Who is Lush, and What the Hell is He up to?
Lush, for those unaware – is an Australian graffiti writer whose pieces have evolved from standard wildstyle letterforms founded on humorous narratives and characters to also incorporate 3d installations, dioramas and video work expanding on and highlighting the inner workings of graffiti culture and its various tropes.
The now very concrete ‘Post-Graffiti’ or ‘Urban Art’ movements (see Graffuturism) within graffiti have come to act as perfect transitional phases for writers looking to expand their work beyond 2d wall painting and into the gallery. Is it now time to look at Lush in this progressive light given his explorative standpoint and because of this ask…
In our previous interview with New Zealand based writer / post-graffiti artist Askew One he describes Post-Graffiti as “the work being made both inside and outside by artists that came from a traditional graffiti background into making art outside of that paradigm”.
As a methodology by which we can look at Lushs work, I take it that the current Post-Graffiti movement appears to find its parameters in a number of ways;
1. Those who have evolved their letterforms or focused their letters into pure abstraction in geometric or gestural forms (Does / Remi Rough / Matt W. Moore / Anti-Statik / Wais / Poesia Augustine Kofie etc)
2. Those who concentrate their efforts in erratic sculptures, mirroring the found objects and shapes seen in industrial landscapes (Carlos Mare / Moneyless / Kidghe / Graphic Surgery / Revok etc)
3. Representational work most often based around characters (How & Nosm / Askew One / Elliot Francis Stewart / Berst / Horfee )
Disclaimer: Here I have to give credit to Graffuturism for their undying progressive stance and dedication to this kind of work, but these categories are my own.
Murdock: Introduce yourself and give us a little bit of background as to how you get started?
Lush: Ayo! I’m Cope3 from the bronx. Yo I had shit on smash subways to streets b. Got started in them yards my son. Crushing the lines my jabroni. Trucks, buses, airplanes, taco stands and even homeless people my chicken saute.
We can then (broadly) divide Lushs work into a number of categories, each with its own distinct character:
1. That which focuses on how a culture treats itself.
This category features perhaps the majority of Lushs work to date and details the behaviour of the graffiti community towards itself; its rules and characteristics. This has been led by stark pen drawings but has evolved recently into video / performance work, which we will cover next.
The aim of these simple drawings is to provide a simple outline sketch of those parts of graffiti we know to be true, but are almost exclusively known by writers themselves. These are the things that the ‘100 best graffiti artists’ etc. type books will not tell you. They are the inner workings of the mindset that wants to put itself on an area, they are born from a practical assessment of an environment and possible materials. They provide the explanatory ‘how’ to the aesthetic conclusion of graffiti, they are the part the media doesn’t see.
Where Tilt created the ‘Endless Obsession‘ video piece focusing on the circular lifestyle of the graffiti writer, Lushs work in this section highlights certain unspoken behaviours or possibilities in our scene, an example in the video below shows a comedic take on the reprecussions that come from dogging someone elses work.
As we’ll see in later sections, by acting out these scenarios through neutral characters this inherent cultural ‘rule’ is allowed to come forth as an object-in-itself and become the main message of the video, the characters simply lending some humour to it.
Murdock: Away from your spray paint based stuff your work seems to highlight and play on a lot of the tropes and behavior within the graffiti community, what led you do start doing this?
Lush: I haven’t really been drawing much of this lately, mostly doing recycled prints I find in thrift stores because I have child support to pay and a car loan on my Trans Am.
But as to why I was doing it? I guess no one else was doing it and the things I’ve overheard or been a part of were retarded enough to deserve being put onto paper in a comic form.
Why is this important to graffiti?
Simply put, there is no-one else that is doing it (to my knowledge). There is a huge void in graffiti culture that could act as boundless inspiration for making even the slightest of contemporary work and Lush, despite not aiming it at the contemporary art world (and most probably directly away from it) has picked up on this. Yes our primary focus is letters, but as all writers know they come at the very end of the journey, they are the first thing you draw but the last thing executed..and within that gulf of distance lies all the plotting, rituals and conversation that make up the actual physical movements of our culture. You need only look at the huge erratic breadth of his work to see how rich our world is for work based on things other than letters.
2. That which focuses on the wider elements in ‘illegal’ mark making
The second category focuses on the wider elements of illegal mark making, where modern graffiti is let go and the attention to the literal definition of graffiti is focused upon; ‘writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place’. This has a number of different outlets, including the more recent diorama pieces and certain video pieces.
Lush takes some time out from graffiti to catch up on some….’graffiti’?
Past his video work lush delved into creating dioramas showcasing graffiti on a miniature scale – this started with torn open spray cans with figures painting trains and has steadily moved through a number of different scenes to somewhat rest at ‘vandalized’ paintings. These distill graffiti into a visual microcosm and allow for a conveyance of the totality of the act of graffiti outside of actually doing it. By recreating scenarios which could potentially exist in the real world on static representations of the real world Lush detaches the act of graffiti from its existence in a lived in, real time space and a concern for the wider acts of illegal mark making is illuminated.
Whereas the dioramas and previous video work divorce these inherent cultural behaviours from their immediate perpetrators and instead treat them as ‘objects-in-themselves’ that can be lifted and transferred to any characters in place or time the set of video work under this second category have them reattached from a slightly different angle.
What’s in Gramps trolley today?
The short lived ‘Gramps’ video and image series was an example of this reattachment and acts as a way to explore the lifestyle question of ‘will I paint when i’m old’. The Gramps character here becomes a conduit for the wider concern of what it would be like if the elder generation took up graffiti / the more conservative sections of the general public and to a larger extent what would the world look like if everything were covered in graffiti. By doing this Lush allows us to speculate on the actual act of illegal mark making without its attachment to what we already assume (media driven) or know about those individuals and groups who do it.
‘Ever wondered who the knob that tags cock n balls was’ / ‘Mr Scribble and the buff
The next videos are an example of Lush’s more abstract character led videos, where he adopts non-human personalities to essentially the same end as Gramps, but in a more abstract fashion. ‘Ever wondered…’ is probably my favourite video of his to date, as there’s nothing not hilarious about penis graffiti…imo.
Why is it important to graffiti?
Again, because no-one inside pure graffiti culture is creating video pieces on the primal nature of mark making as a standalone object. You have artists like Jose Parla with his huge, beautiful paintings – where the inspiration of them comes directly from the personal history pronouncements of graffiti culture and its expressive hand style but he long ago passed into the contemporary art world, and if anything could be seen as acting the final destination of the post-graffiti movement.
Jose Parla – ‘Victory’
Murdock: What is your process?
Lush: Process? I use a pen to write nonsense and lazily ink the drawings related to it. Just regurgitated shit from my own past experience or others experiences I’ve heard about while doing graffiti.
3. That which focuses on how the public react / peoples perceptions of Street Art
This final category is two-fold, there’s heavy representation on the public reaction to graffiti (post-style wars) itself and also the worldwide popularity of ‘Street Art’ (or Banksy, the two have unfortunately become synonymous). These sections could be used to further bolster the argument of how Lush is still, at his very core, a graffiti writer despite however much his work can cross over aesthetically into other ‘genres’.
How to deal with an anti-graffiti hero
This is a simple video, but a theme I’ve never ever seen explored in graffiti before. If we were reading into it, we could say that the confidence graffiti gives you is a pure body confidence, akin to those martial artists and athletes feel. After all, how can there be any kind of hesitation when what is seen as ‘true’ graffiti has not only breaking and entering, but prolonged breaking and entering at its core.
Reading graffiti out loud in public
This video is a another slightly tangental move for Lush, and could indeed fit into the previous category in it’s interest in the more primal forms of illegal mark making. I’ve chosen to put in this one as in it Lush acts as an observer, and thus takes on the role of the unknowing (aka the public / those uninitiated to the workings of our world).
Why is it important to graffiti?
It forms the 3rd part of the triad of methods of how Lush looks at graffiti culture (or modern-stylized-letterbased-illegal-markmaking-culture). By looking from the audiences perspective, it differentiates from the other two as taking on the perspective of the pure outsider, something which writers by virtue of their act alone cannot care about. It allows for a certain moral dimension within the work that outside of pure visual depiction (Sever etc.) isn’t explored, but why would it be? Writers aim to subvert (whether this comes from an inherent care is a different discussion) and the inclusion for recorded ‘performance’ pieces exploring morality in graffiti is a new one certainly.
Whilst Lush still very much inhabits graffiti world, his recent forays into video and 3d work go far beyond what we would classify as traditional modern graffiti (I take this as starting from the popular american school ala ‘Style Wars’ etc) and have come to rest in a place that is not quite street art, nor contemporary art or post-graffiti but that which has transcended using 2d forms as a primary visual medium and instead acts around an ‘essence’ of graffiti for his work. This ‘essence’ of graffiti meaning the broader sense of the encompassing illegal acts surrounding graffiti; markmaking, racking, breaking & entering etc.
What, to Lush, is primarily created as a fuckaround reveals a rich source of inspiration in graffiti culture and philosophy that has hitherto remained unexplored by writers. This could otherwise be known as ‘the theatrical’ in graffiti and whilst there are certainly writers painters silly things – here physicality and purpose is included to create a dialogue around the entire character of writers themselves and not just their work.
Looked at within the above framework, we can see very clearly that Lush doesn’t exactly fit the mould of any single one of the Post-Graffiti types and I would suggest the main reason being the illegal attitude and culturally inclusive nature his work still retains. Whereas the artists mentioned create work that is explorative in its investigation of forms both structural and abstract and characterful in it’s representational stories – none of it explicitly references graffiti culture, or uses the gravity of illegal techniques graffiti uses to furnish the finished product. Whilst Lushs work, on a superficial level, uses a host of characters and plays with a sort of banksy-esque-criticism of modern culture just like a lot of maligned street art the thing that demarcates it is its attitude to presence (mostly illegal) and use of tropes (bombers / tags / hatred for cops) in the work.
Lush has picked up on the huge influence social media plays in our lives to create work that employs the violence and attitude of a graffiti writer with the humour and playfulness of street art, but exists outside of it. He is an amalgamation of all the post-graffiti categories, but works in his own world, and for that reason I would suggest he is indeed one of the most important graffiti artists of this generation.
“Art” and “Graffiti” is better when it’s funny. How could you take either serious.
Do you agree? Let us know in the comments below.