Friday, March 30, 2012
Interview: Luke Cornish aka E.L.K.
I interviewed Melbourne stencil artist Luke Cornish, known as E.L.K. in the street art world, at Westsyde Connection last week. The self-taught artist was overwhelmed at being named a finalist in the Archibald Prize earlier this month. He was stunned at how the achievement had changed the rules for street artists; proof the art establishment is paying even closer attention to what they do.
Why did you choose Father Bob Maguire as the subject of your Archibald portrait?
I don't know if I chose him or he chose me in some cosmic sense. Basically he's just a cool old guy.
Did you know him beforehand?
A little bit. But we've grown pretty close now.
Have you been approached by galleries or art collectors since becoming shortlisted?
I've got a manager now so he deals with all that. I'd been back and forward with him for a while but I think when I got into the finals it kind of spurred him into getting the ball rolling.
Do you call yourself a stencil artist or street artist?
Stencil art has its roots in street art and I do street art sometimes but not solely, so I can't really refer to myself as a street artist because I'm hanging work with Ben Quilty. But anything outside of the street context is not street art. I've always referred to myself as a stencil artist.
How did you get into stencilling?
Boredom. Needing a hobby. Mum always said growing up "you need a hobby''. It wasn't until I got to like 23 that I was like "fuck I actually do need a hobby". Drinking alcohol is not a hobby. You waste your 20s getting smashed every weekend and you hit a point where you need to start living your life.
How many layers are there in the portrait?
There's about 30 layers. There's three sections with 10 layers in each section.
Is it your most complex artwork?
Not at all. I actually dumbed it down a little bit. Some of the hyper-real work I've been doing, if I'd entered that it just would've got looked over. Because I've pushed the technique so far that you don't look at it and go "oh that's a stencil, it has its roots firmly in street art''. So scaling it back to look more like stencil art but still a really good stencil. Because some of the work I do is using 40-50 colours with 70-80 layers. This is just straight-up grey scale. I guess that doesn't sound like saying "I'm so good I needed to be a little bit shitter to get into the Archibalds". I don't mean it to sound like that.
What will happen if you win?
Game on. First thing I'm going to do is have a holiday. Get away for a few weeks. Cause it's taking a pretty big emotional toll, the anxiety. You can't just go "oh cool I've been nominated for an Archibald" and forget about it. I haven't slept for two fucking weeks. I think what adds to that pressure is being a serious contender. If I was just in that'd be really cool. But the fact that they're touting me to win the whole thing puts added pressure. It's all good but it's very overwhelming. Career-wise it just opens doors. It gives me the freedom to choose anything I want to do.
Is this experience making it harder to work in street?
Street art's a hobby for me. Street art's something I do because I love doing it. Art's something I do because I love doing it. But street art that I do in the street I rarely put my name to because it's not about getting famous it's just about the love of doing it. But the work I do in galleries is very much about success, commercial success. I've never had any interest in being famous.
Is there less choice in being famous now?
Well it's not going to be like fucking Lady Gaga or someone like that, it's not going to be that level of fame, cause I can still drop off the radar and produce my work. So that's exactly what I intend to do. I guess there's different sorts of fame. There's Big Brother contestant fame. But there's fame for success which has a lot more respect attached to it.
The Archibald Prize winner is announced at noon today.
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■ Luke Cornish named Archibald Prize finalist