Labrona just launched a brand new show at the Carmichael Gallery in LA. As promised, he took a break from scrutinizing faces to try and formulate some words around them.
Here are the images.
The interview Follows.
Labrona and Harlan chew the fat.
Harlan: When Tristan spoke with you and Other for the article that appeared in Modart #2, he referred to you guys as a part of what he called the “new romantics of train painting,’ and referenced ‘streaks,’ ‘oil bars,’ and eventually a language labeled Hobo.
How do you respond to this? Are you romantic? Cynical? Is ‘Hobo’ a cliché reference, an accurate connection, neither, both?
Labrona: I don’t know where we fit in he train scene: Other and I are doing something different. I guess it’s more traditional painting in a graffiti setting.. we both get very personal and expressive with our art, its emotional art. So I guess we could be called new romantics by bringing a more traditional form of painting into a nontraditional medium. We use oil bars, which is oil paint.. As far as the hobo aspect goes I am not a hobo, but I like the idea and the freedom that lifestyle represents… my work is like a hobo traveling from place to place...I do the paintings and send them out into the world;hopefully, the railroad will take them to lots of cool places. I learned more about hobo and railroad culture from always being around trains. Before the internet came around and you could find everything out right away, I remember wondering where all the monikers on the trains came from; it was a mystery. I like that mystery aspect of graffiti.
Harlan: Do you feel some pressing links between your work, historical train writing and the so-called Graffiti scene?
Labrona: What’s really cool about trains is that they are shared by both the moniker and graffiti lettering tradition… so I feel involved in both worlds. I go out painting with lettering guys all the time. Most of my friends started out doing aerosol so I feel connected and involved in that scene. I also feel linked to traditional moniker culture. We use the same medium, oil bars. My stuff’s a bit different because I draw something different every time.
Harlan: I fell in love with any sort of illicit markings in public, dripping tags, keys dug into lockers, whatever, citizen to citizen communication in environments continually covered in company to consumer propaganda. Eventually though, I have to ask myself if what I took as a violent reaction towards authentic emotion or even just action is essentially only another form of advertising. What do you think?
Labrona: Well, I like to see graffiti as an alternative to advertising. The world is covered in crappy advertising; you can’t escape it. Graffiti has no way to compete with the trillion dollar advertising machine. So I am just putting my personal voice out there hoping it’ll touch people and make them think a little. I don’t make any money from it so I am advertising my love of making art. I guess I built a name for myself through my graffiti; it’s gotten me art shows but that was never my goal. It just something I love doing and I think it’s like that for most people that do it a lot. We’re advertising our existence.
Harlan: You’ve spoken of your interest in facial expressions and the intensity you found in the strokes of German Expressionists and the old Flemish masters, what sort of trip are you taking when you explore the lines of a face?
Labrona: I am trying to convey emotions. I want people to feel something. Like in those Flemish paintings, there’s so much emotion and suffering. They really speak to me, not the religious stories they tell but the human struggle. I feel like those paintings could be addressing the fears of our time. It’s the same thing with the German expressionists people like Max Beckman, they were painting about the world they lived in which was going through world war I and II, the depression really scary times. We’re still living in scary so that work is timeless, it speaks for today as well as yesterday.
Harlan: I don’t know if this was written by you or by Other or by another, but how do you react to this statement today: ‘There is something vacant about the world, something to do with fun … I think the term fun is misused.’
Labrona: That’s other…you will have to ask him..
Harlan: Why did you start painting trains? Did they replace your sketchbook in a way? What are the differences in your drive to paint a train today as compared with five years ago?
Labrona: I started painting trains because of Other...we got a loft together. He was already addicted and got me addicted. For awhile, I only went with him. When he moved to a different city I realized I was hooked and started going alone. Before trains, I was always drawing in my sketchbook but nowadays, when I feel like drawing I go to the train yard…so my train photos are my sketchbook...when I used to live with Other before I started doing art shows, we used to paint almost every night,;it was a great time…nowadays I wish I could go every night but I have slowed down a lot. I have been painting a lot at home for art shows. I am not as driven to get out as I used to be. I go about once a week when I at home.
Harlan: What is your relationship to your sketchbook today?
Labrona: I want to start drawing way more so hopefully I’ll start using a sketchbook again. But, usually I sketch ideas directly on the train or support I am working on and change things as I go.
Harlan: Detailed figurative drawings on trains have been linked to some sort of Canadian condition, any theories on why that is? When you started, were you aware of any similarities or differences in what you were doing compared to writers working out of New York or Philadelphia for example?
Labrona: When I started painting trains, Other was the only person I knew of doing figurative fully rendered drawings on trains. As far as I know, he started the movement. We knew we were doing something different. Broke from Texas and Thesis from Canada started a long time ago too but they got inspired from seeing Other’s work. So it was born in Canada. Twist was a huge influence, I remember seeing his work in a World Industries video back in 93 and just being super inspired. He also did lots of great stuff on trains long before me. As far as seeing work from other places it was mostly spray paint and monikers...
Harlan: Have you had experiences with police in other countries? How have these compared to any bust ups in Canada?
Labrona; I am in Los Angeles now and the police seem really scary. I wouldn’t want to get caught painting here. As far as police go I have never been caught in the act. I have been chased but never arrested for painting. I have dealt with cops for other reasons and in most cases find them to be dicks in every country.
Harlan: Who do you think is the most famous Canadian, living or dead?
Labrona: I don’t think about that; I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.
Harlan: Ok. Trains keep rolling and rolling faster and prices are going up and planes are cheaper and we’re destroying the Ozone and I still love the description of travel in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance … what is your preferred way to travel?
Labrona: I like exploring cities on foot, taking my time and soaking in the vibe. But my favorite way to travel is by train. All the good graffiti is along train lines. Trains go through all the yards along the way so there always a chance of seeing a nice piece. I have caught my own work on a train 3 thousand miles from were I painted it. When I was younger I used to hitch hike every where I wanted to go. Hitch hiking is always an adventure; you never know who you’ll meet and were you’ll end up along the way. It was fun and shitty at the same time. I am a city boy and a country boy; I like them both.
Harlan: Does your creative process change when you prepare a show for a gallery?
Labrona: Yeah, when I am preparing for a show I get so much done. I come up with more ideas. I am more motivated to work hard and us my time well. I want to do the best I can. After a show there is a lull. I concentrate more on graffiti, skateboarding and just having fun.
What is the relationship between living your art, and making a living from your art? I think that the notion of selling out, like nearly all judgment, is futile, but there are questions that come up when money enters the equation. Is this something you think about?
Labrona: Well, I have been doing art for a long time and haven’t really made a living from it yet. I am not making much money. So I am living the life I live because I love making art. I need to do it. I think it would be nice to sell my work for lots of money. But it think it might stress me out as well, the whole sellout thing, jealously, critics, bad reviews must suck, could be hard. But money would sure be nice. I guess as long as I keep progressing and painting for myself I should be allright. It seems that a lot of artists are scared to do new stuff once they start selling work. They get stuck and stick to the selling formula.
Harlan: Are you into Mail Art?
Labrona: No, could be cool though. Should I send you some?
Harlan: Going back to religious icons, what do you hold sacred?
Labrona: Well, I am not religious, but I think it’s pretty freaking miraculous that I am alive on this planet at this time. It’s pretty awe inspiring to think about… I think we should try to live in less destructive ways. We need to give the planet and its inhabitants a chance to recover and be healthy, less rat race consumer shit and more positive meaningful action whatever that is...I don’t want to get cancer because of someone’s money making schemes, or nuked by some megalomaniacs or religious fanatics.
Harlan: Are there some reactions you hope for as you prepare to share your latest work at the Carmichael Gallery?
Labrona: Well, I am just happy to be in California. I don’t want to expect too much.
I am going to try to have as much fun and make as many friends as I can. Hopefully It will lead to good things. I think people will like the show I did a lot of work and progressed a lot.
Harlan: Any plans to come to Europe soon?
Anything to do with Graffiti is so hot here again these days, that the national train service in Belgium published a report on the 10 million euro they spend annually on what is here considered a ‘violent crime,’ then, a month later, launched a campaign for youth rail passes, which featured a station covered in stencils and throw ups referencing their campaign. I’m the only boring cunt in town who seems to think this is more perverted than Woody Allen getting together with his daughter … so I’m thinking maybe we could squeeze a commission out of Eurostar or Thalys or TGV or, well, as soon as one goes for it, you know, the Mcdonald’s/Burger King Marketing strategy will domino as usual … what do u reckon?
Labrona: I want to come to Europe as soon as I can. The renewed interest in graffiti should keep me traveling. I hope I can make the most of the graffiti boom before it dies..But it’s kind of shitty when business uses us for adds but wants to throw us in jail at the same time. The more popular graffiti is the harder it is to do. The cops know to look out for it more; the train yards tighten security. But we will always find a way. When the trend dies, the real die hards will still be here.