I spoke with the Nassau County based artist, (originally from Howard Beach, Queens, NY), about his latest series of work mixing his detailed stencils with currency. Aerosol with cash, real cash. Real depth. And, what makes this artist one of the rare among us is that he is not just the typical creative "right" brain but left also. You'll see what I mean as he describes his work below, it's much more than "art" it's a science to experience!
Lenny Achan in his Bronx studio works in progress
I loved art my entire life but access to galleries and museums was limited which I appreciate now in retrospect. I can remember drawing as early as second and third grade when report covers became a way to express myself other than with words. I never thought my writing was specific enough so I tried to draw to compensate…I remember that clearly now that you ask... Seriously perusing art however has been something I have only done for the last five years. Art is very personal to me, I rarely shared it but now I have decided its time after encouragement by friends and other artists. I'd say I’m taking I am pursuing art just now.
You mentioned that were a graffiti writer a while back, where did you mainly write and have you stopped completely?
Yes, I was and it’s a part of my DNA as a Queens NYC writer from the early 90s. I am a graffiti artist at the end of the day and I’m proud of it being my origin. Today there are so many other names that many others classify themselves as across the spectrum of “aerosol art” to “street art” but using art as a communication tool to illicit a connection, lesson or simply unload what’s in my head will always remind me that it is how it all started. The rush of conceptualizing something and then executing it at any scale and size is still why art is my yoga…
Who were your favorite or most influential graffiti writers?
There is only one that has directly influenced my pursuit of art. Luis Zimad Lamboy. I met him when I was 16 years old and he had taken graffiti then and translated it into street art and a profession long before it was heading in that direction. I pick only him because I have seen his life as a professional artist and know that his focus and discipline is a rarity. He encouraged me to explore my artistic abilities- above and beyond lettering and graffiti or any particular form or style.
Who is your favorite or most influential artist(s) of all time?
I admire so many but Irving Amen (1918) is an amazing artist whose colors and hard dark lines remind me of the original stained glass meets wild style form of art representing life. He was ahead of his time and passed away a few years ago. Many aren’t familiar with his work but when you see it up close, any street artist can immediately identify the frequency as I did so many years ago.
Did you study art is school or college, what is your training, or self-taught?
I am self-taught unless you want to count watching my father scribble on napkins and every card envelope he ever gave us and learning by trial and error (wouldn’t have it any other way). There are times I wish I took a class or two but then the excitement of experimentation without influence takes over and I quickly fall in love with my ignorance and the challenge of the creative process.
From where do you draw inspiration?
From nature and God as the great architect of it all. As a Nurse Practitioner who has been on the business side of Healthcare as an executive for 15 years, I have seen my share of personal and professional miracles, illness, cures and even hopelessness. I know that the answers to all our unanswered questions are in nature. The life lessons, the medicine, joy and peace is all they’re waiting for us to find it. God set us up nicely. My love for nature and translating it with art is influenced by the role that math and music play in continuing to elevate our minds and consciousness as human beings.
When did you transform or begin stencils?
I started doing stencils in 2010. I loved the challenge of drawing something and color separating it in my head and cutting it. Today I use it as one of many ways to bring something to life. I also love how much it sucks until all my layers are on and then BOOM – it’s alive.
Can you tell us about your latest stencil project and how the currency reference came about?
The currency series covers a wide spectrum of my interests and experience over much of my life. Money is beautiful. Not philosophically but literally. It has beautiful art work and meaning (once upon a time), and may have started as something which has significant value from both a monetary and historic perspective but is it still that pure today? Does it still represent what it was intended to. In my piece “copper head”, 95% copper pennies minted prior to 1982 are used to set the background of a Abraham Lincoln portrait. Those same pennies minted today are worth less than half of the ones prior to 1982 (in copper value) as they are only 5% copper. This represents dilution in so many ways (principles, monetary value, etc) In another piece “Dukhtar” I use currency to create a background which speaks to all the ideas, motives, pain, suffering, war, peace, life and death, etc. that money has influenced in Afghanistan (but in the front of it all are these two young girls from the mountains). They could be Muslim, Christian, Jewish.. you wouldn’t know from the piece. They may be forgotten, but they exist despite that currency dictating who they should be. It doesn’t matter that this currency has been painting their entire world around them for a long time…because in the end – the money is worthless but they still thrive as we sit here and discuss them. “Fiat” my newest piece simply shows George Washington as he would need a space helmet to breathe the same air around us today seeing what these United States of America stand for in this current climate.
And, can you tell us about your landscapes?
Sacred geometry can be found all around us and not just within the obvious views of big cities. If we open our eyes in some of the most rural settings and see beyond what is obvious, we will also see the dividing lines of bordered land, farmed fields, engineered roads and waterways all resulting from mans quest to alter and conquer or partner with nature. All of this resulting from civilization and mankind's absolute need to explore the far reaches of the universe and develop live and coexists. This landscape series represents the natural beauty that is obvious to us all while not forgetting the history of those lands and what is responsible for shaping their beauty over the centuries.
What do you want people to understand or take away form your art?
I want people to simply translate my art into whatever makes them happy or sets them into positive action for themselves or others. I see my art as disruptive but that’s not negative. I want to make them think or take a mental vacation if that what they need at that very moment to get them through the day. I am still that kid that wants to save the world. If all my art over my lifetime could help one person appreciate and love life or another, I’d say…mission accomplished.
What is / was your most favorite piece completed so far?
“The Elephant In The Room” is a piece representing that obvious but unrecognized or unspoken thing we never want to talk about. Sometimes it represents a big blind spot for some. It was the first piece in my origami series started in 2015 and it was one of the most difficult pieces to execute because I wanted it to look digital (like a print but completed with paintbrush), but when I pulled that off, it was so clean that it just didn’t have any impact. Ironically, I had “an elephant in room” and didn’t want to face it. I had to dirty it up by speckling it and using shadow spray paint to make it pop off the canvas… it was a great lesson for me of a lesson I was trying to teach in the first place.
Do you plan to put more stencils up this spring/summer around NYC, legally, meaning does outdoor work interest you?
Yes I plan on brush painting; stenciling and spray-painting all summer long!
What are your ideal upcoming plans for your art?
Art was always just personal but this past year I started sharing it with friends and family for fun. As of 2015, I started taking it more seriously after a strong response to my art from people who didn’t even know me. The response has been great. I’ve taken off quite some time building up my non-art professional career. I plan on sharing my art with the world if the world is willing to take a look at what I’m up to.
What type of music do u listen to while creating?
Believe it or not, I don’t listen to any music but I love music and how it makes me feel – just not when painting or creating. My brain is constantly going and music can become distracting…maybe Ill try and see what happens in 2015. If so- it will be Linkin Park.
The innovative process, problem solving, inventing and the challenge of creating concept or idea and then bringing it to life is what inspires me. Literature, history and world events also drive my curiosity to take deep dives into issues and experience fully them so that I may translate them one day into technology, ideas or art to help in any way that it can.
If you could have dinner with one or two people, dead or alive who would they be and why?
I'd love to have dinner with Adam and Eve and speak to Gods greatest work as though speaking to characters off a painting or a sculpture coming to life. As the origin of it all…I have many questions to ask.
Zimad and Achan with a collaboration
Zimad, JPO and Achan in the studio
Also below take note of the overwhelmingly popular collaboration pieces between fellow artists; legendary graffiti writer/fine artist Luis "Zimad" Lamboy and artist JPO (John Paul O'Grodnick.)
Most of these are sold. More are on the way!
For more information on Lenny Achan look here: http://www.lennyachan.com and on Instagram here: @achangallery to follow his upcoming shows and new works!