It’s not very often that you meet someone so exceptionally talented yet still so kind and humble, and down to earth.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luke Rudman, an 18 year old artist completing his matric (final year) at Grey High School. Scrolling through his Instagram page @Pseudellusion, it’s hard not to be completely blown away by the elaborate body art pieces and headpieces he creates!
We sat down to talk about everything from Luke’s artwork, to his view on social media, challenges he’s faced as a young creator, the ups and downs of living in Port Elizabeth, the influence of his parents – mother, Sharon Rudman and late father Andre Rudman, who passed away when Luke was a one year old – on his love for art, and more
How did you first get into creating body art pieces, specifically?
I’ve been creating art for a number of years but only started creating body art about a year ago in October of 2017.
I was creating a sculpture for one of my art projects for school, and it was a life-sized sculpture of a woman wearing a dress that was inspired by the gold patterns of Klimt. I had bought a whole lot of cheap makeup from Vibes to draw on this canvas with. I kind of just had a sudden brainwave that I could do it on myself.
So I just did it.
After supper one day I just went into my room and I drew on my face, and I did the Klimt gold patterns with the gold patterns in the back and that’s my first post on my Instagram page.
That’s how I got into doing body art. I realised I could use my body as a canvas, and it exploded from there, I learnt how to make head pieces as well.
It made me realise that art doesn’t just have to be on an inanimate object.
Are your parents artistic? And how have they influenced your love for art?
My parents were both very artistic. My father was an art teacher at Lawson Brown. He was also a well-known sculptor and painter in PE. Although I never met him, I always grew up with his art filling my house so I was always impacted by that, and my mother was also a very artistic person. She ran an art school when I was a toddler in the loft of my house for 3 years which is really cool.
She was always creating, and she’s a very creative person even now, in the way that she dresses and in the way that she decorates our house I still see her creativity come out.
I was always encouraged to do art as a child and to create art. Though I’ve never really been formally trained, everything I’ve done I’ve just kind of learnt from myself or reached out to the internet to teach me.
What’s your favourite art medium?
At the moment it’s my body art. I think because it’s still a relatively new medium for me, and something I’m still exploring and figuring out.
I do still experiment with other mediums, especially now with canvas painting. I’ve done only a few, but that’s turning into one of my favourite mediums because when you do body art, it’s a very hands-on process.
You use yourself as a canvas and it’s a process to put everything on you, and it’s a process to get everything off. You have to be in a specific mental state to put things on your body. But with canvas painting, it’s a guilty pleasure because it’s not as hands on. You can be comfortable and still create artwork and not have to shower for 2 hours and make a mess of your bathroom afterwards!
I’m very excited in terms of exploring body art because it’s shown me that art doesn’t have to be so static, it doesn’t have to be just a drawing or a painting, and there are so many other mediums out there that I still want to explore, and hopefully in the future be able to tie into the art that I’m already doing.
What made you choose this medium of showcasing your art?
I was creating art many years before I started creating body art, and so it came as a shock to me when the reaction I got changed so much when my medium changed to body art.
I’d always received positive feedback, but it almost, in a way, exploded when I started exploring these different avant-garde mediums like body art and performance art. That showed me that there was a niche in the artistic community here that could be filled.
It’s very important to explore mediums that showcase what you do in a unique way, and what I do isn’t seen very often here.
I think that has served as such a huge advantage for me because people remember it since they haven’t seen it before, which I’m very grateful for. I think if I was gunning for establishing myself in a medium that is already very well established here in PE, it would have been much tougher for me to be remembered with so many people succeeding in those fields.
I always used to view my individuality as a vulnerability. I always used to want to cover it up but in a way this body art is me reclaiming that power.
Showing my individuality is now my biggest asset because it sets me apart. It’s also been really cool to see my own character development in the way that my body art now pushes me so far out of the norm, which a few years ago I would have seen as the worst thing ever, but it’s just changed the way that I see myself. It’s shown me that individuality and vulnerability can even serve as a strength and has served as a strength in what I do.
What motivates you to create, and where do you draw your inspiration from?
People always ask me if there’s one main artist or if my inspiration comes from the art world, and some of it does, but most of my inspiration comes from very random places. A lot of my art pieces, the visual aspects, are based on very mundane things that I try to push into a different aesthetic.
I make so many headpieces that are just inspired by household items and trash, and the nature that you see in people’s gardens.
That’s where I draw my main inspiration from, taking something that people would normally overlook and making it into the main visual aspect of my art. I love that transformative process of trash to treasure.
I’ve done a lot of pieces inspired by well-known artists like Gustav Klimt – he inspired my first body art piece ever, and he’s inspired lots of my other ones as well.
I’ve done a lot of work inspired by Picasso, I love his Cubist portraits. I love Salvador Dali’s surrealism paintings.
I love art that is expressive and bold and bright and colourful because I think that translates well into what I do.
What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent working on a piece?
I always make the headpieces before I plan the makeup. It’s usually not done on the same day. Headpieces usually take me about 2 to 3 hours to make, and the makeup generally about the same time. The pieces that usually take me the longest are when I use two models.
A long time for me to spend on a piece is 6 hours in total, but it’s split up over two days, so it actually doesn’t feel that long.
Favourite piece you’ve worked on so far and why?
My favourite piece is actually not a body art piece. My favourite piece is my term 3 main project, a portrait of myself in school uniform, in body art titled ‘I Don’t Play Rugby’.
Visually, it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever created. It was a breakthrough for me because I had an ability I didn’t realise I had in painting. It also took me the longest out of anything I’ve ever created before- it took me 5 or 6 weeks to paint.
The reason why it’s my favourite piece is because it amplifies a message that is very important to me, which is giving people the freedom to choose who they want to be- without feeling pressure from the system, or from a stereotype to steer their life in a specific direction, or to be a specific type of person. This piece, and even just the title “I Don’t Play Rugby” was very controversial in the system that I did it in because rugby was the stereotype. Rugby was ‘if you wanna be successful and popular you must play rugby’. It was the standard.
This piece was me saying that I don’t stand by that- I can be whoever I want to be. I don’t have to play rugby just because that was the stereotype.
The stereotype doesn’t mould me. Rather, I mould myself.
The way that the piece was received motivated me a lot. I got so much positive feedback, people saying that the message was important, that they were influenced by that stereotype as well and that they’re glad that I’m speaking out.
So it was my favourite piece for a number of reasons; visually, to the way I see myself and to the way that it impacted other people.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of being such a young creator?
I got into doing this art when I was still at school. I started when I was 17, and people were definitely surprised at the fact that a 17 year old boy from Grey was creating this very out-of-the-box, avant-garde art.
I think it served as an advantage, because I stood out, which was amazing, and people still to this day are shocked when they hear that I’m still finishing up school, that I’m young.
I suppose that made people remember me, and it made me stand out. But I think it also de-validated my art in the eyes of some people, because some people don’t expect people who are younger to have a maturity about what they do.
It’s possible that people I don’t even know about put me in a box, and didn’t get interested in what I create just because they were under the impression that I was still a child mentally and emotionally.
A disadvantage on a superficial level, doing the body art that I do – I don’t use very expensive products, I use very cheap makeup that’s probably not good for my skin, and I use just straight acrylic paint for my body art pieces which isn’t good for you! People tell me that I need to stop, but I haven’t yet. So just in terms of my skin, I’m surprised my skin is still kind of healthy!
What are common misconceptions people have about you and your art?
Even in our modern society today, there’s such a big misunderstanding about the role makeup plays. Even though I don’t use makeup for aesthetic reasons, I don’t use it to make myself look good like a stereotypical girl would, people still tend to take an issue with the art that I do just because I’m a boy who uses makeup, even if it’s for artistic reasons.
There’s a huge stigma around men who use makeup, I think, in any situation. In terms of the way our society sees masculinity, there’s this understanding that men are not necessarily empathetic, that men are not very artistic, that men can’t be drawn to bright colours, and the type of art that I create.
It’s frustrating to see people not like my art, not because they think it’s bad, but because they are stuck with these stereotypes in their mind that they can’t break through because there’s a social understanding around what masculinity is and what femininity is.
What people need to realise is that both men and women have aspects of their personality that can fall into the traditional understanding of masculine and feminine. I think too much in our society people are pushed to the binaries. Men are expected to be heartless and cold and strong but women are supposed to be the opposite of that, and I don’t think anyone fits perfectly into that.
I think people have parts of them that echo both sides, and I feel like that should be embraced, and I feel like it’s not. Some of the pieces I create that are social criticisms also speak about the fact that there’s a misunderstanding of how people see the ideal male in society. Although it is being shifted to a more accurate, unbiased perspective, I think it needs to speed up.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in creating and showcasing your art?
Definitely finding physical places where there’s opportunity to exhibit. My main platform is online – that’s my portfolio, and that’s where I exhibit my work.
But I want to find more places where I can physically exhibit, because even in my high school career I haven’t really been given the opportunity to. I feel like that’s something I should get into, because seeing an artwork in person is completely different to seeing it on social media.
Even for myself, forcing myself to go to go to exhibitions and seeing art in person is completely different, it’s completely shifted the way that I see art.
Seeing art on your cell phone screen and art in front of your eyes, in reality, is a different experience. I don’t think enough people realise that, because people don’t see art in person. Most of the time when people see art, it’s from photographs in a textbook, it’s from screens. You lose so much of what an artwork is.
In just creating my art, being able to be malleable. I don’t wanna see myself creating the same pieces again and again.
The challenge is to always be shifting, always be open to new aesthetics and open to letting go of your style, and embracing a new style. I feel like if you don’t do that you’re gonna become stagnant, and people are gonna become bored of what you do.
To me, an artist is someone that can think creatively and I feel like you should be able to show that in a lot of different mediums.
Too many artists, and even myself, get stuck on one aesthetic, when I should be pushing myself to try new things.
What prompted you to start your page Pseudellusion and how did the name come about?
I had that Instagram for 3 years or so, posting other types of art, 2D art like drawings and paintings but I felt the need for change in what I was doing.
I felt like I was becoming stagnant because I was holding onto an old style, an old understanding of what art is. So letting go of that and deleting everything from that old Instagram and starting again with body art was like a rebirth for me.
I felt such a deep renewal of the love I had for art and language. I also knew that creating a social media platform would be incredibly helpful for networking, and making me stick to creating a certain amount of art per period, because when people are watching you, and people are giving you feedback as well, it encourages you to create art. Feedback shows you what works and what doesn’t work.
I’ve published 120 or 130 body art pieces in the last year and it’s deepened my understanding of how an audience will react to my work, which is very important as an artist.
The name! So many people come up to me complaining because they don’t know how to pronounce the name! I don’t exactly know how it came up. I knew I wanted a name that stood out, a word that no one had ever seen before so that when they see the name ’Pseudellusion’ they’re gonna remember it, even if they don’t know how to pronounce it! I wanted something that would stick in people’s memories.
The word is actually a combination of delusion and pseudo, because pseudo means fake, and a lot of what I do is an illusion.
I’m glad I stuck with it, because it’s kind of become my brand now.
How long does it typically take you to do a shoot for your page? What is the photo-shoot process like? And what makes you choose certain locations over others?
I’m still saving up for a camera now, but whenever I do shoots at home I just use my cell phone- but I don’t like having to do that. I prefer shoots that I do with real photographers.
I contact the photographer a few days before and let them know about the time, place, the theme and that sort of thing. Then I do the headpiece and the makeup, and that takes about 5 or 6 hours in total.
Shoots usually take me about an hour, just because I’m the type of person that would much rather prefer to have way too many photos than too few, so I always make my photographers take way too many, and I think that’s how you get a good photo, you just take millions.
I choose locations based on my pieces. Sometimes I choose them based on the concept of the pieces but much more than that, I base my locations on the visuals, the aesthetic sides of the pieces and what will look good with what.
For one of my favourite shoots I was completely pink, with a pink headpiece and I chose to do that shoot in the sea because I knew that the sea on that day was very turquoise, and the pink and the turquoise acted as complementary colours.
Sometimes it just happens by chance. A lot of the photos that I ended up posting aren’t in the locations that I originally chose, but because I take so many photos in different locations, sometimes things end up working that I didn’t expect to work.
Then there’s going through the photos, seeing what worked and what didn’t work, because it’s very common for something to work in my head and then I try it in real life and it doesn’t.
Going from nothing to having a post ready is a process. It takes many, many hours!
There’s photo editing, and curating which photos I like best and writing captions, and that takes very long as well. That takes almost the same amount of time as the actual art process.
Your writing is equally as thought provoking as your art, what inspires your writing?
I’ve always had a love for language that’s almost equally as strong as my love for visual art, and I think that probably came from my mother. She’s an English Language lecturer at NMU [Nelson Mandela University].
I grew up in an environment where I was challenged to think critically. My mother has a PhD in Philosophy so she was always throwing me these very wild ideas and wild concepts that I had to process as a young child. I had to become opinionated quite early on, and develop critical thinking, because I was faced with these thoughts.
I don’t know if my love for language would be as strong if I hadn’t learnt to pair it with visual art. Those two things marry together so well in what I do, it’s developed my love for both of those things so deeply.
With a lot of what I do acting as social commentary, I think it’s so important to have language to fully explain what I’m doing so that it’s not misunderstood, and so that the message is translated effectively. A lot of the time, if I’m speaking about a sensitive topic it’s important for me to add language to what I’m doing so that people aren’t offended over things that I never intended to communicate in the first place.
I think it’s a responsibility on my behalf to add language, and to fully explain what I’m doing, so as to not be insensitive to sensitive social issues.
What’s your view on social media?
I think as an artist, especially living in our society now, social media is too much of a valuable resource to ignore.
Every single piece of exposure that I’ve gotten has been through people finding me on social media. I would not be in any type of position that I’m in now if I hadn’t been posting on social media. I feel like there are so many artists that have so much potential but people aren’t seeing what they’re capable of doing, because it’s so much harder to see what you’re doing if it’s not as attainable as you having an art account, or you posting your work on social media.
It’s such a valuable resource as a creator in our society, not even just artists – anyone who is trying to establish themselves in any field.
You have so much opportunity for networking and exposure through having an art account. And it’s also helpful in developing what you do, because social media allows you to get feedback, whereas if you were just creating art and storing it in your home, you’d never get feedback. You’d never be able to grow from the experience of understanding, ‘okay this worked and this didn’t work’.
Though, what people also need to understand is that social media is not an unbiased platform, especially nowadays with how algorithms affect how pieces do. You can’t place your self worth or the worth of your artistic skill on how your pieces do on social media. I’ve had so many pieces that I know were my favourite things ever that don’t end up doing as well as some other pieces on my page, and it’s hard to understand. In the beginning I used to take offence to it and base my value of those pieces on how they did on social media.
You need to be very aware of the fact that, yes, it does allow you to get feedback but that feedback is very often biased feedback.
But that’s still better than no feedback.
What was your experience working with local designer Braemore on the Luce Della Moda show like?
Working in that fashion show with Braemore was probably one of my favourite moments ever, it was such an amazing experience!
He reached out to me just before the mid-year holiday, and we went for coffee and discussed everything. That first time meeting with him when he shared his vision for the show with me, I was so excited to work with him.
And let me just say that Braemore is one of the most genuine people that I’ve ever met, but also his talent is incredible. People were so shocked after the show because his work is not what we understand PE standards to be- his work is amazing, I think even I underestimated him.
When I was at the show and saw what he did, and what he has been doing for so long in PE, I was blown away. I was very humbled that he gave me the opportunity to collaborate with him.
For my role in the show, I created body art pieces on waiters who served people and on the dancer who opened the show.
It was an amazing experience because it was such an open-minded audience. And just being able to showcase my work in person, because very often I’m just creating art at home, taking the photos at home, and then washing it off at home and the only people who see it are the people who take the photos.
It was such an eye-opening experience to see that there’s such a big facet of what I do that I’m not taking advantage of, which is the impact that seeing my work in person has.
It was a huge growing experience for me, because I had never worked on so many people before. I’d never had to do any sort of professional job until his show. It just taught me a lot about the etiquette of what you do in a professional setting.
It was just a good experience and I had so much fun. I’d never worked that hard though – I was painting people for hours and hours and hours on end. Until that show the most people I’d ever painted was two, so it was a growing experience. It was great, and it was great exposure for me.
If you could collaborate with any other artist, who would it be and why?
I don’t have a specific name, but I’m very interested in the fashion world at the moment, in avant-garde fashion, and I already have plans to collaborate with some of PE’s very avant-garde designers. What I mean by collaboration is using their garments as a way to emphasise my body art, and my body art to emphasize their garments, and creating headpieces and makeup looks that marry the two mediums together.
I definitely want to see my work explore new perspectives in the fashion world.
Whenever I work with photographers – that is a collaboration as well. There are so many photographers I want to collaborate with. But on a visual aspect, I worry that my work is so expressive and bold that I don’t know if collaborations like the actual body painting and that type of thing would work.
Maybe! We’ll see in the future!
You are PE born and raised, do you ever see yourself living in another city or country? What do you like the most and least about living in Port Elizabeth?
I love that I was raised in PE, I think that it was such a magical place to grow up. Even now with me exploring this unusual art-form, I think PE has served as such an advantage. There was a niche that I took advantage of because my art-form was unusual and I don’t think it’s something that PE has seen before.
I don’t know if I would have had the same reaction if I’d started in a different city where there were more things like I was doing. I love that I was raised here, and there are still so many opportunities here to take advantage of.
I don’t necessarily want to leave South Africa. I think there are a lot of people that want to leave because they think that there aren’t any opportunities here, but the more that I work, and the harder I work, and the more opportunity that I feel like I’m getting, the more that the understanding that people have is shown to be completely wrong, in my opinion.
I think there is so much opportunity in South Africa and it’s such a beautiful country. I love the diversity of culture. There is a lot more opportunity here than people realise. I don’t think there’s any reason why you, or someone like me, would want to leave, but I do think maybe I want to explore living in places where there is a bigger art community and art scene.
Cape Town has a really amazing art scene and I definitely see myself involving myself in that later on.
In terms of the disadvantages that come from living in PE, the fact that the art scene isn’t the biggest. It’s not small, but it is quite exclusive.
I think just in terms of that and in terms of finding places to exhibit, especially with the type of art that I do, there isn’t a huge variety of places that I can exhibit.
I also worry that the people of PE are not as open to receiving art as, for example, Capetonians or people outside of PE would be. I feel like there’s a different understanding of the necessity of art in PE than there is in a more cultural city like Cape Town. I feel like in Cape Town people are much more excited and much more open to consuming art. But in a way that’s also served as an advantage for me, because people haven’t been exposed to that much art so they tend to remember the stuff that I do because it’s different to them.
Since we’re talking about art, a few questions on the art you consume:
Favourite artists and why?
I have a huge respect for any artist that pushes the boundaries of what’s understood as art. I love any type of art that is expressive, and art that serves as some form of communication. For me, good art is art that you can look at or experience and feel different afterwards.
I think that’s the same with movies and with music. Good movies and good music change something about the way that you feel.
I have so much respect for Picasso because in his time he was a revolutionary in the way that he changed the understanding of traditional art. I mean, the same influences I said in the beginning like Klimt, Salvador Dali.
Instagram as well! Instagram is obviously such a good networking tool; there’s so many people who I’m influenced by and inspired by on Instagram. There’s this one main guy, his name is Elliot Banks. He’s one of my main inspirations- I think what he does is so cool!
With the art-form that I’m creating now with body art, I haven’t seen anyone that does the exact same thing as me, so I kind of tend to pull inspiration from different mediums and combine them. I have people that are makeup artists that I pull inspiration from and fashion designers that I pull inspiration from and even writing accounts.
I love consuming those types of things because I think it allows me to create a more actualised version of what I’m already doing. I really like people who are confidently expressive, and confidently show vulnerability in their work and confidently use bold colour choices and things that show that they aren’t afraid to express what they want to express. That’s the art that inspires me.
I really like- although I think it’s kind of a cliche book- The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I love it so much because as I said, for me a good book or a good piece of art is something that makes you feel different after you finish it, and that book did. That book made me feel very different afterwards.
I love any movie that comes from Studio Ghibli. There’s a movie called ‘Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind’.
It’s just the most visually and conceptually beautiful movie I’ve ever seen, it’s an animated movie. It’s quite old but it’s beautiful, and the soundtrack is also really beautiful.
Anything from that studio is such a high form of artistic entertainment, I love it.
I also feel like it’s quite cliche but, I love old music. I think all the pop music from the eighties is amazing, I love the very energetic kind, like Whitney Houston and Taylor Dayne. Just old music, because I feel like even a lot of the new pop music echoes old music, and that kind of tells me that that was the prime of what music was.
Advice for aspiring artists?
I put myself in that group as well, as an aspiring artist. If I were to give myself advice from a year ago before I started body art, or before I had found my niche at the moment, or to anyone, I think it’s very important to know what it is about you as a creator that makes you stand out, and to really embrace that.
Because if you’re the most talented person in your area in a specific medium, but it’s the same thing as what a lot of other people are creating its not gonna be as impactful.
But if you know what it is about you that makes you different and what makes you special as a creator – that’s what’s going to give you the extra kind of push to being remembered.
It’s important to use your individuality as an asset. Art is a subconscious process and I always subconsciously put big parts of myself into my art without knowing it, and publishing that on social media is sometimes tough because its showing vulnerability. But it’s also important to remember that vulnerability can very often act as a strength rather than a weakness, especially when you are a creator.
If you don’t show vulnerability I think it shows in your work. If you aren’t completely confident in what you’re doing, even confident in showing vulnerability, it shows in your work- and it holds you back.
So the two things would be to understand that vulnerability is a strength in art, and knowing what it is about you that sells, and embracing that.