E.L.K in the Woods

Archibald Prize nominee, Luke Cornish aka E.L.K, is the first stencil artist to be nominated for the award. Ever. We managed to get a quick interview with him in between his hectic schedule of newspaper interviews, TV appearances and flights between Sydney and Melbourne…

How have you found it since everything blew up?

Everyone wants a piece, it’s very flattering, but it’s very frustrating too.

More jump off after the jump off

What was the catalyst for all the media attention?

Definitely getting into the Archibald prize, it’s Australia’s most prestigious art award, everything’s really exploded in the last week.

How did you first get into stencils?

I got into it about 8 years ago, just out of sheer boredom, having a blade and a tin of spray-paint and nothing else to do. I just needed a hobby that didn’t involve getting fucked up every weekend.

How has that come through and taken over from what you were doing before?

It’s what I’ve always been doing, I didn’t do any art before that, never studied art, never had any interest in it.

What was the process of that taking such precedence in your life?

I think I finally found something that I was good at, something that I enjoyed doing. I never really thought I’d be doing it as a job, I just loved what I was doing and pushed it as far as I could, until eventually I was doing it full time.

A lot of your art is based around religious symbolism, what’s that about?

A lot of my earlier work was, I don’t really touch on that much these days. A lot of my work used to be really anti-religion, but I’m kind of coming to realise that there’s not much point being against anything, it’s such a negative action. If you’re going to do something, be ‘for’ something, being against something just defeats the purpose.

What kind of messages do you deal with in your work at the moment?

My current work is very introspective. The gallery work anyway. The street work is very much social commentary, but the work on canvas is very much about me, about what I’m going through.

As a stencil artist, do you find it hard to get yourself taken seriously?

No, not at all. I guess, particularly with the Archibald, contemporary art has always been brought into the street art context, but street art’s never really been taken into the fine-art galleries, not in this country anyway. So with not many other people doing that, it’s pretty easy to get attention.

Can you tell us a little bit about the Archibald Prize and your entry into the competition?

My portrait is of Father Bob Maguire, he’s a controversial Catholic priest from Melbourne. He was ousted from his position about 12 months ago, quite controversially, because he’s such a decent guy; he’s devoted his entire life to helping others.

How did you go about getting your entry into the prize?

Everything just lined up I guess. Some people try for years, their whole lives and never get selected, I got in on my first attempt, the first stencil in the history of the award, so it has definitely opened doors for thousands of other Australian street artists.

So it was a conscious effort on your part?

For sure it was conscious, but also a little intrinsic, I just had a good feeling. People say ‘Oh, you’re so lucky’ and I’m not, I knew exactly what I was doing, what I had to do and how well to do it. I have been working my arse off for a long time, it didn’t just happen over night.

What would you be doing if you weren’t painting?

Probably surfing… I’d live on the beach, surf all day and meditate or something.

What do you enjoy most about your artwork?

It gives me the freedom to do what I love doing for a living. I guess I’m at a point where I’ve built myself into position where I can have whatever I want, I can buy a house, I can buy a car, have a family; I can do whatever I want, you know. It’s provided me with a decent lifestyle that I probably wouldn’t have if I was earning a wage.

What inspires you as an artist?

Not being hungry.

So, we touched on it briefly earlier, but you’ve recently received a lot of media attention, how are you dealing with that?

It’s a rollercoaster. It’s certainly something I’m not used to at all, so it’s a massive headfuck. You can go from feeling fucking invincible one day to actually just needing a hug the next. It’s really hard to get your head round it. It gets easier, when I go back to Melbourne, then I come back up to Sydney, get selected for the Archibald’s and a whole new tidal wave starts again. I just want the whole prize thing to be over so I can go back to normal, get down the gym, I haven’t actually made any art for the last three weeks, my talent lies in making stencil art, not talking to journalists about it.

Do you feel spray-can art is reaching a crescendo in Australia at the moment?

I think it’s about to, it’s about to be legitimised as an art-form.

We’ve kind of had that explosion in the UK.

Yeah, I think we’re about 5 years behind you guys. It’s really funny, because I do look out at what’s happening in the States and the UK. You’re kind of a pioneer, but people have been doing this shit for years.

You generally have a really positive reaction to your work, why do you think that is?

I think it’s the work I put into it and the technique, there’s a happy balance between the technique and the content. Stencil art doesn’t really fit into graffiti, or contemporary art, it’s kind of wedged nicely in between, so you get respect from both sides, you get hate from both sides too, but it’s kind of an entity in itself.

I guess it must be quite nice to watch your stencils come together, layer by layer?

People are usually pretty fascinated by the process. It’s quite a therapeutic process for me too, I guess it’s like meditation when you’re cutting these things out, I can spend hours just drifting away…

Nice, finally, what’s next for you?

I just got the go-ahead to paint a portrait of Bob Hawke, who’s a former Australian Prime Minister, so that should be good. I’m working on a few solo shows towards the end of the year as well…