"E.L.K is possibly the best stencil artist in the world … ever." – Banksy.
Browsing through his portfolio, it is hard to believe that Canberra stencil artilst E.L.K has only been interested in art since his twenties. What is even more unbelievable, is that his detailed, photo realistic artwork was created using a spraycan. Ranging from photographic portraits of famous faces and landmarks, to his bold collection of religion and war commentary, E.L.K has the uncanny ability to make a ordinary image, extraordinary. The process of cutting stencils from an image, layering and spray painting each individual coloured stencil (around 60 in total) on to a canvas, is as difficult to explain as it is to perfect, and the finished product is a testament to E.L.K’s talent and hard work.
The self taught artist began experimenting with stencils as a hobby, which quickly snowballed into an obsession. He explains to G&T how his beginnings were humble, at best, “It took a long time working shit jobs with shit people and coming home to spend all my spare time making art. Looking back I was quite unhappy doing this, but I always knew if I persevered things would work out, and they did. Now I'm doing art all the time, surrounded by awesome people that are fun to be around.” The first stencil he ever cut, a portrait of the late comedian Bill Hicks, remains his favourite piece of art, despite acknowledging its rookie result, “In hindsight it’s actually a really, really shit painting, but at the time I was so happy with it, I knew I'd found something that I liked to do. That's my favourite piece.”
Sometimes taking up to 200 hours on a single piece, (although he admits he won’t be doing that again in a hurry), E.L.K contributes hard work and sacrifice to his international success. “If you want to be successful at something, you can’t expect to have too much free time, but when you’re doing what you love all the time, you don't miss it.” A self proclaimed perfectionist, E.L.K stands as his artwork’s own biggest critic, “not as in everything I do [needs to be] perfect, but in the way that nothing I do is ever good enough for me, [I am] never satisfied. It makes me try harder than most people … you’re only ever as good as your last piece, so I do concentrate a lot about pushing the boundaries personally, technically, conceptually.”
E.L.K is internationally praised by fans and fellow stencil artists, contributing to a plethora of exhibitions, and recently had artwork hung alongside, who he calls the “Godfather” of stencil artists, Blek le Rat. Progressing from street art to murals to art galleries was a natural transition for E.L.K, and he rejects the notion that the move to the professional industry is deserting his original motivations as an artist, “the work I do is quite small and very intricate already so it really is suited to be on canvas, I love doing street work, but a 60 layered multi-coloured stencil is not conducive to stealth vandalism … There's a misbelief that crossing over is selling out, I see it as cashing in. It came from the desire to be self sufficient as an artist.”
Very picky with his subject matter, E.L.K insists this is what makes his artwork successful, “selectivity is what makes art good. It needs to make people look, think and feel.” Music, war and religion are the key themes that pop up throughout the E.L.K portfolio and he notes that his paintings expose things about himself that even he wasn’t aware of, “they [artworks] are influenced by my views of the world, my inspirations, frustrations, hates, desires … I'm starting to notice that the work I do on the street is based around social commentary, but works on canvas for gallery shows are becoming very introspective, I'm learning a lot about myself from the content I'm introducing into my new work.”
E.L.K is currently showcasing in the Metro Gallery in Melbourne, and will be until October 20. As for his next colourful chapter, he hints bigger and better things; “I'm putting together a whole new body of work at the moment, I'm actually really excited about it too, next level shit. Heading to Berlin to do some work early next year, and maybe take some time off to travel the world, I feel like I’ve earned it.”
A bit of time off for someone who spends up to 200 hours perfecting each painting …We feel you have earned it too.