Jacqui Van Staden
These days the growing popularity of street art has resulted in the genre finding its way into the doors of fine art galleries. There seems to be an overt concern regarding the relevance of crossover artists and how the chosen ones fit into the white-collar world of high-priced chardonnay and rotten cheese. Can the contemporary gallerist or curator define what is good and relevant on street level and justify it to their clients in the same way as they wrap up the usual deals of the day? Hopefully we can find some answers to these questions through having a look at the life of LOVE.
The uninflatable story of “LOVE” or Kevin Love as he has been known in the skateboarding scene for decades now is a tale of unlimited creativity combined with a type of mental anarchy and resistance. Kevin Love is from the West. He grew up on a smallholding leaning towards the West of Johannesburg where he was lucky enough to experience the freedom of the open air and expansive landscape.
‘It was kind of like growing up in the Wild West, it was kind of rough. Trying to stay out of trouble. But a cool place to grow up. As far as seeing the world growing up there, I think it was more the time and the place growing up, the 80s and 90s. It was cool for a kid to experience that. A creative explosion.’
LOVE picked up a skateboard pretty early in his life. ‘Yeah, this year, I’ll be skating for 30 years. I guess I started because it was really fun. And I guess I still do it because it’s really fun.’ A lifestyle that has been ingrained into him while simultaneously moulding him into the human that he is today.
He attended art school in Johannesburg during the nineties but sometimes questions the influence that it had on him. ‘Going to art school was like a double-edged sword for me. On the one side, I got to meet cool, creative people and being around artists. It was a great thing to feel that you weren’t alone in the world of being creative. But then the other side was, there were so many people that were good at what they were doing that you kind of were left feeling that you weren’t really good as an artist when you left art school. So pretty much after had I left art school, I didn’t want to do art for the rest of my life, to be honest.’
At this point, skateboarding had become a staple of his life along with all the creativity and the lifestyle that goes with it. LOVE has always been part of the movement and has become a prominent feature in the growth of the scene over the years now. Through his hilarious video parts for Session Skateboarding Magazine he became a kind of icon in the early 2000’s and is still fondly spoken about by those who were around at the time.
‘It’s the only thing that I do in my life where I don’t think about anything else, I switch off from life. So I find it important to go skate every week. Just to clear my mind. Being prevalent in the skateboarding scene was not the best part of skateboarding for me. Skateboarding is cool, when you’re just somebody skateboarding and not some famous dude that people look up to.’
But through the years he never stopped drawing, painting or sculpting his ideas into realisation and like skating it has always been second nature to him. An extension of his existence. He is the living embodiment of his creativity and how he perceives the world and the environment that he moves in.
‘Kind of what inspires my art is my life. I have a strange way of perceiving things inside of my head. And then as soon as I get the idea of what I want to do, I do it. So yeah. A lot of my influence for my stuff is just looking at life absorbing it, and then doing it in a physical form’ he says.
LOVE is not the run of the mill street artist. Everything becomes his canvas or his medium and he spends a lot of time conceiving his ideas. ‘I spend a lot of time thinking about what I’m going to do. And when I come up with an idea in my head, I kind of refine it a bit, one step at a time, coming up with more ideas to add to it. And then once I’ve come up with an idea, then I sit and draw it. Unlike what I learned at art school, where you always had to go and look for references and stuff. I use no reference and just use my brain for the space that I create.
So once that is done, then I’ll either choose whether I’d want to either do a drawing of it or a painting of it or, or a sculpture. If it’s a sculpture, it’s either first of all start off with wire and then start making my framework with wire. I also use vinyl records, which is I just take a heater and heat the vinyl record up and cut the vinyl record with leather scissors and use that as a medium. When it becomes a painting that I’m going to do, I mostly work with spray cans.’
When asked about the name LOVE and the origins of it he digs deep into the past as a young graffiti writer and says ‘The LOVE thing started with graffiti. I had to choose a tag name. And when I was looking around I noticed that everything was about a narcissistic game of people writing the names on everything. I thought instead of choosing a name, I’d rather choose an essence of something to leave behind.
So people can think about it or leaving something good behind, hence the LOVE. It was always just LOVE. But over time, people added the Kevin which I never really wanted it to be. Because then it takes away from my ideology of just being a type of essence and not just a name.’
In spite of the current influx of street art into the mainstream galleries, many curators still seem to overlook or disregard the genuine artists that live and work within that space. A lot of street artists, especially the purists feel alienated and unsure as to where their work will fit into that world.
LOVE states that ‘To be honest, I haven’t had much luck with real galleries. I’ve had almost close to 10 solo exhibitions so far. Some of them were in low brow galleries, and most of them were done by myself in just any space I could find. I realized that most of the time I sold more work in the empty spaces than I did in galleries. Hopefully, my luck will change in the future.’
He adds that he keeps on doing his work regardless of the success and the frustration. ‘I just keep doing my work and hope that people can make sense of it and see if they like it or if they don’t. Sometimes it feels as if I am standing on a mountain screaming at the hills. I see the art world as I view the real world. I’m just trying my hardest to fit into that world.’
LOVE’s work spreads over a vast space of disciplines. He refers to it as a form of “Future Primitive” His intertwined pencil work could be interpreted as a street version of M.C. Escher while his tribal headwear and accessories hint at the work of the 80’s New York pioneer Rammellzee, an artist whose work was tragically overlooked over the years and has only recently been recognised after his death as one of the pioneers in the game.
LOVE’s figurine sculptures stand out prominently within his archive and could easily be reproduced to become highly collectable commodities. ‘I would love to manufacture my own toy range. But it would have to be on my terms and quality control. So yeah, hopefully, the ICT Gods out there hear my voice.’
Everything around him has become his canvas as his habitat became his gallery. He adds that ‘There isn’t any branch on the odd tree that I haven’t been on. Yeah, I’ve ventured into many different things, breaking the branches and rebuilt them again. I think for any artist it’s healthy to keep moving from one technique to another. Well, at least for me.’
As it is with life LOVE has had his fair share of tribulations along the way with a series of events that nearly lead to the demise of this unique entity. His father passed away from a fatal heart attack. This was followed by series of unfortunate events: from being mugged, kidnapped, shot at and pistol-whipped on multiple occasions.
‘Yeah, life got a bit dark after my dad passed. It started with me and my friends going to go paint an abandoned building. And five guys came up with guns, shot at twice, pistol-whipped in the face. And then we’re tied up and put in an abandoned mine. We were told that we mustn’t take it personally. They’re just doing their job. They were just waiting for the sun to go down and then take us out of this world.
Then, six months later, I was sitting at my sister’s house and once again I faced a similar scenario, guns in the face tied up in under a year since the last incident. Then shortly after that, I ended up in a quick shop while it was being held up. Once again guns in the face.’
The events then lead to post-traumatic stress which caused him to have a heart attack which he thankfully survived and is now continuing his work and still skateboarding as much if not more than before. But even within all this tragedy, he has maintained a positive attitude towards life.
‘Things did get a little bit heavy. But not everything bad has come out of these events. In the second story when we were robbed in the house, I was with my girlfriend Seona. And while we’re tied up, I ended up asking her to be my wife. And yeah, we’re going to get married soon.
So love wins at the end of the day.’
LOVE’s work will continue to grow and shape itself like it has been evolving continuously over the years. He remains a true spirit and a survivor with nothing but gratitude for everything and everyone around him. He ends off with ‘Lots of love to those who helped me in my life and lots of love to those that didn’t’