“Hanksy started out as a joke,” said artist Adam Lucas.
In 2011, the New York City-based creative became an overnight Internet sensation after he superimposed Tom Hanks’s face onto a Banksy-inspired wheatpaste in NYC’s NoLIta neighborhood. For the past six years, Lucas, under the enigmatic alias Hanksy, has transformed pop culture figures into sardonic street art memes. One of his more recent victims include President Donald Trump—the artwork features the iPhone’s poop emoji embellished with Trump’s face which he dubs Dump Trump.
Dump Trump 2015. Better or worse, I’ll be known for this piece of crap for quite some time. I painted it long before the current tire fire that is the Trump administration. It made headlines, appeared on bootleg merch from Canal Street to Los Angeles and was replicated countless times at protests across the country. Simple or otherwise, people connect to imagery. It was a cartoon piece of shit because Trump’s a human piece of shit. Straightforward w/o being overtly graphic. My friends and I toured the country with it. Some flew, many drove. We went to the early primaries and called it #DumpAcrossAmerica. I was so ready for him to lose. For him and his human slug family to slither into the shadows of shame. But he didn’t and here we are. Looking back, it’s partly responsible for my current mindset. There’s a reason people voted for him and there’s a reason he was elected… I gave myself a month to look back on Hanksy thus far and skipped over a lot. A bunch good, a bunch bad. One hundred or so street pieces and #SurplusCandy LA come to mind. A few projects earlier this summer and an art travel show @newyorknico & I did. We originally called it “Trivial Pursuits” but legal beagles made us change the name (Google it). Everything exists for a reason though and I’m proud of it all. Moving on.
Now, he no longer wants to be affiliated with Hanksy. Using his real name for the first time, Lucas is currently preparing large-scale paintings for his latest exhibit titled “Some Grow Up, Others Grow Down.” We sat down with the artist in his Chinatown studio to discuss how his visual puns helped him garner worldwide fame, why he’s separating himself from his Hanksy alias, and how he’s moving forward as an artist.
Read on to learn more about Adam Lucas and check out the exhibit that will take place this November 8-12 at 151 Canal Street.
Why did you choose Banksy as the vehicle for your artwork?
That was the greatest gift and the biggest curse I have ever done to myself. The reason I am literally sitting here today and occupying this space in the street art and art world is because of a joke I made to goof with my friends six years ago. I never thought that I would be here years later. I was always a creative person. For 10 years, I threw creative shit against the wall, hoping for something to stick. It didn’t happen until I moved to New York and got laid off after two weeks. That two-week period I put up my first Hanksy piece just to have LOLs with my friends and that went viral so I just kept going with it. I just kind of got stuck with the name. Since then, I’ve done all of this shit whether it’s curation, projects, space takeovers or using technology in creative ways, it’s always been to build off in a way from that one little one-liner that I did six years ago in NoLIta.
Have you ever caught flack from Banksy’s people?
In the beginning, there were rumors and people said that I met him before, but I didn’t. It’s like when you get up in that more established scene of urban artists and everyone’s saying that they met him. From my knowledge, I’ve never heard direct words. You can’t get mad, I wasn’t lampooning him or making fun of him. It was kind of just playing around with this… especially in 2011 when I came out on the scene in NYC, I was filled with serious somber and serene street art. So, I was just taking the piss out of them a little bit. Not everything has to be dead eyes you know.
Your whole body of work has a lot of pop culture figures. Have any of these guys reached out to you?
In the very beginning, I was taking note of it and it was all very new to me. I put up the first piece as Hanksy, it was the iconic Banksy rat with Tom Hanks’s face and within the next day it was across the Internet and Tom Hanks tweeted about it. I ended up meeting him like a year or two later. So, I think I was very wide-eyed in that sense. When things like that did happen, I screenshotted it and was very excited because you know, I’m a dumbfuck from the Midwest that all of a sudden is having interactions with these people. I think the polish tends to fade after a little bit when it comes to that kind of stuff.
Virality is a hell of a drug.
Is there pressure to create more and more artworks due to the viral response?
There is pressure especially with social media to have content and to create art and to create some sort of thing to put out in the world on day to day basis. I think what kind of gets people in trouble and what weighs you down a bit is when you end up chasing that too much. Virality is a hell of a drug. You just want it again and again. Eventually, if you don’t change things up and you don’t progress, whatever creative field you are in, people start to lose interest and you start to lose interest. When you’re not getting that response, you start doing more drastic things. I’m a big fan of beginnings and endings—to change things up before the milk goes sour.
Street art and art, in general, is supersaturated. What’s your main differentiator from all these other artists?
I’m a pretty confident guy. I never really plan to do this. I didn’t come to New York to be an artist, I didn’t go to art school and I didn’t do any of that. I just happened to be at this moment in time where it worked both in real life and on the Internet and I just started going with it.
Some of my most talented friends are stuck in the studio and they sit there and they wait for people to come to them. Their work is very high quality, but in 2017, it takes more than that. It takes more than just a highly-skilled technician. You have to have the idea behind it, the skillset, and some sort of marketing ability. You can’t just wait for things to happen. I’m confident and I know that I can deliver the whole package to people. To make it more of a unique event or spectacle around it. Something that really touches upon the moment. Whether it’s hyper-transitory, secret or all these other buzzwords that you put into a package, I know other people aren’t doing that, so I’m going to do that.
What’s your take on artists “selling out”?
Give me the check! You know what it is? The cost of living in NYC is outrageous and the biggest thing that bums me out is artists or the creatives that come here to succeed and instead of working on their art or their project, they have to work 9-9; it’s not 9-5 in NY. They have to do that at their real job, they get a paycheck and they are supposed to fit in their creative personal time in that two-three hours after and they’re like too tired or they want to hang out with their friends. They’re throwing their dreams away and that’s what bums me out.
Take the check. Do the collaboration with the brand. Get your work out there.
So, how do we get around that? You take corporate checks, you do branded content, as long as it doesn’t conflict with your ethics and your morals, I say go ahead and do it. That’s just the way it is. Artists need to get paid. Not everyone is going to be selling five, ten, twenty, or a hundred thousand-dollar paintings. Take the check. Do the collaboration with the brand. Get your work out there. More eyes, more visibility. It all builds from there and I don’t see anything wrong with it as long as it doesn’t conflict with who you are as a person.
Where do you see your art going? Long and short term?
This show is definitely a flag in the ground for me. I’m doing this and it’s going to be my new aesthetic, a body of work, and style. This is what I’m going to push going forward. I’m not necessarily going to be doing paintings on canvas, tapestry or panels going forward but this show is more of a “hey, it’s an art show.” I don’t know where I’m going forward, but I’m going to go with my real name, Adam Lucas. I’m going to apply the same kind of marketing techniques, the ambitious projects, the elaborate takeovers that I did as Hanksy that got me where I am right now, and I’m going to do the same thing with Adam Lucas in this elevated body of work. For me, if I’m not going 100% for something then there’s no reason to even attempt it. All in or nothing.
Tell us about your new exhibit.
About two years ago, I wanted to start a transition and pivot a bit. It’s been a great five years as Hanksy. I’m proud of everything, but I knew for personal sanity, enjoyment and fulfillment going forward, I needed to change things up. This show is a culmination of two years of self-imposed studio imprisonment. Everything I did before for five years was for a client, for a show, for a vehicle to deliver a topical joke or one-liner. It was never art to make art. I had never done that before.
The work that is going to be shown at this show probably started about a year ago. I developed this new style and aesthetic. So, I kind of chased after it.
In this exhibit are you experimenting with any new materials that you haven’t used before?
Yes and no. This is something that I have been kind of dealing with. Every piece that I’ve created with Hanksy could be seen, witnessed, processed and you’ll have a decision on with it, within a couple of seconds. That’s what I like to convey. I like the simple and straightforward messages. For my new artwork, it’s a bit harder to digest. It’s visually stimulating, bright and vibrant colors. There are little jokes and wordplay here and there, but underneath there are more serious and somber messages going on. Themes.
“Some Grow Up, Others Grow Down”
151 Canal St.
New York, NY 10002