Artist Luka Dziubyna Transforms the 2nd Floor of the Old Case Funeral Home into the Region’s Newest Art Gallery

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Artist Feature,   From Issue 918   By: Robert E Martin

26th August, 2021     0

“When you can’t pretend it’s something it’s not, you might as well embrace it.”

Such is the way artist & filmmaker Luka Dziubyna describes his latest venture - The Embalming Room Art Gallery. Located at 413 Adams St. in Old Town Saginaw within the second floor embalming room of the old Case Funeral Home, Luka’s vision for establishing this latest addition to the Old Saginaw Westside Business District evolved out of a combined love for the building, coupled with a desire to advance the artistic legacy of Saginaw’s Old Town district while also affording him  studio space to create new oil paintings.

“I always thought this was one of the most beautiful buildings in Old Town,” reflects Luka. “As a kid living in America one of the first funerals I attended was in this building and it always made a big impression on me. Back in 2015 they were still doing embalming on the second floor, until they closed the entire building in 2016.  I had done shows in San Francisco and Chicago for 6 or 7-years on a more professional level and was looking for some new studio space.”

When Ann Arbor architect and Saginaw preservationist Alex DeParry purchased the building, deciding to open it for leasing business space, Luka contacted him saying he needed some studio space to clean his brushes.  “Alex said that he had the perfect room with three sinks in it,” continues Luka. “I walked in here and smelled the fumes and said, ‘This must be the old embalming room’.  But the more I looked at it, not only did it have really large ceramic sinks, but it offered the perfect space and lighting for utilizing as both a studio and a gallery.”

“I also learned that in World War II, thousands of bodies came through here because it was a main destination for preserving bodies before shipping them anywhere in Northern Michigan,” he adds. “But I really like it because it affords me a nice working space where I can also stage one new theme show per month.”

For his first Theme Show & Gallery Opening Luka is creating original oil paintings based around the characters and themes of Star Trek that will be held Sunday, September 5th from 5:00-9:00 PM. “The idea is to stage a different Theme Show on the first Sunday of every month from 5 to 9 PM.  I also might have some younger talented kids that I’m working with stage some shows in-between.”

Luka says the origins of his painting career began when his grandfather, who is the owner of Cebula Jewelry on N. Hamilton St, got him interested in oil on canvas painting when he was about 14-years old. “After studying art in Poland, I studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco back in 2010. After getting out of the military, I graduated and did a couple shows a year in the North Beach district of San Francisco  and also in Chicago. I’ve also staged shows in Europe and have collectors of my work living here in the United States as well as Europe.”

“I look at this as a prison sentence in a way,” he laughs. “What I mean is that usually I travel nine months out of the year and the majority of my last 4-years were spent in Portugal, but when Covid kicked-off I found myself locked down along with the rest of the world so was asking myself I could do with the rest of the year while I was grounded.”

“I decided I could sit around like everybody else, not work, and gain 25 pounds, or I could get really busy.  I’ve always felt if life makes it easy for you to be lazy, then that’s when you need to become most busy.”

With a one-year least on the studio, Luka says his intentions are to create 20 finished pieces of work each month for each of the 12 shows he will stage in 2021-22, admitting that it can be a challenging task given that he only has half of the paintings for his Star Trek Opening exhibition sketched out. “But I work fast,” he adds. Some pieces are more refined than others and once sketched properly a lot of the work is just throwing colors.”

“I prefer this method, because once you have a representation of the subject you are painting, the payout is when you can see far away that it looks like a picture while knowing who the person or subject is up-close, when you can actually see the brush strokes.”

“I mix my palette for executing that sort of ‘in-the-moment’ type of painting and work 8  or 10 hours at a stretch,” he continues. “Mainly I work upon a little instinct and hold to the rules of cast and form shadow to define what the work needs and I only work in oils because I’m more comfortable with them. I can mix the paint thicker or do whatever it needs. You’ll find that most art galleries tend to feature oil and not acrylic paintings because I think the paints last longer. With watercolor you’ve got to frame everything because it’s created on paper, whereas with canvas they don’t always require a frame.”

Luka says that he routinely works on many commissioned works and that his new gallery/studio is the first space he has leased in four years.  He is also the first painter that ever did an exhibition for Google at their main headquarters hub in San Francisco. Since finishing school he estimates completing anywhere from 400 to 500 paintings or more.

“The last studio space I had was in San Francisco and I’ve had exhibits where I’ve sold 80% of the show within the first few hours and shows where 30 paintings were featured and I didn’t sell one in a whole month., so the moral of the story is you have to paint for yourself and have to love what you do, otherwise, why do it?  Plus, it makes you a judge of what is successful and what is not.

When asked if there are things in his work that have evolved over time, Luka says he believes that he has a style you can look at and always improve upon. “I like to go from painting really refined and then follow that up with a quick study and force myself to finish a painting in 30 minutes or less. I like to think people get better with the things they do; plus, ultimately I don’t think you ever finish a painting so much as you abandon it. True perfection is so difficult and time-consuming to attain that you will never get it to be exactly what you want, so it’s better to move on to the next project. I think that’s true in filmmaking, too.”

When asked what the biggest challenge has been opening his new studio/gallery, Luka says it’s the uncertainty of knowing whether or not the public will support it. “Art to me is like The Nutcracker, “ he reflects. “A majority of people are not necessarily interested in ballet, but they go to see it everywhere because it’s a Christmas tradition. In San Francisco I could do a show on a Friday or Saturday evening and people would go to dinner and then come to the show, or vice versa. I’m not sure if people are going to stop drinking here to go an art show so I’ve decided to stage in on the first Sunday of every month.”

“My whole thing is to make the work available here affordable for the average person,” concludes Luka.  “Most of my work will be priced between $50 to $600 and I’ll even do payment plans for the average person. That’s about 1/5th what I would get in San Francisco. Kids that have an interest in art can do a show here and I’ve been approached by one parent of an 8-year old child about doing a showing for their work.  The great thing about these ‘quick studies’ is that you can sell them for $50 bucks, which a lot of time people will pay more than for a simple poster.”

“The first week of my show at Google I make something like $18,000,” he notes, adding that most people don’t want controversial art so much as something simple. “It will be interesting to see how important of a thing it is for people to come out here.”



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