Do The Right Thing
In these overall weird and troubled times we’re living in, it’s almost paradoxical that everything still feels to be in-between somehow, when you should rather actually fully embrace the surrounding chaos in order to shape an elaborate and explicit vision. New York-based artist Lilkool certainly does - and luckily, he isn’t sparing us the colorful details.
Majorly informed by cartoons, graff and Bauhaus - the German art school, not the band - Lilkool’s characters might inhabit a surreal, psychedelic world next to ours, but this doesn’t imply that they aren’t outspoken in terms of contemporary hot issues such as gun control, capitalism and climate change - to name just a few. Having delivered the goods to major clients like Nike or Apple Music in the past, these days he’s focused on bringing more social and philosophical point of views into the work, while keeping a bizarro landscape of forever falling down the rabbit-hole of chaos we all create in our mad man world. Time for Lodown to finally catch up with the outstanding artist.
Josh, you originally hail from Dallas but have been calling New York your home for over a decade. What was the reason for moving up north during a time when the city just went even more insane in terms of basic costs and competition?
Yes, good ole Dallas, Texas was a really great place to grow up. I got to do so many things and had experiences I couldn’t have had living in other states in America. But as I got older, it started to feel redundant and a bit basic. I love to say I am from there, but I definitely needed a new change of scenery and pace of life. I have always been fascinated with New York City, and I just had to find a way to be a part of it. I initially went to college at Parsons School of Design for photography and realized it was too expensive to keep going. I also started working as a photo assistant in the fashion photography industry, so while I was learning more and getting paid, I decided school wasn’t a lucrative option for me at that moment. While at the same time, I was exploring the world of graffiti and the NYC party scene. I dove in deep into NYC graffiti and cartoons, and have never been the same since. Oh and I actually love the competition. It’s like for me, either go big or go home. Might as well die trying before giving up, haha.
Your color palette was always a rather intense one, but there has been a topical change during the last years in particular, or so it seems. Would you say that in these days it became a necessity to position yourself politically?
Yeah, I always try to progress in some practice I am focused on. Colors have always been very important to me... you know, the way how color affects your mood or can trick your brain. I really got into the Bauhaus movement and the history of the school. Josef Albers and Johannas Itten were so fascinating to me that I really started to read and study their color theory. Learning about how to become better with color has been my main goal and going through that journey has been very exciting for me. I like to dabble in the political scene, but I definitely do not want to be considered a political artist. I really respect Bernie Sanders and his message, so, naturally, I wanted to try my hand at some political art.
Speaking of the election: how did you get on board with making work for Bernie Sanders? Did they officially address you?
Well, I did my first poster design back in 2015 and started to sell it on my own. Then I donated the money to his campaign. A friend of mine knew the director of cultural arts for his campaign, and since they really liked the poster they asked me if I wanted to get involved.
Your images are bursting with (pop) cultural references, which you, more than often, then put in slightly different contexts. What were your main influences when you started doing graffiti back in the days? And did these influences/references significantly change over the years?
I love older cartoons and bootleg references. Some of my favorite illustrators and animators from that time are like Ralph Bakshi and Robert Crumb. I have always been inspired by their work. Watching their cartoons and reading comics from a young age, allowed me to develop an eye for the aesthetic I am trying to master. As for graffiti, I was very influenced by West Coast and Euro graff. I feel like the influences get more and more deeply rooted and evolve over time through the day to day of experiences of my life. Sometimes I can get obsessed with a cartoon based on how I am feeling or what is currently going on in the world. I think cartoon characters represent a lot and can be deeply analyzed, even in a sociological kind of way.
From doing murals to creating cover artwork and executing specific jobs for major clients - you basically cover the whole spectrum of what an artist can do. These days, is there a particular technique you prefer the most?
Yes, that is the goal. Keeping myself busy in all aspects while always progressing. I enjoy digital as a way of trying out new things or for doing mock up designs to where they could become paintings. Sometimes, while working on commercial jobs, I’ll be drawing lots of similar concepts that over time will start to pop up in some of my paintings... just depends on the direction of the work. More or less, the end goals are the paintings. That’s my favorite part, and I want to be doing that full time... but I also know, while being young, I should explore as many avenues as possible. Commercial work can pay my bills while funding other projects and allow me to focus on what I love about painting. I feel like this can be the most relaxing part of being an artist. Brush strokes to canvas is so satisfying.