E.L.K (Luke Cornish) – Louder Than Words (Charlie Foxtrot) – Interview

Following a successful 2013, where he achieved the highest ever auction record for an Australian street artist, Luke Cornish will again use his desire to bring social awareness and change through his work. Charlie Foxtrot, in his latest exhibition to be held at Metro Gallery in Armadale Victoria opening on 12 June 2014, will be opened by controversial Catholic Priest, Father Bob Maguire.

Luke Cornish 'Here's Tom with the Weather'

The exhibition follows Cornish’s journey to the Middle East where he wanted to gain access to Syria to photograph the ongoing civil war and highlight its humanitarian impact.

What ensued was a series of major roadblocks. What could go wrong, went wrong, badly – He arrived at the Syrian border only to be turned away as a potential spy.

Cornish and his ‘fixer’ headed out with long time war correspondents to hide that he didn’t have accreditation to photograph the region and they were caught in crossfire in Tripoli between soldiers and insurgents.

Hauntingly captivating, the collection symbolises the strength of human spirit no matter the obstacles we face.

Charlie Foxtrot – In radio communication or polite conversation (i.e. with a very senior officer with whom you have no prior experience) the term “clusterfuck” will often be replaced by the NATO phonetic acronym “Charlie Foxtrot.”

We caught up with Luke for a few words about his latest show at Stolen Space…

Luke Cornish, 'Stateless', 2014, Aerosol stencil on aluminium composite panel, 80 x 60cm, $7,000

Tell us a little more about your show at Stolen Space – what are the themes behind it and how did it come about?

The show is based on a trip I took to Lebanon in December last year. Travelling to Tripoli, in the North, where the fighting has spilled over the border from the Syrian conflict, to the Palestinian refugee camps of Beirut. I was working alongside a photojournalist from The Star newspaper in Lebanon to take images of the situation there. Not just guys with guns, but all facets of war, from the citizens to the refugees, the insurgents to the army, and the media covering it all.

Is this a new step up for you in your work? Does taking it to Europe signify a new level in your career?

I guess its a step up, I really wanted to get out of my comfort zone for this one. Confronting imagery is always going to be a hard sell, but its more about creating work that is a commentary of the world we live in. This is my first solo show outside of Australia, so definitely hitting a new level, and there been a lot of interest already so its comforting to know that there is a good contingency of people following my career in the UK.

Luke Cornish 'Zoom Zoom'

So you’re thinking about making a bigger move to this side of the world, why is that?

Its just the whole big fish small pond syndrome, coming here and meeting with and working alongside artists that have inspired me for a long time is quite humbling. It’s just the next evolutionary step in my career, to expand, new horizons and all that stuff.

Why do you still insist on cutting your stencils by hand? Are you a sucker for punishment, or do you feel the artistic process would suffer if you switched to machine-cutting?

I’ve always had a bit of a Luddite mentality when it comes to machine cuts, but to be honest… I don’t care anymore. Everything I’ve done up until now is hand cut, but maybe one day i’ll start incorporating technology into my arts practice, it’s no ones fucking business. Anybody that cares has obviously never been in a position of demand. Sure, if you’re just doing single layered stencils, it’d just be lazy to laser cut them, but when you’ve paid your dues and your getting serious detail like Logan Hicks, or Snik, do whatever you want. I don’t think the artistic process suffers, I think it opens up endless new possibilities.

Luke Cornish 'RPG'

What do you look for in a subject when you choose to paint someone’s portrait?

I like painting old men for some reason, I just find that there wrinkly hairy faces translate so well through the stencil medium. Also I only paint people that I have a lot of respect for, If I didn’t rate someone too highly, I wouldn’t waste my time.

How has your work developed over the years and how have you progressed as an artist?

Its come along way from the early days, technically and conceptually. I guess I’m starting to gain the arrogance to make art that some people aren’t going to like very much, and the confidence to not care.

Luke Cornish 'High Maintenance'

Do you feel Australia is becoming oversaturated in terms of street art and graffiti? Is it becoming passé in Melbourne, or do people still have valid messages in their work?

I haven’t spent much time in Melbourne recently, but the scene was definitely starting to die on it’s arse when I left a year ago. The whole boom of Melbourne stencil art happened around the time of the Iraq war in 2004, back when people were angry and had something to say. Its all ego and pretty pictures these days.

How do you feel your work fits in between fine art and the dirtier urban art world?

I liken it to being in a polyamorous relationship, when one starts pissing me off, I jump into bed with the other, when that one gets on my nerves I go back to the other. Its a good position to be in where the work I do is equally embraced by both the street and contemporary art worlds, but you never really feel like you fit in anywhere… you get used to it.

Luke Cornish 'In Self Defence (small)