Shoreditch Originals: Le Gun

Our 50th birthday provides an opportunity to reflect on our past as part of a rich East London community, and look forward to an exciting future in the land of opportunity known as Shoreditch. 

What better way to immortalise the people and places that have made Scrutton Street and its surrounds our home, than in the black ink strokes of cult illustration collective, Le Gun? Made up of five mates who met as students at the Royal College of Arts, Le Gun is today internationally acclaimed for its indie magazine, insane-scale installations and incredibly detailed art exhibitions, with a client list that includes Paul Smith, Belvedere Vodka, and D&AD. 

The partnership - Stephanie von Reiswitz, Chris Bianchi, Bill Bragg, Neal Fox and Robert Rubbish - blend their individual sketching styles almost inextricably to the untrained eye - using a monochrome palette to create one bold aesthetic. Utilising the fluidity of fineliners, they take their playfulness onto the page, delineating and contouring a surrealist visual scape that has strong occult and punk undertones. A Franglaise name inspired by film noir, Le Gun narratives often represent historic truths or myths, which have permeated into modern day pop culture.

Each piece or collection is shaded in with a joint sense of humour - when asked what their perfect party looked like, the Le Gun fellas conjured the image of a chocolate swimming pool in a library filled with cabaret dancers. We caught up with the fun lot (sans Steph), as they threw us a party on paper and joined in on celebrating our very own moment in history…

What place does humour have in the art world?

Robert: To quote Neal, if he goes to an exhibition and it's all wishy-washy paintings, he'll say, "This has left me cold." And that's how I feel about a lot of contemporary artwork; it’s boring and vague. Art and humour have always gone hand in hand, people have made jokes to enable social commentary; there's the dadaist, the Damien Hirsts. Personally I'd like to find something in the now that relates to the satirists of the past, like George Grosz and Otto Dix’s narratives of disillusionment. 

Neal: Sometimes it's a better way to talk about deeper things, be seriously funny. 

Bill: It goes down more easily. 

Do you have any rituals that play a part in how you work?

Robert: I do have one yeah; I will divide the paper into a star, like just drawing one in with a pencil. It doesn't make any sense, it's like before I do anything, I'm going to do that, and then I'm like 'Yeah okay!' I can go forward. It's challenging the blank page isn't it? I'm going at the void, and turning it into four different voids! It makes me feel good.

How has your work changed since you first started out?

Neal: Really I'm doing the same thing I've been doing since I was a kid, just bigger and more elaborate. I still think the same way, you don't have to grow up when you're doing this kind of stuff. I’m working less and less with clients and more drifting off into my own delirium, creating one long narrative that can go in any direction and become anything that I want. The constant is my granddad’s ghost, who is on a journey through pop culture. I was always hearing stories about him and his life; he was a bomber pilot and a writer. I started drawing pictures about him and then it became more about why we mythologise people and iconoclastic characters. My granddad is my ritual - I put him in every picture.

Bill: For us as Le Gun, characters sometimes inhabit and appear in worlds to represent certain ideas. We call it LeGundon, a parallel, imaginary London. As a collection it's sort of a portal that you can, in your mind, go through - a narrative.

Along with London, is Shoreditch culture represented in your folio?

Robert: We did a series for The Estate Office called The Shoreditch Zoo. it's nice to do a commissioned job where we can do our thing, have our in-jokes. There’s one image where we're all on the top deck of this bus on Shoreditch High Street, and the bus says it's destination is 'nowhere' - a reference to the Sex Pistols‘ album cover for Pretty Vacant. When I was 9 or 10, I remember I was really into mod revival music, which 20th century Soho was a massive part of. Spivs, minotaurs, sex dwarfs - I love it - what's myth and what's fact? You can still go back to places and visualise, I just walk around the higgledy-piggledy streets cowering in the shadows of these buildings that have seen so much come and go.

Chris: We also did The Unknown Room in 2010/2011 - a big installation piece.

Robert: Yes that story unfolds with the diary of George Melly discovered in a suitcase in a Masonic shoe shop in Hackney. The idea got so big, we didn't even know where to store it, but I don't regret it. 

Neal: Normally the best stuff we do is kind of when we go a bit crazy doing it - it’s hell at the time but we made really good work and had a great road trip to Brussels. 

Bill: It's maximalism; you have to go too far for it to work, but that's tons of work. 

Chris: But because we're five of us, we can sort of push it. If it was one person it would take three years, we'll do it in three months. 

What's the first thing you want to know about a client, but might not necessarily ask?

Neal: How much money are they going to give me?

Robert: Are they single? 

Neal: No, you want to know if they're a decent human being or just a soul-sucking jerk, because it helps if you get along. 

Robert: We did these Mexican Alebrijes for a Day Of The Dead festival; it's quite insane when you break down what we did for the amount of money and time. You're just like, who would do this?

Bill: We wouldn't have done that if we hadn't have really loved the people we were working with: Michael Smythe. He let us execute our idea and just oiled the wheels by providing the funds - the folk who trust you to do what you want; they get the best out of you.

How do you amalgamate your art styles?

Robert: I think when you’ve worked together for 10 years like us, a sort of osmosis happens. When you draw as a group you soak each other up, learn from each other, and start to make sense as an entity. 

Bill: The black and white really helps to unify it and bring it together so the different styles can merge - we become one artist. We can still recognise our own hands but others can't.

Neal: I was watching an interview with this cartoonist, Gilbert Shelton, yesterday, who made a comic called The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. He talked about how when you draw in black and white, it has to be a better drawing because you've got less to work with, no colour to seduce people’s focus. It suits the mood of Le Gun as well I think, there's something about it that's from the past yet timeless - that mysterious quality. 

Are you ever happy with the outcome?

Bill: You can see whatever it is so clearly in your head, yet there is this massive gap between what you imagine and what you create, and to a certain extent you have to be open to the element of surprise in terms of the outcome. I find I've never quite gotten to what I visualised, so that's motivation to try again. 

Robert: But what happens when you're satisfied? You give up right?

Bill: I knew a guy that every time he drew something he'd say “That's brilliant! Brilliant.” He became a policeman. Haha!

How do you feel art informs society?

Bill: I sort of move between thinking it's not important and it is.

Neal: If you think about it too much, it'll just drive you mad, and you won't do any. 

Bill: There's always going to be something you can do with your life that'll be more valuable to society, but you’ve also got to work with what you can do and I can't do anything else! 

Neal: If you start thinking why, you can't get out of bed. That's what I'm like sometimes. 

Robert: Like Neal says, you've got to be optimistic, you've got to be a bit of a dreamer to do this. Or, as I like to say; a failed nihilist.

What’s the best advice you've been given?

Bill: It's weird, but I just remember it unlocking something in my brain; it was our lecturer, Andrzej Klimowski, at RCA. I had a tutorial with him and he could see I was really hung up on the idea that I always needed to have an idea for a drawing. “Look at that filing cabinet over there in the corner,” he said. “It's not very interesting is it? But if you make a drawing of it, it becomes interesting.” Amazing! It suddenly took all the weight off. Just the act of drawing in itself, it changes what you're seeing, the way you're processing. 

Do you put yourself into situations to inspire yourself?

Chris: Yes possibly I do that, yes. I go visit a museum, I do a lot of watching films and wandering the streets, walking around. 

Bill: You never take the same route home; I noticed that whenever I go out walking with you. 

Chris: Yeah I do have this thing where if I walk one way, I'll walk back home another way. I just think if someone's trying to mug you, you don't want to be too predictable... 

If you don't know what to draw, and you sit down with a blank piece of paper, what's your go to?

Chris: It will probably be something I've been storing in my head actually. I'll see something in passing, just really quickly out the corner of my eye, like a logo that I liked, that I’ve been carrying with me for a while and that's what I start with. I like drawing from a stream of consciousness.

Bill: Chris definitely draws the most out of all of us. 

Chris: I can't get no satisfaction, like the Rolling Stones. I only know when my work is finished when I run out of ink. No but it never stops - I'm always learning and improving. I don't have an ego really - he only comes out after a few Sherries. 

Are there any superstitions you abide by?

Neal: Art is creating something out of nothing. It's a bit like magic.

Robert: I believe in collective consciousness and unconsciousness; when you get a load of people together, you're going to create or have some sort of alchemy, especially when it’s free of crap and pure.

Bill: There's a big argument between whether it's that or it's conditioning. My dad has an identical twin, they both went to a mutual friend's birthday party at college and turned up with the same record as a present. Dad was a very pragmatic guy and he always put it down to having the same upbringing, but then he said there was a time when Michael, his brother, broke his leg, and he felt a pain in his own leg. I don't believe in that kind of fantastical magic, I believe in the every day. 

Chris: Every time I look at my clock, it's either 10.10, 11.11, 14.14 - I don't know why! It happens three times a day, quite commonly. Why is that? Maybe it happens more to creatives because we're more open to these things, because we go looking for them patterns.

Robert: I think as an artist you look for markers that other people have left and they resonate. It’s about finding connections. When we first met, we had similarities that helped us bond, and then there was a certain synchronicity - our friendship was and is important to our art.