Louis Bubko treasures the memory of when he reached the zenith of modeling.
“I got booked on the FIFA World Cup 2018 Coca-Cola shoot and it showed up in the most random places. I was on a billboard in Lagos, Nigeria,” he recalled. “Then someone from Mexico City posted this Instagram story and tagged me and said, ‘Is this you?’ and it was me on a McDonald’s bag, which is so fierce. This is my proudest moment in modeling, being on a Mexican McDonald’s bag.”
At 23, Louis has become a hard-to-quantify downtown It-Boy malgre lui. He was a model, but also kind of a fake one. Every so often he pops up, Zelig-like, in a fashion campaign or magazine—an impish Waldo with a front-tooth gap and a unibrow starter kit. He’s Instagram and TikTok famous for his @foundbylouis accounts which blur the line between self-expression and charade. @foundbylouis is him, but only to a degree.
Louis is constantly filming and posting. His content is equally genius, moronic, trashy, and meta, and always deeply funny. He often toys with social media tropes and the gullibility of some of his followers whose comments and hysteria become part of the schtick. Some of his best bits are emphemeral stories that disappear into the Instagram ether. He does are-they-or-aren’t-they-real confessionals, stages fake digital fights (like the time he called out and tagged a friend for stealing $15,000 worth of jewels and owing him money for paying for his grandmother’s therapy). His current gag is pretending he’s majoring in “reading” at Columbia. There was also the faux-earnest time he came out against gay marriage.
“I used to book American Eagle pride campaigns, and I haven’t since,” he says and laughs. “I’m not the most brand safe. I’m sure there’ve been plenty of opportunities that have slipped through my fingers, but I also don’t want an opportunity where I feed into the sensationalism of political correctness and virtue signaling to get a job. People in the age of social media lack the ability to critically think about something. Obviously, I’m not anti-gay marriage. I don’t give a shit who gets married. I don’t really care about what anyone else does with their life.”
“I’m an anti-influencer,” he added. “My whole social media persona is like one big performance art piece and it seems like everyone takes it very much for face value.”
So, has Louis really been not just a prankster, but an artist, this whole time?
“He’s his own best work of art,” said Finley, the director of LaMaMa Galleria. “He’s a performer and you can plug him into different things like fashion. Even though his work is wild, kind of punk, and it has a connection to humor, he’s quite serious about it.”
Earlier this week, Louis stood on the Great Jones Street sidewalk in front of the gallery. He was wearing an oversized green and maroon plaid shirt with only the top two buttons fastened, paired with a red baseball cap and short gym shorts. A decidedly lo-fi video montage flickered across the screen in the window in front of him.
The work, titled 2 Years to Life, compiles some of the footage Louis has shot over the past two years (mostly on his favorite vintage 2006 JVC camera). Some originated as guerilla music videos for his friend Jonah Almost’s bedroom pop techno. It will be displayed until April 17 and is part of the gallery’s new “LaMaMa Windows” series, where artists take over the vitrine for two-week intervals.
Passersby can see images of Louis and Jonah vamping through the city streets, often shirtless. Jonah navigates the retail hell of Times Square on a skateboard that bleeds into a snippet of a reality show catfight. The detritus piles up. Early 2000s MySpace emo girls with terrible hair. Pulses of long lost public access TV shows.
“When I’m making a video, I film it on a bunch of different old cameras,” said Louis. “I’m not like editing it on my cell phone. Sometimes I have to get film developed. And then I’ll mash together the footage and spend hours editing things for a one-minute video.”
Louis is the product of growing up glued to YouTube. He began making videos as a child in rural upstate New York. He dreamed of being a horror director and making his own slasher films starring himself. He shares clips from his childhood on Instagram, like an entire series of himself at 12 wearing a wig as his character Tina, who has an elephantine Long Island accent.
He became enamored with the idea of being a model after seeing a commercial where Georgia May Jagger said, “Get the London look.” As he got older he would take the bus to the city and his horizons broadened. “My uncle is gay and he works at the MoMA and showed me Female Trouble when I was like 13,” he said, referring to the John Waters film.
He moved to the city as a teenager to pursue modeling and ended up making videos for parties at nightclubs and briefly became a nightlife fixture. He booked a lot of modeling gigs, but was soon disenchanted and dropped by his agency after ranting about them on Instagram.
“I’m 5’7”, I wasn’t the next Naomi Campbell,” he said. “I was signed on my personality. The things that I was getting were through my own accord and they would take 20 percent.” Louis still does the occasional modeling job. He’s in the current issue of Double magazine.
“My criteria is I have to respect the artists doing it,” he said. “I’m not so desperate anymore.”
Louis currently works at Total, a hip management company that represents stylists like Mel Ottenberg and fashion photographers like Brett Lloyd and Bruno Staub. He runs the website and social channels, and makes the artists’ portfolios. While in Paris for Fashion Week last fall, he implemented what will be his biggest pop culture coup since the McDonald’s bag.
Louis has been a fan of the French artist duo Pierre et Gilles since discovering them through their cover art for Dee-Lite’s 1991 single “Good Beat.” (Dee-Lite is Louis’s favorite band, and he has a Lady Miss Kier tattoo on his arm.) Louis messaged them and offered his and Jonah’s modeling services. The pair were a natural fit for the gay fantasia that Pierre et Gilles are known for.
“It was really major to meet artists whose work you love,” Louis said. The painting will be shown at the November Pierre et Gilles exhibition at Paris’s Templon gallery. Le Jardin Enchante depicts Jonah in a pastel jockstrap; Louis wears a demented furry flamingo. His personality has been captured perfectly.
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