An Interview With Steve Lawler of Mojoko
How does your average day go?
I wake up at 6am to take my kid to school. I have never been a morning person, so this is extremely difficult, especially as I rarely go to bed before 1am. The rest of the day is a blur. Everyday is different. But it normally starts off with checking emails and all that admin bullshit. I try to have a routine, and carve out as much of the day as I can to actually do creative work. Meetings normally dictate where I need to be so I plan my days around those. I tend to end up in some industrial estate in Kaki Bukit or some corporate tower block in the CBD. We have a really varied client range so each day throws up new possibilities and problems. I don’t think I have ever had a routine. It certainly keeps things fresh, but it makes it extremely hard to plan things in advance. I started a creative agency called The Unusual which is growing so that requires time and attention too. www.theunusualnetwork.com
What are you currently obsessed about?
I am starting to do a lot more animation. My Mojoko work has been going for 10 years now so I am trying to find new ways to evolve it. Sometimes you get so precious and obsessed with perfection and it can be paralysing, so doing quick and nasty animations really helps open up new ideas and throw caution to the wind. It has been really liberating and will hopefully lead to a whole new body of work.
I am also currently working on a project aimed at educating kids through art called EYEYAH! I work with like-minded artists to tackle social issues using creativity. You can see more about that here: www.eyeyah.com
You draw a lot of comic character references in your works. Could you share some comic books/artists which you love and would recommend to our fellow readers.
I would probably recommend some vintage comics, I much prefer the old style of illustration found in Tales of the Unknown, Weird Mysteries or EERIE. There are so many ideas and obscure comics out there that are not mainstream. Just need to sniff them out at old bookstores or vintage markets. There was so much progress made in the 70’s & 80’s in comic book culture that I feel it was the strongest period of the medium. I suppose that’s why I nerd out on it some much. The same applies for movie posters which seem to have been at their peak during that period.
Looking at your artworks, you must have a massive archive of images and cutouts. What is the status of your collection now? And be honest, are you a hoarder?
Yes, I am totally a hoarder. I have archives going back over 20 years. I used to keep all magazines and books that I used as source material, but it became ridiculous, so I digitise most of the materials I find these days. I have movie posters from all over the world, some of them are huge, my house looks like a framer's workshop as I have been buying old antique frames for the past 5 years and will eventually find a use for all of them.
Amongst all the good stuff that resides in your studio, is there one that holds a special place in your heart?
Obviously gifts from people are treasured, but if I try to think of something obscure it has to be my comic book collection. It’s not your average comic book collection. It is a compilation of some of the weirdest B-movie hype publications, zines, Hong Kong comics and random ephemera collected over the years. Half of them I can't even understand. Like my Mexican cowboy mini books for example. Beautiful illustrations but I have no idea what they are about.
I found your website www.stevelawler.com and those interactive digital popups on your website are highly addictive. What made you decide to work on this concept? Contrary to the norms of our traditional ways of seeing, what are you trying to challenge with this piece of digital art?
This was made a long time ago and I still have a very keen interest in interactive art. It comes from the same place of my brain as my collage art. Trying to humanise the code. Giving human emotions to a bunch of numbers. We just released an app for EYEYAH! on the App Store which is more electronic fun.
Every fragment of your work carries in itself a highly specific origin. As a whole, your work playfully celebrates mass media production and capitalist consumerism. How is this relevant to the focus of your artistic objectives?
We are exposed to so much advertising and visual noise that our tendency is to reduce our senses to a numb level, we filter out about 70% of the things we see and hear in an average day. Especially living in a bustling city like Singapore or Hong Kong. There is so much imagery that my work is really a reflection of and simply trying to make sense of all the nonsense my brain picks up. Everything from packaging in supermarkets to brand advertising on the subway, I sometimes find them interesting on a subversive level. Often wondering to myself “how could I make this more interesting?”
There is a disarray of colourful pop culture icons present in your work. How long does it take for you to decide its arrangement and composition? Is it spontaneous? Or is it tedium like Mondrian with his geometric shapes.
A large artwork takes about 3 to 5 weeks to compose. However, some of the contents have been years in the making, as I will often use a combination of selected conscious images that are specific to that piece and throw in a few random bits which could go back quite far in my collection of images in my archives and scrapbooks. Obviously, with collages there are an infinite number of ways to put the images together, so I tend to use the rules of composition and colour to help me make layout decisions, and of course interesting images often magnetise and feel like they were destined to be side by side.
Your works are often printed on everyday commodities. Is that a conscious decision?
I love the quality of antiques and the richness of ornate items from the past. I am so bored with the modern minimalist aesthetics that is is nice to see some expression and ambition in ornamental craft. I think there is something exciting about matching modern graphics to traditional old-fashioned mediums like textiles and furniture. I love the sculptural quality they possess, but the bastardisation of a beautiful historic item kind of mirrors modern culture and what we are doing to our own languages and culture in real life.
Lastly, could you describe one of your craziest psychedelic trips / one wacky art idea you've thankfully abandoned.
I’ve always wanted to make a film, but I have not abandoned the idea yet. It just has to go on hold until I get a decent bucket of money to bring in a team. It’s very hard to make a movie by yourself. So that project has to stay a fantasy for a bit longer.