Interview: Ludo Speaks on His Love for Green and Pushing Boundaries in Art

If you speak with Parisian street artist Ludo long enough, it becomes apparent that he’s just as complex as his frequently discussed artwork. We found this out firsthand after having a heart-to-heart with “Nature’s Revenge” about his past, present and future in the art world. Lucky for us, Ludo was more than happy to answer all the questions we threw his way. From his appreciation for all things botanical to the only person he really wants to collaborate with — hint: the last name rhymes with “thirst”— Ludo completely let us into his world, resulting in what might be his most personal interview to date.

Your art is known to be heavily inspired by botanical life. Where did your love for nature originate?
It kind of started with my first piece that was supposed to be a stupid pun. I ended up carrying the theme on while exploring a more serious mix between nature and human technology. It also might be because I studied technical drawing, perspectives and straight lines. I started to go into this extremity of organic and round shapes, which turned into a pathological obsession to create some kind of new species. Nature is so beautiful. If you look at macro photos and studies of flowers like Karl Blossfeldt’s photos, for example, it’s just an amazing source of inspiration. Another thing about these photos is their black and white aesthetic gives them almost a mechanical and cold aspect like a David Cronenberg movie.

The idea of beauty and chaos in nature attracts me in a way. They evoke concepts of duality, dichotomy and almost bipolarity. I’m amazed to see how nature can reveal beauty and yet be a synonym of destruction in such a small amount of time. Just to make it clear, I’m not one of these ecological “anti brands” psychopaths. [laughs] The ideas I have in mind visually and the subjects I want to develop are concretized thanks to nature volumes mixed with straight and cold lines of technology and modernism.

A good amount of your work tends to push the boundaries a little. Did you ever have second thoughts about the subject matter of anything you've done in the past?
Good question. I don’t regret anything when I’m working outside. Outside works show a quick snapshot or an instant catch of a moment I produced to reflect an inspiration, an influence, a message, a dialogue, or a poem. It’s the expression of the momentum. It’s me being motivated by something that I need to express outside. In my opinion, the game of outside works involves actually cleaning so that no trace of the past stays, not like some of these other awful mural decorations.

It’s something completely different when it comes to inside works for gallery shows or site-specific installations. You need to do what inspires you to express and produce, but I also consider a respect towards the viewer to, in a way, not please him, but offer something he can connect with.

When it comes to works in galleries or museums, I’ve had second thoughts. Those are more about how I do it and the techniques used as opposed to what pieces I create.

I always have massive brainstorming sessions with myself to actually make sure that what I’m going to show is not just a selfish expression of myself on canvas. I want it to be an expression of something that can connect with the spectator. Even if it’s tempting, I never go the easy, free provocation way.

Who were some artists that inspired you during your early days as an artist?
Honestly, I’m not from an artistically educated background. The only time I was going to museums was during boring school visits. It’s what I was into when I was young that gave me my first visual experiences, and the images I still have in my mind. For instance, everything related to early Thrasher magazines, Bones Brigade, skate and punk culture, and raw screen-printed posters and ads with at most two colors used all inspired me. Also, I liked lots of music-related art. It’s really when I began my studies and then started working as an artist that I became heavily interested in contemporary art. It opened my eyes, helped me understand a bit of history, and gave me clues to try to connect the present with the past.

If you could work with any color other than your trademark green hue, what would it be and why?
First of all, I want to explain my use of one color. In my work, it’s more about highlighting diverse parts of a piece rather than using color as we normally use it. I’m quite bad with colors, and I’m much more interested in a graphical construction than the idea of recreating something on paper. I kind of use my green like a simple Stabilo marker.

I’ve never been interested in the meaning of green and how it relates nature. It would have been too obvious. Like Yves Klein, I fell into a one-color concept, or two if you consider black as a color. I have no idea how he first thought about falling into blue, but I’m pretty sure the basis of the monotone aspect comes from the same attraction. Also, having your own color gives more of a sense of uniqueness in the work, a proper trademark of sorts. Klein even copyrighted his mix to get his blue. That pretty much answers the question of why I have my own use of a specific green. I might just radically go on and not use any color at all, just black and white.

What was the greatest thing you learned during your days of studying in Milan?
Going out every day and crazy endless nights — you get the idea. [laughs] In the two years I spent in university, I think I learned everything I needed to know about what not to do in the future.

How does the Parisian art scene differ from American art culture?
French culture is probably more traditional. We have a huge art history background. France was also a second home for a lot of foreign artists during the Renaissance and other culturally significant periods. I really feel like the French/Parisian scene now smells a bit like dust if you understand what I mean.

Maybe I’m just the French guy known for always complaining, but I’m always impressed by New York City energy and how some groups of people in the States make sure art and culture is still going on. I could be wrong, but I feel like American art culture is more into the research of new boundaries and warping old movements into new concepts. French people tend to be very attached to their own culture with an almost complex sense of self-prohibition and censure.

What's the most fun for you to make, canvas paintings, sculptures or full-out installations?
Sculptures are where I get the most pleasure and direct results. Of course, outside you have the energy and everything, but sometimes I feel like you can get addicted to it. The pleasure to go out and put something up can become an addiction. With sculpture you have a direct relation with the piece. You can walk around and see a 3D perception of art that’s totally different from a 2D piece. I always think that one big sculpture in the middle of a room is enough to make a great show.

From conception to final product, how long does it typically take you to create an art piece?
It takes me around 10 days to create a visual. It’s not Photoshop or a photo manipulation, and I don’t go on on Flickr to make my stuff. I need to create from scratch what I do or there is no interest for me. It’s quite a long process from a rough drawing to finding the right perspectives. There’s the CAD software, redrawing process, cleaning it, and then it just goes on and on. It’s a long process for a single visual. That doesn’t even include the work on canvas or the production of a sculpture.

Who would you be the most excited to collaborate with in the art world?
Damien Hirst, without hesitation.

What's your proudest piece to date?
I would have to say the "Grapes of Wrath" sculpture that I first showed at Jonathan LeVine Gallery last February. It’s the first piece with which I thought, “Okay, I’m reaching the next level.” That was also the first piece I needed to invest a lot of money in to produce. Also, I had to work with an assistant, which means I shared a vision and was able to create ideas with someone who doesn’t think with my brain. At that point, the production of a piece didn’t just involve me with a pencil and oil painting. This was a real investment with a real production cost and schedule. Walking around a grape of skulls that stands two meters high is quite impressive.

When you do outside and inside works, it’s always difficult to get the same expectations. The outside environment always helps the piece to exist. The textures of the wall, the people and all the elements of outdoor life are sometimes an excuse to give interest to an average street piece. Being inside is another world. It’s a direct confrontation with the art without all the unnecessary stuff around. With this sculpture, I felt like I reached the level of sensation I was expecting.

What are a few things you would like to accomplish that you haven't gotten around to yet?
I definitely want to connect with more institutions. It’s not obvious in the way I work, but I’m very attached to traditions in art. You actually need to respect traditions to get rid of them better. For me, that means focusing on more institutional works and reaching a more traditional contemporary audience like museums, galleries, spectators and collections. This will be my next focus, even if I carry on with illegally doing pieces. I just need that energy to go on. [laughs]

What's next on your agenda for 2014 and going into next year?
First on the agenda is my next solo show at Steve Lazarides’s gallery The Outsiders in London. The opening is October 9, but I still have a few things to finish. I really hope to give people more sensations than a simple white cube proposal of canvases. Honestly, I can’t wait for opening night.

I also have some big installations in discussion, mostly in 2015. I’ll hopefully be coming back to New York with a massive wall, and I’ve got a massive piece in Paris almost planned out. I’ll be back in Tokyo with a cool project there, and then will maybe go to Shanghai. Another project is in production to be out March 2015. I don’t want to tell too much about that one, but it will be an important thing in my career. 2015 is quite busy for me already.

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