From North Philadelphia, Alloyius McIlwaine is I'm an artist and photographer whose work has spanned from his home town to different countries around the world. His work also includes his clothing line called Cultures Clothing. Also being a huge Hip-Hop, comic book, and video game geek, Alloyius McIlwaine stopped by The Griotvine to tell us a little about his work and background.
Greg Anderson Elysee: How long have you been involved in the arts?
Alloyius McIlwaine: Wow, I've been involved in art for as long as I can remember, since around the age of 2 or 3. It's funny, when I was that age I was really hyperactive so my mom would put me on little "time outs" so that she could catch her breath (laughs) and she would tell me to draw her something. I was always fascinated with comic books, so I would teach myself how to draw by recreating the images from my comic books. And now I'm an international artist with murals in Paris. Crazy, right?
Greg: Haha. For real. You've come a long way! So you came from drawing for your mom to murals in Paris. How did you get into murals as a whole?
Alloyius: Well, I first got into graffiti and street art in high school! Some of my classmates were into the whole scene and they put me on to it. And I loved the whole culture of it, especially being as big of a hip-hop fan as I was. So I started doing a few things back then. But then for a while, I focused more on the Cultures Clothing side of things. My mom introduced the idea of fashion to me as an alternative to writing on walls so I didn't get in trouble for my creativity (laughs). But I started getting commissioned for walls at the beginning of 2013. My first commissioned wall was at a Salon in New Jersey. And then after more people started seeing my work, more commissioned walls came my way!
Greg: Where did you grow up and did it reinforce your style and artistry?
Alloyius: Well I grew up in North Philly, so that absolutely gives you a little bit of an edge. But there wasn't a lot of art around where I lived. You had some hand styles and throw-ups, sure, but not much else. Most of my exposure to art came through my school, Friends Select - a private Quaker school in center city Philly. I received an amazing education there...and was exposed to all kinds of art!
Greg: A private Quaker school? Have to say, not a lot of people would think of art exposure when they hear that, (laughs).
Alloyius: (Laughs) Yeah, the private Quaker school system is excellent though! My parents sacrificed to send me there. It exposed me to knowledge about all different cultures from a young age. They really tried to expose you and teach you about a variety of different things, which is why I didn't experience the same culture shock that some people experience when they go to college. I went there from 2nd grade until 12th.
Greg: With your art, what general inspires you? What motivates you to do what you do?
Alloyius: As far as what inspires me and motivates me, it's just something that I have to do. I heard a sampled quote in this Jay Electronica song, originally from Willy Wonka, and it said, "Do you ask a dolphin how it swims? Or an eagle how it flies? That's right, you don't! Because that's what they were made to do." I feel like that's such an accurate quote for me. I just have to create, whether it's art or fashion or photography or writing. I just have to create!
Greg: What are common themes that you like to present in your work?
Alloyius: You can always find brightness, color, and life in the majority of my paintings... even if my style changes.
Greg: What are some of your favorite pieces?
Alloyius: I mean, obviously I love all of my pieces or else I wouldn't show them (laughs) ...but I do have a few favorites. The "If I Blue Your Mind" self-portrait piece is a really personal piece about how my art is an escape for me.
I also have a special place in my heart for my Vitry-sur-Seine murals since they were my first International pieces...and my "Protect the Children" mural that I did in Casablanca, Morocco. I used my sister for reference for that one. And many, many more.
Greg: So moving to another craft of yours, you've brought up your mom getting you into fashion and you're a fashion designer. What's the story behind that?
Alloyius: Well it's funny, back in high school my mom presented me with the idea of doing my artwork on clothing so that I wouldn't get in trouble for unsolicited street art. The idea intrigued me since I would occasionally design clothing and sketch out t-shirt designs in the margins of my schoolbooks anyway. So I started out doing t-shirts to make some extra beer money in college and things grew and grew until I was designing dresses and things like that. And now I've dressed people for New York and Philadelphia Fashion Week and I'm selling products internationally.
Greg: Do you find yourself creating particular designs exclusively for your clothes that you wouldn't see in your murals and vice versa?
Alloyius: Yeah, I think for the most part, my clothing designs tend to be more symbol and message based whereas my murals tend to be more free form art. But I do use the art from some of my murals for some of my clothing designs!
Greg: What has been some of the challenges when it comes to both your mural work and your clothing line?
Alloyius: Well they provide different challenges since they're two different fields...even though I consider them to be two forms of art. With the clothing, you have to figure out how to make your brand stand out in a market that's over-saturated. And you have to worry about brand visibility...and marketing...so that you can attract your target demographic. And you also have to deal with production issues.
Greg: Can you tell us about your art process?
Alloyius: My art process is interesting (laughs) because it's something that I'm compelled to do. I have to create. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and I just have to make something. So I don't have to be in a particular mood. I'm always in the mood to create. So I just have to focus it. I usually put on my Jazzy Hip-Hop mix to help mellow me out and channel the energy. The current mix I put together features Blu, Homeboy Sandman, Oddisee, Nieve, Foreign Exchange, People Under the Stairs, Doppelgangaz, Qwel, Blue Scholars, Common Market, Zion I, Cyne, CunninLynguists, and more.
Greg: Do you ever find yourself getting distracted or days where you just want to relax or feel discouraged? How do you get over those slump?
Alloyius: It's funny, I have the shortest attention span in the world. So I stay in a state of perpetual distraction. But I've gotten to a point where I don't feel discouraged. Either people are going to like my work or they won't and I put it out there anyway for the ones that do like it. And I never get artist's block. My problem is having too much and being unable to get it all down. So sometimes I have to just try to figure out a way to focus that creativity.
Greg: What is something you've learned recently about working as an artist that you would go back in time to younger Alloyius and warn or prepare him for?
Alloyius: You can't get discouraged and you just have to be persistent and really work towards bettering yourself. You have to keep reinventing. Study what other artists have done in the past to be successful and find a way to make those things work for you. I used to be a starving artist looking everywhere for ways to move my art and create a lane for myself to become successful. Now, I have so many jobs coming in that I have to turn some down just because of the overwhelming volume. You just have to put in work and push forward to create every single day.
Greg: What's been the most rewarding reaction you've gotten thus far concerning your work?
Alloyius: Wow, well just this year I've gotten two magazine covers with Philly Current Magazine, I got my art on boom boxes with Bumpboxx, on yoga mats with PlusGives, I've done live art for three Budweiser events and one Bud Light event for the DNC, I've painted in Africa... It's just been a whirlwind of good things for me. It's just been humbling getting all of the texts and messages with people seeing all of the hard work that I've put in and telling me that they are proud of me.
Greg: Congrats on all of your recent successes, man! I'm so excited for you.
Alloyius: Thanks, man. Things are going great, there's just a lot of stuff.
Greg: For good reasons! What advice would you give aspiring artists? And what tips for people wanting to get into mural work?
Alloyius: Definitely use social media to your advantage. Be your own best salesperson. Use your natural connections at your disposal. Tell a friend to tell a friend what you need help with. Expand your boundaries. One of my favorite quotes of all time is from a hip-hop song called "Guide You Through Shadows" by Cunninlynguists featuring Substantial and RA Scion. In the song, RA Scion says, "Challenge your fears, cause shadows only appear when light is present." And that's the best advice that I could give anyone.