LAKI 139: A Creative Renaissance Man Who’s Only Just Getting Started

LAK, Black Rock, Brighton, UK, 2007

It’s a little tricky to know where to start in any discussion with the man tagged ‘LAKI 139’ — otherwise known as Simon Slater — about his manifest creative talents. After all, he’s far from ‘wet behind the ears’, having already cultivated a reputation as an all-round creative maestro in relation to the finer points of brand development, graphic design, typographic illustration and publishing and editorial layout.

Ask any contemporary to have encountered Simon, and they’ll wax lyrical about a creative director already possessing some two decades’ experience in the game — as well as about the versatility, steadfast commitment to pre-existing campaigns and brand guidelines, and sheer inventiveness that help to demonstrate why this is the case.

Designer — Typographer — Artist

But while our alliance with LAKI 139 here at Addicted Art Gallery has only materialised at a highly mature stage of Simon’s creative journey, as he explained to us when we sat down with him, he’s not spending much time looking back. Indeed, he continues to exude creative ambition — not least to become an established full-time graphic artist.

Ingenuity that draws upon a vast range of elements

Any artist, writer or designer person worth their corn will tell you that creativity is all about being able to bring together all manner of components that may otherwise seem to bear little relation to each other.

Furthermore, there’s no doubt that Simon continues to prove himself a master of this particular art, with the tools of his trade encompassing everything from graffiti writing and reclaimed metal to collage and calligraphy.

Unsurprisingly, that process of pulling together disparate influences truly began young. Slater has reflected that as a 1970’s kid, he was routinely exposed to such powerful cultural motifs as Star Warsand other science fiction, the fantasy art of Syd Mead & Boris Vallejo, comic books and horror films — all of which he has described as “a massive influence on my youth”.

“Future Rolls Royce” concept illustration by Syd Mead, 1967
“The Savage Sword of Conan #12” Comic, written by Roy Thomas, cover art by Boris Vallejo, published by Curtis Magazines, 1976

A promising journey to inventive mastery

On his visits to the cinema and video stores, the young Simon was fascinated by the sheer diversity of the design and typography for each genre of film. Back home, meanwhile, he was already creating.

“I was always a talented artist and I got this skill off my dad. I also had skill in metalwork and woodwork at school, and my dad helped me to make various things in our shed. Creativity has always been a backbone of what I was going to do.”

In 1978, came another major influence for the fledgling Slater, in the form of British artist Michael Trim’s iconic cover art for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds– the American-born naturalised British composer’s retelling of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds.

Michael Trim’s 1976 War Of The Worlds Sketches; Image Source: Gavin Rothery
Michael Trim’s iconic cover art for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, Released in 1978; Image Source: PROG ARCHIVES

In Slater’s words, “futuristic metal aliens attacking a Victorian ship with beautiful, intricate typography for the title — I think it resonated and stayed with me with the work I do now.”

It was the impressionable artist’s introduction to graffiti, however, that especially “blew me away.” In reference to the two books, Subway Art and Spraycan Art, that have long been regarded as integral documents of the early history of the New York City graffiti movement, he added: “Seeing the art in those two bibles, I could look at those pages for hours.

Left to Right: ‘Subway Art’ by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984; ‘Spraycan Art’ by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff, Published by Thames and Hudson, New York, 1987

“The impact of seeing big letters on trains or walls in different environments and surfaces married with intricate, unique, calligraphic tags” spurred on a creative career that saw Slater continually exploring and honing ways to combine all manner of seemingly tenuously connected elements.

Graphics as a foundation, but also a constant inspiration

In case you’re wondering at this point where the rather hip name by which Slater is known for creative purposes — LAKI 139 — came from, the man himself reveals that when at a music gig in 1991 to see one of his favourite bands, Slowdive, tour their Souvlakialbum, he noticed that the tour t-shirts were printed with the term ‘SOUVLAKI 139’, signifying the 139thalbum on the record label.

Slowdive — Souvlaki Tour T-Shirt, 1993

“I liked the look of the letters in LAKI and the 139 gave it a classic New York feel, so I changed my tag to LAKI 139.”

Since then, Slater has gone on to cultivate a signature style that he has described as “a mix of rejected, brutal, disregarded materials with the grace and finesse of calligraphy and a helping of industrial typography.”

If all of that sounds like an artist who is still decidedly a ‘work in progress’, it probably says something about Slater’s restless, innovative verve that he is still far from settled in what his ‘style’ is. As he has put it himself: “A famous graffiti writer once said ‘style means everything’. Having a style is really important, but you have to keep it fresh and keep introducing new ideas — not just for the viewer but for the artist as well — it’s a healthy thing to do.

“Electronic Graffiti” by LAKI 139, mixed media on reclaimed metal panel, 2014

“I’m constantly looking for materials for my art — finding an old rusted sheet of metal — like a disbanded fridge door is always a good find. These materials make the basis of how I work and what it will turn into. There is so much naturally made detail, which sets off my thoughts for a new piece.”

“Skavenger” by LAKI 139, mixed media on wood panel, 2018

An artist who is very far from running out of ideas

This many years into his creative career, one might have forgiven Slater for depending largely on recycled ideas — but in truth, his imagination continues to run in glorious overdrive.

In common with many of the finest graphic artists, Slater’s influences are vast, and he is continually looking to fine art, photography and ceramics for fresh inspiration. His enduring love for typography, too, “clearly helps me a lot. But seeing objects in everyday life — say, a weathered sign — can spark off an idea. I’m constantly soaking up what I see.”

“Trash City” by LAKI 139, mixed media on wood panel, 2018

Indeed, among the recent creative works of which he is most proud was a private commission in 2017 to create a personal piece of work for a couple, illustrated with their favourite song lyrics in his abstract calligraphic style. “The reaction from the couple when I revealed the piece was a beautiful moment and will stay with me forever. I knew from this that they loved it!”

But with the typical working day for Slater still largely based on trying to find the right balance between his day job and evenings in the studio, there’s no doubt about his longer-term ambitions.

“I want to be working on my graphic art full time, and to be able to have the opportunity to exhibit, travel and see more of the world with my family. I’ve also always liked the idea of creating a collection of work for a hotel.”

Here at Addicted Art Gallery, we can’t wait to get on with helping Simon to realise many of these aspirations, as part of an exciting new chapter for both him and us!

Simon Slater aka LAKI 139

First published by Addicted Art Gallery

Our aim at Addicted Art Gallery is to connect you to art in a friendly, posh-less, non-highbrow kind of way. Check out our portfolio at www.addictedgallery.com