Ep 04: Art Hustle

Musician and artist Stu ‘Art’ Gray shapes cult figures from clay by commission

Stuart Gray is best known in the rock ’n’ roll underground as Stu Spasm. As the former leader of Australian band Lubricated Goat and current leader of New York band The Art Gray Noizz Quintet, he has carved a noise rock niche on both sides of the globe and built a reputation as a bit of a rogue. 

Born in England and raised in South Australia in a community comprised primarily of British expats, Stu spent most of the 1980s living off dole payments in Melbourne and Sydney before moving to the US in the early ’90s. Lubricated Goat had records released locally through noted labels like Amphetamine Reptile in Minneapolis, Sub Pop in Seattle and Sympathy for the Record Industry in Long Beach, CA, but when Stu made the decision to base himself Stateside, he gravitated towards the big smoke of New York City. 

“When I first came here I thought about moving to LA, San Fran and even Chicago, but an apartment opportunity made it easy for me to begin living in NY,” he said.  

In “New York, New York”, Frank Sinatra sang, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” But it’s worth noting that Ol’ Blue Eyes had solid mob connections to give him a leg up. Most New York musicians are not so lucky and can’t rely on music alone to pay the bills. 

“I can’t make money out of music because there are not enough people into what I do,” Stu lamented. “And I need to travel more and have some management or hype.”

Stu found that one way to earn extra income was by using his artistic talents to make and sell sculptures, which he had started to do when he still lived in Australia. Typically, his sculptures are of cult heroes and villains ranging from musicians to murderers, and he’s also done a few writers like William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson and H. P. Lovecraft. Recent commissions include Suzi Quatro, Neil Diamond and Dave Mustaine from Megadeth. 

His figurines, which are made from Smooth-On epoxy putty and finished with acrylic paints, are distinctive and unique, which he puts down to a lack of any formal artistic training. 

“I remember when I was a kid, reading articles about bands like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, and they would always say they went to art school,” he recalled. “I was like, what the fuck is art school? I didn’t know there was such a thing; my parents didn’t tell me that there was. 

“But some artists have told me: ‘It’s good to have no training because then your own style comes out’. My sculptures may be distinctive because they reflect my personality in the same way everything I do does.

“Everything I do artistically, sculpting or painting, you can automatically tell that I did it, because it’s got a certain wonky quality, which I like.”

“I’ve found it’s better for me to do things kinda slapdash and not try to make them too fancy, because then my own style and humour comes through.” 

When our camera caught up with Stu, he was in the process of completing a sculpture of folk/blues legend Leadbelly that had been commissioned by a good friend, Julie Unruly of NYC punk band High & Tight. 

“This is the best Leadbelly I can make,” said Stu. “Julie seemed very happy with the sculpture, which is good ’cos no matter how I try, they still end up the same. I’m usually satisfied with the end result, but the recurring theme generally is that I should have got paid more because it takes a long time to make a sculpture like Leadbelly.” 

So, what’s on the horizon for NYC’s wonkiest sculptor? 

“I’m going to make Howlin’ Wolf next,” he said. “That’s not for anybody else, I just decided I might make Howlin’ Wolf; I think it would be a good one.”

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