Eelus is a mysterious stencil artist. His work is often both beautiful and haunting, humorous and sinister, a daring mixture of light and dark.
With the opening of his debut London solo show “The Colour of Space” at Blackhall Studios on 25th Feb. Butterfly catches up with him to ask a few questions about his style and background.
After moving to London 10 years ago, Eelus was almost instantly snatched up by master printmakers Pictures On Walls. Since he started his journey, he showed at the Cans Festival in 2008, painted a picture for the band Green Day , exhibited all around the world, and things are only set to get busier.
Butterfly: Firstly, we’d like to know, where did it all start for you, how did you get into the stencil art?
Eelus: I didn’t really know much about stencils until I moved to London back in 2000. I was just attracted to it instantly but it took me a couple of years just watching from the sidelines before I felt like I really needed to get more involved. Then in 2003 I went to the first Santa’s Ghetto organized by Pictures On Walls and something in my brain just clicked. I was blown away by the work that was in there and the second I stepped out I knew I had to get serious about what was at the time just a hobby that I didn’t put any importance into. From there I just spent every bit of spare time I had cutting and painting stencils.
What was the defining moment of your career as an artist?
Things really started to roll for me after Banksy and Eine saw my work painted around East London and agreed to produce my first screen print after I approached POW. The print went on to become the fastest selling print they had produced up until that point and was sold at that years Santa’s Ghetto. That just blew my mind and opened up so many doors. Things just gradually moved on from there.
I think the real defining moment is yet to come, I don’t feel like I’ve even really started to get my teeth into this yet, it’s early days.
Where do you take your inspiration from?
My main inspirations come from reading and watching films. I love horror and sci-fi and like to include a pinch of that in whatever I do. From a really early age I was big into people like Giger and Vallejo, my room was covered wall to wall with fantasy and sci-fi madness and I still take inspiration from those kinds of artists. I get really inspired by artists who have the balls to create their work without a second thought to what others may think. People like Giger and Vallejo, Aubrey Beardsley, Henry Fuseli, William Blake. They all have/had a dark and fantastic vision that is poured into everything they do regardless of how it will be perceived by the public.
In general though inspiration can come from anywhere, just day to day life. Meeting people, spending time with friends, walking along the beach, chasing the cat round the garden. I think the more you enjoy life the more open your eyes are to everything, especially the little things that make all the difference.
Please tell us a little about your creative process.
The first steps of creating a new piece can differ from time to time. An idea can be sparked from a book or a film, I’ll make a sketch or take a photo and work it up on the computer. Other times I’ll see a photo in a glossy mag that will spark an idea, or I’ll find an old vintage black and white photo of an unknown person in an unknown place that is just dying to have life breathed back into it.
I really like the idea of recycling and transformation, breathing new life into old stuff. Whether that’s transforming a woman from a glossy perfume ad into something completely unrecognizable or finding an old worn out piece of wood and making it beautiful again, giving it a new purpose. At the end of the day we’re all a part of this process, whether you’re a person, a rock, a tree, if you look deep enough we’re all made of the same stuff. When we die, we break down but atoms and molecules and energy doesn’t disappear, we just get turned into something else.
American Girl for Green Day
Do you prefer to work more in the outdoor or indoor space?
Both have their merits and I can’t really choose one over the other. Working in seclusion listening to music, almost in a meditative state, learning and experimenting is so rewarding. But painting with the sun on your back with friends, few beers, lots of laughs, you can’t beat that. When I paint outside I like to paint big if I can and I get real satisfaction in seeing my work at that scale. Sometimes it really is all about size. (laughs)
The Good, the Bad and Moon, Cans Festival 2008
In this part II, Eelus discusses with Butterfly about his upcoming London Show, The Colour of Space, that opens at Blackhall Studios on 25 February.
Butterfly: Is this your first London solo show? How long have you prepared for it?
Eelus: Yeah this is the first time I’ve shown work by myself in London and it’s only the second solo show I’ve ever done. I’m not working with any galleries at the minute so I’m organizing EVERYTHING myself, it’s crazy, and expensive. I think when people hear you’re an artist they just presume you sit around all day drinking tea and painting pictures but it really isn’t like that, especially for me because I don’t like tea. There’s so much admin to do every day and doing this show by myself has just created so much more but it’s a great learning experience. I started sketching out the original ideas around 6 months ago, then working them up on the computer takes a while. There’s been quite a lot of other stuff going on too so I only actually started cutting the stencils at the start of January.
Where does the name of your show ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ comes from?
It’s the name of one of my favourite stories by my favourite author H.P Lovecraft. The work isn’t based on that story but it just seemed to fit the work and it’s my little homage to another artist who literally laid the foundations for other greats by being true to himself and his own vision.
There’s a lot more colour in this show than I’ve been known to use in the past and the ‘space’ side of things just reflects the sci-fi elements that are woven into some of the pieces.
You are exploring a new direction for this show, mixing colours and geometric elements. Can you tell us a little more?
It’s something I started to look at back in 2007 but was never happy with how it came out, I felt like I wasn’t getting it right, it wasn’t tight enough. So I wanted to set myself more of a challenge and see if I could improve it. So instead of using card to create the stencils, for some of the pieces I’ve just used masking tape, intuition and patience to lay down a lot of the colour. It was an interesting process, very time consuming but I’m pleased with how it’s come out.
Dress Up. Spray paint on canvas. 30×24″
What is your thinking behind this shift?
The geometry side of things just comes from an interest in things like Pi, sacred geometry and the ‘golden section’. It blows my mind whenever I think how the universe has the same geometrical design running through every aspect of it. How the orbit of some planets create almost perfect pentagrams as they dance around each other in space, and you can see the exact same shape in the most minute examples in nature. Incredible stuff.
How would you describe your newest body of work?
Messages you are trying to get across?
There are no real messages, I’m a believer in art for art’s sake, why do things have to be tied down with meaning and reason? Obviously I have a chosen narrative in my head for every piece but that’s such a personal thing and I want the people who look at the work to bring their own story to it.
Do you have any favourite pieces?
My favourite pieces at the minute are two I’ve just done. I painted one called Lung Mixture onto an old, worn out metal sign advertising some kind of chest and lung tonic. Again, taking something old, giving it a new life and completely transforming its meaning.
Lung Mixture. Spray paint on vintage metal. 36×24″.
I’m really happy with Firestarter, the colours, shading and general feeling is just what I wanted. It’s based on the idea of Pyrokinesis which is the ability to start fires by extreme concentration. So for me, I see this quiet kid, kinda nerdy, probably doesn’t have many friends. But he’s only quiet on the outside, inside he’s raging, full of almost uncontrollable energy. Never piss off a nerd, you just never know what could happen 😉 But the thing I love about art is, that’s what I see, just because I’ve said all that doesn’t mean that’s what it actually is. To someone else, it’s just some kid with an ASBO who’s just torched his Dad’s car. Just because it’s different to my vision, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
Firestarter. Spray paint on canvas. 36×24″
What projects do you have coming up that you can share?
Well in September I’ll be collaborating with C215 when we take over the Brooklynite Gallery in NYC for a month. I’ve never shown in NYC before so I’m really excited about that.
Then in October I’ve had a hand in organizing something amazing. I was asked to handpick a group of 7 artists to fly to The Gambia to transform a rural village with spray paint and bring art to a community that survive through farming to hopefully encourage tourism in the area. The people organizing it out there have 2 charities set up trying to help eliminate poverty in an 85 sq kilometer area called the Ballabu Conservation Project, incorporating 14 villages and 100,000 people. The Eden Project are behind what we are doing, and have given us a permanent exhibit in the tropical biome there. So I’ll be going out there to paint for 2 weeks with Logan Hicks, Broken Crow, C215, Lucy McLauchlan, Will Barras and Eine. This is a project that you really need to be getting excited about now, it’s going to be incredible.
While freshly back from his NY solo show at Brooklynite Gallery, Eelus is busy curating another big project called Wide Open Walls (W.O.W.) which comprises 1000 cans of paint, 8 artists, 2 weeks, 1 Village in Gambia, Africa.
Butterfly met up with Eelus to discuss about this promising Art Safari. Here is the interview:
Butterfly: You are now curating a project called Wide Open Walls. Can you tell us more about it?
Eelus: Wide Open Walls is a new and hopefully annual arts project based in The Gambia and thought up by Lawrence Williams who is one of the founders of the Makasutu Culture Forest and Ballabu Conservation Area out there in the Gambia. An enormous area of forest that thanks to Lawrence and his business partner and Uncle James English is now protected from deforestation. The projects also incorporate 14 villages and 100,000 people and the aim is to help eliminate poverty through sustainable tourism.
So with these goals in mind, Lawrence thought of a way to mix his love of the forest and Gambian culture with his other passion, street art. He’s already been painting in and around the local villages out there for some time as part of his Gambian street art collective known as Bushdwellers, and he follows the rest of the scene pretty closely from over there. So he contacted me and asked if I’d like to spend 2 weeks with him painting in The Gambia with the idea of hopefully encouraging tourism into villages of the Ballabu to help with their sustainability. I was on board immediately. From there he asked me to step into the role of curator, which with slightly nervous and shaky steps I did, and we now have a team of 8 artists including myself, all ready to fly out there to transform the village of Kubuneh into a huge open air work of art.
B: Who are the participating artists and how did you go about selecting them?
E: We have an incredible team assembled consisting of Broken Crow, Logan Hicks, Lucy McLauchlan, Eine, Xenz, Mysterious Al and myself. We also have photographer Ian Cox of Wallkandy coming along to help document everything. The artists were chosen because their styles are all so different from one another but will all fit this challenging environment really well. Plus they’re all really cool, down to Earth people which is important seeing as though we’re going to be together for the best part of 2 weeks. The project is going to be challenging and interesting enough without the hassles of ego’s to contend with.
B: You’ve aleady done some big murals projects, but how do you prepare for this trip? Have you been practising using different type of materials?
E: I’ve been so busy with the planning and preparation for the project that I’ve only just started to get my own work together, 7 days before I leave! I’m planning to produce a lot of work while I’m out there though to make sure it’s site specific and created especially for certain areas. It’s going to be really nice working on a project that doesn’t have the pressures of a gallery hanging over it and I’m looking forward to approaching it with a more relaxed and experimental attitude. But this doesn’t mean I wont be putting everything I can into the new work, there’s still a huge responsibility there as this village is home to a lot of people who will have to live with the work after we’re gone. Knowing that the villagers and tribal chiefs are behind the project takes a lot of weight off out shoulders though.
Sneak preview of one the new piece Eelus is going to paint while in Kubuneh.
B: It must be a challenge in terms of logistics, flying over artists from different countries, but also getting the paint material there. What are your main challenges?
E: Luckily for me, Lawrence has been dealing with that side of things. I know for him it’s been a challenge trying to bring everyone together at the same time, from different countries and to a budget. But luckily we’ve had some amazing backing from some great companies like Sabotaz who have supplied and shipped all the paint and The Gambia Experience who donated some of the artists flights.
The key to this project is preparation. The last thing we need to happen whilst we’re out there is to run out of anything, it’s not like we can just nip round to an arts supply store if we get stuck. But I’m pretty confident we’ve got everything covered, if problems do raise their head we’re luckily dealing with a very experienced and professional team of artists who I know will be able to rise to the challenge.
B: You are also involving local kids in the project through workshops.
E: Yes, another very important part of the project. Art isn’t taught as a subject in the schools over there so we’re hoping to get the kids involved through workshops, allowing a level of self expression that they may not be used to or familiar with. I’ve done the odd workshop before with kids of various ages and it’s going to be really interesting to compare the work produced by the Gambian kids and see how their lives and environment, drastically different to ours, has an effect on their creativity.
B: How do you see this project elvolve?
E: We’re in the process of turning W.O.W into a charity that will hopefully continue on a yearly basis from now on. There are a lot of villages in The Gambia and a lot of wall space so there’s so much we can do. I think the important thing for us is to concentrate on year 1, learn as much as we can and then take that knowledge and improve on it for year 2, year 3 and so on. We have a lot of ideas but for now you’ll just have to stay tuned and watch this space.
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