here are few in the art world who have successfully managed to capture the chaotic beauty of the internet, but Lushsux is perhaps the most prominent artist in this peculiar landscape. Growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, Lushsux has been creating his renowned murals all over the world for over a decade now. From meme icons like Big Chungus and Harambe to high-profile celebrities like Elon Musk and 50 Cent, his work has been featured in headlines around the globe in recent years. As the preeminent meme artist of our time, we spoke with Lushsux to learn more about his artwork, where he draws inspiration from, his thoughts on the future of memes themselves and even a few of his favorite formats.
Q: Welcome, Lushsux. Thanks for giving us the chance to speak with you. So as we’ve seen in recent years, especially in 2020, the convergence of memes and politics is at an all-time high. What are your thoughts on the role of memes being used as a political tool? Do you think this is necessarily a good or bad thing, or is it more of a temporary trend?
A: Memes have always been used as a political tool, they were transmitted by other means newspapers, television, radio, movies, theater, comics, literature, art, and even in casual conversation. The difference is that now the means of production of the memes is less in the hands of propagandists, marketers, public relations firms, and so on. But the power structure is quickly moving to set in place measures to regain control of the dissemination of memes and the context of them. Even as I type this answer to your question, YouTubers, Instagram accounts, Twitter accounts, and so forth are being removed at an ever-growing pace. Those who seek to control the narratives in our world are seeking to get back to the old order of things as soon as possible.
Even now though, there are updated versions of millennial era propagandists, marketers, etc. who use the current form of meme culture and the internet as the way to seed them to the world. Elon Musk once tweeted, "He who controls the memes, controls the Universe," and he's not far off the truth. There are people who have been involved in the study and application of memetics at alphabet agencies for a lot longer than you'd think, and now more recently in the corporate sphere.
Q: When deciding on a new mural or painting, how do you come up with your ideas, and where do you tend to draw most of your inspiration from? Can you tell us more about your creative process and any research you do beforehand?
A: I steal pretty much everything, generally taking from what is going on at the time. That's the essence of it all isn't it, in the end? Replication of the meme, putting your spin on it and hoping it continues to spread or morph into a weirder and more hilarious meme.
Sometimes I hit a weird subject tangent until the next meme cycle, sometimes I have to paint something for cash that maybe isn't on-trend at the time, but I got child support to pay and papa needs brand new shoes.
Q: We’ve noticed that you also frequently interact with your fan base online and consult with them to help you decide on a direction for murals, providing pictures of various memes and internet celebrities to choose from. What has drawn you to this practice, and do you think your followers usually make the right choice?
A: I assumed "social media" was meant to be social right? I'm painting subject matter that, in a sense, belongs to everyone. I like the idea of painting not in introspection or shallow intellectual wankery, but instead almost to a mass audience. Most artists would consider memes to be base, something that does not have a closed audience or class associated with it. Most artists are busy working 24/7 to pull a con job about how their practice has some kind of deep meaning or lofty conceptual goal. It sells better to people with tons of monopoly money to waste, or it's great fodder to get themselves into a museum or some kind of institution so their work has a higher value on the art market.
Q: At this point in your career as an artist, have you been able to turn your work into a full-time job, or is it more of a side gig? Also, can you share with us what you enjoy most about this medium, as well as some of the biggest challenges you face?
A: I haven't had a “9-to-5” since CS 1.6 [ Counter-Strike ]. I enjoy being able to shitpost IRL, even better when someone is giving you thousands of dollars to do it.
Q: Pop culture is another key subject of your work. Can you tell us more about the various 50 Cent murals, how he responded to them over time, as well as how you settle on a particular person or topic?
A: Fiddy posted a wall I had painted a while back, the 6ix9ine and 50 mashup. Then recently I painted him again and he posted that as well. So I just kept painting him and he just kept posting them until it turned into world news somehow. I guess there is not much happening at the moment right? Go figure.
The pop culture stuff, again, is subject matter anyone can ingest, as everyone knows who 50 is. Why produce art for a small audience when you could create something everyone can get a laugh out of at least. I like to troll or try to make something “funny ha-ha” with the pop culture subject matter. It's always current somewhat also, so I will never run out of content, and as long as the jokes don't go stale, I can most likely milk it for what it's worth until I die from lead poisoning or whatever in the future.
Also, another thought is that most celebrities and pop culture icons are living memes, i.e., Kanye or Elon Musk, and killing is my business and business is good. Oh, maybe replace "killing" with "memeing."
Q: Just this May, you stated that you were hospitalized after being attacked by a group of men while working on one of these 50 Cent murals. Can you tell us more about the confrontation, why you think they targeted you, and how you felt after the fact?
A: Just some local graffiti nobodies, it’s just a factor in painting on the street. Not everyone likes me or my work. You can't win every fight, especially against seven people. In the end, all it did was help make the story that was already viral worldwide about 50 go even harder. Sucked in.
Q: We also heard that Elon Musk blocked you on Twitter. Can you tell us more about why you think he did this? Have there been any other similar reactions from high-profile individuals like this that you’ve featured in your art, and why do you think they react negatively?
A: Elon blocked me or one of his minions I guess. But then magically, I got unblocked again the other day. Maybe he didn't like the multiple walls I've painted of him, even Beethoven had his critics.
Q: Some have referred to you as "Australia's Banksy." What are your thoughts on being compared to artists like him, and do you have any favorite artists that have inspired you? Do you ever collaborate with anyone in the street art scene?
A: I think journalists must have one of those yellow “Street Art Articles for Dummies” books on their shelves at the office because that seems to be the default go-to when talking about any other street artist that isn't Banksy who seems to get some notice.
I only like to collaborate with those of differing skill sets or talents. I've been lucky to do some cool things with internet gods, like PewDiePie and Salt Bae for example. NAME DROPPPPPPPPPPP. Salt Bae is kinda intimidating in real life … I wouldn't want to get on his bad side, not for nothing.
Q: Out of all your various meme-related murals and paintings, which ones are particularly some of your favorites, and why? Are there any other memes you haven’t painted yet that you want to feature down the line?
A: I hate all of them, the problem with memes is that they die or go stale. Only some can stay the distance or re-emerge to be born again. Right now I'm on house arrest, so I cannot get outside to paint, so who knows what’s coming up next.
Q: Given your history of working with internet and meme culture, what are a few of your current favorites making the rounds these days? Do you ever dabble in creating memes of your own?
A: I like the “Better Call Saul” ones this week. Cat-related memes never get stale for me — I guess I'm just fond of grilling.
Q: So, where can people keep up with you online, and what sort of upcoming projects or endeavors do you currently have in the works that we should keep on our radar?
A: @lushsux on pretty much all platforms that I haven't got the banhammer from yet. I think I'll shoot for another viral worldwide news story episode before the end of the year again, for shits and giggles.
Q: Any final word or additional info you’d like to add before we wrap this up?
A: Like, 'Uh… they is treating us good. Uh, we are chilling and shit. I'd like to give a shout out to Ray-Ray an Big Steve and uh, send some Newports!
Lushsux is a street artist based in Melbourne, Australia, whose work focuses on internet and meme culture. You can check out his Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr or website to find more of his artwork and stay up-to-date on his latest projects.