Naturel Speaks On His Tupac x Basquiat Collection, His Art Form, And Upcoming Alife Collaboration
Lawrence Atoigue, better known as Naturel, is a DC-based artist best known for turning elements of pop culture into art with sharp, mosaic-style angles and colors. With his signature style, Naturel has redefined art with eye-popping collections like "PICASSO BIGGIE" and "PXXXYHAD ME DEAD."
Finding inspiration in the music he plays daily, has helped Naturel bring some of his biggest pieces to life including his most recent collection, a mash up between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Tupac Shakur, called #TUPACSQUIAT. The collection, which now available on Naturel's site allburgundy.com, is a representation of the messages and morals each icon stood for, and an homage to their incredible work.
Besides his dope graphic arts, Naturel has been collaborating with some of the biggest streetwear brands in the business creating some very exclusive and tasteful garments.
If you're unfamiliar with Naturel and his work, we suggest you get familar with the artist, and check out our exclusive interview with the D.C. artist.
The fondness for Art is growing in the hip-hop community; did you feel at one point that it was under-appreciated?
Our people can't appreciate what we're not exposed to. I grew up in PG County, Maryland. There was one High school with an art program in the county. Half of the art program was funded by donations and teachers that sacrificed a part of their salaries. I was one of the lucky kids that got accepted to that school. My homie from up the block wasn't so lucky and had to go to a school with no art program. He eventually became a really great artist, but not without struggle. You see, art wasn't a priority in our school system; therefore it wasn't a priority in our community. It's like that for every hood in every ghetto around the country.
Your signature style of art is known as "vector," can you describe to us what type of art form that is?
Man there's a real nerd-alert way that I could break that down, but I'll spare y'all the yada yada, and just say its shapes that are made point by point on the computer. It's still painting in a way, just with a different technique and output. As far as the look of the whole triangle thing is just a method that I discovered while trying to do some low polygonal art quickly. A triangle is the quickest shape you can make going point by point, so that's why I stuck with it. Later I started to come across folks that did stuff in Low poly too, some dude was painting like this in the 60's! I often see folks credit me with finding this "Style" but even though I came into it without influence, folks have done this WAAAY before me.
How do you get started on a brand new piece of work - do you have any rituals?
Most of the ideas for pieces just pop into my head while doing normal things like driving or shopping. I drive my daughter to school in the morning and my queen to work, and then after they leave the car I ride out to anything that cranks to me at the time. By the time I get to the studio, the idea for the day is already flushed out in my head. I play music while I work for the most part. Music plays a big role in what I create, so I guess that’s why it becomes the source material itself.
What was the first piece of art you worked on, and at what age?
Man... I can remember my favorite album in grade school was Doggy Style. I remember watching Snoop roll pass that casket and hittin' the awards stage with "MUUUURDAAAA". I was like dayum, this dude decked to stage out like a church with the pastor an everything. The next day in school, no lie, the art lady came to class and told us to draw a cathedral. I drew that stage set with Snoop and everything!
You recently released the Tupacsquiat Collection. Tell me what inspired the idea of mashing up Tupac and Basquiat?
On the heels of the successful release of the Picasso Biggie piece, I felt it was only right to pay homage to Pac in the same way. It began as such a light weight idea at first, but as I dove deeper into the life and career of each artist it really became less about me and more about the message and morals of each artist. I became more of the vessel that told a very abridged story of these two incredible people. Both Tupac and Basquiat paid homage to the kings before them, and I felt like paying homage to them was only right.
While creating these pieces what Tupac album did you find yourself playing a lot?
Aw, man I played all of them! I say more "Strictly 4 my N.I.G.G.A.Z.," "Me Against the World" and "All Eyez on Me" the most. But I had his whole catalogue on rotation throughout the whole project. You see, Basquiat would play jazz records for the most part during his process. Song titles, lyrics and even liner notes would show up in his pieces. I thought that aspect of it was so important because not only would it reference Pac, but it would begin to paint a portrait of Tupac through his words, and that's exactly what rap is – a painting with words.
How long did it take you to create the Tupacsquiat collection?
The process took about a month from start to finish. I wanted the Basquiat process to be authentic. So that meant that I had to shed my self of my own methods and isms, and learn and adopt and adapt to his. Basquiat loved to surround himself with an array of source material. He'd play movies; listen to records and read books all at the same time while creating several pieces. His work wasn't about pretty paintings so much as it was about being highly stimulated and free to respond. A painting of his was just the after math of a good or bad time he had while making it. My process is nothing like that. I'm a one stimulant, one piece at a time kind of artist. So I had to toil with it for a bit to get it right.
What do you want people to capture from this collection of artwork?
I'd like people to rekindle their appreciation for Tupac and Basquiat. Movements come in cycles and I believe it's that time again where art and culture is at a peak. I think it's important for people to embrace the figures in society that bring color to the culture. And if society can learn from what we put Pac and Basquiat through in the past and not criticize so much as to embrace the Pac's and Basquiat's of today, we might just be able to enjoy the fruits from the seeds that have been planted by the great figures of the past.
In your opinion, what’s the biggest impact Basquiat made in the world of art?
Basquiat's life and work is a BIG lesson in freedom of expression. He wouldn't think about what he was doing, he would just do it. And as easy as that sounds, it's incredibly hard in practice. We're taught in art school to think and analyze subjects and process that image through a discipline. Galleries and Curators want cerebral stories of intention and complexion. Basquiat was so incredibly instinctual through his work, and the allure of how "anti" it was stood as a testament to how powerful and important honesty is to an artist. It's a lot like rap, you can be the most rappity-rap-rap word pimp in the game, and you'll never strike a chord like "tellin' it like it is" would. Pac was like that. Pac would paint the picture like it is, with no apologizes.
Along with the release of your Tupacsquiat collection, producer !llmind dropped a remix of 2Pac's'Life Goes On" featuring his signature boom trap production. Did you have any input in the way you wanted the record to sound?
Me and !llmind are so in sync with each other it's ridiculous. I gave him a call one night when the project was almost done and began to tell him about it, and before I got the chance to finish my first sentence he already knew. I was like "Hey man, I'm doing the project about Tupac and..." and he goes "STOP! I been in 'Pac mode for a week now! I already know, I'll knock it out tonight!" ... When I got the remix in my inbox it was EXACTLY the vibe I felt was right for the project. Pac's lyrics and the message that was in it fit so well with the visual story I wanted to get across. The Basquiat interview at the end was what brought it around full circle in my opinion.
Where can people purchase the Tupacsquiat collection?
Folks can visit my main site allburgundy.com for #tupacsquiat and more.
What's the hardest challenge of being an artist in today’s era?
With the advent of social media and the gift of exposure that it bares, comes a lot of noise too. The attention span of folks today is a lot shorter than the past. It takes a tremendous amount of creative stamina to be consistent. And to be consistently good, is another challenge on to itself. One of the other challenges is to be taken seriously as a fine artist. You'd think that as far as we are in the digital age, that digital art would be accepted equal to that of other mediums of art. I get the "is that a painting?" question a lot. Sometimes folks feel like it’s not as valuable as a painting when they hear the answer. I went to art school for 8 years. I've been an artist for more years than that. I'm able to paint, and I'm able to paint well at that! I will paint, but only because I want to. I don't really get how limited some big institutions in the art world are to other mediums of art. It's like as if they wouldn't cut a big check for a Warhol screen print. Or they wouldn't pay top dollar for a found object installation. I have a stack of artists’ books on my coffee table that I look at everyday. Most of those artists passed away before they got to see the success of their work. You'd think that we'd learn from that. Like what if some of those artists got the support that they needed to thrive? What beautiful art would they have produced, had they have been embraced during their peak? My prints will be worth MILLIONS one day. I'm not delusional and thinking that I should get millions at this very moment, but at least throw some gas over here on this fire and watch how I burn this down.
Tell me about some of the collabs you've worked on in the past, and which have been your favorite to date?
I've collabed with a few really great brands. At first, I did some 5-Panels with Freebase, some jewelry with Mr.Flawless, a small capsule collection with Alife, a few pieces with the homies from Crooks & Castles. One of the collabs I'm especially proud of is the Hellz Bellz X Naturel collection I did with my mentor Miss Lawn! She took the time to groom me as a young designer and taught me everything. So when the opportunity came for me to work with her on a collab collection, I knew I reached a certain point that I aimed to get to.
What's the next collaboration we should expect to see from you?
Well the Alife collection is dropping this Fall as well as the Hellz Bellz collection. I have a few more brands that I'm working with to give the people more stuff. The Crooks & Castles folks are like fam, they support what I do and don't trip off of me working with other folks, so you can always expect me to be doing stuff with them.
For which rapper would you like to design an album cover, and why?
Kanye! Hands DOWN. I feel like he's had the right line up of folks Murakami, Kaws, Condo, Tisci... I'd love to be the next. I love his music, I feel his artistic choices and he studied art in school too! I feel there's a lot I can learn from him artistically.
Give me your three favorite records at the moment and what rapper should we be on the lookout for?
That list is forever changing, but my favorite records now are Travi$ Scott's Owl Pharoah, Dom Kennedy's Get Home Safely, School Boy Q's Oxymoron. Travi$ Scott and Kendrick Lamar are the next great artists of our generation.