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Interview: Street Artist, LUDO

We talked to Parisian street artist LUDO, known for a hybrid plant-insect-machinery motif, on doing artwork in China and not selling out.
Mar 24, 2015 | 12:35 Tue
LUDO is the kind of street artist that Hypebeast types adore. His work is quickly identifiable—he works only with one customized shade of green, and his imagery typically combines something in the natural world with some heavily mechanized element of the manmade world. Take, for instance, a butterfly whose wings show the details of a computer chip, or a lettuce-winged bee wearing a gas mask. The message is straightforward and concise, one that will feel familiar to most of us living with global warming anxiety.

He's from Paris, where he began doing these wheatpaste posters nearly a decade ago. Those have since carried on to cities like Milan, London, NYC, Bangkok and Hong Kong, with gallery shows following. The press release for his first solo show in China, "Fly Me to the Moon" at Magda Danysz Gallery, says that LUDO is "often called the 'French Warhol'". Something about an ability to reach the popular conscience with the kind of efficiency that only super stark imagery can achieve.

Not surprised to see that the guy's got a sizable Instagram following. He's a media-savvy dude, and he's honest about it. Here, LUDO talks to SmartShanghai about what it's been like to make China-specific artwork, his spot in the street artist food chain, why all the insects and more...

SmSh: Is there anything different or distinctive about doing street art in Shanghai?

Ludo: The interesting thing about Shanghai, or China, really—there is nothing on the walls. It's completely different from in London, or New York, or Paris—people are used to that, so it's quite funny, actually, because the reaction of the people here is so...they are smiling, they laugh, which is cool. But they don't understand. It's like, "Great, but what is it for? What are you trying to say? What company are you working for?"

So it's quite interesting, actually, because in Western countries, you say "no, it's free—it's just for the 'art'." But let's be honest—at some point, you're also just advertising yourself. So here, that's more like the first reaction. When they ask "What are you saying?" and you explain "...well, I'm not saying, but..." It makes you think when they ask. And you admit, well, yes, actually...I am promoting myself. Fair enough. But, it's particularly interesting because there is really nothing on the walls. So it's kind of like, new a desert. Which is good, because that's what I'm looking for.

LUDO at his show opening at MD Gallery, March 21

SmSh: How did you decide on the locations where you put up artwork?

Ludo: It depends on the textures—on the walls, the location as a whole. For me, the whole concept of putting things outside on the street is also for a message. Kind of provocation. Also, the location has to help the message. So it's nice if it's not like a simple white wall. There's no point. It has to be full of information, plus the piece, the art, plus the people all around.

SmSh: Where can we find the ones you did in Shanghai?

I think they have been destroyed already. It was pretty fast. It looks like there are cleaners everyday, so. Yeah, gone. There was one near Xintiandi. Then I did one two weeks ago...I don't remember the area, but it was super interesting.

SmSh: For street art, outdoors, what's your process?

Ludo: Basically it starts from a drawing. Sometimes just to create the piece takes two weeks. And then it's blown bigger—usually my pieces are 3x3 meters or 4x4 meters. Then I cut it in my studio, paint in, and then roll it and go out.

SmSh: The illustrations are all by hand?

Yes, absolutely. Illustrations are always from scratch. I mean, this is important in my process because I'm kind of doing some new species, new insects, new plants, so I always start from scratch. There is nothing done on PhotoShop or photo montage. It's really starting from zero.

SmSh: So the insects and plants—why the focus on nature?

Ludo: First of all, it's so full's a good laboratory to work with, I don't know. For me, it's my visual language. So I don't know, I just focus on that and work on that. It's my world, it's my language, so I won't draw, say, cats or whatever.

SmSh: Did you grow up somewhere surrounded by nature?

Ludo: Not so much, actually. It's just the idea behind the nature—I like the idea of looking at what's behind beauty and death, and nature I like the idea that we try to control it to create new spaces, and even something so small, like a small flower, it's so stupid and small to us, but at some point, within like five seconds, it can create disaster, like tsunami. So I like just the concept of we are nothing, and nature is so powerful.

SmSh: So would you consider yourself an environmentalist? A preservationist?

Ludo: No, no, I don't think so. It's more about education. I like the idea of respect. It's nothing about being environmental at all. It's just the idea of also provocation—please, just respect it. But also, just respect your neighbor. Respect people, respect a bee. Just be aware of yourself—even if you have so much money, a big Ferrari, an apartment in Manhattan. You are small.

SmSh: Do you like to work in daytime, nighttime? Out in the open, or hidden?

Ludo: I like daytime. I don't consider my things as vandalism, and I don't do anything bad at the end. I find it natural to go out in the daytime. If someone doesn't like it, then I just speak with them. I'm not a teenager. I can just speak to someone about what I'm doing. I respect people.

SmSh: Ever been arrested? Any trouble with security?

Ludo: No. No, not at all.

SmSh: So you like to have your work highly visible?

Ludo: Well, again it depends. If there is a nice little location that is strong enough, I would go there even if only three people end up seeing it. It's not just the piece on the wall, it's the piece on the wall plus the environment around, plus the textures of the wall. I'm not so focused on the potential viewers.

SmSh: How does your process differ when it's works for galleries, indoor spaces?

Ludo: For inside works, I mostly use very traditional techniques. I like to work with oil painting a lot. Also, graphites, for drawings. For outside works, it's more the usual cheap paint, like acrylics. I like to use very traditional mediums indoors.

SmSh: Is there one that you prefer most, that you enjoy working with the most?

Ludo: I like oil paintings a lot because you can create so many effects and interesting textures. And I love sculptures. I did a sculpture for my show in New York last year. You can do a show inside a gallery with just one or two sculptures. The effect you get is just so powerful.

SmSh: So your choice to work primarily with one color—why?

Ludo: The thing is—I don't know how to work with colors. It's to…bring focus to a particular element in the painting. And it's exactly what you do when you're at school with a Stabilo marker, when you want to underline something. It's more like bringing something more out of an element or the wall.

SmSh: So, it's not about the…

Ludo:...the nature side? No, no, no, no.

SmSh: Yeah, that'd be really...literal.

Ludo: Yeah, it'd be too easy, right? No. It's my color. I created this color, this green, this mix. It was the idea of starting from scratch—my color. I didn't copyright it, but it's my mix.

SmSh: Right. But even when you say "my color", is the idea behind that really about you, and your identity? Like, a trademark?

Ludo: Yeah, yeah, sure. A lot of people now, they see something black and white with a bit of green, they'll ask me—"is this you?" (laughs) And it's funny.

SmSh: You've been doing similar imagery, and work, for several years now. Is there one that you look back on and think...oh god, why did I do that?

Ludo: No, no, not that much, actually. For me, when something is done, it's done. I have a book coming out next month, which I am actually really proud of. And I had to send photos to the publisher. So even looking at these photos from, four, five, six, seven years ago, I'm still like "hey, ok, nice." I mean, I try to stay respectful. I would never put something near a temple or a church, or a school.

SmSh: So, the book...

Ludo: It's called Duality. And it really makes sense for me, because most of the things I do is about duality. Two colors, or nature paired with technology... There are different sections in the book, and there is a kind of scientific part in my section of the book. The guy who wrote this introduction of me is a guy who sent me a letter one day, saying "I'm a fan of your work" and it turns out that he works at MIT doing research on butterflies and skin, particularly human skin. So he asked, "would you please come into the laboratory and spend a day here, we'll show you what we're doing". And it was super interesting. So this guy wrote the introduction.

SmSh: Do you read reviews or criticisms written about you and your work?

Ludo: No, not really. I don't like to focus too much on all that, the commercial stuff. I mean, I like to speak with someone, if they want to ask me about my work, but beyond that, I don't have any weapon to counter. You just have to focus on your work and that's all.

SmSh: Right. Well, what would you say to counter a common, or general criticism about street artists...going into traditional galleries, going from public accessibility to more privileged crowds?

Ludo: You can stay outside and do things outside, but it's then, you're also restricting yourself. And I really like to work with different mediums. For me it was more, I'm doing stuff outside, but I can do more. I can bring more to my work. And say, sculptures, that's absolutely something I can do outside, and it's important for me that I do.

I won't cut myself in two just because I want to stay outside or stay inside. And again, if the work is flat inside the gallery, then there's no point to show in the gallery. But if you can bring the same energy indoors and bring something new to it, then there is no point not to do it. I'm still doing the same things I was doing when I started outside. Same technique, same ideas, same thing to do my work alone. But, I'm able to bring more to my work thanks to actually doing work inside, installations, and working with other people for more elements, like sound, or movies. You can't do that outside.

SmSh: And what about the paper-paste street artists being seen as say, less credible, than the ones who work directly on walls from scratch?

Ludo: No, no, I don't think so. No, it's the result. You don't care about the medium. It's the same idea, but it's the same for every artists. It's not about inside, outside, mediums—it's the message. Some artists, they paint at home, on Sunday mornings with their cats, some artists, they do ready-made, like Marcel Duchamp. It depends on the artist. The medium is not important. What I really don't like is decoration. Some people might take three months to do a piece outside, but if it's just flat decoration with no message, then, what's the point. I respect that even if it's not nicely made, they want to communicate.


"Fly Me to the Moon" is now showing at Magda Danysz Gallery until May 16. Full details on the event page here.

Photos from the exhibition opening by Jasmin Bell