Chicago is bursting at the seams with prolific graffiti writers and street artists. Outside of their own trusted communities, many of these artists do not get the chance to speak about their experiences and their love for what they do. This series focuses on giving the microphone back to the artists who create public art in Chicago and those that foster it. Through these interviews I hope to archive the efforts of these artists while promoting a better understanding of the art itself and encouraging continued support for graffiti and street art.
At least three generations of artists, each with their own motivations, have added another layer of stories and experience to the legacy of street art in Chicago. Left Handed Wave is a young pioneer on that path who is creating a new way of looking. The work of Left Handed Wave examines contemporary culture by making comparisons to pop culture of the past, sometimes with a hint of kitsch. It re-purposes recognizable aesthetics with new (yet similar) pop icons, blurring the line between the new and the old to point out the repetitive nature of pop culture.
During our interview Left Handed Wave indulges us with some of his experiences and how street art became a part of his art making practice.
Nicolette Caldwell: I am interested to know more about the character in your wheat pastes. Could you explain a little bit about how your work developed since you started wheat pasting and how it has evolved?
Left Handed Wave: Typically referred to as the ‘banana man’, the character used in many of my wheat pastes is a person in a banana suit usually waving with his left hand. The first banana man was created in the summer of 2010 as screen print for a local print show over at Fugscreens Studios in Wicker Park. It was a simple project, 2 colors, 6 prints and I was done. I wasn’t thinking street art or wheat pastes in the beginning, it was supposed to be a one-time thing. Since the summer of 2010 Left Handed Wave has gone from a two color screen print to a wide variety of prints and wheat pastes scaling as high as 9 feet rocking anything from Jordan 1′s to Louis Vuitton designer suits.
NC: Have you always been creating art in Chicago? Or have you lived in other places? Traveled? Would you consider Chicago your home?
LHW: Although I began creating art in Chicago, I took Left Handed Wave back to college with me in the fall of 2010 when I was attending the University of Kentucky in Lexington Kentucky. In a city of maybe 250,000 you can imagine how lackluster the scene was in comparison to Chicago, but there still was some urban elements that inspired some of my earliest work.
In my last semester at UK I really got to experiment with the scale and image of my character and in a short while Left Handed Wave really got up and around. The people in Lexington really seemed to like the character and were appreciative of what little street art they had embarked on for this short time I was putting up work there. In a way, I think many of the people in Lexington were just as inspired by street/urban culture as I was, I just acted on it. Chicago has been home for almost a year now and I’ve been wheat pasting here and in New York since moving from Kentucky.
NC: Will you be showing at any galleries soon or do you only make work publicly?
LHW: I had my first solo exhibition at Taste Gallery in Lexington KY on Friday November 4th, which has 8 original works on display. I’ll be doing more public work in Chicago and hopefully many other cities but I’m always open to show proposals.
NC: Earlier you mentioned you’ve recently incorporated themes based on fashion designer Louis Vuitton. What is your motive and/or inspiration behind this particular work. Are you attempting to incorporate just the repetitiveness of the design itself or is there something else we should know about regarding the incorporation of the signature Vuitton aesthetic and the common Banana Man figure with in all of your work?
LHW: I like brands, but I’m more so obsessed with the power of branding and how it affects people. What I’m trying to do is put my art on a more personal level for everyone. High fashion; bags, purses, hats, sneakers, things like Louis Vuitton and Nike have all found a way into hearts and I wanted to incorporate these things into my art because people can relate to them and its for everybody, not just for art fanatics and the well off. Its not about the repetitiveness of the design because all these things have already been played out in some way, its about how you can reshape the brand into something new, cool, and visually appealing.
In a way, the banana man has already evolved into a brand, in fact, I find myself signing less work that contains the character because he is the staple, he is the signature and I’m just the CEO of Left Handed Wave.
NC: Having seen your work for the first time about a year ago (to date) it is very clear that your work is evolving. Keeping that in mind, could you explain some of the deliberate ways that you have chosen to change your work?
LHW: When I first started it was all about getting up. I took the traditional graffiti aesthetic and used the banana man as my tag to get my name up everywhere I possibly could. My first pasters were in black and white, solid colors were next, and brands would quickly follow. Although endless color and branding is still on the horizon, I grew tired of these things and began playing with the seasons. I started with an Easter bunny last April and did a trick-or-treating ghost for Halloween. Holiday versions of Left Handed Wave are my next street project and will be up before Christmas. Its nice when your work is flexible, I can manipulate my character into almost anything and I have an endless outlet of material to play with.
NC: Where do you see yourself one year from now and how do you see your work changing?
LHW: As an artist I can only take things one day at time, but some interesting things are in the works. What I can tell you is I’m currently working on some holiday pasters and hopefully banana man plush will be available by Christmas time or early 2012. I would love to do more large-scale public murals and outdoor projects. I hope to do a little traveling and continue to paste my images everywhere and anywhere possible. So bigger and better! And stickers too!
NC: Since our initial interview you had mentioned you were having a show in Kentucky? Yes? How did that go? Did you have certain expectations?
LHW: Yes, the University of Kentucky is my alma mater and I had a solo show at Taste Gallery in Lexington. I didn’t really have any expectations, but my Kentucky family took care of me for the week so I wanted to do it. The show as whole went pretty well, it was more of a party, but I liked that aspect, everyone was getting down and I like to think it was a success.
NC: Are there any differences to the way people viewed your work there than here in Chicago?
LHW: Since there isn’t much graffiti or street art in Lexington Kentucky, the people that are familiar seem to like it a lot; they really appreciate what little they have. Overall though, I’d say it’s viewed about the same, people can relate to the subject matter and visually they’re attracted and curious.
NC: From previous conversations with others I have learned there is a very tight commodore between many street and graffiti artists. How has your experience been being younger than many of the other artists creating similar work here in Chicago?
LHW: I’m conscious that I’m young, but there are a select few who are younger and better. Its nice being young and active in the street scene, but all that means is I have much more to learn. Everyone has to put in their time here and because it is such a close knit community anyone whose anyone probably already knows who you are and what your about.
NC: Over the last couple of years I have seen many artists who recently graduated from college with a fine art degree leave Chicago shortly after. Why do you decide to continue living and working in Chicago as a visual artist? Are there any significant reasons that you could maybe explain that influenced your overall decision to stay?
LHW: After graduating college I didn’t really have a choice (I was broke) but I wanted to come back to Chicago. I knew I was going to be involved in street art so my options were limited, New York was just too big and too much to handle when I graduated and Los Angeles was just over saturated with street art. Although NYC and LA are both hotbeds for art of all types, Chicago just felt right. If I was going to make it anywhere it’s going to be here, but like I said, everything is day by day.
NC: I often wonder where creative inspiration comes from – why artists decide to begin putting their work out in the public and what motivates the type of work they develop. How did this begin for you? When did you decide to start putting art on the street? Was there a moment when you were like, “a ha!” this is what I was born to do?
LHW: The first street piece I ever did was in the summer of 2010, somewhere on Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. I was inspired by a lot of the other street work going up in Wicker Park that summer and I wanted to participate, so I took my latest screen print design from the Fugscreens print show and pasted him. I did a few more that summer, but it didn’t really click for me until images started surfacing on the Internet. In those early moments I realized I had something and although I frequently question what the fuck I’m doing, it’s safe to say I haven’t looked back.
NC: Have you had any struggles along the way? What have you learned from those experiences?
LHW: I believe I can balance out the struggles with hard work. Buzz is what keeps me above the struggle. As long I keep creating work, street or no street, people will respond and I will continue to evolve. I’ve learned to be humble, respectful, and most importantly, curious. Art is a fragile thing – always approach it with a respectful attitude.
NC: What is your favorite thing about the Chicago art community?
LHW: I like to think it’s evolving, so my favorite thing about the Chicago art community is its potential to be better than what it already is.
NC: What do you think you add to the city?
LHW: Something you love or something you love to hate.