“One Love” – An Interview with Artist Louis Masai Ahead of his Solo Exhibition ‘MISSING’ in London

Louis Masai has long been an artist whose creative output we have admired, certainly an artist with an impressive CV, it has been an absolute pleasure to witness the way in which he relentlessly strives to provide a voice for species that can’t speak for themselves, offering a platform for people to perhaps reconsider their relationship with wildlife through promoting ecological awareness. So it was indeed an absolute pleasure the other day to get the chance to interview Louis Masai where he kindly gave us the time to provide some most interesting insight into his latest exhibition and art career in general ahead of his upcoming solo exhibition ‘MISSING’ at the Crypt Gallery in Euston which opens tonight.

I guess you could say art has always been integral to Louis Masai’s life, his parents met at art school, it was the only subject he enjoyed and actively pursued at school, and now he uses his art as a medium for viewers to question environmental issues. Like many young kids his first taste of painting outdoors was with stolen paint from a garage seeing him setting to start tagging his moniker about, something which he felt he was rather bad resulting in soon ceasing painting outdoors, just pursuing art in the classroom for the time being. At school Louis painted what he liked, mostly animals, and when attending art school his horizons expanded and he became interested in other styles when exposed to works from the more modern art canon such as Cubism and Bauhaus.

It was whilst studying Fine Art in Cornwall that Louis next took to painting unconventional public spaces again, or semi-public should we say. Finding life frustrating sharing a studio with people who didn’t seem to be taking the opportunity afforded seriously, Louis set to go create his art in empty buildings such as the many abandoned hotels to be found for those looking at the time just for a bit of peace. At this time Louis came to realize that there was a global Urban Art culture and went from working purely with brushes, onto stencil works, to a combination of brushwork and spray paint, until eventually Louis just dropped using the brushes for larger outside works and solely used the spray can as his medium of choice for such ventures.

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Something clear in Louis Masai’s work is how he creates things he is interested in and passionate about, we know this is true of any good artist. but it is certainly something which shines through in Louis Masai’s body of work. When leaving Art School Louis took to painting a series of works based on the social issue of homeless people – a link to the way Louis uses his art to explore ideas about others less fortunate. As well as a number of works featuring people dancing in jazz halls – a link to Louis’s passion for music, being a DJ since his time in Cornwall.

It was at this point Louis decided to become a full time artist and moved to London to continue painting his one true love – animals – which he had returned to focusing his work on animals the previous year. It’s always been animals really, with Louis particularly focusing on the sense of movement and the different dynamics of fur, feathers, scales etc. Through exploring the different characteristics of animals through painting Louis learnt more about the animals he was painting and soon realized that a lot of his subjects where on the Endangered List, which only furthered his desire to continue documenting his interest in wildlife. Providing his true calling in life to try to bring attention to things that can be done often quite easily if people were just aware.

Louis sets to use his art as a platform for people to question convention and social practice, these perceptions doesn’t resonate with him as a person or an artist. Painting these animals allows Louis the chance to add a message, thinking outside the box with how people can challenge conventional norms by doing just that. Louis knows he can’t stop elephants dying, and neither should he carry such a burden, but by painting them he can hopefully make people aware and encourage others to help make change happen. A beautiful painting accompanied by a little “Did you know”? Small changes can and do make a difference. Louis does not consider himself and deems it inaccurate when he is referred to as an “activist”, he is just trying to reach as many people as he possibly can, to be pigeon-holed in such a manner is indeed completely counter-productive to the wider ecological issues Louis sets to draw attention to. The upcoming exhibition ‘MISSING’ is not just about selling a painting or sculpture, every attendee will be given a postcard pack with art inside accompanied by a Call to Action with suggestions for an immediate response to environmental issues that people can consider and hopefully act positively on.
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At this point we think it is a good time to look at why Louis Masai does not consider himself a “Street Artist”  anymore. For him his art has moved away from painting purely in an urban environment, to creating works in site-specific environmental locations around the globe, as well as working increasingly in the studio with other mediums -especially sculpture works. However it is certainly through his output of art in the public realm through which we became acquainted with his work and have had the pleasure of seeing his style shift and develop as well as the many projects which Louis has aligned his art with either individually or with various groups and bodies who work towards improving ecological conditions. It has been interesting for us to see how his output has moved from realism, to a more loose and painterly dynamic, to the soft and delicate effect he achieves in his patchwork subjects.

Along with the particular styles prevalent in his work there are also a couple of focus points that stand out for us, firstly his ongoing “Save the Bees” body of works which came about when he decided that painting an Elephant may make a great picture but the vast majority of people who engage with a painting are not actually going to see an elephant, certainly not in the wild, so what can people relate to and engage with? Who hasn’t seen a Bee or been stung by one? its something everyone can relate to. Additionally Bees are often used as the subject of Environmental Greenwashing in which governments and groups use Bees as a distraction for other environmental concerns and initiatives which aren’t doing so well or anything at all about. By using Bees as the subject of environmental change Louis is subverting this convention. The second key subject matter that stands out are his patchwork subjects through which Louis draws upon the idea of animals being reduced to nothing more than a child’s toy, a representation to the memory of itself, presenting a chilling forewarning against the damage and destruction mankind is perpetrating around the globe. Over time Louis has set to infuse the Bees with these patchwork subjects in which the Bees are depicted stitching up the toy representation acting as the guardians of natures survival, a symbol of how essential the harmony of the planets’ biodiversity needs to be protected and preserved. Here the Bees act as a metaphor “for people to wake up and sort this shit out, the Bees can hold it together, why can’t we”?

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Which leads to his latest show opening tonight ‘MISSING’ a show whose title came in recognition of how Louis felt an enormous sense of empathy to the owner and pet when confronted with ‘Lost Pet’ posters. Something he feels we react to so instantaneously with due to an immediate sense of empathy towards the owner and the inherent human aspect we can relate to. This is for Louis as humans tend to think of the world in terms of ownership, something which very much sets humans apart from the animals we share our world with, meaning people take ownership of the situation of their missing pet as it directly affects them, and rightly so. This leaves Louis wondering who will take ownership of wild animals and protect them?

The upcoming show is set in The Crypt at St Pancras church providing an exceptionally eerie parallel to how if things don’t change we will be burying these species also, offering fantastic context to the subject of the show’s message. Further to this perfect location the show offers a selection of works including a selection of brand new works featuring endangered animals from specific regions around the globe, combining displayed pieces infused with an immersive experience for the viewer to engage with such as a forest of trees combined with the full of the scent and buzz of live honeycombs. Additionally the exhibition will include an animatronic penguin built in collaboration with a robotics specialist, Bee sculptures in bronze, gold-plated and resin casts, along with patchwork paintings based on large-scale murals he has created worldwide, from the Streets of London to the Amazon Rainforest, up in the mountains of the the Alps, and on to who knows where in the future. Additionally there will be a series of prints available at the opening show this evening (24/05/18) in a series of variants, as well as a trio of t-shirts designs and drinks provided by a Portugese company that Louis has worked with to produce a design for their wine in exchange for each bottle sold having a packet of wild seeds attached for people to use where they can.

Louis Masai’s Solo exhibition ‘MISSING’ runs from 24/05/18 for the opening night and from 25/05/18 to 27/05/18 at the Crypt Gallery, under St Pancras church opposite Euston Station. To attend the opening preview show tonight from 6-9pm- 24/05/18 – RSVP to rsvp@damsonpr.com

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A touching tribute to his former pet Boxer named Lola on Caledonian Road alongside the RSPCA centre.

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“Cally Squak” along Caledonian Road, painted in 2012.

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Detail of “Cally Squak”.

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Detail of “Cally Squak”.

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Detail of “Cally Squak”.

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Detail of “Cal

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A Rhino in Brixton, painted in 2013.

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A Juan Fernández Firecrown in Bethnal Green, painted in 2014.

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A Short Crested Couquette in Bethnal Green, painted in 2014.

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“Save The Bees” work in Brixton, painted in 2014.

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“Save The Bees” collaboration piece with Jim Vision in Bethnal Green, painted in 2014.

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Detail of Louis Masai’s contribution to a second “Save The Bees” collaboration piece with Jim Vision in Bethnal Green, painted in 2014.
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“Save The Bees” collaboration piece with Jim Vision in Hoxton, painted in 2014.

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A Topmouth Gudgeon in Camden Town as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014 which saw Louis Masai paint 10 murals in 7 days around London in order to draw a parallel between the shared element of the transient position of status of Street Art, here today, gone tomorrow, reduced to no trace of existence other than as a picture in a book, and the same fate currently awaiting the species which he painted.

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A Common Crane in Camden Town as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014.

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A Parakeet in Camden Town as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014.

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A Stag Beetle in Brixton as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014.

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A House Sparrow in Brick Lane as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014.

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A Orange Spotted Emerald in Bethnal Green as part of his “This Is Now” project in 2014.

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A Brazilian Greater Otter in Brixton, painted in 2015 for Save the Brixton Arches.

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A Spixs Macaw collaboration work by Louis Masai & Bailon in Hackney Wick, painted in 2015.

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A Polar Bear in Camden Town, painted in 2015.

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A Red Wolf in Brixton, painted in 2015.

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A Lion in Shoreditch, for Meeting of Styles 2015.

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A Tiger in Brockley, painted for the Brockley Street Art Festival 2015.

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A Red Backed Shirke, Eurasian Skylark & Yellow Hammerhead painted in a primary school in Brockley with local pupils painting the stenciled Bees, painted for the Brockley Street Art Festival 2015.

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A Eurasian Skylark in Brockley, painted for the Brockley Street Art Festival 2015.

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A Yellow Hammerhead accompanied by Bees from Louis Masai and school pupils.

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A Red Backed Shirke in Brockley, painted for the Brockley Street Art Festival 2015.

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“Save the Bees” work just off Whitecross Street, painted in 2015.

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A pair of Yellow Breasted Macaws in Bristol, painted for Upfest 2015.

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Work by Louis Masai in Shoreditch, painted in 2015, as part of ‘Rubble To Reef’, which sets to bring together, conservationists, film makers, scientists, artists, musicians, ocean advocates and reef communities in order to raise public awareness and a network for change, as by 2030, 90% of the planets Coral Reef ecosystems will be threatened, potentially losing an incredibly diverse array of marine life from the tiny to the largest of creatures, as depicted in Louis Masai’s work.    

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This artwork was created in association with Synchronicity Earth and whats most interesting about this project was the way it was constructed. The idea was to essentially paint a story, that will be set alongside soundscapes from Coral environments, so the goal was never to just paint the finished piece, it was to start from the beginning of the evolution of an entire ecosystem, with the scene evolving and with elements coming and going, leaving Louis Masai using this wall to create a series of scenes depicting the stages in the growth of the Coral Reef environment.

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This mural features a trio of animals all under threat in the UK, be it through loss of habitat, hunting or sanctioned culls, all under the remit of the subject which Louis Masai continues to campaign for a better sense of awareness surrounding endangered species the world over. This delightful mural features a Fox, accompanied by the sign “For Fox Sake”, set alongside a Badger wearing a Ban The Bomb medallion accompanied by a sign proclaiming “No To The Cull” and additionally they are set below a pair of Bees hovering overhead, with one carrying a placard stating simply “Save Us”. This wall was created in Walthasmtow as part of the ‘Colour The Capital’ project from the Forest Recycling Project, who set to brighten up run down community spaces with a series of nine Street Art murals around East London in 2015. 

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A patchwork Blue Marlin in Tooting, painted in 2016.

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A Coral Reef heart in Tooting, painted in 2016.

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A Red Shanked Douc in Walthamstow, painted in 2016. For this work Louis Masai worked in association with the Body Shop as part of their ‘Enrich Not Exploit’ campaign setting in part to increase the Red Shanked Douc’s reproduction chances by building Bio-Bridges linking otherwise isolated rainforests

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Works by ATM, Louis Masai. Vibes, Xenz & Andy Council for “Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016 for an event set to raise awareness for endangered species through beautiful and at times poignant nature themed artworks which was put together by Louis Masai.

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Works by Fiyas, Louis Masai & Jim Vision for “Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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Works by Zadok, Louis Masai x Morgazmik, Louis Masai, Carrie Reichardt & Faunagraphic for “Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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A Blue Whale for “Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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Detail of work by Louis Masai.

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Coral Reef for “Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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Detail of work by Louis Masai.

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A Rhino for“Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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Detail of work by Louis Masai.

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Detail of work by Louis Masai.

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A “Save The Bees” collaboration by Louis Masai & Morganzmik for“Endangered 13″ in Mile End, painted in 2016.

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“Freedom?” a collaborative work by Louis Masai & Fanakapan for Meeting Of Styles London 2016.

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Detail of work by Lousi Masai.

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A pair of Brown Long-Eared Bats in Sydenham, painted in 2016. With the work painted on the covering to the disused old railway station in Sydenham Hill Wood, which is also Local Nature Reserve, where the bats claim residence in the tunnel and the accompanying birch trees are inspired by a 400 year old wooded landscape painting by Adam Pynacker hanging in the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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A Blue Iguana in Stratford, painted in 2016.

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A “Save the Bees” work in Stratford, painted in 2016.

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A Common Crane in a collaboration with Birdo in Bethnal Green, a painted in 2016. On this occasion a work celebrating a case of a species which has been successfully reintroduced to British Wildlife.

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A pair of Bees in a collaboration with Milo Tchais in Camden, painted in 2016.

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A Tapir in the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador, painted in 2017. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.

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A Tapir in the Amazon Rainforest, Ecuador, painted in 2017. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.

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Pair of works in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, painted in 2017. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.

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A Minx in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, painted in 2017. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.

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A Dormouse in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, painted in 2017. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.IMG_4617

A Wild ‘Common’ Carp in Berlin, Germany, painted in 2018. Photograph provided by Louis Masai.

As Louis Masai likes to sign his works “One Love” – we are all in this together!

One comment on ““One Love” – An Interview with Artist Louis Masai Ahead of his Solo Exhibition ‘MISSING’ in London

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