Lucas Rocheleau with his dog Ted in front of his immersive art installation. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

This weekend, South River Art Studio presents A Year Within / A Year Without, a solo exhibition by artist Lucas Rocheleau. The mixed-media installation includes paintings, cyanotypes, found objects, and an old camper that will feature a selection of carefully curated soundscapes. 

“Last year I was not very happy with how much art I was making, I spent a lot of time doing things outside of making art,” said Rocheleau. 

After years of instability and indulgence, Rocheleau was in dire need of a system reset. 

And so, in the last couple of years, he has focused on getting sober, he went without social media for a year, committed to a year of celibacy, and has been deepening his art process through paid projects. 

Lucas Rocheleau at South River Arts Studio. Photograph by Isadora Pennington.

Only recently did Rocheleau decide to focus more on telling his own story through immersive art experiences that have the power to convey complex feelings and his storied history through engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions.

To say that the transition from childhood to adulthood was difficult for Rocheleau would be putting it lightly. Originally from Valdosta, Georgia, his life was turned upside down at only 19 when his father suddenly went missing.

As a young man, he and his father had their fair share of differences, and they had grown distant over the years. They had only recently begun to heal their relationship when Rocheleau’s father disappeared. 

In those early years, Rocheleau and his family held onto hope for his father’s return. He moved into his father’s house for several years in order to keep it up during his absence, assuming that one day his father would return. He couldn’t have known then that his family would not get the closure that they so badly craved. 

As a result, Rocheleau spent his early 20s living in that remote home, surrounded by memories of his father and completely, utterly alone. 

With no internet access, he had little to fill his time and eventually, he began to draw. One day he took his drawings to a nearby tattoo shop and they invited him to come back and draw with them again. He was a regular fixture in that tattoo shop for the year that followed. At the age of 22, Rocheleau picked up a brush and started painting as well. 

“It was a good escape for me,” said Rocheleau. Having a sense of direction and a productive artistic outlet helped to carry him through years of self-discovery. 

His path has included cross-country journeys, time spent living in his van, periods of couch-surfing, and an extended stay in an RV park in east Texas, all of which are experiences that add to the complex tapestry that is his life. 

“There is healing in art-making and I think it is absolutely necessary for most people,” continued Rocheleau as we sat across from one another in front of his camper. “When people start making art of any kind they find pieces of themselves that they had lost.” 

With the help of a therapist – and now also his artwork – Rocheleau has worked through many of the mental blocks that have marked his early adulthood. During our interview, he mentioned his official diagnoses, which include CPTSD and OCD, though he certainly does not feel defined by the designation. 

Rocheleau’s artistic career really took off after he visited Atlanta to paint a mural in a private home in the Cotton Mill Lofts. He loved how affordable and accessible it was for artists to live and work here. And so, in 2016, he found a job working at Mosaic Art Supply and made connections with local artists including sculptor and fellow Valdosta University alum William Massey. 

Today, Rocheleau shares a studio with Massey at South River Art Studios. He also paints murals, works in the art department of productions for film and tv, and assists installation artist Megan Mosholder.

When Rocheleau traveled to Pittsburgh with Mosholder to work on an installation for Google he found his way to the Mattress Factory, an installation museum. “It just blew my mind,” he recalled. The experience changed everything and opened his mind to the possibilities of installation art. 

A Year Within / A Year Without is an exploration of both Rocheleau’s artistic vision and his complex internal world. 

When visitors step foot into the tiny camper stationed atop a large square of fake grass in the South River Art Studio space they are confronted by overlapping interactive soundscapes that surround and envelop them.

In the installation, one audio piece plays a recording of an argument that Rocheleau scripted to resemble his parents fighting. Two others simultaneously play supportive and encouraging messages he’s received from friends. It is a cacophonous and encompassing auditory experience.

“It’s very difficult to sit with everything all at once and have a quiet mind,” said Rocheleau. 

These competing audio recordings paired with the scrap metal, furniture, and paintings that surround the camper are all representational of the memories and intrusive thoughts that he lives with on a daily basis. 

“I like installations because I like having the viewer involved,” said Rocheleau. “I like South River specifically because I can have an installation space and then a party happening in an adjacent space where it’s not this serious.” 

Next door, a now-empty studio space will be decked out with Rocheleau’s paintings. He calls his work “Southern Gothic Pop Art,” and indeed there is a charming familiarity in his paintings. 

These oil paintings feature overlapping and juxtaposed text, figures, and graphic elements in a way that is at once haphazard and carefully curated. His painting techniques lend the pieces a hazy, aged look. You could almost imagine each piece as a conglomeration of scraps from the walls of run-down country stores. 

A Year Within / A Year Without will debut at South River Art Studio on Saturday, June 17 starting at 8 p.m. Expect interactive art, a painting gallery, DJs, drinks, and vegan tacos. 

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.