Written by our friends over at Global Street Art.
Interview With Street Artist Lyken
From an outsider’s perspective it’s always fascinating to see just how far removed mature artists have come from their graffiti roots – or so it would appear. Lyken has taken his abstraction to an extreme. Producing abstract work as a visual artist and exploring sound as a musician signed to the progressive Gamma Proforma label, there is little difference between media for Lyken: it’s all art and he excels regardless.
Gathering No Moss
Funnily enough I have a tattoo that reads “There is no stability, we exist in flux” just to remind me of the fact that just when you think you have it all sussed the Universe goes and changes all the rules, but you know what? That’s okay.
I’ve drawn for as long as I can remember, that and banged pots and pans; always making some kind of mess or racket! I was born in Dundee [Scotland] and I grew up just outside Durban in South Africa. I became aware of graffiti while I was still living in South Africa; someone had written ‘Philadelphia Kids’ in massive letters near my High School in 1982 or 1983. I had no idea that it was a crew or even how they managed to write it so big! I remember thinking “I wonder what these kids from Philadelphia are doing in Natal?” Shortly after that came Subway Art and Beat Street but it wasn’t until we moved back to Dundee in 1986 and I became immersed in Hip Hop that I began painting properly.
My parents and grandparents were super supportive of us creating as kids and made sure we had everything we needed to draw, write and perform. My grandad would record me on an 8 track Reel to Reel and I’d pretend to be both radio host and guest. Being encouraged to play is so important; my younger brother is now a successful sci-fi writer. We’ve both managed to extend play into our adult lives and our careers.
I chose my name lichen: because moss and graffiti both appear on walls, which might have been passingly funny when I was 14. Now I’m 39 it’s maybe not so funny anymore [Lyken laughed as he was telling me this]. I changed the spelling so it worked better, letter-wise for piecing. These days people just assume it’s my surname. It’s a weird one I have close friends that have no idea it’s my tag and not actually my name. To live most of your life under a pseudonym is kind of odd. I sometimes wonder what my teenage self would think if he could see me still doing exactly what we were doing all those years ago. Hopefully he would approve, more than likely he would try and battle me.
I was influenced by 80′s New York subway graffiti writers; and then by what I suppose has come to be classed as “The London Style” of the mid 80′s: Non Stop Crew, London Giants, TCA. 3D from Bristol was a massive influence also so to be painting in Bristol feels like coming full circle. I have a vivid memory of my Nan taking me to buy a jacket in ’86 or so; she wanted me to go for a red one but I opted for blue telling her that 3D wore a similar one in Bombin’ (graffiti documentary) and in Spray Can Art. One of many “That’s nice dear”, responses from my old Nan over the years!
I suppose from that style I kept the fades, highlights and coloured mist, there are definitely parts of my old fills still present in my work. There was a gradual process of abstracting my letter-based work and also realising that while this is going to piss off a bunch of folk, you have to take what feels right and run with it. I think the dynamics, the movements and angles all come from graffiti. You can’t help but carry those gestural movements through I guess. Even in choosing abstract shapes, they all look like “doo dads” to me.
Other influences over the years JonOne, Lokiss, Vulcan, Kase2, Futura, Skeme. SheOne‘s work has always been something I looked toward and aspired too, it’s quite a trick to have all of those graff elements still in place but still appear utterly abstract, he is one of the best examples of staying true to the principles of that model but stretching it to the absolute extreme.
My paintings are definitely influenced by my state of mind at that particular time and so can be turbulent or meditative; the mural work is more emotionally constrained because it’s done in public and when you have a big space you kind of have get the job done but I hope some of that emotion still filters through. Originally I was painting from slides of stained bacteria, cell division and death; following those movement and flows. These days it’s purely expressive, a gut reaction to the surface; be it canvas or wall at that particular moment in time.
Today I divide my time between making art and making music. I’m signed to Gamma Proforma, a London based record label and art house. I make left field electronic music and split my time 50-50 between music and paintings. My studio is in two halves; music gear on one side, painting stuff on the other. Because they are more or less made in tandem they share the same titles and themes so when I make a new series, usually I end up with a coherent visual and audio body of work at the end of the stint.
I’ve been based in Glasgow for the last 2 and a half years; I moved as I was doing more and more work with Recoat Gallery. I curated a show called ‘Rudimentary Perfection’ there last year which featured Myself, Kofie, Jaybo Monk, SheOne, Mr. Jago, Nawer, Derm, Morten Andersen, Matt W Moore and Poesia. What is Graffuturism? It’s a blog started by Poesia Transcend and it has become a way of describing a loose collection of people, predominantly from graffiti backgrounds who are now making abstract work in one form or another.
There is zero tolerance for graffiti in Glasgow, so wall space for events has to be sought through private businesses. Despite that as a city, artistically and musically it’s really buzzing. The people are great and there’s a similar vibe to Bristol. I work with a Gallery called Artel in Bristol. I had a solo show there called “Pattern Interrupt” a few months ago so I have been down a bunch of times to see them and Mr Jago. The See No Evil Crew have been amazing from start to finish this trip. Bristol feels like a home from home, I totally “get” it.
I’m just completing a bio-acoustic residency where I have been working with Marine Biologists at the Lighthouse Field Station in a town called Cromarty in the Highlands of Scotland. The biologists are researching the effects of industry on the local marine population (marine mammals in particular). They have recordings of these incredible seismic noises, which I’ve turned into abstract acoustic soundtracks. My studio is in a decommissioned lighthouse and I have produced four sound pieces which will be housed in a two room installation, tying in with the British Science Festival. The art/science cross over is new territory for me. It’s been an honour and a privilege to be involved.
Next month I’m part of the ‘Futurism 2.0’ show, curated by Gamma Proforma held in Blackall Studios in Shoreditch. It kind of picks up where Rudimentary Perfection left off and expands on it. It’s a massive show, there’s some twenty artists involved and it’s being made into a book and a film. There is a buzz building about it already. I can’t wait to see everyone again a year on plus meet a whole new bunch of artists whose work I admire.
After that show? I’ve been working solidly for a year now without a break so hopefully a little bit of down time and maybe sleeping in my own bed but the way things have been going who knows.