As we have spent the last two weeks admiring The Stencil Show, questions begin to arise about each painting. We asked David Soukup to analyze his piece, “Hong Kong Hustle,” from top to bottom. Soukup’s mini interview reveals much that we never saw before in this painting; just wait till you find out how many hours he spent cutting the stencil.
White Walls: Title of work:
David Soukup: Hong Kong Hustle
What sparked the idea for this piece?
This was the first piece I got rocking and rolling on when I locked the White Walls Show. I wanted to go big right away, and this was a great starting point.
Where did this image come from?
This really isn’t just one image. It’s about ten images photo-shopped together. The alley, some buildings, the people, the signage, etc. Most of my images start with something simple and I combine lots of photographs to create what I want.
I have a habit of bringing a camera everywhere with me, and in Chicago there is no shortage of reference. I try not to limit myself. But sometimes the subject looks at the camera or the sun doesn’t hit at the right angle, so I hit the internet for a sign or a person. I allow myself to go and fix those errors to create something different and add more detail. It’s something new to my process. I used to just copy the photograph, as in my first set of works. I’ve now started altering the images to work how I want them, which gives me more control over composition, contrast, and color.
Additionally, I add a lot of Chicago or personal references to all of my paintings whenever I can. At the show, I caught so many people who saw my “Sidewalk Shuffle” piece and saw the New York references and imagery, but knew that Jackson and LaSalle are streets in Chicago, and that the intersection looks nothing like the painting. There are such details in my other paintings as well, and this one has tons of small nods to my hometown. I add small things like that to keep people looking and to add little jokes.
My friends’ names or phone numbers appear all the time on the signs. Most people don’t notice that, but it adds a personal touch I think.
How did you create it from start to finish?
I explained the photoshop part above. From that step, I print them out on paper and cut each layer by hand. Every curve, shape, and letter is cut by hand with an x-acto knife. The whole thing may be complicated, but it’s really simple when you get around the cutting. I also try to document this process as much as possible. I then build my own frames, stain and distress them, and paint them with spray paint.
Stencil-heads know what I am talking about when I say I don’t use spray adhesive, and rely on the pressure of the can to hold the stencil in place and give me a clean line. I also have the ability to run prints, and this is one of the paintings I submitted 2 editions of.
How long did it take you?
It’s hard to really know. Painting it only takes like 2 hours, but the actual cutting process- maybe something like 50-80 hours. I lose track of time when this happens, and I jump around to other stencils sometimes. The worst thing that can happen is getting bored of cutting a particular stencil, so it’s nice to switch it up.
What were you thinking about while you worked on it?
Nothing. It’s why stencil cutting is so great. Some people say they never would have the patience to do what I do, and for me, it’s more like meditation. I work in the art department in the film business and sometimes the days just burn me out. With stenciling, I get 2-4 hours a day when I don’t think of anything else. It makes the process really enjoyable and calms me down a lot.
What meaning do you ascribe to this cityscape?
I try not to get too descriptive. If I had to pick words, I’d say that it’s about the harmony cities enjoy. Everyone does their thing. No one is mindful of each other despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people on the street. It’s the idea of controlled chaos and trying to get people to appreciate the details and beauty of everyday life.
On a side note, I think this show was a great opportunity to showcase my ability, but since leaving San Francisco, I’ve felt such a huge desire to create. Within the next few months, I want to take the stenciling medium and push it a little further and not get so trapped by the medium. I think my upcoming work will be something that people haven’t seen and I am anxious to hear the response.