Luke Cornish with some of his work. Photo: Andrew Sheargold
ON THE eve of his first major solo show since his Archibald nomination, stencil artist ELK, aka Luke Cornish, has every reason to be excited. It has been a whirlwind ride since the Brunswick-based talent was nominated for this year's prize, for his portrait of Melbourne's vocal retired priest, Father Bob Maguire.
The first stencil artist to be considered for Australia's top portraiture prize, Cornish has been overwhelmed by the art world's acceptance of his counterculture pieces.
''The Archibald was a total game changer,'' he admits. ''It was a massive shock, I didn't think in a billion years I'd actually get in.''
Cornish's portrait of Father Bob Maguire.
The success has not changed the way he approaches his work in his Richmond warehouse studio. ''I don't feel like I've changed, I just feel like everybody else has changed in the way they treat me. I'm taken a lot more seriously.''
While he didn't score the top gong, he recognises the significance of the art world sitting up and taking notice. ''It's a nice one to have on the CV.''
Father Bob, who has become good mates with the artist, will open the exhibition - Not With It, at Armadale's Metro gallery - with a few choice words. Cornish has recreated his lauded stencil portrait, using the same stencils he painstakingly hand cut, spraying directly onto the gallery wall. The original is still on the road with the Archibald's regional tour. Another standout piece includes his likeness of Aboriginal actor Jack Charles, which took more than 150 hours to complete. He intends to enter it into next year's competition.
Cornish's work is bold and subversive, happily playing with expectations. One piece, Cliche, using aerosol sprayed on wood, depicts a red T-shirt with the ubiquitous image of revolutionary Che Guevara.
''Che Guevara was a Marxist, and that's got to be the most replicated image in the world; people make millions off it,'' he says. ''That's exactly what he was against. It's the same with Jesus, he was against organised religion, and now he is one. It's a sad contradiction.''
Another piece, Trickle Down Effect, shows a hoodie-wearing youth with a yellow bandanna tied around his face, inspired by the London riots. It's Cornish's take on the post-GFC world. ''The wealth is supposed to trickle down to the poor, so they say, but that's the businessmen in the pinstripe suits pissing on them. There's an angst that all good street artists have that really shines through.''
There's a depth of range on offer in the show, and it's not all about sticking two fingers up to the establishment. ''It's very self-reflective,'' Cornish says. ''You can see the social commentary from the street work I've done, but also the shift into fine art with the portraiture. My work is starting to mature as I do.''
Alex McCulloch, one of three directors of Metro Gallery, says Cornish and fellow street artists do belong in contemporary art galleries. The gallery has been testing the waters with a few of Cornish's pieces before Not With It, and McCulloch has been impressed with the response.
''It's been incredible, from younger collectors into urban street art right through to collectors who would be buying John Olsens and Criss Cannings,'' McCulloch says. ''It's collectible Australian art with a long-term future. Every street art show we've had has been incredibly successful.''
Not With It by ELK, aka Luke Cornish, at Metro Gallery, Armadale, until December 1.