AM recently caught up with Canadian street artist Labrona as he was preparing for a group show this weekend in Berlin at Neurotitan Gallery. He talked about his gallery work compared to his outdoor work as well as some adventures while painting in the train yards.
Full interview after the jump…
AM: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Labrona: Hi, I am an artist that goes by the moniker Labrona. I’m known for painting oil stick characters on trains that travel the North American rail system. My friend Other got me into painting trains around 1998 and I haven’t stopped since. Lately, I’ve been making a name for myself as a gallery artist.
AM: You made your name painting trains. Anything exciting ever happen while you were on one of your painting sessions in the train yards? Any interesting stories to tell?
Labrona: I’ve got lots of stories – getting chased by cops, junkies and wackos in the yard at 4 in the morning. Here is a good one:
I was painting trains in the middle of the day and when I was done painting and taking photos, I jumped from between a line of trains onto the road just as a cop was passing. The cop stops me and calls me over to the car, tells me to get in and that I’m trespassing. I get in the car my hands are covered in paint so I’m sitting on my hands so he doesn’t see them. I make up a story how I just moved to the neighborhood and I got lost taking a walk and how my wife and i just bought a house blahblahblah. So the cop buys my story, drives me out of the yard and gives me directions home; says he is going to let me off with a warning. I was so sketched out. I just painted like three pieces and had my camera on me full of my stuff. I guess I’m a good actor when I need to be.
Mostly, what I remember though is good times with my friends, he long walks, the smell of diesel, and the strange meditative silence of a train yard in the middle of the city.
AM: Your work seems to have a certain “religious” feel to it perhaps reminding us of classic paintings from the past. Is this a conscious decision? Do you consider yourself a religious person?
Labrona: I don’t belong to any specific religious tradition, but the fact that we are alive at this point in time on this planet and able to make art is pretty freaking miraculous.
It is a conscious decision, I’ve studied art history so I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the old masters. I think the emotions of the old religious works are timeless regardless of what story in the bible they represent. I guess I’m tackling timeless themes in my work re-interpreting them for myself and my time.
AM: How do you compare doing work on the streets and painting for galleries? Do you have a different approach?
Labrona: My street work and gallery work are two different things. Outdoors, I’m freer. I paint fast and don’t have time to reconsider. I go into a kind of meditative state where I just paint as fast as I can. I want to finish it quick and get out of there. Indoors, it is the opposite. I take my time make a million changes till I eel I get it right.
AM: We feel like your work sometimes has a certain geometric symmetry to it in its composition, especially your gallery work. What are your reasonings behind this?
Labrona: I like abstract painting a design. It is way to try something new without abandoning the character. I want to play with color, shape and composition, but still hold on to my themes. I was also thinking of mandalas and Buddhist philosophies: the cycle of death and rebirth, the wheel of time and the repetition of human follies.
AM: Can you tells us some of the projects and shows you have coming up?
Labrona: I’m in a show that opens February 12th at Neurotitan gallery in Berlin along with my Canadian painting buddies Other and Produkt, and a group show in New York in March organized by Carmichael Gallery. Besides that my plans are to keep doing what I do. I’ve got a lot on the go. I’ll keep you posted.
AM: Thanks for your time Labrona and good luck with your show.