This week we talk with Aran Jitsukawa-Hudson (AKA Cole Blaq) about his art, philosophy and his life. Aran was born in Great Britain and grew up in Germany. He lives in Düsseldorf with his wife and three kids, is a cancer survivor, and attended university as an Art History student. We interviewed him 6 years ago here on The Brothers Brick, but there’s a lot to catch up on since then. He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to publish an art book based on his Enter the Brick series. Let’s go explore the mind of a builder.
Aran: My real name is Aran Jitsukawa-Hudson, as some might know. My alter ego as an artist is Cole Blaq, which is a reference to a comic character and an adaption to Hip Hop language.
I am British by origin but mainly grew up in Germany. With my wonderful wife being Japanese, we’re a rich blend of cultures! Now I live in Dusseldorf, Germany, which is located at the river Rhine, north of Cologne.
Like many kids, utilizing LEGO bricks used to be one of my main activities in my childhood. At the age of 12, I sold all my bricks and shifted to the teens. Much later, after some serious delving into the depths of graffiti, I rediscovered the ability I had developed with the bricks. That was nine years ago, shortly after I moved to Düsseldorf to study art history at the university. Coincidentally, a few things came together and led me to my actual path. The first thing I remember was that a friend showed me what people were actually doing with Lego bricks nowadays, thanks to the online community. That was about the same time when my first son was born, accompanied by a heavy punch shortly after by being diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, the arrival of my son gave me the will and strength to undergo the whole treatment thing, otherwise I wouldn’t have known him. These circumstances brought my career as a mural painter to an abrupt halt.
While being unable to continue the previous path and being sick and stuck at home, somehow working with the bricks became a new media for my creative output. I guess the brick thing also had a therapeutic value for me as it accompanied me through the hard times. Luckily, the cancer hasn’t reappeared, even though I have to go to a check up every year. I’ve even managed to finish my university degree, although it took quite a bit longer than I initially thought. My final exam gave me the opportunity to reflect on Street Art and Graffiti through art history. Last but not least, thanks to the many wonderful and kind people I met through the online [LEGO] community over the past years, I find myself continuously working with the bricks.
TBB: Cancer is a formidable opponent and fighting it is definitely a life-changing event. I’m glad that your love for your family was able to pull you through. In regard to your builds, they often have a distinct concept that seems to be essential to the build. How does your building and/or planning process work?
Aran: Wow, that’s a broad question! I presume you are referring to the more artistic stuff I am doing rather than the models. Let me shortly explain how I distinguish those two categories.
For me there is a distinct line between model building and creating art, although the borders can be fluid sometimes. While both have similarities, the idea behind them is what distinguishes them. A model refers to an object. Plausibility (what I call “Visual Convincingness”) and Design play the key roles. Models mainly refer to existing objects dressed in a new outfit. The execution can be masterful and have artistic value. Sculptures, as I define them, have the capacity to transcend beyond the mere representation. The idea and invention become eminent. The potential interpretation extends the artwork exponentially. Still, a model also has the potential to develop into a sculpture, something I see regularly happening. As I said before, those borders are performative (This view is subject to discussion. I don’t claim this is the only valid perspective. It is just one I have developed, which contains some basic observations I have discovered for myself).
Back to your question: the models have a clear, mundane concept. Creating models is building an object, which is defined and mostly preexistent in its pure form or another [form]. A robot has 2, 3, 4, or 6 legs, or maybe a wheel. A helicopter has rotor blades and a cockpit at the front. A house has walls, windows, and a roof, and a car has a seat, an engine, and four wheels and so on. You can, of course, extend this approach to define colours and textures too.
The concepts behind my sculptures mainly contain an idea. There are references, but these are only indicators and not the final goal. I try to open up various possible interpretations. When creating something new, in terms of an artistic approach, there are so many processes going on simultaneously that it’s difficult to say where to start, or even be able to name all the processes.
Images inspire me, along with ideas, books, comics, and movies. My past is a source of information which affects my process of developing ideas. Sometimes I sketch down an idea on paper because I have a rough image in my mind. At other times I only write down an outline of the idea as I don’t have an image, but the idea in my mind. Another strategy is writing down word clusters and associations; sometimes it’s like a chain of ideas. Another source of inspiration originates from the shape [of a LEGO piece] itself. Just looking and observing can result in new ideas. Even a pattern might ignite an idea. A set value of colours might also be factors in the process.
Sometimes, experiment and failure are initial sparks for new ideas. It might happen that I roll out a well thought-out concept, while other creations are just intuitive mock-ups. Research is definitely part of the development process. Often while creating, the idea shifts and the result can be very different while still containing the starting point. The path constantly divides into different directions where one has to continuously decide which one to take. The other path left behind always remains a valid option to be picked up somewhere else. Occasionally I pick up something I started years ago and proceed, tweak, or remake it. Anything is possible.
TBB: Thank you. It’s always fascinating to learn how builders approach their creativity, especially those who have formal training in a creative field.
“Enter the Brick” is a long-running project of yours. Can you describe it for us?
Aran: The 2×4 brick is the form. The form is built with bricks and the content mainly refers to the brick too. It seems like an inner dialogue. Basically, it is a creative exploration. originating from the basic shape of the 2×4 brick. The 2×4 brick marks the foundation, the underlying structure. The series deal with its inner logic and plays with the constraints. The limitation of the [2×4 brick] form is contradicted by the many interpretations and levels of reflection.
The brick as a basic construction pattern enables limitless interpretations, while another value of the brick is its iconic power, being at the core of cultural influence within our Zeitgeist. Last but not least, the series is also a representation of my creative mind.
Since the representations of the creations online are photographs and digital edits, these two media have developed their own value for me. For example, a photograph can become a new piece of art beyond a mere documentation of a sculpture. Staging and contextualizing become new options to extend and develop the artwork, and that is something I have been working on in the last year. Recently I discovered possibilities of using virtual bricks while getting accustomed to programs like Mecabricks and LDD. There again a whole new world of limitless possibilities reveals itself, as preexisting boundaries are being nullified.
TBB: The project does seem limitless and full of possibility. Which brick in the project is your favorite?
Aran: I can’t say; there are just too many to only pick one. If I look at each one, they all have their own ideas and qualities. There are a few which are on my personal top list. Cracklink is one of the first I’ve done and still ranks upon my personal favorites. Others would be 2⁴ Hertz, Special Ingredient, Schroedinger’s Cat, The Secret of the ninth Stud, Business A/S Usual, Pipe Line and Black & White & Red. And still, there are unreleased or newly edited ones which might also be on my personal top list.
TBB: Do you have a build that you could not get to turn out the way you wanted? Does it still keep you up at night?
Aran: Hahaha, that’s a nice question! The most creative time is at night, in the twilight of the wake and the dream worlds.
I have a box with sketches, half-developed ideas, and fails. Not to mention all the notes and sketches which are waiting for the breakthrough idea. I believe that eventually anything imagined can be shaped into form—it’s just a matter of time. Some stuff gets forgotten and a year later I have the sudden inspiration for how to execute the idea. Fails can be recycled, and even in the rare case that I drop an idea, at the same time a similar idea pops up and leads the way.
TBB: That’s true, failure is just another chance to start afresh! Another fun project is your Plastic Grafitti. What inspired that project?
Aran: After starting the brick thing nine years ago I always tinkered with the possibility of applying the aesthetic language of Style Writing (commonly known as New York Graffiti) to the bricks, since doing the Graffiti thing was my previous occupation. One day I started the first small sketches, and within a short time I managed to develop fully fledged three-dimensional styles. A major influence was the Urban Culture and plastic bricks group over at Flickr. A few people like Shannon Ocean, Andrew Lee, and Aaron Dayman showed great interest and passion in the theme and we had a kind of fad going on. It was a great energy where we cross-inspired each other.
TBB: That cross-inspiration among builders is an invaluable thing, which brings us to my next question. How involved are you in the LEGO fan community? Is it more of an offline or online thing for you?
Aran: I’d say I’m the online type but not a fan. Offline there aren’t many attractive options near me. I am involved in the online Lego community both more than I think and less than I think. I usually don’t participate in discussions, as writing is not my strength. My priority online is creating and expressing through the builds and images, respectively.
There are some articles I have written for books and magazines, and one of my online engagements is regularly organizing and hosting the Lego Speeder Bike Contest over at Flickr with some fellow buddies. Shout out to _zenn and Ted Andes, who are really great guys to work with. A fun fact is that I have never seen or met them in real life. One is from the States, while the other is from the Netherlands, yet we managed to communicate and create this international-and-borderless event! I see it as some kind of decentralized community work. I did also start being active in a LUG recently.
I’ve been to Lego Fanwelt convention in Cologne a few years ago, as well having once visited Fanabriques in France. But I’ve never exhibited at any convention. This might change this year.
TBB: Well, I hope we see you over here in the States at some point! Anything else we haven’t covered yet?
Aran: While many builders regard themselves as fans, I dislike this attribute being applied to me. I don’t consider myself an AFOL. I have a preference in using certain plastic building bricks, but I have never been a fan of any brand or even music group ever in my life. To be honest, I really dislike wearing large brand names or their equivalent symbols on clothing. Feels like being a prostitute, except I have to pay for their ads rather than being paid for being their walking billboard.
Fandom implies too many aspects I disagree with. For example, when I look at most football fans I see blind followers with a tendency to go into a frenzy, creating havoc and violence at some point. Fandom always includes at least one opposing faction to which dislike or even hate is being projected.
Let me show how this affects the brick community: looking at the attitude of the ‘purist‘ faction (which I find synonymous to ‘pure, conservative, white race’) unveils the same latency. In terms of model building, the result should be the highest priority. While using strictly ‘legal‘ connections with unmodified and original pieces from one manufacturer alone can be a challenge, it also contains the conservative power of dogmatism. Being purist by choice is a valid decision as a personal rule or within in a small specialized group, but it becomes problematic when this rule is extended as a general value applied to others, and results in generally discrediting ‘impure’ creations. Dogmatic purism targeting others is so wrong in my opinion because it rejects progress, limits the possibilities, and creates negative energy.
The funny thing is that ‘illegal’ still references the legal option and automatically includes that power too. Maybe these few hardliner fans should be better labeled AHOLs (Adult Hooligans of LEGO)! In order to further expose the narrow-mindedness of the AHOLs’ attitude, you only need a quick look at the whole design department at The LEGO Group. They customize the pieces, cut, glue, and paint them. Yet I have never heard an AHOL complain about that. On the opposite end, I hear regular bragging about ‘illegal’ techniques, even in public forums and blogs.
This also applies to digital versus real bricks. Of course, there is a difference between them when it comes to a show, but online even the ‘real’ creations are just being represented by a digital image. There is no difference between a digital image and a digital photograph, as both are non-haptic—they’re just an accumulation of bits and bytes resulting in a bitmap.
Fans have a tendency to dogmatize their opinions. This may be extreme, but it’s the negative power I disregard. I am not saying all fans are like that, it’s just the latency of fandom itself. Let anyone label themselves as they please as long the categorical imperative stays in focus.
Being a fan would just limit my possibilities and minimize my artistic position. However, I do like using LEGO bricks!
TBB: Nicely put, and a great perspective. Thank you for spending so much time with us today! What is next on the horizon for Cole Blaq?
Aran: Thank you for having me here and showing interest in my work. There are some new things going on and I’d like to highlight one or two here.
The largest thing I’d love to do is create a special book. A book containing the Enter the Brick series, with the book being a metabrick itself. As I am doing this from scratch, I’m rolling out the project via Kickstarter and therefore hope to garner enough interest to make this project happen. I’ve prepared a bunch of rewards with which I hope to equivalently reward any support.
In connection to the book project, I also want to finally come over to the States, attend a convention, and finally meet some of the awesome and interesting people I’ve met only online so far. This travel would be packed in a book tour for reasons of do-ability.
Other projects will show up on my pages sooner or later!
TBB: The “Enter the Brick” book project looks fascinating! We wish you the best of luck.