"This is a snapshot of an amazingly enduring street artist known as Above and his travels across North America and Europe. This guy gets up in mad quantities and with the most unique styles."
A young Indian woman, her head covered in a yellow sari, glances over her shoulder, a slight smile forming on her lips as if she knows a secret. Nearby, a Vietnamese gentleman stoops down on the floor with his conical non bai hat in hand. Beside these two is a neglected ivory building, paint chipping off its exterior. And where might the Indian woman and the Vietnamese man be walking together? Actually, it’s in Asia Pop, a line of contemporary Asian art by Singapore-based artist Ketna Patel. Asia Pop is Patel’s attempt to depict globalization visually. She places globalization on display through a myriad of colorful pieces, each depicting a tale set in Asian street culture. For Patel, “The street is the most transparent mirror of where a society is at.” For that reason, Asia Pop reflects street culture: an elderly Chinese gentleman at a kopitiam (the Hokkien term for coffee shop in Malaysia and Singapore); a girl’s foot adorned with mehndi; a lotus flower, Japanese script. These are in place of the glossy skyscrapers popping up in cities such as Bangalore and Hong Kong today. Patel’s use of color is striking. She employs vibrant tangerines, fuchsias, scarlets and azures—hues inspired not only by saris and cheongsams, but also by Indian and Malaysian sweets such as jalebis and kueh (a Malay dessert made of colorful, gelatinous layers). One of Patel’s colleagues, Maggie Traynor, says that one of her favorite aspects of the Asia Pop line is Patel’s “bold use of complementary colors, where most artists would play it safe.” Play it safe Patel does not. She’s incorporated her art—and those vibrant colors—into her décor as well, by transposing her art onto a couch, a daybed, a coffee table. “The home is the only place where we dare to be ourselves,” Patel explains. “I wanted to inject a social conversation in your very personal place.” But Patel also had another, more practical reason for bringing art back to the boudoir. “We live in such small places today and we have run out of surface areas in which we can express ourselves.” One expression is the bright aqua daybed with a huge Chinese fan across the head in her tiny Singapore studio apartment—“funky and modern” according to Adele Hetherington, a colleague. But Asia Pop is about more than just the pretty colors. What Patel really wants is to “invoke a conversation with the viewer… to encourage self-reflection” on our evolving society. “We currently see more advertising than we do art. [Asia Pop] is a reflection of how I see the world changing … the world is interdependent economically, politically, socially.” As Hetherington puts it, “initially, it is the color that draws you in but once you get there, there’s a story being told …. the story that each [piece] tells is really powerful. It shows that the truth of life is not just the good side of life.” An image of a come-hither Thai prostitute, for example, is juxtaposed with one of an innocent Chinese girl; it illustrates the dilemmas of an entire continent in which some nations are racing toward the status of global superpowers while others still seek to find a stable status in the international realm. Patel’s use of street culture in Asia Pop also reflects the way Asia is changing. The story the pieces illustrate confronts an often glamorized marketing of Asia by the West—you won’t find bikini babes on Balinese beaches or jaunty elephants in Jaipur in Asia Pop. In fact, Patel mentions reluctantly that she finds the current boom in development in India “a bit scary. There is a part of me that doesn’t agree with capitalism … India is on a conveyor belt right now but I am not sure if that is progress.” Her skepticism regarding commercialization in Asia has drawn her to preserve the simplicity of Asian culture. One imagines that the images Patel captures today are similar in many ways to impressions that a traveler would have captured 50 years ago trekking across Asia. In fact, it is Patel’s own treks—in Singapore and across Asia—that inspire the images. She organizes the images in her studio and begins to “compose” her piece into “a visual jazz.” Then Patel incorporates both traditional and modern elements of art, utilizing both paint and digital photography and imaging to transfer the images onto silk-screened vinyl. At the moment, Patel plans to add new pieces to the Asia Pop line for at least a few more years. Although she currently resides in Singapore, she is hardly settled there, frequently traveling the world to seek additional inspiration for her art and to chronicle the changing face of globalization. By Sucheta Misra
Most people’s first job involved burgers and fries. David walker’s first job was creating t-shirt designs for The Prodigy. After that, he started designing record sleeves and party art before running his own street wear label called “Subsurface” for five years. It was only three years ago that he started painting. (Pretty impressive he’s accomplished all of that considering he’s broken his hand over 10 times!) Once a fan of only black and white (with a little bit of pink thrown in for good measure), David now paints with in explosions of colour following his discovery of a little treasure box of spraypaint tucked away in a studio. His portraits are realistically surreal – the sort of images that make you stare for ages. Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and how? I like the randomness of cities and the anticipation that anything can happen (good or bad) and that in turn you can make things happen. I have lived in small towns where there is just not the same sense of possibility, so this is very inspirational for me. I feel privileged to be making art full time and the speed in which this city can move pushes me forward. Faces are the main subject of your work. Who are the people you paint? Do you know them? I don’t know them at all. I like that they’ve never met me and they don’t know they’re being painted. I use found photography, old magazines, the web, snapshots, anything that’s not staged by me. The fact that the subjects are unknown also allows people to make up there own narrative to the portraits. Tell us about your approach to your work, your unique “no brushes” style and your choice of fantastic vibrant colours. I’m drawn towards the idea of making something beautiful out of what could be classed as lo-brow materials and methods. I don’t use brushes because I want the pieces to raise a question about graffiti and traditional painting as there can be strong preconceived ideas about both. People are normally quite surprised the work is made from spray paint and I think many are also surprised they actually like the work when its outside on a wall; suddenly they have connected with a scene that they previously had no time for at all. As for colours, I’ve gone from two extremes. For two years, I only painted in black, white and pink (as it was cheaper and allowed me to concentrate on the subject more), then I came across a box of random coloured spray paint that had been buried in the studio and started exploring as many colours as I could and all at once. It just felt right at the time and it’s been a lot of fun. Favourite memory of painting on the walls of London? Pretty much every time I paint outside, someone comes up to me at the end of the day and says “I saw you doing this earlier and I thought it was gonna be a right load of old crap, but I like it now. Nice one.” I think this is a great compliment. Which piece are you most proud of at the moment and why? I’m really happy with this one (above). There were probably at least ten times I wanted to throw it off the fire escape. It finally came together the night before it had to be delivered to a show, so I was glad she made it. It’s not been easy between me and her. You’re part of the Scrawl Collective. Tell us about this group and how you contribute. It’s a bunch of artists with different styles and practises. We all dip in and out of it I guess. We do shows here and there, projects come up or one of us might get an idea and get others involved or sometimes nothing happens at all… It’s the 10th anniversary soon, so there are rumours we may be getting something together. Do you prefer exhibiting in galleries or on the street? They both have there positives and negatives. Walls are great because you have room to be very expressive and lots of people get to see the painting. With gallery work you get to spend time developing techniques and immerse yourself without anyone watching you. I try to balance both but I need to get outside more next year. Which other London-based artists do you admire? So many for so many different reasons. At this very moment: Adam Neate, Will Barras, Polly Morgan, Christopher Moon, Arth Daniels Any big plans for 2011? I may be doing a major solo show late 2011. I’m still toying with the idea, so we’ll see what happens. Interview by Stephanie Sadler
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Bench: 102 x 16 /In
Art: [art work wale dimensions]