On the eve of his latest solo show – Missing at London Euston’s Crypt Gallery we are delighted to be sharing this interview with Louis Masai with you.
Hi Louis how are you??
Hey, I’m good thanks, almost managing to dodge the crazy amount of rain showers we are having in London this year.
How did it all start for you? Were you one of those kids always scribbling on notebooks at school?
Well I’m sure I have memories of scribbling in the school text books as well as the notebooks, haha, but yeah I wasn’t really all that interested in many of the other subjects at school so art class was where I felt safest. My parents met at art school in London so the creative direction and support was easy to find at home too. I spent many late nights working on my art homework with my dad in his studio.
What was the first ‘spark’ for you to pick up a spray can and hit the streets?
Well the initial spark was the stereotypical – I had seen graffiti on London track-sides and also fallen in love with Martha Coopers book Subway Art, that resulted in a few versions of bad tags followed by attempted pieces – which were terrible. The cans were put away for many years and then picked up again whilst I was at art school in Falmouth Cornwall. I started finding myself inside abandoned hotels painting the walls and figuring out how to use the cans better than what I had done as a kid. I didn’t start working on the streets so to speak until I had moved up to London about 8 years ago now.
When working on a wall do you have a plan in mind when you start a piece? Or do you like to look at the wall and the surroundings and take inspiration from there?
I always know what I am going to paint in so much as the species – the shape. but then from there the patches that fill the shape come from my imagination and also the surroundings. If I see something it often ends up inside the painting – someones shirt or dress patterns, recently the patches have started to reflect the species environment and then also the reasons for its threats.
With this in mind what do you find to be the most difficult part of the creative process? I’ve read other artists speak about the fear of the blank page/canvas, do you ever get this?
No I have never had that issue, I tend to experience bursts of energy during a painting, and I guess its more on a wall than in the studio. I get excited and amped to start a sketch, and then once that’s complete I start filling in the patches with colour, this is quite a quick stage and I feel is also kind of energetic. The next stage is filling the patches with information, this takes the longest and is more intense due to the details. The last stage is probably the most exciting as it’s pulling the painting out of the surface, it’s the same emotion in the studio as on the walls at this point. Its only at this point that I am able to see what the painting actually looks like. So yeah more bursts of energy than difficult and easy stages.
Do you have a favourite city or place to share your art? Is there a dream city or country or wall even that you’d like to visit and leave some of your pieces?
To be honest, I refrain from having favourites when ever possible, simply because every city, every opportunity to show my work is a privilege and I fully embrace that. One of the most amazing things about the collective appreciation for current contemporary art, is that there are so many awesome projects and curated exhibitions to be involved with across the whole world. With that in mind I feel that there is a certain sense of release from dreaming up destinations to paint as such. Instead I dream up whole projects and then workout the most suited place to deliver that project. The subject matter of my work has allowed for me to direct the concept of the work first and foremost but with the placement of that work being also relevant. For example I toured the States not because I wanted to tour the States but because I was looking for a way to document a varied list of indigenous endangered species across a diverse landscape belonging to one nation – I’m not sure that could have been anywhere else.
You have a new show (Missing) coming up soon in London can you tell us a little bit about it.
Yeah sure, so ‘Missing’ is based on the idea of missing pet posters that I see around, and I see them all over the world. The species are of course endangered but not yet disappeared – I feel it’s a way to highlight the potential of what is to come and at the same time comment on how we as humans differentiate domestic species from all other species. I’m imaging that mother nature is putting these missing posters up. The exhibition is set in the St Pancras church Crypt, in Euston London. Its an incredible space full of little spaces to lead the audience to personal moments and little installations. There will be 18 new paintings, a print release and also some sculptures.
I’m especially interested in seeing the Animatronic penguin stood atop an oil drum, how did that idea come about? That must have been an interesting challenge to have built, is that something you have done before?
Well, it’s not finished yet, but it’s almost there. last year I made a bee puppet for a show in LA, this wasn’t animatronic but as soon as I had finished it I knew that the next one would be. For ‘Missing’ I’ve made a South African Penguin – these guys are subjected to amongst other issues, oil spills, so I figured it made sense to have him sat on top of an oil drum. The sculpture is made to look like the paintings, a soft patchwork plush toy. I couldn’t have made it without support from people in the knowledge of how to make this kind of thing, but I’m still very much a part of the actual making of it, I’ve really enjoyed learning new skills.
What do you hope to achieve with the show and what role do you think that art plays in conservation?
I’m still working out my place with the world of conservation. I have in the past and will continue to in the future work closely with conservationists and I have been told by many others that my work is valued in that world, but as for myself I think it’s important to recognise that art has a powerful voice and an ability to reach huge demographics, if used in the right ways. I definitely have experienced the positive responses to my work as a catalyst for raising awareness, and recently I have managed to utilise my print sales to raise monies for elephants in Ethiopia. As for the show, I want to create conversation and encourage the audience to look beyond the painting and instead at the inspiration behind the paintings.
Just to speak about something different for a minute, tell us something about yourself that maybe not many people would know!
Haha, you know what when the concept behind the work is so loud it’s hard to find different topics of discussion, but I would like to give props for my new podcast – All Fruits Ripe, which is hosted by myself and good friend Adam Hylu – a musician, sound engineer and record producer. We launched it at the end of last year and you can find it’s micro site inside my own website. We talk monthly with inspiring thinkers, artists and scientists amongst others with one common thread of a passion for making the planet healthier again. We sit in front of a huge sound system and listen to vinyl in between conversation for an hour. I would definitely recommend checking it out.
If you could be anyone or anything for a day who or what would you be?
I’m so happy being me that I couldn’t wish to be anyone or anything else, but if I could for one day see this planet in its former beauty that would be a wonderful experience – breathe clean fresh air, drink clean water, see trees without the obstruction of man, hear birds in the sky, you know how its is…
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you go?
ONE LOVE and thanks for showing your interest in my work…I look forward to seeing you all at the show in may.
Thank you so much for your time Louis and all the best with the show!