Ed Lust is a Christchurch based artist who works in a variety of mediums. Often playful, at times intense, his works share a love of colour, refined forms, and repetition. Cameron Ralston visited Lust’s studio ahead of his exhibition Choke at City Art Depot which runs from the 19th of March until the 8th of April. In this exhibition Lust explores a variety of ideas and themes through watercolour and gouache on paper.
Ed Lust painting in his studio
Cameron: Let’s start with this work here. The way you paint seems very detailed and selective, does it take you a while to complete a painting like this?
Ed: It does definitely take a while but as not as long as my paintings used to. I think part of the reason why I started painting watercolour on paper was I wanted to make some works that I could finish more immediately than the works I made on canvas. When I showed at City Art Depot previously the works were very much pointillism mixed with some dry brush. Basically, big clouds of different colours made from little dots playing with ambient colourfields. Trying to create works that were purely abstract. I’d build up paint over a long time, in one case even three or four years. So, I’d finish and exhibit them and they were usually quite popular but they just took too long. I went back to the drawing board and experimented more with different mediums. These works came about through wanting to do some really wet painting and allow a bit more to go wrong.
Does some of that desire to push work out a bit faster and keep things moving come with balancing a job and other commitments?
Yes, a lot of the works in Choke are quite small because I’d start and finish, or at least do one layer of them, in one night. That was a really nice way to focus, and I kind of want to say meditate but it wasn’t meditative, I was always thinking of stuff, but keeping myself busy. So, the small works were a work per sitting or evening (the top layer anyway). The larger works however have been way too much for one sitting so I’ve had to come up with ways to keep that feeling of…
Yeah, and wetness as well. I don’t want it to ever feel like it was painted in bits. I do want it to feel like a wash or foam of colour. That’s part of what I’ve come to like about working with the watercolour paints. Even part of that has been working into some pieces a kind of glitter when you look at them. It’s mainly with the purples and pinks, because some of the purples I’ve been working with have been crushed amethyst and mir gum Arabic. It’s never really mixed quite consistently so it’s been nice to have imperfections here and there. I’ve jumped at that and where colours haven’t quite mixed. I’ve enjoyed just playing with that and bringing more in to give it an organic formation and look.
Yes, you get a lot of nice bleeding between the colours.
I think I’ve really enjoyed that. I want to begin taking that into a more figurative realm eventually. But I’ve just enjoyed these being an escape from heavy thought in some ways. They’ve been a pretty simple activity for me.
Ed Lust’s artist studio
You’ve made quite a number of works for the show, have you edited out many paintings?
Yes, there was a lot of work but I’ve tried to keep some of my process in the show. When I started doing the watercolours again, I had to think about what my visual language is. I’ve had to churn out lots to see what I like and don’t like again. I guess, the work in Choke represents just over a year of work. I was working part-time most of that time and on days off I’d treat it as a working painting day. It was nice having half the week for that. But at the moment I’m working full-time again which has definitely been a juggle and it’s meant I have to paint more in the evenings. So it’s nice to try keep it simple. The watercolours and the paper have really allowed me, as they are cheaper mediums, to make more work. When I started this series I thought I would continue with the medium I started in, which was offcuts of museum board framing materials. I could get the materials from Creative Junk down the road, so I started painting with these effects on those. I quite liked that the museum boards could take a lot of water, so I could leave stuff and it wouldn’t necessarily warp. It came apparent though that when I went a bit bigger I’d have to invest in some nicer paper. I’ve painted this series using 640 GSM watercolour paper which can take a beating, I’ve really liked working with it. A lot of the time the underlayers are washed out before you see them. So, I’ve soaked the whole thing and once I’ve done the first layer I’ve tried to remove some of the vivid colours so they fall back in the picture plane. The top layer has become a bit more of a process in itself. I’ve enjoyed that each work has a start and finish that I can see and focus on a series that’s contained in that respect.
So, where did you get the name Choke from?
I liked how emotive that word was and how it needs a reaction. When I started the work I was going through quite a bit and so the series feels kind of like an urgent reaction, a sudden change or having to deal with something quickly. A self-imposed intervention in terms of the way I work. But in a lot of ways I chose it just because of the actual brushworks that I’ve been doing. It does feel like I’ve been choking off areas of the underpainting. The action felt like a choking action and so I’d use that as a describer when I was talking to people about the work. I guess from a thematic point of view I wanted the works to be ambiguous but I did want it to evoke feelings and a sense of overwhelming and excess. When we were looking at the City Art Depot gallery and thinking about the layout I wanted the way the works were hung to heighten the experience. So, while some works are just one-on-one paintings, some aren’t so much. I hope on the night it is a nice collective experience. I don’t want it to be easy, not excruciating, but I want people to work a little. Even if that’s having to go upstairs and the works are cluttered by other works, or those works are cluttered by mine. I hope that people will have to do some identification work – ‘that’s an Ed Lust work, that’s not’ – making connections themselves. I think it’ll be interesting to bring that kind of sensibility into the actual layout of the gallery.
There’s something playful in pushing people around the gallery space.
Playful, but just one percent cruel as well.
Ed Lust working on ‘RAMA’
You also spoke to me previously about being interested in ideas of bad taste. Does that come into the artworks as well?
It wasn’t entirely random, but in these large works especially, I wanted a sense of haphazardness. As if they are made from whatever colours were there. I like that in some ways. That said, it ended up being more that I had a limited pallet for the show and allowed myself some spontaneity within that. I purposefully chose a pallet to begin with that wasn’t pretty and then tried to create beauty within that. There are moments in these larger works that for me are gorgeous. It’s about areas of colour co-ordination where something really nice happens. I like the fact that it’s not everywhere on the whole painting, some areas are more challenging that others. With the smaller works as well – partly bad taste, but I wanted there to be a sense of failure or disappointment that things didn’t quite work out. Their names allude to that and are playful in that respect. Things like not being central on the page or paints bleeding into one another, giving an organic feel to them.
I suppose you’re mimicking the way natural things have imperfections?
Exactly. So I’ve limited my pallet but allowed some room in the actual performance side of painting. Talking about the choking, as I’m painting I’m deciding which colours I’m going to focus on. It’s not something that I plot out in advance, I move more as a wave across the page choosing what moments, often the more garish bits, that I’ll allow to come to the front.
Yeah, I found that these bubbly style works – if I can call them that – are a lot to look at all at once. You have to work your way through them and find moments in each where you can rest.
Absolutely. I like them even if they just get used as social media backgrounds on the night. I like them being ambient paintings. But in that respect they have a lot going on so they can be lived with. Maybe the mediums have encourage a more flippant nature in me where I’ll use colours a bit less thoughtfully that I would normally.
How do you attribute titles to each work?
It is just like naming anything. But it’s different to naming a film, for instance, where you have tangible themes that are worked out and then addressed in the film. This is more fluid and a bit more basic in some ways because it’s just me and the artwork. It’s usually a feeling, but a lot of thought goes into it. I’ll often have the title penciled on the back for a while and then the next morning or three weeks later I’ll come back and think ‘what was I thinking?’ I try and sit with them for a little while. Sometimes I’ll turn over a painting and it’ll have nine different names on the back and I don’t like any of them. This one I’m working on now is RAMA. I liked the collision of the definitions of rama. In te reo Māori rama is fishing by torch light and of course you see ‘rama’ everywhere for instance in vegorama pizza at Dominoes. Or Rendezvous with Rama, the Arthur C. Clarke novel where a giant metal cylinder appears above the atmosphere and no one knows what it is other than very intimidating, unexpected and out of this world. I kind like the idea that this work had a foreign bodies and membrane feel, and the movement of people in water. That came together and it just looked like a rama to me.
Ed Lust working on ‘RAMA’
This being a very open plan apartment, how do you find both working and living in the same space? A lot of artists that we talk to have a space that is a separate room, or a separate building entirely in a different part of the city.
I’ve worked like that, I’ve had a garage that I go to, I’ve had a studio that I’ve had to take a bus to and I’ve had this situation. It’s way easier in some ways not to do the work if it’s at home but it’s way easier to do it as well. I can just have Netflix or YouTube playing and work in front of the TV for hours and it’ll keep me company.
Do you have a favourite thing to have playing while painting?
I’m playing the Timeline series with Mary Beard, often about Pompeii or the Romans. Timeline put all their documentaries on YouTube all free to watch and pretty good quality. But also, I quite like watching essay films on YouTube, often about films that don’t really warrant an essay film. More recently, but I’ve tried to stay away from it, are thing like The Young Turks, The Majority Report or Sam Seder, basically American talkback. I guess that’s just because American politics has been interesting me but at the same time I am trying more and more to not be interested by it.
It’s very absorbing.
Yeah, and I’m too much of a sponge to go near that stuff. It’s probably for the best that I keep to Mary Beard.
There’s a lot of consciousness around the environmental impact of art making at the moment. How do you feel about that in relation to these works?
I guess part of making Choke is focusing on using materials that aren’t just going to end up in a skip somewhere. There’s so much art that I’ve wanted to make over the years but I’d have to make it out of fibreglass or print it on some plastic laminated board for example. And I love the tacky, plasticy, throwaway look. A lot of the art I was making five or ten years ago embraced that. But I think I felt a bit of guilt doing that so for at least a while I’m going to work with materials that don’t feel poisonous. And it’s not just environmental, it’s also personal safety. It’s amazing how many paint or medium containers actually say ‘this is a proven carcinogenic’ on them. And oils, even if you’re using odourless solvents to thin them, are often pretty potent. It’s not going to stink out the place but you might find you have a headache in a couple of hours. I guess it’s been nice to play with mediums that feel like they’re not doing any harm. Though even washing the water from my paint brushes down the drain adds up. That was actually something I was thinking about with the title Choke. The works have a watery look to them giving connotations of a toxic body of water. PH testing, pollution, that kind of stuff. Or even coding of warnings and emergency language. Some works such as the three ALARMER works hint at that visual language, where others don’t.
ORANGE ALARMER, Ed Lust, watercolour & gouache, 2019
Oh, I’ve ruined a brush! This happens all the time. I’ll leave the brush in a water container and it’ll get a lovely tip on it. That’s my ideal painting brush. But then if I leave it even one more night in a painting tin or the water container, especially if it’s in a slightly different orientation, it completely ruins the tip. I use shitty synthetic brushes but I do try get a lot of use out of them.
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