanted to create a movement in the community that fosters artists and the business of art as a sustainable economy. Artists’ careers should be considered viable small businesses and not just the old school stereotype of starving artists or ‘be an artist in your free time.’ There an actual, viable business model.”
That model includes understanding the basics of taxes, how to maintain two separate bank accounts and income streams, how to use reproduction of original work to build an audience—essentially, how to execute a creative goal within a financial structure. It’s a job Llorca has done for clients for 20 years, but he notices the thicker skin he’s grown since those first Sundays at the Chattanooga Market.
He has another joke, this one about direct sales to the public. Looking at his photographs, people often ask what kind of camera he has. Almost as often, people will hear the answer and think out loud that they could what Llorca does if they had the same camera.
“The truth is, you could,” he said. “You just have to learn.”