Last year Louis De Villiers turned 30. It was also the year that he said good-bye to Skullboy, the street art-inspired moniker he made work under for the last decade. Continuing on this trajectory, this year he’s trying to quit smoking. A handpoked tattoo on his left hand reads “DON’T” as a note to self.
Hailing from Durban, Louis worked hard at a graphic design career while moonlighting as an artist experimenting in mark-making in various mediums. Always in black, white, grey and gold. Always with energy and humour. His themes bubbled up from the lawless underground: youth culture and nightlife.
Life got a whole lot bigger when he moved to New York City where he works as a graphic designer and an artist today. The scale and the pace of his new surroundings inspired a refinement in his artistic direction. Still moved to reflect on culture, his works also touch on socio-politics. In particular, his 2017 body of work “The Preoccupied Lives of Islands” shown at Kalashnikovv Gallery in Johannesburg commented on ubiquitous cellphone culture and the dysfunctions of social media: despite the subjects’ lush surroundings, they are still engrossed by an online existence – as they delve further into their devices, they become less interested in the community surrounding them and more so in the conceptual community of the Globe. This new normal continues to be a fascination for him in his current work up at Gallery One11 in Cape Town this month.
Through his own cellphone, he lets us into a little of his day to night life in New York City and answers some questions about where he’s at, looking back at where he’s come from:
How did living in Durban affect the art you made there?
I think making work in Durban allows you a bubble to create organically, without much external influence – no one is making money and no one outside of Durban gives a fuck about you so there’s a freedom to explore and develop. Now of course, this has its downsides, but I certainly felt that my time spent in Durban allowed me to cultivate and develop a lot of ideas and aesthetics independent of what was going on with the rest of the world. Also, there was a support base that you could bounce your work off of and that built confidence to push further and try new things.
Lucky night in the studio
How has your work evolved visually or conceptually since moving to New York?
Arriving in New York, I certainly got hella-woke to the REALITY of this life-choice. Witnessing first-hand what was actually taking place in the art world as well as the level required for ‘making it’ as an artist banged a lot of my amorphous ideas and styles into something uniquely MINE. So I feel like the time I spent in Durban allowed me to experiment and push the boundaries, whereas arriving in NY reigned in a lot of that schizophrenic creativity and pushed me into a clear direction (out of the necessity of rent, success and existentialism, of course).
Where do you work from? What are you looking at, listening to, surrounded by?
I’ve been living in Brooklyn for 2.5 years and have moved apartments three times and my studio four times in that short space. Moving fucking sucks. Currently, I’m living in an artist commune/warehouse where I am able to live and make work in the same space, which is a blessing. Having to bike 25 minutes to the studio in -8º weather does have a habit of drying up your ambition. But I’m finally making work in a good place – it has windows for a change and the heating (mostly) works.
Windows changed my life
I’m currently using the internet to look at news and actors’ bios and trying my damnedest to see more art in person. So occasionally I’ll stroll through Chelsea to see what’s up. Last weekend I went to a couple museums and yesterday I was at the Armory Art Fair which is ultimately a shopping catalogue for the ultra-rich. It’s an education out here.
Listening to: God’s Plan (on repeat), Ho9909, lush electronica, King Krule’s latest album and the hispanic church across the road from me (they practice church songs most nights – they’re getting pretty good).
Sometimes you get to see Barry Mcgee
Do you make art daily? Tell us a bit about your average day in NYC?
I work a day job and between long work hours, adulting, commuting and trying to make genuine, honest, human connections with people, time has a way of dissolving at a rapid rate. But getting older as an artist, I’ve found that my process of ACTUALLY making art generally happens in fits and starts. I’ll research and let concepts sit in my psyche for a minute while they bubble and form. Then I’ll make some time and work feverishly for a short time and suddenly I’ve got a bunch of new work.
My average day consists of waking up, crying, making coffee then heading off on the hour commute from Brooklyn to Times Square for my job as a graphic designer in a large advertising agency. It’s nice to read on the subway for 2 hours a day but I’m surrounded by about a million people at all times. A good week means that I’ll get home at a decent hour, and I’ll try to alternate evenings with friends or painting (depending if Atlanta is on).
Me at work
My favourite graffiti
What thoughts are occupying your mind and making their way into your work?
I am building on my infatuation with cellphone culture which I explored at my shows at Kalashnikovv Gallery last year and at Gallery One11 on show now. I’m always kind of fascinated observing peoples’ relationships with their phones, and how each of those relationships may be different, but still some trends may be recognised. The iPhone X has been released a short few months ago, ringing in 10 years of the iPhone being present at our side. These little things have challenged all areas of society from dating to IRL social interactions and how we position our online selves.
You recently laid Skullboy to rest – why was it time to move on?
‘Skullboy’ was a prime example of one thing leading to another. Coming from the graffiti-scene, I started making work under an alias (which is the general modus operandi) and continued to make work under my fake name even as I delved further into ‘fine’ art making. You start building a name for yourself and you generally keep rolling with it. Also, it felt honest at the time as ‘Skullboy’ was my mischievous shadow self that my square self could blame all my late night antics on. As I turned 30, I felt that all the experimentation and the various ideas that I’d been working out as ‘Skullboy’ had finally formed into a cohesive direction – something that I could call my own. Again, I think it just felt honest when I looked at where the work was going.
What are the themes in your work that’s currently up in Cape Town as part of The Ascension show?
Even cellphones can change a holy place.
Interview by Alix Rose Cowie.