Our man in Canberra, Damo, caught up with local legend, Houl, for a few words on his crazy characters, the creative process and, dare we say it, why Canberra is becoming cool…
More jump off after the jump off…
DW: How do you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before?
Houl: It starts out with bold colours, thick lines and simple characters, but then those thick lines find some more details and the simple characters become more intricate and haggard. Wrinkles make drawing fun, so I’ll throw some of them on in there. It’s never super realistic, my characters are always confined to the realm of 2D illustration, nothing that could ever peel off the page, but it’s something which is mine. A perfectly flat upper eyelid. A swooped Elvis-esqe fringe. Perhaps some sort of animal face or mythological reference. I mainly work with hues of blue and purple but have been expanding that recently. They are black and white fine line drawings, full colour characters with markers on old street signs, shredded decks or rusted saw blades, or half shaded half outlined pieces with aerosol on walls across Canberra and Sydney.
DW: How and why did you get into art? Tell us a bit about your early years.
Houl: I drew when I was younger, that old story, but after High School I gave it up. It wasn’t for me, wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, nor was I happy with my work all that much. However, after moving closer to the city for work and Uni I began to see paste-ups by SMC3, Max Berry, Stryker X and Ears, which prompted me to start doing something similar. I started out with stickers, slapping them up with painters gusto because I had no idea what I was doing, before being encouraged by those same artists who inspired me to start drawing, to go bigger, so I began making paste-ups before eventually picking up a can. Who said peer pressure was bad?
DW: Can you talk us through your creative process, from concept to finished product?
Houl: The process varies, but most of the time it involves an idea, which turns into a rough sketch. Over the top of that, I’ll work out a much more refined drawing, tick lines, details, all the bells and whistles. From here it can go a couple of ways. If it’s going to be a wall, I’ll leave it as is. I’ll plan my colours, take it to the wall, then ignore it completely and freestyle something on the spot. if it’s going to become an canvas, I’ll sketch it out, lay in the colour fill, then once dry, detail over the top. The fill can either be straight Posca or, if it’s a street sign piece, spray paint after I mask it off a bit. Most pieces I’ll finish pretty quickly. I’ve begun to realise that if I labour over a piece, spending days and weeks on it, I get too attached, and feel terrible selling it. If I do a piece I’m happy with, but didn’t take me as long, then I’ll be more open to someone else taking it from me for themselves.
DW: What’s the scene like in Canberra. How would you change it if you could?
Houl: It’s growing, that’s for sure. When I first arrived about 3 years back there were the crews, but they kept to themselves, and then a handful of other artists who painted, but again mostly kept to themselves. I’m not sure if I’m suddenly in the loop or what, but now we’ve got artists coming out of the woodwork, people picking up cans for the first time and absolutely killing it, people who’ve been painting for years getting up and going big, and so much support from the community. Stores like Sancho’s Dirty Laundry are doing wonders for the scene, stocking materials, providing a space to display work and giving out so many opportunities to get involved, get up and have fun. The only thing I’d change is the misconception that Canberra is boring. It may have been at one point, but not any more.
DW: Do you listen to music while you work? If so what? If not then what is your environment like when you work?
Houl: Music is constantly playing when I work. Tom Waits or Frank Zappa is great when I’m trying to draw a gnarly, fucked-up kind of character, all twisted and bent; the visual images those guys evoke is perfect. If I need something that’s a bit relaxing and calming to help me focus on a piece which needs doing, some Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Boards of Canada is called for. A lazy afternoon pain session will have The Knife or Seekae and if I’m at a wall, super psyched to be out painting, it’ll be something more upbeat, perhaps some GZA, Blackalicious or Dr. Octagon.
DW: You have just collaborated with Mike Watt on a pretty cool flip zine? How did the collaboration come about? Did you sit down together and smash it out or was it a labour of love over some time?
Houl: The Plum Darlings vs The Deadly Dusters (or The Deadly Dusters vs The Plum Darlings depending on which cover you’re looking at) came about from mutual admiration for each others work, a desire to do something a little different and a glimmer of hope that collaborating with Mike might help me get into his pants. We discussed it in passing during a paint one day, and then hashed it out online. It took us a while to get it where it is today. Mike knew he wanted to make gang members, but beyond that we had a whole bunch of ideas and plans. There were some amazing ideas and plans involved, but due to time constraints, a lot got cut. There was going to be a more in-depth story involving Canberra and it’s surrounds, a bunch of paints leading up to the release featuring the different characters loitering about and looking menacing, but when it comes down to it, I’m super happy to have worked with Mike and just as happy with what was produced. Hopefully I didn’t scare him off and we’ll do something again in the future.
DW: What makes you laugh / pisses you off?
Houl: When I see someone’s dropped ice-cream melting on the footpath, the edge of a shoeprint in a fresh poop and having someone cut in front of me only to catch up with them stuck at the next set of lights.
DW: What are Houl’s plans for the rest of 2014?
Houl: Cybernetic legs. I want some telescoping thighs, wheels in my feet and Swiss Army knife toenails. Failing that, just as much art as I can cram in. I have my own zine, which I’ve been working on for a bit, posted a bunch of images from it as I was finishing them, all Norse Mythology themed. I’ve got a B-Grade Movie Poster exhibition I’m working on a piece for, and whatever else I can really find, as well as something awesome with a few other people from Canberra.
DW: Where else can people find you?
Houl: At home, in my study, which doubles as my drawing room, wearing my squishy pants and slippers, which I got when I was 8, hunched over a drawing. If the sight of this doesn’t appeal to you, you can find the pretty things I draw which contradict my appearance at www.facebook.com/houlart or on instragam at @houlart. I have a blog which is www.houlart.blogspot.com but it’s more neglected than my social skills, and finally, if despite all of that, you do want to contact me, I’m available at email@example.com for commissions, exhibitions and children’s birthday parties.