TrustiCon, one of the dopest street artists from London to the U.S., had a super dope show at LabArt Los Angeles this month. He also displayed new murals to let the city of Los Angeles know that he was back in town. His newest work, filled with video game and political innuendos, references to Halloween and nostalgic characters in dismay, really captured the thoughts of the guests that attended the show. I for one, found many of the pieces to have multiple meanings, as well as really reflecting the current events of our society which all good art has a tendency to do. TrustiCon granted us this exclusive interview, with thanks to Iskander Lemseffer of LabArt LA, and we wasted no time getting to know one of our favorites with the spray can!
What inspired you to join the street art culture?
It was August 2011. There were riots and looting breaking out all over London. People were angry, mainly the youth. They felt they were handed down a raw deal from the previous generation and the government. They felt they were owed something and that they were hard done by in some way. I guess they felt they were the victims so they decided to take what they felt they were owed! But it seemed to me that they didn’t want change, they wanted designer clothes, new sneakers, TVs and PlayStation’s! They did not want a better future for the world they wanted a better present for themselves!
For me, the riots of 2011 which were meant to mean so much, were meaningless. It was an excuse for people to take whatever shit they wanted and felt they needed. When I saw what was going on, I wanted to understand. I’m a man for the people, but this I could not condone. From that moment on, I decided that the youth did have a message, a positive message. This message I wanted to get across in defense of my generation. After all, they were only after what the world dangled in there faces everyday and made them believe without it, they were worthless. It’s a consumerist world where the richest people have the most respect and value is more important than values. This is where I seen where the change needed to begin. At the same time, I was immersing myself in the street art world. Everywhere I looked it seemed to pop up. Whether the Internet or the streets of London and the ‘fairly famous’ documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”.
It began flowing through me and I was becoming obsessed. It was a new world with messages of hope and truth, and these messages were on walls and actually reaching people with positive messages in the same manner the advertisers delivered the negative ones. Once I saw this, it was obvious and it made perfect sense that I needed to be part of it. This would become my outlet and this would give my voice ears.
What is the meaning to the name TrustiCon?
I started out as just “iCON”, which most people automatically think is meant in a celebrity sense. As if I’m saying I am an icon. This is far from accurate. An “iCON” quite simply, is a symbol or image. The TRUST Was added later. At first, it was a bit of fun I was poking at a local organization named “TRUST”.
THAMESMEAD put out a search on their website to find out my identity after putting up some stencils in the area. So one night I arrived outside their offices armed with my spray cans and a stencil of Sherlock Holmes (a famous fictional British detective) searching for clues with a magnifying glass. And so the planned recipients of this message would be in no doubt it was for them. I also signed it TRUST.iCON. After that I kept using it, it made sense, it was less generic than just “iCON” but it also highlighted what I represent… the truth.
Most artists start out by tracing/stenciling images to get a feel for what they are trying to create, what is your method of preparation?
It’s always different. I’m a conceptual artist so it usually starts with a concept, a message I want to share with the world. So I try to create an image that expresses that message as simply as possible, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. There are always outtakes on the editing room floor, but hopefully I can capture what I want in most cases. On the other hand, it may start with an image, a photo, a drawing or an icon of popular culture. I may see something else in the image, something else it could represent and I manipulate it until it speaks for me.
How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
If I’m on a mission it gets done! I’m very aware that to get my message out requires a huge platform. Like any business, I get money, I invest money, and hope for a profit on my return. Then, I build a bigger platform.
What other interests do you have outside of creating art?
Once you immerse yourself in this culture there is nothing else. I eat, sleep and shit street art every single day! Street art has become my prison, I’m serving a life sentence and I’m firmly institutionalized.
What is your purpose for creating art? How do you try to avoid having a loss in creativity?
We are told a thousand lies every single day! They are thrown in our face and we are expected to accept it! If you buy this, the lady’s will love you, if you haven’t got this, you’re a loser! Our streets are covered in this shit so I paint to counteract this and to reveal the truth.
Where do your subjects in art come from? Which (of your work) is your favorite?
I manipulate popular culture and twist and bend it until it says what I want it to say. In the 1940s, Walt Disney was commissioned to design an insignia for planes in World War 2 using Disney characters. An act of propaganda to convince the people that war was a good idea. The premise is if Mickey thinks so, then well it must be. This is a practice that has gone on since the beginning of production. It is quite simply packaging. If you package war as death, blood, guts and violence people won’t want to buy it. Wrap it up in a bow, and give it a friendly lovable mascot it’s much more saleable. In the same way Mickey Mouse was used for branding war, I use him to brand peace. The reason the world goes to war and the majority of us kick up no fuss is because they package it right. As soon as we package peace in the same way, people will start buying!
What is the contrast between the intent of your work and the perception of your work?
Everyone has their own perception. A title can steer people into your line of thinking but in my experience everyone sees things based on their life experiences and their own perspective. I can create for me what is a really dark image with a very intense meaning that is received in laughter. There will always be people who miss the message when dealing with humor to highlight a serious issue. It can easily be lost in translation, but if you look past the humor that catches your initial attention there is always a much darker under tone to my work.
How have art fans in America perceived your work as opposed to fans in the U.K.?
I have always had a large fan base in the U.S. I work with many retro subjects with 80’s and 90’s references running through them. London, at this time, was heavily influenced by American culture through music and television so in many ways. We are all on the same wave length.
With your work being in the political/social arena, what effect has that had on the way that you work? How do you see politics and social media influencing art in the future?
Politics have always been in art. Historically, they would hide messages in paintings and you had to unravel a code to reveal it. Now it’s more in your face. Now if we want to say “Fuck the Government” we grab a spray can, and write it in big bold letters for everyone to see! The artists of the past did not share the same freedoms we do now. They had it a lot harder than us. There are many governments of the world who try to contain creativity of the people and even outlaw it altogether. I guess from a government perspective, too much freedom can be dangerous. As for Social media, it has and will continue to blow up the street art world. Now what you might paint in the darkest alley that no one can see, could end up on the web and from a single photo, get can be seen by 100,000 people globally in a matter of hours, which is incredible. But I also see a problem, those type of views mean advertisers see an opportunity to slap a brand or advertisement next to it or arrange sponsorship deals with artists to promote their brands turning the street art world inside out, and becoming exactly what it’s supposed to be against.
How do you decide between using color or black and white in your work?
If I’m doing a piece in my I guess you can call “signature style” of cartoon mixed with reality, I like the contrast of bold color with the cartoon aspect and black and grey with the real life characters. I think it adds a great contrast to highlight the softness of fantasy and the harshness of reality. I also use color to highlight the important aspects of a piece. It’s so important that the message is not lost and the viewer has to get it at a glance just like in advertising. You only get a split second to capture a viewer’s attention.
How important is it to remain true to yourself and your individual vision as an artist?
It’s very important! If you give a shit about what you’re putting out. If you only care about money, it’s less important. Don’t get me wrong money is great, money helps me grow, money provides me platforms for my messages. But it also good to remember that the richest guy in the world is not the guy who has everything it’s the guy who needs nothing!
How does, or should, the word “passion” relate to an artist?
Art is not like romance. Romances require passion and is usually destroyed by obsession. But in Art, passion is a good thing, but obsession is what will make you great.
What other artists inspire your craft?
I could name all the usual artists, Banksy, Dolk, Ron English, Obey, but my biggest inspiration was my great friend BEN NAZ. He inspired me because he was the true embodiment of street art culture. He was a humanitarian and political activist, and a voice of the people. He was the most inspirational person I have ever met. He passed very recently after a long battle with Cancer.
Some people look at Graffiti as a non-artistic form of expression, how do you feel about graffiti and its difference to traditional art?
Graffiti Art or Street Art is much more relevant than traditional art. It’s a more raw, purer, unedited form of expression. It’s much more spontaneous and a more reaistic representation of the people. Art reflects life and more people can relate to graffiti because it speaks for the average man. Street Art is in your face. It deliberately pulls no punches and slaps you in the face with reality. It’s a huge part of popular culture and may be, in my opinion, art in its purest form.
How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art?
That’s a difficult question to answer. Art is my life. That being said I will let you come to your own conclusions.
What are the best and worst parts of being a full-time, working artist?
I try to keep positive with that, things could always be worse. I could be working in a mundane job for a low wage with a boss who’s an asshole breathing down my neck and not appreciating anything I do! I work for myself. I reap what I sow and everyday I get to do what I love and never know what will happen next. I get paid to be an artist! I think they call that living the dream. I cannot complain.
What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Who knows?! watch this space in fact watch any space with a wall.
Where do you see yourself and your artwork in 10 years?
I don’t know man. Go back to 2010, I never held a spray can in my life! It’s been a crazy journey and I’m just enjoying the ride where ever it takes me.
If your art could be displayed anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would describe myself as a socially conscious street artist, so the best place for my work are the streets.
Where can fans view your work?
Streets of London and Los Angeles. I also currently have my debut international solo exhibition ‘Power Up’ running at LAB ART Los Angeles I believe it closes December 6th.