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Hong Kong’s complex history can be traced through its architectural landscapes. The city is a curious mix of colonial buildings left over from British rule, local establishments and an urban megapolis of skyscrapers and financial towers, a dream canvas for street artists looking to make their mark. Lousy, a Hong Kong-based street artist, has been busy spraying the city.
It’s impossible to walk anywhere in Hong Kong without coming across Lousy's artwork. The artist's distinctive tags and graffiti take up nearly every corner and alley. Beyond tagging, though, the artist has been steadily taking on larger scale projects, solo exhibitions and collaborations with big brands like adidas.
“Instead of waiting for people to react to the work, I'll just like put it in front of their faces. So they have no choice but to see it and decide whether they like it or not.”
For Lousy, street art isn’t just a means of expression. It’s just who he is. He’s fully embodied the rebellious spirit of graffiti, manifested through a love for Japanese manga, album cover art and Chinese painting. Authenticity is at the artist's core, and his unique perspective on being an artist in Hong Kong, as a true native, will probably be the most revealing of anyone tagging Hong Kong’s streets.
We sat down with Lousy to uncover what goes on in the life of a creative, his enigmatic work and his unique take on the journey to finding his style and voice.
I'm really into manga and anime, I'm basically a geek. I think that definitely slips through in my work. For example, if you're painting or drawing, you would pay attention to shadows or how you're going to make it 3D, stuff like that. But to me, those are not the important parts. It's more like the outline or the silhouette of it that's important. I think that comes from reading manga and stuff.
How would you say your parents described you when you were a kid?
Not too bright. Not much aspiration.
Have you always been painting?
Yeah. Just in different styles.
At what point in your life did your style emerge?
Maybe like mid to late twenties? Yeah. I was painting a lot. I was drawing a lot. Like the manga style type-of-thing. At some point, I think I had a revelation where I kind of looked at my past work and cringed a little bit and just realized that it wasn't really my thing.
What would you say was the biggest turning point in your career?
Biggest turning point might be realizing to just go out and do the things I really wanted to do. Yeah, just presenting myself and my work. Instead of waiting passively for people to react to the work, I'll just like put it in front of their faces. So they have no choice but to see it and decide whether they like it or not.
What was your first show?
My friend Leo hooked me up with my first show and it wasn't like a viewing or anything like that but was on the second floor of some shop. It went well, and it was great. I feel like sometimes creative people and artists just need a debut or a little push. So that was the day for me and I'm super grateful for it.
Apart from manga, what would you say are your biggest creative inspirations?
I think for me, it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly. I think there's a wide range of inspirations. Maybe it could be like a street sign or, you know, graphic design and stuff like that.
“I listen to loads of music and pay attention to album covers, but I also look at old art and stuff. So from anywhere, basically.”
The life of a creative is often glamorized, but what do the darker moments of being a creative look like?
Are they being glamorized, though? I don't think it's being glamorized. Maybe like as long as you're a rock star, you get glamorized, but if you're not at that level, no one gives a shit. Right? I feel like, "oh my god, Virgil. He's such a creative God," but like, you know, if he didn't make it, who would really care? I think it's more like an image. Sounds pretty grim, but I think maybe it's like an image that you build up type-of-thing.
So this is the so-called "dark thing:" galleries or people with brands or like establishments who want to capitalize on it. But on the other hand, I feel like if the work you do is good enough, people will recognize it when the time comes.
What are some of the dark moments you faced during your creative journey?
I think for me it's been more of a self-love thing. Self-doubt. That's usually what permeates creative people. You're either too cocky or you're self-deprecating. It's difficult to find a balance.
What do you think about "faking it till you make it?"
I think that phrase is kind of redundant to be honest. I think in modern life, it's been more about that stuff. But we all know we came across people who we've admired, but been disappointed. I don't know. It's like, "oh my God, check this creative director out, he used to work at Nike," but ended up realizing you had your expectations too high. I think it's a bit overdone, but I understand we all have the tendency to do that. It all just basically comes down to whether you're being seen or not. Maybe that's the first step in a way, to get your name out? I think it's a double-edged sword and sometimes it works.
“I always tell people this metaphor where I did a little ‘rinse,’ like when you go out in the morning and you wash your face. You soak that towel with water and strain it.”
Have you ever had any major creative blocks in your career?
I always have creative blocks. I don't think they're major, but I think they're more like phases. I just lay low and get to work. I just push through until something comes through. During the low times you might as well work more or go have some fun. Loosen up a bit. Go party, or get to work.
Was there a time in your past where you really screwed up? How did that experience help you in the long run?
It was before I started finding my style of work. It kind of forced me to reinvent myself. I always tell people this metaphor where I did a little "rinse," like when you go out in the morning and you wash your face. You soak that towel with water and strain it. I did something like that to myself. That's really where I started expressing my work the way I wanted to. It was like all of the shadows and super-fine details were no longer important. I just distilled everything the way I wanted on the canvas and that's how I moved on from that.
If you had more time to learn one specific skill set, what would you choose?
Maybe I'd learn another language.
Would you say that you're the type of person who's able to channel your positive and negative emotions into your art?
To be honest, that's what my art is about. I think it's channeling and breaking down complex human emotions into things that are easy to digest.
Do you have a favorite artist or a style of art that you admire?
Maybe not one, but I love Philip Guston. I love Japanese woodblock and Chinese paintings. Stuff like that. I don't really have this linear thing of inspirations.
"Creativity is born from struggle." Would you say that's true for you?
That's half relevant in a way for me. Let's put it this way. Good things in life do inspire people. Like, cool stuff. I think it's just the basic human psyche in a way. On the other hand, Pain touches some deep part of us.
I think maybe that's where that comes from. I think they're both important. You can't just focus on one. That's my take on it.
What does transcending fear in the creative process look like in your practice?
“I think it comes from knowing how fucked up the world is. Do something that helps you confront real issues, and do things to help uplift people.”
Let's say for example, the pandemic, send some good vibes out there with your projects, even in the face of this depressed situation. But have hope that everything will go back to normal, where everyone's jolly again.
What's one piece of advice you would give to young and aspiring artists?
Just start early, man. Just start early. I started, not like late, but, not as early, and I think that's like... I think if someone wants to start something when they're still a kid, do that. I think it's amazing if someone actually knows what they want to do when they're a kid and just like, goes for it. Those are the stars.