Originally from Canberra, and now living and working in Sydney, Cornish is known in the urban art world by his moniker, E.L.K. Each of his artworks are constructed from up to 1,000 sheets of acetate stencils and up to 243 different colours of layered aerosol paint, until they take on a photographic realism.
Cornish’s work is founded in a style which had its fundamentals in ephemerality. Stencil art was one of the earliest forms of social and political activism and Cornish’s practice doesn’t stray far from this intention. His documentary and activist artworks capture the social and political issues relevant to the macrocosm of our time and function as visual statements of war, portraying individuals directly affected by it. In 2012, his skill to portraiture was critically affirmed, being the first stencil artist to become a finalist in The Archibald prize.
Cornish continues to refine his craft, striving to push the limits of his medium and explore the universal power of street art. He has made multiple visits to countries profoundly affected by war, economic sanctions and a massive refugee crisis, and these themes reoccur though his work. In early 2017, Luke co-founded the ‘For Syria’s Children Charity organisation which works on the ground in Syria, raising much needed funds for Syrian children affected by conflict.
Throughout his career, Luke has won many awards including the coveted Holding Redlich People’s Choice Award at the Salon des Refusés in 2017, the Churchill fellowship in 2013 and was a finalist in the Sulman prize in the same year. He exhibited his work in both capital and regional cities in Australia, and in major international cultural centres – Paris, London, Rome, Los Angeles and Amsterdam. His work is held in numerous private collections both in Australia and internationally. Luke currently has an exhibition on at Ambush Gallery at Kambri – Don’t Shoot The Messenger – exploring themes of injustice and protest and running until the 11th of April.
THE STREET TALKED TO LUKE CORNISH DURING THE MAKING OF TOGETHER ALONE, WHERE STREET ART MEETS THE STREET.
WHY STREET ART?
I guess it’s just nicer to be working in the sun and fresh air than it is to be cooped up in a studio, though I do have a somewhat polyamorous relationship between street art and studio practice. There is definitely pros and cons to both, but I love the immediate audience of street work, the work is seen by so many more people than it would be in a gallery.
YOU DEVELOPED AS AN ARTIST IN CANBERRA – WHAT HAS THAT BROUGHT TO YOUR WORK?
There wasn’t a lot happening with stencil art in Canberra 20 years ago, certainly not anything like the about to explode street art scene of cities like Melbourne and Sydney. I feel like being able to develop a style and arts practice, free from too much outside influence, really allowed me to push my own boundaries in a direction that made me stand out from others. The work I make has always had a political bent to it, I really do attribute this to exposure I had to politics from an early age, growing up in Canberra. I also think the irreverence in my work stems from growing up on the mean streets of Belconnen in the 90’s.
HOW DOES A FEELING/IDEA ETC BECOME A PIECE OF STREET ART IN YOUR HANDS?
Have idea, cut stencils, paint stencils, boom. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but I don’t want to give too much away technically. Though I do find ideas need time to float around in your subconscious, time to permeate and mature and pop out when they’re ready, usually at 4am when you can’t sleep and have an early start.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS FOR TOGETHER ALONE?
There’s been a lot of procrastinating to be honest, but that’s an extremely valid part of the creative process, also COVID made things difficult. There’s been lots of designs back and forward and focus groups. It has been a challenge working to a brief and seeking approval and permission from exterior sources, something I’ve built a career (and life) around not having to do, but I think ultimately it’s been good for me professionally to have this opportunity to collaborate and seek feedback from so many at from The Street Theatre community.
YOUR EXHIBITION DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER, EXPLORES THEMES OF INJUSTICE AND PROTEST. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR INTEREST IN THESE ISSUES.
The exhibition was inspired by global events of the last 12 or so months, with the turbulent experience of the pandemic, environmental destruction, rise of authoritarianism and endless protest movements, there’s certainly been no shortage of material to work with. My interest lies in raising awareness and starting conversations about all forms of injustice throughout the world, these issues need attention if they’re going to be resolved, so I like to think in a small way that I’m doing something to help, I like to think that I’m speaking truth to power, but realistically, I’m just documenting the apocalypse.
WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?
Nothing, I’m ready for a holiday.
WHAT ARE YOU READING/WATCHING CURRENTLY?
I’ve just started reading Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson, but I’m not far enough into it to say if it’s any good. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I did recently rewatch Counterpart, its a Dystopian Spy thriller starring J.K Simmons as a hapless UN employee who discovers that the agency he works for is hiding a gateway to a parallel dimension that’s in a cold war with our own, and where his other self is a top spy. The war slowly heats up thanks to spies from both sides. It’s such an amazing concept for a TV show.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?
I’m going to pack up my car after this mural and head out to central Australia, and wait for my brain to slow down a bit, before I come back and start a new body of work, same theme as Don’t shoot the messenger, as there is plenty of material to work from.
Find out more about Together Alone at: https://www.thestreet.org.au/whats/street-art
Where Street Art meets The Street
6 – 24 April 2021, 9-4pm Mon – Sat