Eelus is one of the most important artists of the street art movement, having first burst onto the scene in the early 2000s alongside artists including Banksy, Faile, Ben Eine and D-Face. Although he still produces limited edition prints and large bold-coloured murals, Eelus’ work – which has roots in his graphic design and illustrating background – now includes provocative brass sculptures. His latest exhibition – informed by his anxieties about the all-pervasive nature of social media (especially on children) – mixes humour with the macabre, light with dark and sets his signature bright bursts of colour against grey skies to deliver powerful messages about the brutality and beauty of life. Here, he tells The Colour File’s Martha Roberts what colour means to him, at work and at play …
Martha: Can you describe your first colour memory?
Eelus: As weird as it sounds, my earliest memory was being on holiday with my parents and being picked up by Darth Vader. I remember this big, shiny, terrifying black face – not the most colourful of memories but one that has stayed with me!
Martha: Do you have a favourite colour and has this changed over the years?
Eelus: I like the combination of a lobster red-orange with a bold blue. It’s quite jarring but I like the way they stand out next to each other. I’ve used this in quite a few of my artworks.
Martha: What is your favourite colourful object/objects and why?
Eelus: I recently bought a hand puppet for my daughter, Pearl. It has a long rainbow coloured neck and we’ve called it Jango. I love getting home, sticking it on and seeing her instant beautiful gummy smile (she’s only five months).
Martha: How does colour make you feel? To what extent do you use it in your work or personal life to influence your moods or those of people who collect or enjoy your art?
Eelus: I like contrasting colours and mixing them alongside complimentary shades. I often use bright bursts alongside muted darker shades. Colour for me represents potential in people and life and the dark represents the backdrop. It’s a very positive thing for me.
Martha: Do you have a colour you could happily do without?
Eelus: Beige. Magnolia. There’s just no life to it, no drama! But really I love all colours, they each have their place.
Martha: How does colour get involved in your day-to-day life? Does it permeate your life from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep?
Eelus: In short, yes. As an artist, colour combinations are always on my mind. Whenever I’m out, I could be in an antique shop or see something interesting in the street, I’m constantly taking photographs to store on file for inspiration. The same when I’m watching films, I’ll often pause the film to take a screen shot of frames I like.
Martha: How do you choose colours for your work and where does your colour inspiration come from?
Eelus: I have a folder for my photographs and cut outs from magazines, classic comics and book covers. Anything that inspires me goes in there. Often an idea for a new artwork will already have a vivid colour standing out in my mind. If I’m working on a piece where the colour palette isn’t immediately obvious, I’ll play around with the image in photoshop to change the colours and see which I like best. If I’m still unsure I’ll revert back to my folder for more inspiration.
Martha: Do you think there are rules about colour? Or are rules made to be broken?
Eelus: Rules are definitely made to be broken. Colours don’t have to be complimentary; I love contrast. Colour is about fun and rules shouldn’t be applied to fun in my opinion. Anything and everything goes depending on your taste. Colours are so subjective; one colour could mean something to one person and something completely different to the next.
Martha: Do you have a colour story or anecdote?
Eelus: When I was a kid we had this 1970’s orange floral biscuit tin, always full of goodies. One day I decided to scrape my name into the bright orange lid with a cutlery knife, revealing the silver underneath. I must have been about eight or nine. I still remember the telling off like it was yesterday, and my folk still have the tin!
Martha: Do you have any colour ‘secrets’, maybe something nobody knows about you in relation to colour, or has colour ever got you into trouble?…
Eelus: I was once nearly done for shoplifting after walking out of a paint shop with a few sample tins of really nice coloured emulsion I wanted to play around with. For some reason my brain associated the word ‘sample’ with ‘free’, so I popped them in my bag, thanked the shopkeeper and strolled out before he came running after me, furious. It was difficult trying to explain that I was in fact just an idiot, and not a criminal.
Martha: If you could give people advice about using colour, what would it be? Eelus: Experiment as much as possible. Never be afraid to put different colours together – whether it’s the way you dress, make art or decorate your home. Let colour honestly reflect your personality.
Martha: If you had a colour named in your honour, what colour would it be & why
Eelus: There are two colours I’d love named in my honour. Either the very delicate shade in between red and orange, almost lobster. It’s so vibrant and lively; I like how it’s not really sure of its own identity. I’m also fascinated by Vantablack, which is a relatively new man-made substance which is the darkest artificial colour ever created. The only thing to rival its blackness is a black hole in space. That fact makes the nerd in me very giddy. Unfortunately Anish Kapoor has exclusive rights to its artistic use. But there’s apparently a close rival now that’s available for public use by request, something I’m going to have to look into.
- Catch Eelus’ show Dance Boldly Through The Storm at Lawrence Alkin Gallery in New Compton Street, London.