Interview With Skulk

Skulk, Est 2007, Sydney College of Arts toilets.

The inception of Skulk has since evolved from stains of his work on the back of toilet doors.

Over a humble Resch’s in Newtown amongst the reverberating chatter of the pub, Art Pharmacy has touched based with Skulk to talk of the evolution of his bodies of work, and their step towards fine arts after his return from Berlin.

“Previously everything I was doing was illustration or low brow work. It was street art on canvas kind of vibe. Yeah, so since abstracting and exploring my work and delving into more traditional painting and exploring new techniques… I guess I just saw these works going in a fine art direction.”

Having just returned from an art residency in Berlin, Skulk’s art practice has evolved from street based toward a more high-brow abstraction. Berlin was, essentially, the catalyst for Skulk’s change in art practice, allowing Skulk the autonomy to explore the abstractionism of his then current works. ‘The only constant is change’ and Skulk believes remaining progressive as an artist is vital to the fluidity and growth of ones work.
“[Your evolving stuff] yeah that’s it, it’s just evolving. I don’t know, maybe it’s just important that artists are progressive. I did it for myself (the change). I think it’s important to progress as an artist. I’m sure people will hold onto the Skulk and street art thing, and then there’ll be people who might come across to my more abstract fine art kind of painting, I mean audience is important. But it’s not totally important. I’m kind of progressing for myself kind of thing.”

Skulk’s work reminds me of Wassily Kandinsky’s 1920-30s impressionist works in his ‘Study of Accentuated Angles’. However, Skulk’s works are stained with originality. His newer works hold onto the distinctly Skulk-esque figures and unconsciously unravel the inner makings of his mind.

How do you decide what you’re going to depict within artworks?
“I guess I’m not an artist who draws directly on found imagery or another artist, or you know I don’t take photographs and paint photographs. My work is an internal expression, it comes from me. It’s a personal expression.”

His personal expressions are deeply founded in his years of paint making experience:
“So I guess at the moment I’ve got a really solid base of imagery or icons that I’ve been painting for years now. So even when I’m just naturally expressing (art) I’ll just make similar forms or similar shapes because I’ve been making these shapes or marks for years which are based around the figure: the human figure. Not directly human, but kind of abstracted. So the figure, objects; are mostly domestic objects… like vessels: bowls and cups things like that; plants, nature. So yeah I guess there’s a set of sorts of imagery that I’ve been making for years that I’ve been depicting very directly; and now I’m abstracting off that base of imagery.

So what I’m depicting is based off ‘Skulk’ as my collective idea of imagery and how I decide on what I depict now is a lot more organic. I don’t sort of directly go into … oh not every work… but I don’t go into most works knowing what I’m going to be painting because that’s what I’m trying to move away from, I’m trying to come into a work and just allow the depiction to guide itself [or unravel?] yeah unravel, Just trying to be abstract as well. Abstract the depiction I guess. Yeah.”

What’s your process when creating a piece?
“My process has changed. Kind of hard to know exactly what my process is, because I’m still exploring that. But basically I’ve gone from conceiving an idea of an image or a composition and then painting or drawing or expressing that idea, to allowing more of a free flowing process.

At the moment when I start a canvas, I’ll start with a sketch, I’ll sketch onto the canvas perhaps an image or imagery. But the sketch itself will really be open and loose. I’ll do a really organic sketch that reflects my work and then I’ll come in with a ruler or a piece of wood to create straight lines against the organic lines and I’ll divide up the frame and divide up the space and create more of an angular composition, over the top of the sketch and I guess from there I begin to fill it with colour and layers.

I work quite wet and loose at first- lots of water and lots of washes; my lighter, brighter colours and then I’ll just build the layers. I’ll follow the sketch and the composition but not always directly painting between the lines.

I follow it quite loosely; it gives me a bit of guidance to weigh and balance the image. Yeah and then I guess I just build the layers; pushing and pulling the colour or the balance or the composition even, changing composition whatever is needed to get the image to settle. Or for me to be happy with it.

And sometimes that won’t happen – I’ll push and pull an image and then I’ll completely destroy it or over work it and I won’t be happy with it and so I’ll just leave it and start another painting. Maybe I’ll come back to it and paint over it or work into it again. So it’s not always a precise direct sort of process to end up an artwork

Some people will go A-B-C-D and then they’ll have their artwork every time the exact same. But I’m trying to break that and abstract it more”

What made you move from street art to abstract art (post Berlin)?
“I went to art school, so I was trained or educated as an artist, a visual artist, and the whole graffiti, street art side was just something I did on the weekend. I’d go out and just draw on walls pretty much. The imagery I was depicting ended up becoming my art practice because I was public with it, so it’s a good question.

I wanted to change my work, and going to Berlin for an art residency gave me a chance to do that. I was away from everything, I had a studio and just a chance to make work. And I knew I wanted to abstract it, like I said, I was just bored of that process of really direct work. Where you could look at something and say I know what that is, or that’s exactly what’s there. It wasn’t interesting for me. So I didn’t really know what was going to happen when I started to push in this new direction but as soon as I started painting these new kinds of works I realised that these new works could fit in a fine art context.”

What are you currently working on?
“That’s a hard one at the moment. That’s a really pinnacle question. I’ve got a body of work from Berlin which I’m looking at (sigh) and I’m making some works, some paintings in reflection; like looking at those works and painting new works in reflection of them. And I guess I’m just trying to cull everything else a bit, trying to just cut back on all the smaller projects just to give myself more time to paint. Like, when I was overseas I had nothing to do in a sense. I had an open schedule so I could just paint all day if I needed to and know I could paint the next day. Or make work and then if I needed to fall into something for 2 or 3 hours I could do that. So that’s what I’m trying to do at the moment.

It’s a funny time, coming back from Berlin. Having that huge burst, massive change in my work; total freedom making all this exciting new work. Which I feel is quite strong. Now I’m coming back to reality, where I have other things to do. I’m not on holiday. And I’m trying to maintain that energy and keep exploring what I started exploring in Berlin. So yeah I guess in essence, I’m still just painting (chuckles) yeah just focusing more on painting. Live a little bit away from the low brow stuff. I think I just need to focus on my painting practice. And dedicate my time to exploring what I started in Berlin.

[Sweet] It’s pretty sweet. It’s crazy though. [It’s so exciting] yeah it’s like finally there’s a sort of maturing of the work. I don’t know, I feel like this work and what I want to do with this work is heading towards a professional artistic career.

Whereas before it was like Skulk, I always identified Skulk as a brand. In a sense. It’s been the same characters, and the same creatures… it’s still my art it’s still my expression, there’s still a lot in there.”

Do you have any upcoming gigs?
“I’ve just finished a mural in Leichhardt on Norton Street. Finished a mural there, for the Wall To Wall mural competition; which is run by the council. I’m doing this t-shirt design, teaching a couple of workshops, painting a mural here and there. I’m doing some wheat paste projects, sort of bits and bobs, whatever. I’m just trying to move those projects along and give myself time to paint.

As far as things are coming up… I mean, I really want to exhibit my Berlin works but it’s got to be the right gallery. I don’t want to show them anywhere, I kind of want to show them in a bit of a considered space, and where people will consider them (chuckles). But they’re not quite there yet either, they’re transitional works. Coming from one direction going into a new direction.

They need to be in the right space and I mean I’m hoping to have a show next year. What else is happening? I don’t know I’m trying to have nothing happening? I’m trying to get everything out of the way so I can just free up time to paint and focus on my practice. Just go quiet on all fronts. Either be doing the day job thing or painting.”

Be sure to keep a keen eye out for future exhibitions of Skulk’s work.

You can buy Skulk’s brilliant new wave Berlin works here.

Words by: Lotte Thomson-Vock