Written by Marley C. Smit
At the age of 19, French-Hungarian artist Dani Labrosse is already making waves on the international art scene. His first solo exhibition debuted at Budapest Design Week, and more recently his piece “Five Boroughs vol. 5” was selected for an open call exhibition at the Tate Modern. Fittingly, the theme of the Tate Modern exhibition was “The Future of Art.” With his surreal digital landscapes and composite illustrations on photos submitted by fans via Instagram, Labrosse represents just that. He offers us a vision of a future where fine art exists for the common man as much as it does for the rich and powerful.
We spoke with Dani Labrosse to delve deeper into the inspiration behind his work and what we can expect from his future projects.
You name David Lynch as a director whose work you admire. Mr. Lynch is notorious for finding the horror couched within the mundane. I can see some of that theme reflected in your ‘Ritalin and Bubblegum’ series. Can you tell us a bit more about what you are drawn to in Lynch’s work and how it has influenced your own?
I was introduced to Mr. Lynch’s work was when I was about nine or ten and I saw an ad for a movie called “The Elephant Man”. I thought it would be about a man who mutates into an elephant at midnight to fight crime. I saw it and it just devastated me, it was the saddest piece of cinema I’ve seen at that point and I was really disappointed that I didn’t get to see my movie about an elephant beating up criminals, but it stuck with me. Years later I discovered Eraserhead and I fell in love with his work.
He was one of the first filmmakers who really showed me how to tell stories and underlying themes, purely with visuals. That’s something I try to do a lot in my art, I think very visually and I feel like his art speaks to me a lot for that reason. To me, his movies are about everyday life, they are about completely mundane topics, but he twists them, amps them up and projects them at the viewer in his own perceptive, unfiltered way. He’s by far the greatest living artist right now.
As a French-Hungarian artist living in Edinburgh, you must have a very rich cultural lens with which you see the world. Do you find this influences your art at all? Are there any international museums or art destinations you are eager to visit?
I tend to travel quite a lot, and I’m inspired by different cultures all the time. I’ve been reading South African legends and folk tales lately and drawing inspiration from those. South Africa, in general, tends to be a big source of inspiration for me, it’s a fascinating country and all the art that’s flowing out of there is just amazing — Conrad Botes, Roger Ballen, Willie Bester, it’s astonishing.
Edinburgh is awesome. Leith, in particular, is my favorite, that’s where I live, and it’s a very culturally diverse area; it’s a really unique, positive place to be, and it’s had quite a big impact on me.
My girlfriend is Chilean, and her country has a fascinating cultural background — the stories her mother tells me always blow my mind. Her dad’s American and the stories he’s told me about his travels are wild too.
I love Budapest because you never run out of galleries and museums to check out. There’s always something new out there. I really want to visit the Tokyo Contemporary Art Museum one day. I’m going to New York City sometime soon and there’s obviously an infinity of galleries out there to see. I desperately want to go to the Bosch500 exhibition in Holland. I’d also love to go to the Ramones Museum in Berlin.
On your website, you describe yourself as a “lowbrow” artist, (a lowbrow neo-expressionist, to be precise). How does “lowbrow” art fit into — or push up against — an often-elitist art world?
Well, the reason I refer to myself as a lowbrow artist is because I want to make art for everyone, I don’t want to pander to a particular crowd or movement.
I think that the elitism and snobbism that is often attached to contemporary art holds a lot of people back from really getting into it. To me, it’s very important that a wide range of people, of all ages and social backgrounds, enjoy my art. I’m very much motivated by Keith Haring and his work ethic, to get my art out there to as many people as I can, which is pretty much the sole reason I started making stickers and doing the whole Bubblegum and Ritalin project.
I want to inject more art into people’s daily lives, and maybe even get them to create their own art. I don’t think I would be able to achieve that if I were creating, well, “highbrow” art.
In a recent interview with UrbanKultur, you spoke about wanting to move away from digital art-making. What other mediums are you interested in using moving forward? How do you think the change in the medium will affect your work?
I always look for ways to improve my style; I like what I have going on right now, but I get bored with it after a while, I have to keep trying new ideas.
Right now I started experimenting with some techniques and visuals I stole from comic book artists, like Charles Burns and Jack Kirby. I also started doing some more abrasive, experimental stuff lately, mostly with gouache, fewer colors, more abstract figures, less “cartoony” for lack of a better word. I really want to do some more found object/trash art projects too; I did one titled ‘One Man’s Trash’ in the past.
But my ultimate passion is filmmaking; it always has been since I was a kid. I filmed a short film in April titled The Man Who Ate Himself, which is a blend of live-action and hand-drawn animation. My main focus right now is to complete that and move on to other short and not-so-short films down the line.
I’m also kind of dipping my toes into creating a video game with my pals about superheroes and comic books, I’m providing the aesthetics and the visuals. Gaming is a form of art that has SO much potential, but it’s still snootily looked down upon by so many people. I think that’s going to change very soon, so I’m quite looking forward to that.
You mention Hieronymous Bosch as one of your favorite artists. I can see his influence in your ‘Ghosts at the Junkyard’ series. The amalgamation of all the intricate, monstrous little figures interacting with each other in pieces such as “Nico’s Hotel” clearly recalls the work of Bosch. Where else did you draw your inspiration from in creating this series?
Bosch is a major influence, definitely. In the really detailed drawings I do with the crowds and the big cityscapes, I’m inspired quite heavily by books I read as a kid, like Richard Scarry’s “Busy Busy World” or the “I Spy” series, but I also draw heavily from what’s around me, the environment I’m in, and where I grew up.
I lived in downtown Budapest for most of my life, and I was always fascinated with people. Just observing them and thinking about how each of them has their own story and their own experiences. It’s beautiful, and it’s something I try to highlight in my art very often.
My new solo exhibition in October, ‘Ghosts at the Junkyard’ is halfway between my busy, richly detailed drawings and my more simple, experimental works.
What is the best art exhibition that you’ve seen recently?
There was a HUGE exhibition of Picasso in Budapest that I saw in July and that was probably the best exhibition I’ve ever been to. There was a really cool Chanel exhibit also in Budapest at the Ludwig Museum that was great.
When one of my artworks was featured at the Tate Modern at their re-opening in June, they had a retrospective on Louise Bourgeois in their new building — she’s one of my favorite artists, so that was really great. The whole re-opening event was mind-blowing: there was such a huge variety of amazing artists, it was beyond cool.
What can you tell us abut your upcoming graphic novel, “Death of an Astronaut”? Can we expect a work of fiction or perhaps something autobiographical?
It’s a story very close to my heart, but it’s completely fictional. It’s heavily influenced by books like “The Little Prince,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
It’s about a little girl, Molly, who wants to become an astronaut. However, she dies in an accident and gets lost in space on her way to the afterlife. She journeys through space, trying to get to the afterlife and encounters all sorts of creatures and adventures on the way there. It’s been my passion project for a little over two years now, but I hope to finally get it done and published by the end of 2018.