Artist Gus Harper frequently travels across the globe. As a muralist who enjoys working with others, it is common for him to collaborate with local artists and indigenous people from each country. In addition to local murals, he also paints canvases and ships them back to Los Angeles. When he returns, a solo exhibition of his work is presented. He toured Nepal in 2015 and 2016.
Gus returned in December 2018 from an eighteen month trip through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. This interview took place in December 2018.
Q: As a Los Angeles based artist, how did you end up painting murals in Asia ?
A: Last year I traveled through SE Asia and spent time in Kuala Lumpur, where I met a cultural affairs officer who took a strong liking to my work. He connected me to officials in Selama, a small rural area in far west Malaysia. They invited me to come and stay and paint murals as long as I wanted.
Q: Was it something you set up before?
A: I communicated with officials just a bit before I arrived, but I really had no idea what I was getting into. I went with an attitude of optimism and a mindset of flexibility.
Q: I’m assuming additional collaborations came about as you met people. Is that correct? If so explain how that happens?
A: After Malaysia, I went to Indonesia and collaborated with an American artist, Hans Haveron, who I had only met once before. We hit it off and we are both very happy with the piece we created together, “Temple.”
Q: I’m assuming travel in general is a big inspiration to you…Tell me about how traveling around the world affects your painting?
A: Indeed, traveling is a big stimulus for my creativity. I lost track of how many paintings and murals I made on this trip. I know I shipped around 20 pieces home.
Q: Wow, that’s a lot, how did you manage to paint that many?
A: A lot of it is just the freedom that comes with travel. I’m highly productive at home as well.
Q: Did you have any stumbling blocks trying to create art on the go?
A: Quite frankly, one of the biggest factors that affects my work is logistics. Where can I get supplies? Where can I find a space to paint? What colors and what quality of paints are available? I tote around my own supplies but inevitably I need to replenish.
Q: How do the residents react to your murals?
A: The cool thing is that once locals see what I am doing, they are very enthusiastic about helping me make more. Also, the conversations that come along with sharing my work in other parts of the world are quite inspiring…..lots of insightful comments and enthusiastic feedback.
Q: Did you connect with certain locals from specific areas more than others?
A: I feel like the people of Malaysia were the most excited about my work…. so generous. All day long they brought me food and drinks while I made murals. Every night was a celebratory dinner. It was so fun that I stayed a week longer than I intended and did extra murals for them.
Q: Do you find you approach a work the same way while you are traveling as you do normally?
A: In Malaysia, there were some cultural rules that limited my freedom regarding subject matter in my murals. Faces and much of my symbolism was not welcome. As a result, I really enjoyed my month in northern Thailand ,where I had complete freedom in my murals there. I made my three best canvases there too. I’ll be showing these in my upcoming Spring show (in Los Angeles)
Q: Was this a different trip for you…artistically?
A: I challenged myself quite a bit artistically on this trip. I worked on letting go of expectations and just observed what came out in the canvas while I worked. This is hugely important while collaborating but also necessary in the development of my own work.
Find out more about the art of Gus Harper on his website – http://gusharperart.com/