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Enliven Brighton Art Trail: Meet the artist, Lee Eelus

Brilliant Brighton (a not-for-profit organisation formed of 517 of your favourite city centre stores, cafes, salons, restaurants and bars) has teamed up with Brighton cultural organisations, artists and creatives from the ABCD Cultural Recovery Plan to showcase Brighton’s vibrant art scene with a colourful art trail with work by local artists encompassing walls, bus stops, lampposts and street furniture throughout Brilliant Brighton, under the theme ‘community and kindness’.

One artist whose works we’re delighted to have on walls across Brilliant Brighton, as part of the Enliven Brighton Art Trail is Lee Eelus.

Combining seemingly disparate elements from a wide range of found imagery taken from pop culture, film, graphic design and art history, Lee Eelus’ strange and colourful visual language is applied to paintings, prints, murals and 3D work, all of it in search for a sense of balance as he brings opposing forces together, exploring the relationships between light and dark, humour and the macabre and beauty in the mundane.
He’s painted and exhibited worldwide alongside key figures within the urban contemporary movement, the desirability of his work evident in the success of his solo exhibitions and sell-out print editions.
We chatted to Lee to hear more about his inspiration and love for the city…

Hi Lee! How long have you lived in Brighton?

Since 2011.

How did you become an artist? 

Here’s where I roll out the cliché. I’ve always been an artist, I connected with picture making and storytelling from a very early age and have just never given it up. I would draw and sell posters of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the playground at primary school so I could buy more chocolate, I still have the same mindset 30+ years on.

I moved to London in 2000 and into a career in web design and online media but it became apparent very quickly that it wasn’t for me, not just the industry, but working in an office for and with other people. At the same time I was fascinated by the emerging street art scene in London and after visiting the first Santa’s Ghetto group exhibition by the infamous print house Pictures On Walls featuring work by Banksy, Jamie Hewlett and others, I knew instantly that’s what I wanted to do. So I taught myself how to stencil and started to develop my own work and paint it around east London. Amazingly I managed to convince Pictures On Walls to print and sell my first every screen print edition, which went on to be one of their fastest selling editions at that time. Things just snowballed from there and eventually I was in a position to quit my day job, I’ve now been a full time artist for around 13 years or so.

Can you tell us a little about the process/es behind your work?

Sometimes things begin with an almost fully realised idea that just seems to come from nowhere, but most of the time things begin with found imagery of some kind that resonates with me for one reason or another. These images can be anything from vintage magazines, comics, old photos, movies, books, whatever. I then pass them through the filter of my own lived experiences and stylistic decisions to create new compositions. I’m interested in finding a balance between abstract and figurative, creating strange and interesting shapes that can come together almost like a jigsaw, where the negative space is equally important as the ‘things’ in the work and how colours can be assigned to those shapes to enhance the abstract and lead the image away from it’s initial figurative starting point.

For most of my career I’ve worked exclusively in stencil and spray paint alongside screen print editions, but during the first Covid lockdown I had a lot of time to reflect and think about where I wanted to go. As a result I’ve now switched mediums and have started to develop a completely new stylistic direction that’s being explored with acrylics, oils and relief printing still alongside screen printing and , of course, murals.

Photo by Bip Mistry

Where do you work from?

I have a studio here in Brighton at the Rodhus creative studios.

What was the inspiration behind your work for the Enliven Brighton Art Trail?

I was asked to paint something positive that had themes of kindness and community, so I trawled through my huge archive of collected trinkets and treasures until I found something that grabbed me, before re-creating the image to my own taste and turning it into something very different.

How did it feel to know your work had been put forward for the trail?

Really good. I was excited to paint my first mural in my new direction, and the fact it’s in Brighton where I live and part of such a great project made it all the better.

… And how does it feel to see it in situ in the city centre?

Lovely, I’m really proud of it.

Does living in Brighton inspire your work at all?

I guess so, it has a good vibe, lots of creative energy and colourful people. And to have the South Downs on the doorstep with so much beauty and green open spaces, that’s endless inspiration.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist?

Freedom: to express myself, to do what I want, to be creative, to work for myself and in solitude. And to create work and put it into the world and discover it’s made a positive impact on someone, that’s like a kind of magic to me. I’m very grateful to be able to do this for a living.

Finally… what do love most about living in Brilliant Brighton?

Well it’s pretty much got it all. The sea, beautiful countryside with the South Downs, great creative energy and a lot of fascinating and colourful people who aren’t afraid to be themselves.

See Lee’s work at Donatello’s, Brighton Place and Gresham Blake, Bond Street. See more on Instagram @eelusart.

Photograph of Lee:  Liam Keown