Exclusive: Wes Lang on the Meditation of Constant Creation

Wes Lang is a breath of fresh air. He’s an artist that makes art for his own sake. His work is his life and vice-versa, the only thing keeping him sane. I sit wide-eyed in his soon-to-be former studio near the LA River, surrounded by larger-than-life canvases and walls plastered with images of the old Wild West, skulls, rock memorabilia and naked women. Wes’s studio is an artist’s oasis in an area filled with endless blocks of factories and cargo trucks.

Milk Made’s Alexandra Velasco sat down to talk to Wes about the pieces he’s working on for an upcoming soirée at Milk LA, “…just for fun” he says. In between discussing his work and how it seems to suddenly materialize they talk tattoos, relocating from the East Coast to the West, and how to live life to the fullest – all over a simple cup of coffee.

This place is like a dream, how did you find it?

A friend of mine does real estate around here. I’m actually about to move out next month to an even crazier place on the other side of the river. I’ve been here for about two years, and constantly running out of wall space. As you can see I make really big paintings and I want to make even bigger ones.

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who said one should have allotted studio hours to work, do you believe in this practice?

Absolutely, it’s all I do. If I’m not here, I’m home or… here. That’s all I do. I stick to five days a week, anywhere from 6 to 12 hours a day, depending on the day. Today will be a twelve-hour day. I love it though; I never really want to be anywhere else. It’s really important, no matter whether you’re just starting to figure out how to do this or you’re successful at it or anywhere in between. If you are not doing this for any other intention other than yourself and what you need to say then you might as well just not do it. Any successes that you can attain with this are nice byproducts of hard work.

How was the process of finally deciding to pursue art as a viable career?

I made a commitment to myself that I was never going to work for another person after the day I turned 30, and I haven’t. In my twenties I worked in art galleries in New York as an art handler. It was actually a really good way to learn how this whole business works. I didn’t go to school, I just threw myself in the middle of this, and this was in the 90s. It was the only way I figured out I would learn how to do this for a living. I didn’t know anybody; I just had to go and be in it and just started to work. I started to show in 2000, so it’s been 15 years I’ve been putting these things on the walls.

Speaking about working with other people. You did the artwork for Kanye’s Yeezus tour. How did that collaboration happen?

I really don’t know. He just called me and asked me to do it and I said yes. It was really easy and fun. I have the utmost respect for that guy. I think he’s really talented. I was excited to be a part of it. We hung out, talked and then it was out. I did that for him, not for me. He wanted something and I did my best to supply him with that. He’s a good guy; I really respect him quite a bit.

I like that its like a typical rock and roll old-school t-shirt but he’s a rapper. Was that his idea or something you guys talked about?

I just gave him some graphics and then there were t-shirts. They just came out and they had that feel. Everything that guy puts out has history and iconography. I don’t think it was done with crazy amounts of intention… when you are tuned in and doing the right thing, which he certainly is, things just work.

Where was your first show?

It was in NY at this gallery that doesn’t exist anymore. It was cool. The head of the installation crew that I worked for at the gallery I was at saw my paintings. He had always wanted to open his own space, so he rented a spot in the LES, gave me 5,000 bucks, the keys to the space and said “Do it” so I did. It was an unbelievable experience. I had six weeks to make my first thing and it was unbelievably exciting. I just threw a couch in the middle of the room and slept on it. Crashed at other people’s houses sometimes… it was a special time.

How has your art evolved since then?

The subjects and influences have stayed pretty consistent since I was a kid; I just tightened it up during the years. I’m always pushing and trying to challenge myself. I make a lot of the same paintings over and over again very much with purpose. I haven’t run out of things to say. The figure and everything are kind of a constant and then I get to have fun with composition and abstraction and color. Text is a very big part of it. I really just paint Indians, horses, birds, skeletons, flowers, hourglasses and grim reapers. It all tells the same story of pushing yourself to live a great life. It’s what all this stuff is about.

Do you plan your paintings before actually making them?

Not really. I Just do it. I come in here with a willingness to let this stuff do what its gonna do. To relinquish a bunch of control to whatever else is helping me do this. I’m not making the decisions. I’ll work all day and I wont even remember picking up a paintbrush. I sit down and say “Oh shit that’s crazy! How did I do that? “ I work really quickly. When you are in your studio all the time, and nothing else is in your way, you accomplish quite a lot. That’s why I work all the time; it’s where I feel the most sane.

Its like you’re meditating.

Yeah it is! Absolutely. I listen to music and pay more attention to that than the canvases. I don’t know how to describe it. That’s the part that’s getting clearer and clearer; that feeling that I can’t really describe is what’s making these things better and better all the time. I mean… I love my paintings I made for my first show. They just evolved.

How do you feel about the LA Art scene?

I really don’t know anything about it. Absolutely nothing. I just met you so you’re the third artist I’ve met since I’ve lived here, and one of them is one of my best friends from New York. I hear that it’s thriving and there are lots of things going on but I don’t know what they are. It’s just not how I fill my time. I fill it with working on my stuff and spending time with a very few amount of people that I really like.

That’s refreshing to hear because I find many young artists saying that one has to go to every gallery opening and brand yourself the right way…

I hear that all the time. I mean you can’t just define how this works since it works differently for everyone. I just don’t know how I would get anything done if I spent a lot of time doing that. I have a commitment to myself to do this and a commitment to the people who have invested in what I do. I work really hard to make sure that people who are getting behind me are making a good decision. I care more about the few that are involved, than the whole entire world knowing about me. That’s why I’m doing this thing at MILK. I want to show paintings and have a good time. They are paintings I get to share for a few hours and then keep for myself.

You have a lot of tattoos. Do you have any you drew yourself?

Just a couple. Most are old tattoo designs or things my friends drew. I got a lot of words, bands I love… I got them for me and for my friends, people I care about. A lot of them are about people that passed way, to keep them around.

What’s the thing that you love most about LA?

Anonymity. Here I live up in the hills, I walk out my house, and nobody’s standing there. I drive down here, pull up in front, come inside, lock the door and I never go outside again until I go back home. I had a great studio in New York but this place I have is nuts, and the next place I’m going to is totally fucking nuts.

Wes Lang photographed exclusively for Milk Made by Brad Elterman

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