New York, Nov. 2010 - HUSH is the moniker of the UK-based artist known worldwide for his street-art-style blend of anime-inspired and Pop-art images. Trained as a graphic designer and illustrator at Newcastle School of Art and Design, he has traveled extensively, primarily throughout Asia and Europe. Drawing his imagery from innumerable sources, blending high and low from art history to comic books, Hush's work is mostly inspired by the aesthetic of street art: the texture of walls, the ephemeral scribbles and colors collected over time, the decay and exposure.
His use of stencils and screen prints immediately shows his debt to Warhol, while his admiration for the materiality of walls and graffiti connects him as well to Dubuffet and Art Brut. Hush describes his work as a sort of "action painting," linking himself to the Abstract Expressionists. In his studio he (re)enacts the performative, ritualistic gesture of tagging and graffiti, building layer upon layer of on his canvases. All of these elements are present in the work--it's Pop and "pure expressionism," which in many ways seems inherently contradictory. It seems that he adheres to no rules or limitations in the game of art. Anything is up for grabs in Hush's world.
November 19th marks Hush's debut show in New York, at the Angel Orensanz Foundation for Contemporary Art presented by San Francisco gallery White Walls. The work will be up for only a short weekend, a tease of an exhibition, until November 21st. The following interview was conducted via email as he prepared for his trip to New York.
Hush painting in his studio in London, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
Natalie Hegert: This is your debut solo show in New York City; previously you’ve shown in San Francisco, London, Los Angeles… What works will you be unveiling for us here?
Hush: 22 paintings, some small, some large, come and see! ;) I feel this recent work I've made is more mature; it's certainly opened up a whole new body of work for me and it felt right making it. I'm looking forward to showing in NYC.
NH: Your show at the Angel Orensanz Foundation lasts only a weekend, about as ephemeral as a piece of street art…would you have liked to have a longer running show? Or is it intended to heighten the excitement, a sort of exclusive thing?
H: If people want to see your work it's usually that opening night. Yep, hit it hard and fast. If you miss it, you miss it.
The Angel Orensanz Foundation is a space like no other; as soon as we seen it we knew it was the place.
NH: I understand you lived in Japan for quite some time.. What was that like, and how did it shape your work?
H: Asia was an extremely important influence on my life both philosophically and visually. The way the East, especially the youth, adopt Western styles and cultural influences but struggle with holding on to traditional values is of interest to me and in my work. The place is a melting pot and very inspirational. It has influenced my work greatly and has me thinking about a combination of factors, and when you add my interpretation of this, we end up with a very eclectic mix. I try to capture and contradict these cross-cultural differences and influences in my work.
Hush painting in his studio, Newcastle, Transit In Negative (in studio), Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint, Ink, Screen Print on Hand Stretched Canvas, 60x40in, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
NH: Tell us a bit about your studio practice and your method of distressing your canvases, in effect aging them or subjecting them to decay…
H: I play with lots of ideas in the paintings I make and like to reference a lot of movements, past and present. I have always loved that old graf rule about a throw can go over a tag, a dub over a throw, a piece over a dub and so on. Also I love the transient way in which work on the street evolves and usually looks more at home the longer it settles, gets going over, degrades and fades. I try to create all these actions and mistakes in the studio.
I always work on 2 of the same paintings every time I create a piece, partly for the fact that I will take more risks on one so my work progresses. There does come a point where I will only finish one as it becomes obvious which one is working.
I also do this so when I make a new painting I can go over the discarded painting and leave remains of it visible to the viewer. I kind of take pleasure in known that there was a good piece and lots of work underneath a painting. It always feels uncomfortable working on a clean canvas; I like the feel and textures of a worked-on canvas. It gives it some life straight away.
NH: Forgive my ignorance, but I know "throw" and "tag" obviously, but what's a "dub"--is that a UK thing? Oh wait I think I know--is it a two-color throw?
H: Yes, dub is two colour.
NH: Do you draw a distinction between works you create specifically for a gallery context and work that is made for the street?
H: Yes definitely. I've never been a prolific street artist--to be honest I'm more inspired by it, especially the action of tagging and the mentality. It is and always has been a buzz though; doing something you're not supposed to always is, especially when you get away with it. :)
Both of these practices influence and constantly reference each other; the work would not move forward without that relationship. I also like the idea of people passing by and commenting either out loud or to themselves.
Also making people look at art--you have to comment whether you're interested or not.
Hush painting in his studio, Newcastle, American Dreamer (in studio), Acrylic Paint, Spray Paint, Ink, Screen Print on Hand Stretched Canvas, 60x40in, 2010; Courtesy of the artist
NH: You use the phrases “action painting” and “pure expressionism” to describe your practice. Especially the phrase “action painting” has only really been used to describe certain Abstract Expressionists, like Jackson Pollock, so it’s quite interesting to see you resurrect these terms. I find it’s an apt comparison with graffiti, with its emphasis on handstyles, as an art form that is very focused on the gesture, often the repetitive gesture. Do you feel a connection, then, between some aspects of the Abstract Expressionist movement and graffiti? Does the street, public space, become Harold Rosenberg’s proverbial “arena” for the performance of painting, rather than the canvas?
H: That's exactly my view, I see graffiti, especially tagging, as a form of expressionism, a political action; and when lots of them are seen in one place and on the street, that creates a visual image like nothing else I can compare it to. It's beautiful.
Taking that from the street and applying it to work you make in the gallery setting is difficult. That's why I approach it as action painting; it could easily be determined as abstract expessionism also. You need to capture that instantaneous decision to make the mark. That's why I have canvases continously around the studio. I throw everything at them, tag them, throws, the lot. It feels like it carries a bit of that excitement. It also places this movement into a category that is continuing to build on past art movements which every new movement does.
NH: Your work is in many ways a wild conflux of images, from comic books to classical art; you use everything from Romanesque icons to anime characters. Are you placing them on the same level? A statement against the separation of so-called “high” and “low” art? Or a celebration of creation spanning the whole of human history? You seem to be rather like a sponge soaking up different styles and cultures, from art history to popular imagery...
H: That's what I do, as they are on the same level. The words classic, modern, contemporary are only relevant from the time period from which that statement is made. I play these ideas against each other.
I do like to reference art history and play with it in a contemporary context. It is a statement, or rather a pointer, towards those ideas and how these images were/are/will be perceived... I would need days to respond to this question.
NH: What's next for Hush? New projects, upcoming shows? Anything else happening in the New York area that we should know about?
H: LA, SF, UK, AUSTRALIA, when? You'll see :)
ArtSlant would like to thank Hush and Kimberly Verde at Argot & Ochre for their assistance in making this interview possible.