2&6 COLLECTIVE INTERVIEWS
“I’ve learned more from hip-hop than academia or organised religion could dream of teaching me.”
I got a chance to have a chat with the bossman artist, farther & Hip-Hop lover Stu Mason. His work is incredibly intricate & wide ranging, covering subjects like portraits of High Focus pioneer Dabbla and US MC’s like Tupac and Biggie. All the way to chromatic sketches of city life that could easily be the mood-board for a sick graphic novel. We loved Stu’s work so much we had to find out a bit more about how UK music influences his creations.We hope to work with him a lot in the coming few months on some exciting projects. Anyway enough from me, over to the man we all came here too see. 2&6 presents, Stu Mason: Designer, Illustrator, Mess Maker.
1.What do you find to be the most challenging technique to work with: Sketching, Street Art, Graphic Design or Ink Work?
I’m really fortunate in that I can pick techniques up pretty quickly and I think it’s because I try to take a kind of analytical/engineering approach to mastering new skills. Growing up in the sticks, I was always around a lot of ‘applied knowledge’ – farmers, engineers and the like – it made way more sense to me to learn by doing than by reading. Getting my first design job for example, Adobe had just appeared on the scene and you had either been taught InDesign, or this other piece of software Quark which soon became defunct – and of course, I had been taught Quark.
So the night before I started the job I learned InDesign – no YouTube back then either – I just sat down and worked it out. However, as fast as I can pick up skills, my ability to function day to day in the ‘real’ world is far more questionable. Ha! It’s not THAT bad but I’m very fortunate to have the friends and family I do.
2.What was the inspiration & thought process behind the Dabbla portrait.
Yeah, that Dabbla one was fun, and I was blown-away by the reception!
He’s such an exaggerated character and so expressive with it, naturally that was a big draw. But my dad has always done Tai Chi and Kung Fu and he used to draw a lot of Zen/Buddhist philosophy type stuff when I was young – that all tends to filter through into my work so it was nice to let loose for once rather than reign it in!
Amongst the stylistic elements and boldness though, there’s a lot of symbolism too – much like in Dabbla’s own work. The triangle for example: the masculine, balanced by his third-eye, and the energy from Potent Funk on the right being channelled into and embodiment of the track (the snake) on the left. But then I’ll fuck with all of that and split his melon open, and put the words ‘a snake’ between his legs. It’s all about balance – some of that stuff is obvious, some less so. Some daft, some dipped in Zen. Yin Yang, Light Dark – Chiaroscuro.
3.The first piece of street art you did as the epic mural of the black cat. Did you have any nerves about handing your work over to the public or working out in the open?
That cat was a funny one! I was a pretty senior Creative at a B2B Marketing agency and in retrospect, for the previous year or two, I was a mess – I wasn’t supposed to be in that environment, but I was trying to do the right thing as a parent. I was good at it but I wasn’t the best version of myself whilst being good at it. And so the cost started to outweigh the benefit. To combat that, I myself reconnected with my youth – I started painting again and then shortly after rollerblading too. I stuck with the job a while longer but eventually new I had too find another path.
Around the time I was serving my notice I had a few close calls with the law out painting and so when I was presented with a voucher for a skate shop that sold paint, I knew I had to paint something big – and as Stu – on my own terms. I loved the idea of the agency’s parting gift being used to paint a giant kitten that stalked the skyline over my local skatepark [which looked especially cool as night fell]. The icing on the cake though – the Police sharing it on their Twitter as an example of ‘great art’ – it felt like getting one over on the whole system before moving on with life, in search of a more positive direction.
4.The influence of Hip Hop & Comic book’s is strung through out all your works, some reference it directly and some more inferred than stated. When did these interests start and how crucial are they to your ideas?
4. I can’t work without hip-hop and films. I’ve always been easily distracted and so I’ve found that I need music or a film on in the background – it helps me focus. The films though, they have to be ones I love and can watch over and over – anything new I want to absorb and obsess over the visuals, and so I find myself watching [more listening to] Ghost In The Shell, Akira, La Haine and Leon, on repeat. But more than that, it’s the culture of hip-hop that’s influenced me. Regardless of where I’ve been in life, it’s always been there. Politically, Philosophically, and Spiritually – I’ve learned more from hip-hop than academia or organised religion could dream of teaching me. [When I finished writing the rest of this I was on my third play of GITS, by example]
5.Who or What are some of your key artistic influences?
5. My memory for names and places is really terrible, and so I’ve never really connected with the art world – everyone’s so keen to discuss so-and-so’s latest piece or such-and-such’s techniques, and I can barely remember my own name half the time [I’ve genuinely forgotten by own DOB before now]. When your acceptance as someone who knows what you’re talking about depends on that sort of recall, and your ability to talk about it, you find you don’t get accepted so much. But anything visual, the mechanics of things, how stuff works and functions, that’s all going in, in the most insane detail – and I can build on that.
That being said though, Reubens’ sketches I love in the same way I love Mode 2’s work, and Caravaggio’s use of light was hauntingly familiar when I first made that connection. Black and white print and TV growing up in the 90s influence in the same way as the composition and supers in La Haine – and that cow come to think of it! Ha! It’s all one big melting pot – le monde est a nous!
6.You play with light & dark in a very unique way. How do you build so much atmosphere in your work.
6. So, despite being pretty visual, I don’t imagine in the way most people seem to – I can’t close my eyes and see something, it’s just black noise and the odd flicker of form, but nothing tangible – I have to feel it out from there. And I do literally feel it, shaping the basic blocks, carving out a silhouette, and building form from there. Working white onto black started to make the most practical sense. Often, so a piece doesn’t take weeks, I’ll start that process digitally – quickly throwing components of image together in a photoshop composition and then use that as visual reference to draw from. But I still enjoy the process of classical technique, only I love flinging paint around more!
7.Would you ever think about showcasing your work in Amsterdam some time?
7. Fuck yes! [Please] Painting in Amsterdam would be nuts. I’ve not been since art college around 2000 and at the time I promised myself I would paint there one day. And skate that park outside the Van Gogh Museum!
8.Finally, were can people cop your work my Guy?
8. After decades hawking my soul in marketing and advertising, I try not to reproduce my work, working instead on original pieces. I know that sounds self-defeating in this day and age, but I believe medium is integral to a work of art and by reproducing in a different medium, it loses some of that integrity – what works on a wall 6ft high, does not in necessarily translate well to a mug, or badly printed tshirt, unless it’s intended to be there. And I love a crappy mug!
However, I do create prints and they’re designed and intended as such – celebrating the medium. I started a series of hip-hop tributes last year featuring Big, Pac, Nas and Gangstarr – they’re all on my website www.stumason.com. I also do low cost, small-run originals (generally less than 10) that give people opportunity to own an original artwork, effectively for the cost of the piece. Ha! It’s just struck me that advertising turned me into a communist! The irony.
WRITTEN BY: CHRIS KELLY
ARTWORK: STU MASON