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When working as a duo two minds are at play, looking at things from two different ways – it can be a challenge to achieve the right dynamic. But when you find someone with the same way of working and there’s synergy between you, that’s when amazing things happen. Lucas Croall and Gabriel Cole have found this kind of energy and have been working together for two years. Over this time, they’ve become known for their vibrant works, which range from murals and paintings to interior spaces of restaurants and hotel rooms.
Recently, they’ve been working together from different states (with Gab based in Melbourne and Lucas based in Adelaide). Technology makes it pretty easy for them to stay connected beyond physical distance and hasn’t really affected their work. But more likely, their ability to collaborate without being in the same physical space is a result of a perfect creative compatibility. They’ve even expressed that on some occasions their styles have become almost inseparable.In the lead up to the exhibition of their most recent project Nu Camo – which will be exhibited at Junior Space in March – we spoke with Lucas and Gab about their great energy as a team.
LC: Art has always been a very central if not the main focus of my life; I had a natural inclination towards drawing from a young age. I seemed content to do nothing but draw alone for hours on end every day – mainly crudely drawn biological catalogues and imaginary creatures. I always imagined that I would be an illustrator, until I discovered lino-printing at high school. I instantly became obsessed with the medium and devoted all of my time to it.
It was around this time I was introduced to a now good friend of ours, Kaspar Schmidt Mumm. Within a week of knowing Kaspar he had pushed me into painting, and I was hooked. I loved the idea of creating a physical object that was unique and could be possessed by only one person – in that way I find painting to be an intrinsically intimate practice. The exclusivity of a painting was a huge contrast to the reproductive nature of relief printmaking.
Kaspar and I painted together a lot and spearheaded a big group show in Adelaide at MR IST. Soon after the show Kaspar introduced me to a guy called James Brown. James and his business partner Dom Roberts run MASH: a revered South Australian design firm.
James designs a lot of interiors, and often has some sort of hand painted element within the space – that’s where Kaspar and I came in. James needed someone to pump out patterns, and we knew how to hold a brush. Straight away my mind was opened up to where art and decoration can cross over in interiors, and how art could be visibly functional. After a while, Dom Roberts noticed my own work and began to hire me as a featured artist; that was really the moment that my practice became almost entirely centered around decorative murals. Meeting the guys at MASH really provided an opportunity for me to turn my practice into a financially viable option.
It was around this time that I met Gab Cole, when we were both working in a group studio in the Adelaide CBD called Tooth & Nail. I instantly felt an affinity for Gab’s work; his use of colour, the structure of his compositions, and the intimacy of his subject matter. We became friends and I got Gab to come along to assist with Kaspar and I on some MASH jobs. At the time Gab was printing his own t-shirts, and he showed me that printing streetwear could be a way of extending your artwork’s presence onto the streets and into people’s everyday lives.
We started to collaborate on some t-shirts and before we’d even finished the first design, we decided that we should start a street wear brand together: Beyond Killa was born. We were very inspired by Mambo; the playful nature of the designs, and by their injection of humour into the ill-defined Australian myth. Gab and I share an incredibly tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and we’ve never tried to divorce that from the brand. We have fun with it and really don’t feel the need to play it down for the sake of bending to formalities.
Very quickly Gab and I started doing everything together and Beyond Killa started to extend into art exhibitions, public murals, and freelance design work. Gab and I work well together which is rare in the art world, and usually any creative disagreement between us is quickly dissolved by direct practical discussion.
GC:I started semi late to art and I didn’t get into it until I was around year 15 years old. It wasn’t that I hadn’t drawn when I was young but it was nothing that was encouraged or thought about. I was born with a deformed left arm – I focused on sport, as it gave me confidence and strength. Oddly I liked art before I became confident enough to try to make anything specific. Music was my way into drawing and painting it seemed to give me some clarity and point of difference and a way of channelling thoughts, energy and ideas. Up until this point the thought of sitting still bored me.
My parents thought I was good at two things: sport or drawing and directed me in school to be either a P.E teacher or an architect. I studied one year of architecture and two years of interior at UNISA, while being a professional runner. Over this period I became increasingly interested in painting and had a few small exhibitions.
I was aware of Lucas and friends with him from friends of friends at school, we bonded while working together on a MASH project, Africola in adelaide and Hotel Harry in Sydney. Lucas had always made unusual art and I have always looked up to his practice. We had some similar ideas and wanted to do some similar projects. The name Beyond Killa was made as a joke while on the plane back from Sydney to Adelaide, it worked from there. Beyond Killa was to fill a void in the market it’s a non conceptual art idea, based upon making ideas that relate to normal people, public space and the home.
How does working as a duo affect your process? How have you found is best to make it work with such a physical distance between the two?
LC + GC: Because our two styles are so relatable, we have very little issue working together. We seem to agree on a lot of things, and so when we work on things together, our styles quite naturally gravitate towards each other. There have been periods where we have worked together so frequently that for brief moments our individual styles have been indistinguishable from each other.
Since Gab has moved to Melbourne, we have had much more time to focus on our individual practices, but working together seems to be just as seamless. We think our aesthetic compasses are very similarly calibrated, so there is always mutual respect for the direction that we take our styles in – this is the foundation of our brand.
Generally we enjoy working as a duo. It’s good to have someone else help inform your ideas and decisions, or work towards a bigger idea, this is what Nu Camo is all about. There is no doubt that working from a distance has had its challenges; as a duo we haven’t been as active as we would like to be. However technology makes it easy to send ideas back and forth, and that’s really what makes everything possible, from organising exhibitions to running the label.
How do Adelaide and Melbourne compare creatively?
LC+GC: They seem quite different: The scenes are different and a lot of the work is different. Adelaide is great in the sense that the scene is smaller and so everyone knows each other, although sometimes it feels as if there may not be as much room for work that “breaks the norm”, so to speak.
There may be acceptance for that sort of thing for a small minority of accepted artists, or for people who appear in particular contexts, but the general enthusiasm for creativity doesn’t seem to be in the air we breathe in the same way that it does in Melbourne. Melbourne is exciting in the sense that there are so many different scenes in the art world, and they may not necessarily even be connected. It may just be a size thing, of course there is going to be more going on in a larger city.
A city with less activity and having a smaller audience to cater to might even work in your favour in some ways and if you play your cards right, it may be a bit easier to steal the lime-light for a brief moment. A quote that is often thrown around in South Australia is: If you can make it in Adelaide, you can make it anywhere. We know a lot of people that have had space to find their feet there.
Tell us a bit about how camouflage originally caught your interest as a visual tool?
LC+GC: I was refining a method of painting onto wood a few years ago, and standing back from the designs, I felt the only thing comparable to the visual style of the works was camouflage. After delving deeper into camouflage and its relationship to woodgrain patterns, we found its direct relationship to the material and nature relevant to our method.
Camouflage represents a relationship between humans and the natural world – we seek an aesthetic that captures this relationship while also maintaining an edge of artistic flare.
We are visually interested in camouflage as warped, layered style. While in London in 2010 we went to the maharishii store – who include upcycled military clothing in their collections. Chatting to the people there provided some context on the brand; they were looking into the natural connotations of camouflage, rather than the connotations of war. This changed our views of the patterns from a two dimensional military association to a three dimensional living form.
This is the second edition of Nu Camo – what did you learn from the first one?
LC+GC: Colour composition was a big one; before the show we both stuck to colour schemes that now seem a little too sanctioned by popular culture. To avoid to falling into predictability we experimented with a lot of new schemes, it’s changed our practices for the better. We also expanded our understanding of creating different textures with a brush – because you are following forms dictated by the material you are forced into using a brush in ways that you wouldn’t have before.
Nu Camo exhibited at Junior Space from 10th – 22nd March 2017.
Shop selected works by Beyond Killa in-store.
Interview by Lauren Brumley.
Images courtesy of Beyond Killa.