by Sukanya GargOct 22, 2019
STIR in conversation with San Francisco-based artist Lenny Maughan, who is also a marathon runner. He uses the app Strava to create art, which could include images of a fruit, animal or a famous figure. Creating an artwork every month since early 2015, Maughan’s final renditions on the map are like aerial art, a perfect amalgamation of exercise, art and technology.
Sukanya Garg (SG): Where did the inspiration/idea behind combining running and art come from? Was there a personal trigger?
Lenny Maughan (LM): Over four years ago, in the spring of 2015, I thought of the challenge of ‘beginning with the end in mind’, and sketched out a hand shape. Specifically, the Vulcan salute, as the Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy had recently died and this could be an original idea for a tribute. After carefully running the path and recording the run on a GPS app, it was successful! But the general ‘running art’ inspiration was from seeing others use this new technology to draw crude, intentional shapes - typically a penis or vulgar hand gestures. Funny and clever, but I wanted to be different, unique, and 100 percent original.
SG: How did you first approach creating works through the app? Could you explain the process?
LM: The app only records the run. I must plan ahead very carefully, and follow the route with precision. I just look at a map and try to see a shape, or I will have an idea of a shape and try to fit it into a map. I sketch it out on a paper map and go through many versions until it's finalised.
SG: How long does it take to create one piece of work, from ideation to the final execution stage?
LM: Often the planning takes longer than the run itself! I would guess it takes, on an average, about three to four hours to plan one of these. (My latest, ‘Scorpion’, took about eight hours to plan and about eight hours to run.) Since I do one a month, I spread the preparation time across weeks. I am already on the first stages of my December project.
SG: You are based in San Francisco? How does the city act as your canvas?
LM: I have lived in San Francisco since 1996, and I am very familiar with the streets. The 49 square miles acts as a nice (and consistent) canvas, and the peninsula makes a nice ‘frame.’ There are restrictions and constraints as well - I love the challenge of that.
SG: Is there a different city you would like to create this kind of work in? If yes, which one?
LM: No, I only want to do this in San Francisco. Thematic unity.
SG: What image are you working on next? How do you see your art evolving with time?
LM: My art will always be random, quirky, unexpected, non-political, universally recognised shapes. I keep every project a secret until I complete it: that way, it's 100 percent my creativity, without any outside influence or suggestions. My shapes will always be different, but they will always be one continuous line, all ‘drawn’ on the streets of San Francisco.
SG: Lastly, what STIRs you up?
LM: The streak I am on! I noticed that after doing a few of these in 2015, I had done one every month. So I decided to commit to doing one every month. This helps ensure it gets done. I work well under pressure! Also, I get STIRred up pressing ‘Finish’ on my app, and seeing my finished project render before my eyes. It is such a satisfying and empowering feeling!