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Where Superheroes Go for a Bit of Self-Reflection: Numskull

For the artist formally known as Numskull, the social guidelines that come with the birthright of human conditioning are merely a playground in which to challenge them. For the past decade, the suburban-bred street artist has been creating work which satirically portrays the hypnotic commercial saturation we are confronted with from the time of our youth. He cleverly extracts the exact same elements which have become ingrained in our consciousness (whether we realise it or not) and twists them in a way that makes us confront just how much icons and advertising stay with us long after we turn off the television and move away from the billboard. His work can be humorous, disturbing and sarcastic, and often all at the same time. It sometimes appears as though it is more conceptual than the artist even set out for, depending on the viewer and his or her own experiences. Whatever the case, Numskull’s work is certainly art with a message.

“I never try and push a meaning into my paintings. I like my work to be objective, but I guess the defiance comes out naturally in the process when I come up with ideas,” he explains.

“[I have] a lack of tolerance for most rules and pre-defined social ethics. I know that must sound like I'm some kind of neo-goth, political, tunnel-squatting activist, but sometimes I look around and see a lot of silly things happening.”

Growing up in the graffiti and skateboarding culture perhaps contributed to the time he was able to spend observing people and the way they are constructed. Given his take on it all, it makes sense that the lure of street art has drawn him.

“Traditional graffiti and flat out vandalism appeals to my childish side, where there are only a few rules and the law doesn't apply,” says Numskull.
“The joy of sneaking around unnoticed writing your name on things is truly a great feeling. Like a dog, leaving your mark everywhere.

Nevertheless, he says he doesn’t consider himself a graffiti artist. Although he has tagged his fair share of pieces, he prefers posters, stickers and stencils now, and he says being part of a community which embraces such art has been a driving force behind his career choice. Now his days consist of getting to World’s End Studio, where he and a handful of other extremely talented artists are based, and doing a bit of freelance work and painting.

“For me there was never a purpose or rule about the line between galleries and street work. That's for everyone else to talk about. I just do what I want to do and if it feels good, I do it,” he describes.
“My mum used to let us paint in the backyard and on our walls at home, so painting for both inside and outside is a normal thing for me.”

Signwriting is a principal element in Numskull’s work, and with copy such as “You’re Only Famous on Ebay” and “Super Never! Candy Terror.” set to iconic and billboard fonts, he clearly sees the dark side of advertising – which is ironic, considering he used to work in the industry.

“I was forced to use words and phrases I would not normally like to,” he says.
“Words like ‘NEW’, ‘SALE’ and ‘FREE’ are so commonplace in our everyday environment, to the point where it's sometimes unbearable.”

“Especially now, as advertising has to be ‘smart’ and creative to trick you into buying something. I liked the days when advertising was honest and just told you what to do.”

“The way I come up with some of my work is what I call my crazy, darting eyes, whizz by method. Basically, I walk down a street and grab sections of advertising and make a new phrase. You should try it.”

Other icons that make a frequent appearance include superheroes and Micky, the mouse we all love to hate. One of his pieces includes a big X written across the face of a part-Micky/part-evil dead Micky, with the words ‘Not So Super’ written underneath. So I had to ask – what does he have against superheroes?

“Nothing. 90% of my dreams are about superheroes,” he answers.
“The figures in my work are representative of the many false idols and superstars/superheroes of our time. The reality TV star, the teen celebrity and advertising mascots are presented to us every day and we don't have a say. I try and create my own superheroes by piecing together others.”

How to make a stencil, by Numskull.

There are many ways to make and use a stencil. This is how I do it:

In most occasions I find an image from a book or the Internet, print it out and mess with it – whether it be drawing extra bits, whiting out others or ripping and adding other printouts.

I then take a photo of it or scan it back into the computer and choose whether to trace over it or use it straight up.

When the image is up to scratch, I plot it out onto A4 pages, stick them together and use a craft knife to cut it out (This also depends on how big you want the stencil. The largest I've done is about 3 metres high, so in that instance I used a projector to trace onto big cards).

That's it. All I have to do is tape it to a wall and spray-paint over it.

Some say it's cheating, I say it's quicker. I'm lazy like that.

And finally, the hardest part about being an artist?
“Being associated with ‘the art world’. It's so airy-fairy, sometimes I feel like I want to do something else. Like a bricky, or a guy that rents out boats by the beach. That guy would be happy.”


Numskull is in an exhibition with Beastman, Phibs and Yok tonight at Ambush Gallery, starting from 6pm.

words: Seema Duggal


December 11, 2009 at 2:14 AM El Viajero said...

Love it. Some of the most original work I have seen. Keep up the good work.

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