A HIT OF STROMAE

Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend one of the most well known music festivals in the United States, South by Southwest, for the first time ever. It was an absolutely incredible experience. I never thought that a city could pull off having live music dispersed throughout it at all times for a solid week, but South by Southwest manages to do just that in Austin, Texas. I met and photographed a ton of artists while I was there. Some were performing at a festival for the very first time in their careers, others came as industry veterans to present their newest musical projects. It was interesting to hear all of their stories, get inspired by their passions for music, and of course - see them play live. However, one artist I met happened to stand out the most. In fact, it wasn't only my eyes and ears who felt that this setting would be his grand entrance into mainstream American music. Everyone there could feel it. Both through the words of the press and the lens of social media, it was very clear - Stromae has officially arrived. 

As I'm sitting at my computer typing this introduction a few months later, I'm still in awe of how much his star his risen stateside since the day I met him. Fortunately for me, our meeting was the most American thing ever. We sat at a small table at the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, sipped on some coffee and munched on some of the best chicken and waffles I've ever had. Well, I ate them and he watched, but you know what they say - when in Texas!

As we chatted one thing that struck me the most was his appreciation for the American people, which was mainly due to their indifference to who he was. They tended not to bother him and he liked that. In France, he explained, he couldn't walk down any street without being recognized. I remember finding that funny, not that he was a European celebrity, but that he didn't really consider that his performances and press appointments in Austin would have the same effect on his stardom here. Regardless, with the finest American delicacies (fried chicken!) on deck and a Belgium accent slightly effecting the ease of our communication, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the tall, dark, handsome and colorfully dressed, Stromae. The conversation shared between us below:

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Q & A W/STROMAE

SM: So how’s South by Southwest been for you so far?

STROMAE: It’s cool, it’s nice. It’s something new for me and it’s like the best supermarket for music in the United States.

SM: You’ve never been here before?

STROMAE: No, it’s my first time! There is such a big concentration of music here. Technology as well, I didn’t know! It’s a really interesting and inspiring event.

SM: And I heard you’re also doing Coachella this year, is that right?

STROMAE: It will be my first time there too, but Coachella has an international aura more than South by Southwest. South by Southwest feels like it’s more for the professionals. Coachella is more for the mainstream, if I can define it like this. They’re both a lot of pressure to perform at, though.

SM: Yeah, but you’ve been doing great here. I’ve seen you all over Instagram too. You have been one of the hottest performers at South by Southwest.

STROMAE: Thank you! It’s been great here. I also have a North America tour coming up. I’m going to spend one month touring the west coast and in September I’ll be in the east coast, with a show at Madison Square Garden.

SM: Oh yeah, that’s a huge show.

STROMAE: It’s difficult to realize, to imagine. It’s too far away. It’s not the time to think about it yet.

SM: You must be very excited for that though. That’s a huge deal. I heard you’re also launching a clothing line in the United States. Can you tell me a bit about that?

STROMAE: It’s the second collection. It’s a small capsule collection that we released a year ago in April 2014. We released the second collection in December. It was just available in Europe, though, but as of the 24th of March it will be available all around the world. I’m happy to announce it because we had some demand in the United States, from Russia, from everywhere. I couldn’t get it everywhere then and I was sad about it, but I can now. So, I’m really happy. Everyone can buy it now. The new capsule collection will release in June, I hope. I don’t know exactly when yet.

SM: Do you find it difficult to balance building that brand and also expanding the reach of your music?

STROMAE: Yes, a bit, especially because in the beginning they were one in the same. We were creating clothes just for me, for the performances, for the music videos like Papaoutai and Tous le memes. After that we just decided to make the clothing available to people who liked it and sell it. It’s not my merchandise; it’s really a clothing line. It’s important for us to do something that we’re convinced by and really involved in. Coralie Barbier is the fashion designer, I’m just the A&R. That’s not my job. Don’t try to do something you know you cannot do.

 

 

 

SM: Are you wearing the clothes right now?

STROMAE: Yes. I’m wearing the cardigan, polo and socks from the new collection. For the next release I’m hoping we can do some shorts of the same material. We still try to stay unisex.

SM: So girls can wear Mosaert too?

STROMAE: Yes. It’s really important for our brand. It’s just different sizing for men and women, but it’s the same product. I wanted it to be the same. I have been so jealous of women, because the clothes you have available to you are –

SM: Cool clothes!

STROMAE: Yes! There have been so many times where I’ve seen some beautiful womens’ shoes and have asked – is it possible to have this in a size 44? And they never have it because it’s only for women. For men we only have clothing in like black, brown, gray and horrible shoes. It’s all the same thing. 

SM: It’s true. I’m glad you’re doing it and I’m glad you’re bringing it here too because Americans don’t take on as exciting fashion trends as Europeans do. It would be cool to have clothes like that.

STROMAE: It’s interesting to see the differences in fashion in Europe and the United States. People react completely different here. In Europe, if you do music and then you do something else it’s not really well accepted. In the United States it’s completely accepted. Here, it’s good if you’re doing something else you’re expressing yourself in a different way. In Europe you have to go step by step. 

SM: Yeah, for sure. So, when you’re on tour are you also working on this collection? What is it like being on tour with you?

STROMAE: I wake up at noon. We eat, we do some interviews, we handle some emails and we like to have fun when it’s possible. In France, it’s a bit difficult to discover the city because a lot of people recognize me. It’s a little bit more complicated there. In Brussels, it's a little bit more quite and here, it’s nice. I can walk down the street with my whole team.

SM: And people won’t really bother you that much.

STROMAE: No, it’s really okay here.

SM: Have you gone out here in Austin?

STROMAE: Yeah, it’s really nice. There’s a lot of people, a lot of cool bars, music and stuff. We went to Easy Tiger and played on the ping-pong tables. It is so nice.

SM: Where has been your favorite place that you’ve been to in the United States so far?

STROMAE: My favorite city in the US? It’s difficult to answer this. I love the gritty parts of Philadelphia.

SM: Really!?

STROMAE: I went there on tour in September. The gritty side of Philadelphia is exactly like Belgium. It reminded me of Belgium. You know when you’re in a place where the people are used to having a lot of sun? When they have a grey day it’s like the end of the world or something. For people who are used to rain, when they have the sun they bask in its beauty. They realize it’s a beautiful day because they are not used too. That’s the gritty part of Philadelphia.

a hit of jmsn

Indie-R&B singer, song-writer and producer, JMSN, is not at all what you would expect him to be – he is himself.

I met him for the first time at Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg, while on the New York leg of his east coast tour. There were still several hours before Christian Berishaj was due to perform, but somehow the venue was already crowded with excited fans heavily anticipating JMSN’s impending performance. And suddenly while I’m pushing through the crowd with JMSN’s manager, he appears in the most casual of ways. Emerging from beneath a big winter coat, I assume he partially wore to keep himself warm in New York’s uncomfortable brisk and also to shield his identity from fans unknowingly surrounding him from all angles, there he is. Despite seeing photographs of him beforehand, I’m still surprised by his appearance. It’s as mysterious as it is humble. His shoulder length hair seems unbrushed, his beard grown out, and his outfit of choice - an old t-shirt and Champion gym shorts. His look is something you’d expect someone to wear in the comfort of their living room, not on stage for a concert they’re headlining.

Strange as it may be, the lack of effort he put into his appearance is what ultimately makes him that more interesting and as a relief to me, very approachable. His casual demeanor is what eventually inspires me to shoot him in the sketchiest parts of Cameo Gallery without any second thought – their graffiti covered bathroom, their strangely wide open electrical closet, and on their dirty basement stairs. He doesn’t seem to care, in fact it actually feels like he’s having as much fun as I am photographing him in the next odd location we can find. He looks into your eyes while you’re speaking to him, he flashes genuine smiles at certain moments, he is fully present throughout the entire interaction. You’d be surprised that someone with this caliber of talent, whose star is so quickly on the rise, and whose collaborators already include heavy hitters like rapper, Kendrick Lamar, and Producer, Ta-Ku is this low-key.

And once he gets on stage, it all makes sense. JMSN doesn’t need flashing lights, a decadent set, or a stellar wardrobe to impress you. The passion in his beautiful voice, the dedication to producing immaculate music and oddly enough, his awkward but amusing dance moves are more than enough to hook you in. By passing on the massive record labels who tried to and once did sign Christian Berishaj with the intent to glamourize his look and pop-ify his music, he proved to them, to himself and to his fans- that he could only be the best musician he can be by staying true to himself. I had the opportunity to speak with him after his show and I found that that statement could not be more honest.


Read the full interview on Billboard. Gold Frame Impossible Project polaroids taken at Cameo Gallery, February 14th, 2015. Animal Print Frame Impossible Project polaroids taken at SOBs, February 15th, 2015. Though I wasn't aware of it at the time, both varieties of film happened to be expired when these were taken resulting in a few minor imperfections. Their unique flaws are what make them beautiful, an outcome of a dated photography form that can't authentically replicated in digital. These are truly one of a kind prints.

a hit of sunny gu

livliness in illustrations

In recent news it was reported that The Washington Post was purchased for an underwhelming $250 million dollars. It's interesting to note this when considering that not much earlier this year, short form blogging platform, Tumblr, was bought for a staggering $1.1 billion. With those numbers in mind, it's very easy to identify the direction our media is going in. Although it's unfortunate to some, twenty years from now garnering your news solely from the internet will be something our entire population complies with and thus be completely normal. Though, it is hard to imagine the world without print newspapers. It's even harder to fathom a fashion magazine without any photographs in it. Yet, less than a decade ago that was the norm. Before the 1930's, if you picked up a copy of Vogue you wouldn't see a perfected photograph of one of your favorite celebrities, instead you'd find a beautiful illustration. Inside the magazine everything would be illustrated as well- the editorials, the advertisements, everything. Fashion Illustration plays a huge role in the history of the industry and has been around for nearly 500 years. Ever since clothes have been in existence there has been a need to translate a thought or an image into a fashion illustration. As Nicholas Drake mentioned in his book, Fashion Illustration Today, "not only do fashion illustrations show a representation or design of a garment but they also serve as a form of art. Fashion illustration shows the presence of hand and is said to be a visual luxury."

Still, pursuing a career in illustration is discouraged even more so than a career in journalism. Jobs are few and rare and the competition is incredibly steep. However, those statistics don't keep people from dreaming and for the braver creatives, it doesn't keep them from doing. That notion is what attracts me to fashion illustrators. The talents behind the art form aren't doing it for the money, they can't. They are doing it because it is something that they absolutely love to do and technology isn't going to stop them from creating. In illustrator Sunny Gu's case, technology, only assisted the artist in her chosen career path. A few months ago, I noticed Gu's drawings on a fashion blog and was immediately drawn to the vibrant colors, attention to detail, and creativity her work expressed. Shortly after, I looked her up and found out that she had a facebook fanpage, which she consistently updates with every new drawing. I became a fan and every now and then I would see her latest project and find myself ogling it. She seemed very active in her work and her clients also seemed quite major. Not too long ago the illustration above was featured on Swide, Dolce & Gabbana's online magazine. I was both curious and amazed by her. She is talented, completely humble and clearly very driven. I was interested in getting to know more about how Gu became an illustrator and how she turned her dream into a reality. Today, I invite you to explore her work and learn more about woman behind the illustrations.

Take a hit of Sunny Gu.

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Q & A W/Sunny Gu

SM: How did you first get into illustration? How did your upbringing influence your career path? 

SG: I have always loved drawing and painting! Making art has been my favorite hobby since I was a child! I still remember when my kindergarten friends enjoyed their free time playing outdoors, I was so satisfied spending time at home with a handful of colorful crayons and a little sketchbook. In the beginning I was just doing it for fun. It was my high school photography teacher who encouraged me to apply to an art school. That was the first time I seriously thought about turning my hobbies into a professional career. So I worked hard, put together a portfolio and got accepted to my dream school, Otis College of Art and Design in California. I started working as a freelance illustrator when I was studying there. There are many hard choices and challenges along the way, I’m always very grateful to have very supportive family and friends who give me the courage to keep chasing my dreams. 

SM: What did you study in college? How has going to school there benefited your work? 

SG: I studied Communication Arts-Illustration at Otis College of Art and Design. I gained basic illustration knowledge and built my foundation skills during my study in there. The illustration major at my school was very broad, we were focusing on critical thinking skills and how to use different mediums. The most precious things I got from college are the people I have had the pleasure of meeting. I learned to have a strong work ethic from my professors and classmates. I built friendships with like-minded passionate people who share the same dreams as I do. It’s a bliss to have amazing people around you who always make you want to be a better person, personally and professionally.



SM: How did you develop an interest in fashion? Who are some of your favorite designers? 

SG: I have always been interested in fashion. I developed a strong interest in fashion illustration when I came across some fashion illustration books during college. Some of my favorite designers are Raf Simons, Karl Lagerfeld, Miuccia Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Marc Jacobs, Prabal Gurung and Mary Katrantzou.



SM: How do you create your work? Is it done completely by hand or do you also enhance it digitally? What do you enjoy most about the process?

SG: I create illustrations completely by hand first, scan, and then adjust some minor details in photoshop if needed. For most of my illustrations, I paint them in watercolor. I love the vibrancy and unpredictable nature of watercolor. Occasionally I use graphite or acrylic paint to render some special textures. Sometimes the process is different depending on the illustration. If I’m creating an illustration with a very complex composition for a client, I normally paint the characters, certain textures and background separately to make it easy when any edition is requested by the client. What I enjoy most is the magical process of making an idea, story, illusion, imagination into a reality!

SM: Is this your full-time career? If so, how did you get the word out and start working with other companies? 

GM: Yes, it is my full-time career. I have a few online portfolios and maintain an active blog and print shop. I update them frequently with new illustrations and designs. I really believe in rapport and the power of word of mouth. I always try to deliver my best work to all of my clients and customers. I build friendships and trust with the people I do work for as well. Offer help and advice to others. A little kindness and generosity can go a long way. I’m always on the look out for new promotion and collaboration opportunities. Connect with prospective clients and other talents. The most important things to do in order to build credibility and start working with more companies are to prioritize quality and great customer service.

SM: What types of things inspire your art work? Are there other illustrators who you admire or have influenced your style?

SG: I find inspirations from simple things in life: sunshine, smiles, a blooming flower. I get inspired by artists, designers, fashion trends, people and artifacts from different cultures. Yes! There are too many! I especially love the works done by great fashion illustration masters René Gruau, David Downton and Bil Donovan.

SM: What advice would you give to other artists & illustrators in order to succeed?

SG: Don’t wait for opportunities to come knocking on your door, create your own opportunity! Believe in yourself and keep chasing your dreams.

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To see more of Sunny's work make sure to check out her Website, Facebook, and Blog. You can purchase one her original works on Etsy and stay up to date with her on twitter.

a hit of jane bowler

A British Designer With A Unique Vision

Starting a clothing brand without financial backing sounds nearly impossible; well, that's because it's not very probable. That is, of course, unless your drive drowns out the people who tell you what cannot be done. British fashion designer, Jane Bowler, has that drive as well as an immense sense of individuality in her creations. She isn't inspired by what other designers do. Which, in a world of crop tops and platform sneakers, is rare. Today, maintaining a unique aesthetic often presents extra difficulty. So, how is she doing it? Technology has worked in her favor and the designer opted to back her upcoming London Fasion Week show through popular crowd funding website, Kickstarter.

Bowler stays true and dedicated to her vision and while doing so, creates a loyal relationship to her vision and while doing so, creates a loyal relationship with her brand's followers. It's easy to become one of those followers. Her designs are so incredibly unique, both in the materials that their made up of and in shape. If someone were to describe the future of fashion, I'm sure it would look a lot like Jane Bowler's clothing; plastic and metallic tessellates that stand out, but in the coolest way possible. Her spring collection promises to be even more exciting as she states that it varies tremendously from the last. While on her Kickstarter campaign, I took the opportunity to interview Bowler on her past, present, and her company's bright future.

Take a hit of Jane Bowler. 

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Q & A W/Jane Bowler 

SM: How did your interest in fashion develop? How did your upbringing influence the way in which you create?

JB: I grew up in a small town in the Midlands, a long way from London.  I always loved art and design at school, but never really thought about fashion until I finished studying Textile design at University. I was constantly making and drawing when I was little! In fact, I had this crazy idea that when I grew up I would like to own my own sweet shop and paint and draw in the shop whilst I sold sweets and ate them too. When I was growing up, my family always went to car boot sales and charity shops and I think this helps you to appreciate the little things, and not over look certain materials which may be deemed as ‘cheap’ or ‘mundane’ and also allows you to see beauty in something that someone else is throwing away. I would buy clothes and materials, which I would then transform into something else, or something, better! I think this has definitely fed into my design process today.

SM: During and after you went to the Royal College of Art what experiences have you had in the industry? How did going to the RCA assist you in becoming a designer and developing your own brand?

JB: The Royal College of Art was a great way for me to showcase my work and be seen by the right people and press. So, that was a great start to the label.  I attended the RCA after I had worked for two years in the industry, so I already felt like I had the tools to begin to think about setting up my own label prior to my MA. I worked for a small studio where my boss taught me a huge amount as well as being very open about how things work and how to run a business.  This is something that I endeavor to also give back to anyone who interns and works with me, it is so important to have a great work relationship with anyone that helps you out and I want people to get as much out of working for me as they possibly can. None of this making cups of tea and running errands malarkey! It needs to work both ways and this is one of the secrets to growing your brand! Being surrounded by a great team.



SM: Where do you find inspiration for your collections?

JB: Inspiration always starts with the materials that I find and the processes that I work with.  I get so inspired by the experimentation side of my work, and allow this to shape the collections.  It's really fun because I never quite know how the collection will end up looking.

SM: What materials are your favorites to create with? Have there been some you've tested and did not work? What is the most unique material you have used for one of your pieces?

JB: Plastics are my thing for sure! I love transforming them into luxury high-end garments and accessories.  It's such an uncommon material to be used in this way and I love the challenges that it presents.  Some of my collections have used recycled materials such as plastic shower curtains and bath mats, so those are definitely the strangest.

 



SM: Many fashion designers move to New York or Paris to start their brands. London is still considered a growing fashion city. What are your thoughts on this notion? How has going to school in London and starting your collection in London assisted you?  

JB: I loved my time studying at the Royal College of Art in London, and the platform that this gives you when you come to showing your graduate collection.  It was also amazing to be surrounded by so many amazing designers and creators from different disciplines as well as creatives from all over the world.  I LOVE London and can't imagine being anywhere else! My amazing PR agents ‘Bloody Gray’ are here, it's brilliant for sourcing all of my materials and you are surrounded by some of the best fashion talents in the world!

SM: Are there any designers that you really admire? 

JB: To be honest I try not to look too much at other designers or admire them in particular. It's too easy to get subconsciously inspired by others and I try and avoid this as much as I can. It helps me stay unique.  Although, if I had to admire a designer, it would be because they may have had a similar journey and the same struggle that I did, funding it themselves and powering through… I admire that, it takes a lot of strength and guts, as it's not easy!

SM: What are you currently working on? I see that you're utilizing kickstarter- could you explain more about that> Why are you choosing this website for funding instead of investors?

JB: I am currently working on my spring 2014 collection. It's very exciting! Aesthetically, it's very different from my past collections and I am really looking forward to showing it at London Fashion Week. This leads me on to talk about my kickstarter crowd-funding project. Self funding your fashion label and holding down other jobs at the same time means that new designers generally don’t have a great deal of money and after all, anyone setting up a business will always struggle for the first couple of years anyway. So I have set up a crowd funding project for the second time this season.  Crowd funding is great, it not only allows my followers to support my brand and help me show at fashion week, but it also works in their favour by allowing them to get their hands on Jane Bowler exclusives and current season accessories with a huge discount! So it’s a win win situation for everyone. If anyone would like to get involved in this, just take a look at the project here.

SM: What advice would you give to other aspiring and emerging designers?

JB: If you LOVE it then go for it! It's hard work, but it's well worth it.You should always have a go and take a risk, otherwise you will regret it forever.

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To assist Jane Bowler in showing at London Fashion Week you can pledge to her kickstarter here. See more of her work on her website. Keep up to date with all her happenings on Facebook + Twitter.

A HIT OF ANTON BUNDENKO

not your stereotypical artist

When people think of an artist, most assume a background of entitlement, an art intensified education and a life of immersion into the creative industries. That tends to be the case, as most art forms are a luxury and those that manage to make it as professionals in the field normally have the support and opportunity to do so. That is not the case for Russian based artist, Anton Bundenko. Unlike many of his colleagues Bundenko has not had a formal education in fine arts nor has he lived in a city that enabled him to connect with individuals in the field. Yet, he seems to have found a way to make himself known. Through the power of technology, he has shared his art work through social media and has managed to break through to a large international audience.

Up until recently he was doing that while balancing another job as a shot-firer in rural Russia. His endless drive, passion, and capability to self-promote have been so successful that Bundenko has landed a widely envied collaborative deal with well-known mass retailer, Zara. Now, with a big move to Moscow and the brave decision to pursue art as his sole career path, Bundenko allows Metal Magazine to look into his new, exciting world and the many adventures it promises to hold.

Take a hit of Anton Bundenko.


Q&A W/ ANTON BUNDENKO

SM: When did you first start creating art and what was your first artistic medium? How did you begin to develop that into a career?

AB: In 2010 I met great, talented people and that was a good start for me. Together, we started from scratch and made our works as we thought they should be forming this way a team which was different from the others (VOSK). It was a great time and I really miss it. After that, I moved to another city where I started evolving as an artist. I wouldn’t call it a career; it’s my lifework. If you look at me I appear as a fanatic in the form of a professional, I am my own director. In the past, it was all about taking pictures and experimenting with collages, this year I’ve started working in many more different directions. I’ve started working with Onsitegallery and I’m continuing my collaboration with Zara. There’s been a couple of interesting projects with an Italian clothing brand, we are designing patterns for their collections. Besides, I’m also in the process of launching my line of printed sweatshirts; I’m still shooting, doing new work and experimenting. It’s all become more steady, more thoughtful. As a job it came naturally, when there was a necessity to structure things and to express responsibility and dedication.

SM: Did you receive any formal education to assist you in learning how to become a better multi-media artist? Did you have any artists mentor you?

AB: I never had a formal education in art, which has its pros and cons. I often think I lack fundamental knowledge but, on the other hand, I have more space for self-evolution and making my way in the art world. The best way to master your techniques is to put them into practice, acquiring this way more tools. To be me, what's essenstial is to have a unique sense of style, which comes with the right perception of the era. The more refined and subtle your perception of here and now is, the more delicate and truthful your work appears. I have also had some experience working with BHSD, which has helped me a lot. The Internet has immensely increased our possibilities. All doors are open for us, we just need to learn how to open them. I have had great friends over the course of my life, and each of them is a mentor in their own way. We learned, discussed, experimented together and I really loved it. I’ve moved to another city now and I’m sort of in transition, thinking of it all through and putting it together in order to start working with a team on a higher professional level.

SM: You do a lot of work for fashion brands and publications. How do you feel fashion and art balance each other out and work together? Do you believe fashion is an art? What do you like about working with these fashion companies?

AB: I think it all depends on the definition of fashion and art and on the people who define them. There are designers and photographers in the fashion world who have their own unique perception and they have an artistic approach to their work. Fashion is just the tool for them, it gives them a possibility to embody their ideas in the material world, to depict them in the surface of real time and ideals incarnated in fashion. I don’t take into consideration necessary aspects of fashion as a business. One has to understand that art, as well as business, has its own restrictions which motivate to do your work according to demand. Where there’s offer, there’s demand. I think that it has all been mixed now, not in terms of directions that both art and fashion take, but in terms of institutions, their management systems and politics. I try not to think about it, I just do my work with maximum dedication in order to make something meaningful. My collages have a lot of implications, which you can’t see at first glance and can’t be the subject of clients’ censorship, but if you look at them carefully you can find a lot of interesting things. That’s how they come alive. Collages allow me to express myself, fashion gives me the space to use them. If it’s considered art one day, I’ll be really happy.

ANTON BUNDENKO COLLAGE




SM: With all of the artwork you do, why do you still work as a shot-firer? What do you enjoy about that career and how did you choose it? Have you ever found inspiration there and integrated it into your art?

AB: It has been a year since I stopped working as a shot-firer. In 2012 I resigned and moved to Moscow to start evolving as a photographer and collage artist. 2013 has been very intense, eventful and ground breaking in my career. In the beginning of 2013 I got many interesting offers which I couldn’t refuse so I sped up my development not only as a photographer and collage artist, but also as an artist and print designer for clothing lines. I’m sure it’s a transition point before the next, more important and more serious stage of my life, which I hope will happen very soon. I used to work as a mining engineer. Living in a different social environment gave me the opportunity to compare life in its different interpretations and broadened my mind. Now my life is a continuous road, a way of getting to know myself on a deeper level and clearing my mind of stereotypes.

SM: You're based in Russia. How has growing up there influenced your work? What is the art industry like there?

AB: I face a lot of stereotype problems here. A lot of people judge your works not basing them on their personal subjective opinion, but on awards, publications and references from respected and important people in the art and fashion world. I think don't think it's just a Russian peculiarity, yet it’s a fact that my works have more interest and demand abroad. Russia has a very powerful cultural and historical background. The Russian Empire had its distinct history and culture and there was great value in it. Then, when the Soviet System came to rule, everything was equalized to one general idea, which also had a certain meaning and generated many great artists, poets and composers. Now that it’s over, Russia is going through a new phase with new ideas. I can’t be objective about the art industry in Russia, but I’m planning to find a more comfortable and favorable environment to develop, somewhere where my work will be in demand and relevant. For now I can’t find that environment in Russia,however, everything is relative so I will only be able to fully judge this only after I’ve lived and worked in different parts of the globe. That would be a great experience and research that I would love to accomplish.

SM: Between photography and collage, Is there any medium you prefer over the other? If so, why? What does each of these mediums provide you with?

AB: At the moment I’m trying to work on more projects. I like the idea of getting full sufficient material (photos, silkscreen prints and even clothing prints and abstract work) from one particular subject by going to its depths and researching and experimenting. Technically it looks quite simple. Original shots are left as photographs. Then I start making textures and collage backgrounds from the raw materials. Some works will be left as collages, some works will be made into more profound pieces, more abstract, some of them are silk printed and some of them become clothing prints. It can go on and on. It happens very often that the final result doesn’t resemble the original material at all and becomes more of an expression of spontaneous subconscious work of mind at the moment of creation.

SM: Where do you find inspiration for your work? Are you influenced by other artists and designers? If so, who?

AB: I’m a very expressive person in many ways and often create my works relying on my inner perception of this world at the precise moment of creation. I catch the thought and start developing it. I always try to have some material to work on. You can call it subconscious art, when in the process of creation the artist follows their intuitive subconscious instincts and doesn’t fully realize the outcome. I think a lot about what the present is and what it will be associated with in the future. I now feel an enormous endless stream of information. Valuable as well as useless in many ways – some sort of universal rubbish which we have heard of but have never seen yet. From the moment electricity was invented, we’ve hardly evolved in terms of technical progress, getting surrounded by a huge amount of gadgets and technologies. During the World Wars we learnt to produce the most powerful weapons. We’ve stored a huge “bundle” of technical progress. I say “bundle” because I think that from the point of evolution, we haven’t learnt to use it properly. Nowadays, we might be coming to the stage when technological progress, development of economy and growth of industry and population become a threat for humanity. With all this social networking we’ve become more self-centered and less sociable, wasting time on learning about our friends’ news on the Internet .This is a progress catch. But I’m not saying that technical progress is a bad thing, on the contrary, it’s great it’s just that we have to learn to use it in the right way. Personally, I collect it from all around piece by piece: I watch people’s emotions, their actions. Recently I’ve been looking a lot at “box-like” city blocks with offices and apartments in them, ballistic missiles and ranges, Manhattan projects and a lot of nuclear and atomic weapon testing in the USA and Soviet Union during the Cold War and after. I have been researching the idea of inversion, cycles, irreversibility, fate...

SM: What other projects are you currently working on? What would you like do more of? What do you hope to accomplish with your work?

AB: Right now I’m at the point of transitional development and I lack direct contact with fashion and art institutions. In the nearest prospective I would like to get training and start working with a team, to become part of the process and unite with it. I really love the work of Belgian guys 254FOREST and Pierre Debusschere in particular, and I would love to get the chance of working with them. I’d also love to do more collages. This is what attracts me most at the moment. Besides, photos and collages for lookbooks and campaigns, more experimental work for silk prints and prints, conceptual art works for art market. I’m planning to paint more and do more material artwork, experimenting with different techniques, combining modern digital instruments with historical material ones, sort of connecting both eras.Trust me, there’s so much to be discovered, we don’t have a clue.

a hit of luke james

the new romantic

“My name is Luke James,” says the lively and powerful voice of a spot lit figure standing on the Izod Center Stage. He’s facing thousands of people. Most of them are unsure of what to expect, the others can only assume greatness. He is, after all, opening for the Queen herself; or as her namesake tour bids her, the legendary Mrs. Carter. As soulful background music begins to ensue, he commences to sing without the slightest hesitation. The stern voice he introduced himself with transforms into the sweetest manifestation, yet holds it’s power and quickly affects the numerous concert attendees. Within seconds the crowd’s uncertainty becomes a sea of smiles and swaying hips. Their energy mirrors his presentation. Every note that he sings is accompanied with a movement of passion and a facial expression to match.  As he vocalizes his self-written love songs, his body radiates both the immense pain and heavy ardor involved in most romantic relationships, while his Michael Jackson cover of “The Way You Make me Feel” has him beaming with happiness. As his time on stage comes close to expiration he appears grateful. He thanks the audience, God, and Beyoncé for allowing him the opportunity to take part in this event. His final words to the crowd are the same ones he started with, “My name is Luke James.” The lights dim as he exits in satisfaction. James’s performance is well received and now the crowd is more than ready for the continuing enjoyment that has wisely been prepared for them.

Earlier that week, I had the opportunity to catch up with James’ on a phone call before his Chicago show. Our conversation encompassed everything from his Louisiana roots, recent recognition, opinions on the industry and his ever-promising future. It was a pleasant surprise to me that despite all of his latest accomplishments, he remains honest, humble and like his performance that night, eternally grateful. 

Take a hit of Luke James.


Q&A w/ Luke James

SM: I know you’re from New Orleans. Can you tell me about how growing up there influenced your interest in music? What music means to you, being raised in one of the United States’ most music driven cities?

LJ: New Orleans is a like a gumbo of all different genres of music. Everything is accepted there. I couldn’t help but to grasp it. Growing up there really helped open my mind up to different styles of music and influenced my particular take on R&B and what it means to me. 

SM: There’s a lot of people that say that R&B isn’t as thriving today, a dying genre. What is your opinion on that?

LJ: R&B has always been evolving. People often misunderstand what R&B is- it’s rhythm and blues. Rhythm and blues is always around. You can call it alternative. You can call it rock. You can call it whatever you want to call it, but it’s still rhythm and blues.  It’s just a different style of it. Someone’s particular take on it. I don’t think R&B is going anywhere. If anything I think there is a more honest approach. It’s really about the way in which we all live. I listen to other people’s music and that’s what I gather from it. Myself, the way I aggregate my music and the way I sing my music- it has to be honest. It’s evolving to become a more truthful place. That’s where it used to be when Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and even Prince were doing it. It was all about their lifestyles and really what they were going through. You can tell they woke up in the middle of the night and wrote that laying in bed. 

SM: So, after you graduated High School you left New Orleans and moved to Los Angeles with Quentin Spears. You guys started the R&B duo Luke & Q while you were there. Why did you decide to go out west and why did your collaboration with Spears not work out?

LJ: We got signed by a major record label, J Records, which was out there so we decided to move there too. For us, the business side of things really just wasn’t working out. It was nothing personal. Q and I just had to find our own way individually as young grown men. It was a mutual agreement that we just part ways and find our own place. We said that whoever gets there first will bring the other one with him.  It just made sense. Q is my brother, that’s family. There’s nothing that can get in between us.

SM: Is he involved in any of your current projects?

LJ: Definitely. He’s a big support system. I wouldn’t be able to do most anything without the support of my brother and vice versa.

SM: After that ended what were your next steps in starting your own career?

LJ: My next steps were writing songs. I jumped into writing songs and developed that craft. That’s how I networked, how I stayed afloat and how I made money. That’s how I met the people I’m signed to now, Danja and Mercury Records. I did three different songs with Keri Hilson and that basically got me introduced to Danja. 

SM: You wrote songs for a lot of huge people. As a singer, song writer, and performer what was it like seeing those big artists singing and performing your work?

LJ: It’s amazing. To see someone feel what I’m saying because sometimes you write the songs without the artist being there and to hear their approach to the lyrics is quite awesome. It’s also beautiful to work with somebody and get in their world and find out what it is that they want to say, what their heart is saying and they really want to sing. It can also be a downer. At the end of the day my goal has always been to be an artist., full front. Writing was just another path towards my goal, but I’m grateful.

SM: You were first selected by Beyoncé to be a dancer, is that right?

LJ: Not really a dancer, it was more of acting, yeah. It was an acting moment. People say dancer because I guess she has a lot of dancers in her videos but it was more so acting. I was a male chauvinist and she was showing us who runs the world!

SM: How did you get involved in that project?

LJ: That came through my manager who is also her creative director, Frank Gatson. That’s how that worked. Since I moved to Los Angeles, Q and I had a few cameos in Destiny’s Child music videos including Solider. The Destiny’s Child family has always been big supporters for us. Once I pursued my solo career, Beyoncé and the rest of the family have been super big supporters. They’re my big sisters. 

SM: She’s a really great mentor to have.

LJ: Definitely.

SM: What has she taught you about being in this business and how to express your art?

LJ: Stand your ground. No matter what. Whatever it is that I’m doing, believe in it whole heartedly. Like a bird believes he can fly. That’s all she needed to give me and that’s all I need. She invited me on her world tour, she didn’t need an opener for  that. It sold out. For her to invite me it does something for moral, it’s saying that I’m doing the right thing. That she wants me to be associated with her is awesome. The whole Mrs. Carter movement, the whole Carter movement. They have all been just great to me. It’s awesome. It’s a beautiful accomplishment and I’m just happy to be down! 

 

SM: You went to Europe with her in addition to the US, right?

LJ: Mhm.

SM: So what is it like performing for international audiences that huge? I’m sure she plays in massive arenas over there. 

LJ: Oh yeah, it was basically 20,000 a night. It’s overwhelming, but beautiful at the same time. For me, it’s awesome, because not everybody knows who I am. Most people don’t know who I am. I’m still building that. I’m an underground singer and that’s beautiful. I want people to feel like they’re finding out about me. They found me. They discovered me. I feel like that’s a beautiful way of building a fan base. They stay with you. They see your growth. It was great just wow-ing people every night. It was awesome. Especially over seas.

SM: Especially over seas? How is it different?

LJ: We as Americans are a little bit entitled and we’ve seen a lot. We have an abundance of greatness. We assume we do. I’m not saying that every city we’ve gone too in the states has been stuck up or what not, but just certain cities you can tell the difference. They don’t feel the need to move as much. For example, Jersey to New York. Jersey is going to be crazier and way more active and in the show and lost in the show more than New York. Only because in New York they’ve seen all of these big shows. They’ve seen all this kind of stuff. It’s a different response. I’m not saying the love is not the same or the love is any different. It’s just that they respond differently. They love differently. That’s what I’ve noticed, but I mean, it’s all good. As long as you can stand your ground. Show no fear. The same person that was sitting there with the pouty face, talking on the phone, is the same person who’s going to be tweeting about you and saying “omg you were amazing. I was just blown away. I couldn’t do nothing but text someone in the moment.” 

SM: I feel that a lot of Americans would actually prefer to share their experience rather than live in it. Performing, have you felt that way at all?

LJ: That’s been a little problem on the road. For me, it doesn’t matter. I’m not at that point yet, but for her people can’t get out from behind the screen. You know, she’s right there in front of your face. The person is fighting to keep their hand up to capture her singing to them rather than just basking in the moment. Put the phone down. This is a once in a lifetime chance. You know. She is our Michael Jackson. Get into it. You’re going to be mad when you’re old and say you missed that moment. I didn’t gaze into her eyes, while she was trying to gaze into mine. I think that’s the only issue that’s been going on, but all in all she’s been killing it every night. It doesn’t slow her down, but as a fan you have to really think of that. You have to respect each moment that you get because you will never get that again.

SM: You’re working on your album “Made to Love” right? When is that going to be released?

LJ: That’s supposed to be released in September, but that can always change. I’m taking my time. When I know for sure, whole heartedly, that 500,000 people know my name and set aside $9.99 to invest then the album should come out. This is my work. This is what I do. This is my love. I just want to make sure that I can reach as many people as I possibly can and I think we’re doing that. 

SM: Can you tell me anything about it so far? The songs that you already released are amazing and feature R&B, but is there any other common theme in it? 

LJ: Honestly, I don’t really want to give much away. The album has a very dark undertone, but there’s a bit of a light. You can feel it in the music through each song. It’s very dramatic, very moody, a mixture of funk, hip-hop, alternative, gospel, blues, you can feel it in the music. The concept is very personal. It’s going to be pretty awkward, but I guess that’s what I’m going to do. Talk about my awkward moments in life and sing about them…over and over and over…

SM: So they’re inspired by things happening in your personal life? All the music on it?

LJ: Yes. Definitely. I can only speak from real life situations. I can only sing a song that I can relate too.

SM: People are starting to compare you to Frank Ocean. What do you think about that?

LJ: People are starting to compare me and Frank? I think Frank is extremely dope so I take that as a compliment. I guess it goes back to honesty. I’m not opposed to that. We’re both from New Orleans. We both went to the same (High) school. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Great minds think alike. We are different. Completely different. Not completely, we both sing. We both do music. We both write our own music. Shit like that. If you’re expecting to hear a Frank Ocean vibe on a Luke James album, that’s not going to happen and vice versa.

SM: I also saw that you’re going to be in the movie “Black Nativity.” Tyrese Gibson is also in that movie and you used to sing background for him. So, how did you get involved in that? Was that related to knowing him then?

LJ: It actually wasn’t. That came about through the casting director and the producers inquiring if I could act or not and I auditioned and I got the role. I am very happy to be in it. It all worked out and came full circle. 

SM: You seem to be doing so much that I feel like in the fall you’re just going to blow up. 

LJ: You know what, I can feel my star getting brighter. It’s a beautiful thing. Sometimes I have a hard time basking in the moment. I try. I just had a pinch myself moment a couple of nights ago. It’s just a beautiful feeling to see how far I’ve come. I’m just taking one moment at a time. Literally, I’m trying my best to stay happy right now at this very second in Chicago. At 4:20. Talking on the phone. 

SM: You’re 29 years old and you’ve been doing this since you’re in high school? Were there any moments in your life when you felt like maybe I’m not set to do this and maybe I should try something else?

LJ: No, it’s always been music. I’ve never had that feeling, but I’ve had doubts. The direction has always been in music in some sort of way.

SM: That’s great. So you never let anything stop you from continuing it?

LJ: No. Nothing can and ever will stop me from continuing to create music.

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Photography: Ashley Sky Walker