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An Interview with: Louis Masai

Yesterday we mentioned our excitement about Louis Masai’s solo show AfroFabRicatiOn, opening tonight at the Nancy Victor Gallery. Well our friends over at Global Street Art caught up with the man himself to learn more – written by James Buxton.

You might not have heard of him but chances are you’ve seen his work; Masai is a street artist with a talent for painting animals. His vivid portraits combine patterns found in man-made fabrics produced in the countries the animals originate from. His paintings often feature animals engaged in human activities, fusing a playful style with conscious messages about animals and the environment.

The Man Behind the Animals

My name Masai is due to my long lasting admiration for African tribes, since I was about 10 I guess. Initially it was reflected through wearing beads…a lot of beads…I always loved the Masai tribe because of the red they wear in their hair and the way the warriors jump so high. I never really meant to become Masai it just happened one day. Now people call me Masai; it seems fitting.

I have been painting and drawing forever; it was the only thing I was any good at at school. When I was not at school I would be painting with my dad in his studio. I started painting walls the way I’m painting today about two years ago. I’m still new to this whole thing really.

For me there are a few, very important factors in my life: Rastafari, animals, art, cooking and love, all of which have strong influences in my decision-making.  I grew up in a family run restaurant that was very successful; I painted with my dad till silly o’clock and ended up in art school. I discovered nature and Rastafari on a gap year when I was eighteen running away from a broken heart. Here I am now living in London, broken hearted again but fulfilling my creative energy, living as a humble rastaman painting animals and cooking home-cooked food. My life finds circles and right now I’m experiencing a full cycle of the best one yet, life is really good when four out of five of your passions are fulfilled.

All my work is about animals. It’s only recently that I have started working on whole compositions around the animals. That transition has come about for a couple of reasons, one being the walls are getting bigger and secondly because I want to continually evolve. I enjoy painting portraits because the general public assume a portrait is a human thing, and that interrelates back into my concepts, adorning animals with human attributes.

I work for a couple of agencies where we educate the youth in creative ways to further themselves as young people. We live in an age where the youth are fighting against a system but they aren’t really sure why or what for. They have grown up in a negative world that has little interest in addressing why a whole nation of, if not World, of young people feel emotionally distraught. It’s in my understanding that the work we do gives these youth a chance to see ways around the nonsense; the way I see it is that if we don’t help the future world there is no point living the life we are living now.

Right now my work is purely about interrelating patterns found in man-made fabrics with animals. The fabric and animals originate in the same countries. Currently my work is about African fabrics and African animals, which is to be showcased at Nancy Victor, the show is called AfroFabRicatiOn.

Regarding my influences, I’m not sure that I am actually influenced by what other artists are doing, I pick up random thoughts upon looking at books and shows but I can’t pinpoint who directly influences me. My influence is so broad, it’s within, fashion, photography, nature, tribal culture, the real substance of life. But as for artists I love Josh Keyes, Roa, Sigma Polke, Word to Mother, Conor Harrington, Herakut, Craola, Sam Flores, Os Gemeos, all the beautiful loser artists, Jaybo Monk, Leger, etc.

You know what, it’s impossible to escape being typecast but I think I’m doing my best to sit on a fence and avoid the labelling game, I don’t like labels anyway so I don’t really feel located in any scene. I just paint and listen to music, that’s my scene…

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Recommended Shows & Exhibitions

This week we are spoilt for choice with exhibitions, a delicious melting pot of styles, cultures and approaches! Here are our top picks for the week..

Cranio – Lost in London

Anyone who has walked the streets of London in the last few weeks will have been pleasantly surprised to see an army of blue Amazonian characters taking over our walls. Cranio is from Sao Paulo, Brazil and has come over to London to see how his indigenous men will be perceived by us, as he paints light hearted pieces with deeper underlying questions oabout consumerism, identity, corruption and the environment. He explains: “I want to show things that are happening with the indigenous people living in Brazil. Some of them are trying to adapt; others have adapted really well to capitalism; others are trying to sell the Brazilian rainforest to grab some money and a cool iPhone.”

The exhibition itself opens at Red Bull Studios, Tooley St tomorrow night, 15th and runs until Monday 19th.

Louis Masai – AfroFabRicatiOn

We’ve been a fan of Louis’ beautiful large-scale personified animals for a while now and can’t wait to see what his solo show has in store. Louis has an incredible love and respect for nature and his place in the world and that passion shines through in his work. His work currently focuses on African fabric patterns and animals, this concept has crept seamlessly into this exciting new collection in the form of the Pencil Case Thieves.

Expect taxidermy and reclaimed materials galore among other things. This promises to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It opens tomorrow night, 15th at Nancy Victor Gallery, Charlotte Place, W1T 1SG and runs until 7th December. RSVP ruthpenfold@me.com to attend the opening night.

Check out this video of Louis talking about his work, shot by Tee Byford.

AfroFabRicatiOn Louis Masai @ Nancy Victor Gallery from TEARLACH on Vimeo.

More recommended exhibitions below..
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