Hush is an artist shaped by his lifestyle. Drawing on the elements of popular culture that shaped his past, he channels his history into visual art. His pieces are pastiches of youth culture, with elements graffiti, hip-hop, punk, rave and minimalist design all existing with a single canvas. His compositions are nearly overwhelming, but the beautiful girls that recur in his works provide calm, stopping the images from descending into chaos. We caught up with the UK artist before his debut Australian show to talk about his past, and his future.
So we’re siting here in your sold out show before the opening night. Is this a slightly surreal experience for you?
I don’t know what to say about that. I’ve had sell out shows before, but it’s always surprising. I always feel humbled by it, I appreciate that people actually want to support me. It’s like Melbourne is . . . I wasn’t really expecting this. The streets are crazy; it’s like being in the hottest part of New York where you see pieces, dubs, and tags on every corner. Everyone seems to have a cultural element, and an appreciation of art. I mean we’re in quite a nice area [in Armadale] and the people who walk by who you think are conservative seem to be appreciative and understanding of creativity anyway.
Do you think there’s a wider appreciation of this kind of work now?
Yeah definitely, I mean they type of people who buy this work now, you see some of their collections and you know for a fact that they are buying paintings of flowers as well. The hardcore people would say that means it’s gentrified and it’s over, but it’s not. People progress and evolve. I don’t think it should be called street art anymore; it’s kind of pathetic. It’s just contemporary, that’s all it is.
Anybody who was born 1965 up has been brought up listening to hip-hop and all kinds of things. It’s almost a lifestyle, the hip-hop and punk attitude still comes through. The whole not conforming and the influence on the décollage side of it and the scrapbook element is very youth culture. All of that has made this whole movement progressive and you’ve got sixteen-year-old kids ten years ago who were watching this happen. Now they’re making a few hundred thousand a year, and they’re backing this. This is their flowers in a vase.
Not the Sex Pistol’s flowers in the dustbin?
It’s that type of culture though isn’t it? It’s the norm to a lot of people. What other generations would have seen as a bit edgy is now nothing.
Being from the UK those youth movements have always been such a huge part of the culture. Does that play a part in your work?
Definitely, I would say that I couldn’t make the work that I do if I hadn’t have come through them. And they mightn’t have always been directly linked; I quote them in fairly subtle ways. Like ‘Pop will eat itself’, that reminds us of the whole Designer’s Republic and I quote them a lot. All of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s album covers were a big influence, and the Manchester rave scene. Factory Records and the minimalism that came out of that, they were way ahead of their time using almost graffiti fonts in a Japanese style. All these influences just flew out of hip-hop, out of rave culture, whatever was happening. Even Pet Shop Boys, football hooligans, all of this has had an impact on the marks I make on these works.
It’s funny that even at the start of this whole thing you had guys like Futura 2000 rapping with The Clash, there’s always been that crossover between punk and hip-hop in the DIY attitude.
Yeah one of the things that I always hated was that Run DMC and Aerosmith track [Walk this Way]. It’s funny because you know how people are always talking about the end of street art, well I remember thinking “This is the end of hip-hop”. But we know that this whole new era came out, people always try and see the end of cultures, but they continue. They said hip-hop was a fad, but it’ll never die. They say street art is dead, but it’ll just move forward. It’s not pop art; it’s a popular art.
What you’re talking about now is a lot of Western subcultures, but you also draw a lot from the East. Where does that fit in?
Well I worked and travelled there for years, so it’s hard to ignore it. But I’ve always had that interest anyway, like how the Japanese have adopted punk but they take everything to the extreme. So they’re full punk in their attitude but they still live with their parents and watch cartoons. I’m always interested in what gets lost in translation when we’re adopting each other’s cultures. The same thing happened with Manga and Anime.
This body of work is a continuation of a theme that you’ve drawn on previously, what is it about these female figures that keep bringing you back?
It’s a natural progression, because when I was doing anime and manga that was purely conceptual. People thought that was what I did, but it just so happened that I got kind of known at that point as well. I’m not a painter that’ll paint the same thing for the rest of his life, so I wanted to do some realism but continue the theme of adopting little elements of cultures which then fell into something else. I’ve always had graffiti and tagging in my work, even just as a texture, then that started to make sense. I was documenting writers that I met, or tags that I saw on the street and it became that the female form was changing that because of the context it was in.
Do you want people to accept that more widely?
I don’t necessarily want people to enjoy and see it how we do, because then the excitement goes. I think it’s good just to bring the awareness that that’s not always just pure vandalism, it’s about style. Sure it’s not great when it’s on your property, but when you see some decent handstyles you can completely appreciate that.
I think there is a big tension between your older writers who are involved in a closed-off culture that isn’t done for anyone else, and then your new generation of street artists who make imagery that’s really easy for the public to engage with and understand.
Well I can get myself in trouble with all that as well because I’ve never been a big writer. Obviously I’ve done it through my time, I’ve knocked about with all of that, but I understand that graffiti is something completely different. What the media has done is throw everything together, when it’s not really together. Yes it’s a familiar movement, but it’s its own entity. There’s this whole pool of thought out there, but I think what has to be understood as well is that people just do what they do. I won’t claim to have great tags or handstyles or anything, it’s just been an interest of mine. I appreciate it, and I record it in my works. So I’m adopting other parts of this whole movement, and then making my own art.
But by going by Hush and that kind of thing you’re engaging with that culture.
I’ve done things without a name. The Hush thing was when I was actually working for a living and I had to hide what I was doing. And Hush was a great name for that; I had good friends who didn’t even know what I was doing because I didn’t think it was important. I was making money so I wasn’t trying to make money on the street by advertising. It just sort of happened, it was a sort of natural progression.
Could you see yourself at some point in the future moving away from that name?
No, I think I’ll always keep that name. Artists are generally known by their surnames anyway. I always like to say that Hush is the character, and Hush is the art, so I don’t have to be known. If you meet me fine, but it’s not about me personally. So Hush defines that, it’s almost like me and anything that I do outside of art is completely irrelevant.
How do you want people to react to your work?
I’m sick of people saying “Oh it’s nice”. That scares me if too many people think it’s nice. Obviously it’s great if people can appreciate what you’ve made, but then again I don’t want everyone liking it. That seems a bit too easy. I’d always try and stray when that happens and do something a bit more unlikeable. I’m not after just doing something nice; it’s got to be more than that because to end up like that would just be going back to flowers and vases.
Hush’s ‘Sirens’ opens tonight at Metro Gallery