What’s going on man go ahead and introduce yourself!
What’s up everyone. My name is Anthony Lewellen but some people know me as Antck.
You have years and years of history throughout chicago’s art scene. Lets take it back to the beginning, how and when were you first introduced to art?
For me I don’t think there was actually a specific time. I’ve always considered myself an artist at heart. It was something I was always interested in. I remember being in Kindergarten and seeing a teacher draw on the board and being amazed by that. I remember seeing those drawings and knew I wanted to be able to do that too. The first thing I really did was draw. The best thing about drawing was that it’s the foundation of many different art forms and it’s totally accessible. For me I didn’t have a lot of money growing up but pencil and paper was something that was always around. Everything else just naturally evolved from there. Years later when I ended up dropping out of high-school I spent most of my time drawing. I drew and drew and drew. I learned that the more you practice and dedicate your time to something the better at it you became.
When did you then transition into graffiti?
I started doing graffiti in 1989. It was a roundabout way. For a good part of my youth I skateboarded. I loved everything about skateboarding. From the deck graphics all the way to the graphic shirts the brands were creating. In the late 80’s with the emergence of hip-hop, we started to begin to see a lot of skaters transitioning into that culture. Graffiti was really just an extension of that. Slapping stickers up and putting your name up randomly on walls was already things we had been doing due to skateboarding. When I first got into graffiti I was really just bombing for a year. Gradually I realized that there was another aspect to it. I started to apply what I loved about drawing and transition it into what I was doing on the streets. Skateboarding and Graffiti were two things that in a very real way ended up saving my life in that they gave me something I could do that I loved. Graffiti was just something that made sense to me at the time. It was creative, personal, and unique.
You decided to write ANTCK, explain the meaning behind that name…
When I first started writing I wrote Antic. I liked what the word meant. I gravitated towards it as a name because I felt it really embodied my personality. At one point before that I used to also write ANT and drew ants next to my name. Later it changed to ANTCK, purely for graffiti related reasons. Writing out ANTIC in a decent letter style was pretty hard. For me, the change from ANTIC to ANTCK was about taking the meaning of the word and changing it to something phonetic and applying what was the best versatile aesthetic. I thought it was something completely unique and a lot of the best names had been taken. I remember, as I was getting older that I wanted to get away from the name ANTCK. I didn’t want people to just remember me for the stuff I was doing when I was younger. I wanted people to know my real name, I wanted people to remember what I was doing now, and the work was more relevant and valid. Now, looking back on those memories, ANTCK was who I was, it will always be apart of me, it’s my history. A lot of the stuff I’ve been drawing as of lately has been stuff that played a part in my life growing up.
Who were some of the artists that inspired you growing up?
I’d have to say Keith Haring. What he had done was so unique to me; he was able to develop his own style. Also, Vaughn Bodē was an artist that inspired me. I think growing up in the 70’s with funk and soulful music, his artwork embodied that style and it attracted me. He had a very free flowing and free style. Peter Blume and Slang here in Chicago and Twist on the West coast were other artists that inspired me. I was drawn into anyone who had his or her own unique style.
Do you believe it’s important for young artists to go back and study the history of art?
I do. I think that’s true with anything. I learned that I loved art by seeing other people do it. When you haven’t done much, the way you learn the most is by watching those who have done the most.
Back in 1993 you ended up winning a competition held by the CTA. How big of a moment was this in your career? Did you expect you would win?
Honestly, at that time it was a pretty big deal for a couple of reasons. 1) This contest had never happened before and 2) It attracted a ton of media attention. We ended up winning the contest two years in a row. First year that we won, we were rewarded a year scholarship to the American Academy of Art. The next year we won, three of us were blessed with obtaining scholarships to Columbia College. At that time we thought we had a really good chance of winning and whether it was true or not we felt like we had the strongest work.
-With winning this competition you were able to win a scholarship to Columbia. Was college something you were looking to attend growing up?
No, not at all actually. The way I grew up, nobody cared about the grades I got. The ultimate irony was that I had won a college scholarship without having a high school diploma. I ended up then getting my GED so I could attend Columbia. College just wasn’t something that was discussed in the house growing up, nor did I have any assumption that it was something I was going to actually do.
You ended up graduating from the American Academy of Art with a degree in Graphic Design, would you suggest kids to get a degree/attend college?
I will answer this question in two ways. I don’t necessarily believe that artists need to attend art school, but I also have no problem with an artist looking to go to college and obtain an education. I truly do believe there are good things about art school, such as being able to practice your work on a daily basis and also meeting like minded people. In my opinion, the best thing about art school or just school in general is having that ability to practice consistently and connect with other creative people. If you’re a creative person already, you can figure out that part by yourself if your willing to work at it. The hardest part is the non-creative part, which is going about how to get work, how to market yourself, plan and keep a schedule. What art students need the most is the discipline and structure to bring that out.
January 26th 2015 you decided to start a project called “52 Weeks” where you created and documented the creation and completion of one piece a week for the equivalent of a year. Where did you get this concept? You finished the first year back in January, how did it end up going for you?
I’m always looking to push myself and creating projects over a long period of time was not something I had ever done before. The year before that I did a project called “A drawing a day.” With that project I did a series of daily drawings, which started in the fall of 2013, on my birthday actually, where I would create one drawing a day for 365 days with the goal of exploring a daily creative discipline and using social media as a form of interactive accountability and documentation. After finishing that project, I quickly realized that there wasn’t enough time in a day to tackle what I wanted to do. I thought, let me do this again and do it for a week on a larger scale. Out of necessity and curiosity, I felt like it was something I needed to try. I think the project definitely went better than I thought it would, but I also went into it with no expectations. I really had no idea how it would work out.
(52 Weeks Project)
(Daily Drawings Project)
Also in January you published your first book called “Process”. Tell us a little bit behind the book. Also, was making a book something you had always wanted to do?
For Process, I realized that I had several studies, sketches and color studies on random pieces of papers that I used to develop ideas. That process was/is fascinating to me personally and I wanted to create a book that I would’ve liked to see growing up. It could’ve been much bigger than it was. I definitely am looking to do another book. I’m hoping to find a publisher who can help underwrite the cost for the next one. The next book will be about the overall philosophy of sticking to working slow and consistency. At first, creating a book felt like an intimidating process to me. A big part of creating “PROCESS” was to just get over the hurdle of actually putting a book together and see if I could do it. Growing up peoples sketchbooks interested me the most. I liked seeing behind the scenes and process of how ideas were created. I always thought it was more interesting to see how things were being developed that just seeing the finished work which is the real idea behind the book.
Many kids now-a-days think becoming an artist or creative is just an easy process. What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your career?
Being an artist is extremely difficult in my opinion, and I am speaking from experience, but it is who I am. It is extremely challenging in a number of ways but I’ve learned to look at challenges as primarily opportunities for growth. Challenges aren’t necessarily bad things they’re actually needed. I think the biggest challenge is having the money to keep it all going.
Lets follow that up by asking what is the best advice you can give a young artist/creative trying to make a career/brand for themselves?
I’d say make sure you do what you love, do it consistently, share it with everyone that you can in every way that makes sense for what you, and don’t ever quit. That’s not just true for artists it’s true for everyone. The number one reason why people fail is because they give up when things get hard. The world won’t care if you quit either; it will step on your neck once you’re down and keep going.
Throughout the years have you been able to see graffiti and street art become more accepted by the larger mass of people?
Throughout the years graffiti and street-art has become more accepted. I can’t pinpoint a certain year or reasoning as to why it got so popular. I think initially the site Woostercollective out of New York played a big part in helping graffiti and street art become what it is today but really the internet and technology in general . The most significant thing that has changed throughout that time is how commercial it has become. Graffiti and street art once was a very underground thing. You couldn’t make a living off of being a graff artist or street artist, now you could.
How have you seen your artwork transition over the years?
Objectively it’s gotten better. I’m better at pretty much every aspect, from the concepts to the execution and the technical side. I’m constantly working and looking to improve and explore new ideas. I’ve also learned to become more confident in who I am and what I do.
What do you think was the biggest moment of your career?
I’ve had pretty big projects, won big awards, but the most significant things are relatively small. Being able to be content with producing work that I believe is good and being able to support my family doing that is huge. Having my own studio space was something I had always wanted as a kid and I have that now. I sometimes think of what my 10 year old self would feel about my life and that gives me some perspective.
What’s next for you, any big things coming up in 2016?
This year I was asked to do a class with The Art Institute of Chicago. To have that opportunity is super cool. I’m very excited about challenging myself. I also have a short film that I’m working on for this show in Madison. I’ve never produced a short film before so I’m excited to tackle this project as well.