Stumbled upon an artist in cyber space? That’s not new, it could happen to anybody. But if his artworks are like acid, that’s something else! Meet Kendra Ahimsa (K) the guy that stole us away, and if we can exaggerate – we even drown deeper into his highly referential answers. This interview probably will make you say “sh sh sh shhhit” or “hmmmm” a lot like I did. For you who already knew him, you lucky bastard, Kendra is a long lost friend material. He could be there shooting you with frantic conversation but then gone for days and back with “heyyyyy”, that kinda holla. You can find his piece on Studiorama, Marsh Kids’ album, and other projects that he can’t publish yet. You just have to wait in patience for his flamboyant and colorful drawings. Sub-Cult got a chance to interview him and boy, you can’t stop him.
Hey Ken, so how you doin?
K: Hi, been juggling some projects but all is well. Though I had this weird dream last night where I rode a huge hot air balloon, but instead of balloon it’s a giant head of a friend of mine.
Anyway, we actually found you on Last.fm, you put your artwork in it which was to me, at that moment was super attractive. So could you tell us the reasons / motivations why you love to draw with so much going on in it?
K: See, music does bring people together. Gotta love Last.fm, It’s sort of like a person’s analyzer, you could tell a lot about people based on stuff they listen to. And it fits harmoniously with my drawings, considering most of them are heavily influenced by music, people can look at what I’m listening to and be like ‘Oh, so that’s where they come from’. Well as an illustrator, I grew up loving the works of Klarwein, Darger, Bosch and Yokoo where there’s always much going on, everything is full of symbols that requires lots of deciphering. Having experienced them I was like those are the kinds of artwork I want to make. Aside from that I think it’s partly because of the creation process itself where I always start by making a music playlist and keep adding stuff to it as I draw, so the imagery sort of synchronizing-ly builds up as the playlist goes on. It’s like collaging all the random ideas into one, like puzzle pieces.
We noticed that you use pencils and ink. Why? What do you seek from the media you’ve been using? Because we can imagine the time it takes to finish one, we mean it’s a lotta work.
K: I kid you not, ever since I started drawing seriously around 2007-ish, I’ve only been using this one mechanical pencil. It’s not at all intentional, somehow it just magically sticks around with me after all these years. There’s no particular reason, I mean I’m still experimenting and all, but I guess I just love the whole process of using pencils and ink. You sit down on a chair in this perfect right angle like a little schoolboy at his school table, but instead of a test, your eyes are glued to this piece of blank paper. Then you start drawing the outlines, rendering them with all the different textures and patterns. It just amazes me how that tiny piece of tool can become very versatile. It sure is a lot of work but I’m all about the process. Like when you eat, say. . a jawbreaker candy and you thought oh this is pretty cool, I wonder how it’s made? So you go look for it on YouTube and become amazed. The end result is important but the process heightens some depths and value to it, and that is what pencil and ink does for me.
Have you ever tried to paint, as in canvas with acrylic or oil, with huge brush? Or just immediately fell in love to drawing on the first attempt? When was it? 7y.o.?
K: I did this mural recently and it was actually the first time I’ve ever painted seriously. I never learned how to paint properly before so I had to learn through all these tutorial videos on YouTube. I’ve wanted to take a painting course though, I feel like I need to get out of my comfort zone. I honestly think a good artist is an artist who evolves, but somehow still manages to leave characterized trails, like Bowie for instance, or Pokemons.
In the past, that time when we found you, you put many elements of Hinduism (gods, symbols) on each artwork. And we read one interview about you that you love to read Bhagavad Gita. What kind of Hinduism essence you were willing to take into your artwork?
K: *Laughs out loud* yeah, well my father’s families are big fans of wayang mythologies. My father used to read me tales from ‘Mahabharata’ by R.A. Kosasih, but I was just a kid then, I could care less about the symbolisms, I just thought of them as this ancient local ultra-epic legendary of a story. But growing up, I developed this huge fondness of various histories, cultures, and beliefs. Many people have mistaken my artworks being Hindu-centric, but they’re not at all, that’s not the message I want to deliver. I love symbolisms and the aesthetics of them in general, so it doesn’t necessarily has to be a Hindu thing. Either its Persian architecture or the Inca’s stone carvings, or the Japanese kanji and their bizarre everything, as long as they fit the image I want to create.
And now, what are your references? Any books in particular?
K: I’m currently studying ‘Masterpieces of Islamic Art: The Decorated Page from the 8th to the 17th Century’ by Oleg Grabar. My girlfriend’s father lent it to me; it’s about Mughal paintings through the ages. It’s a big book, so you could see all the meticulous details in close-to-original colors and they’re amazingly divine. Also this book from Taschen called ‘Magic 1400s-1950s’. It’s a beautiful book about history of magic, filled with images of original magic show posters.
Cool. So we’ve seen some differences between your drawing styles back then and now, which is more psychedelic with brighter tone and acid font. Any thoughts on that?
K: I think the drawing style’s pretty much the same, I mean it depends on the needs; I usually use acid fonts and the eye-twitching colors for posters. I’m always into the Fillmore East kind of posters, they’re so good, it’s like they played a big part of what make the psychedelic era psychedelic. People would stop in an instant and couldn’t stop be fixated on them like they’re freakin’ albino peacocks or something. They’ve managed to create this whole own genre of poster art which can distinctly represents a certain era, and that’s the kind of visual impact I’d like to project with my posters – hence the colors. It’s sort of reinventing them with my own twists, trying to somehow make them relevant in today’s scene. But I’m just exploring here and there, so there’s no limitation. Although I’m currently into colors, like in the Celestial Broadcast series, I’d still do monotone ones if the mood strikes.
About the color palette; how did you get the right color as the color picker?
K: References. It’s an exciting process, developing your own palette. You got your references, from some image you found in some book, or a photo, or your collection of stamps, the rest pretty much relies on your artistic and color-picking senses. I once took this online color aptitude test where you have to pick colors from the color wheel matching them with boxes of reference colors. I was quite shocked to see I scored 97 out of 100, and a friend of mine who’s got very little interest in art, but not partially color-blind, got 46. I don’t know if your color-picking sense is something you develop over the years or it’s something you were born with, but there’s something there.
Dammit you made us swamped with questions. Okay. What’s the most memorable or inspirational work you’ve made? We’ve seen your illustration for medical textbook on your Instagram *swoon*, we mean you got a lotta cool projects. We kinda wish we can collaborate with you, make a mess. Not that we’re saying that you’re a messy guy, but you know. . *bursts out laughing*
K: Ah that one, I got the job from my cousin who’s a doctor, it was pretty cool. Most inspirational? The one I’m working on right now. *Laugh*, doesn’t it always have to be like that? I’m a believer in the power of now, it’s all about now! Now now now! . . .But yeah, I mean it represents my current state, inspired by places I been to recently, some movies I watched last week, or music I’ve been listening to, what could be more inspirational to me right now than that. Oh cool, I’m quite intrigued to know what kind of project you have in mind. *Laughs hard* I may look like a funky hobo at times and my drawings may be cluttered, but I’m actually quite tidy like in keeping my room clean and all. Sweeping my room is part of my morning rituals. Anyway, let’s talk more on that collaboration later, I’m seriously interested.
For God’s sake, let’s! So. .we wonder, how fast can you draw?
K: How fast can a rattlesnake bite its own tail? It’s not about how fast you can draw, take your time, and put some thoughts into it. Swan dive and just swim around the water that is the frickin’ process, man! *laughs*
True! We heard your latest/ongoing project, which is The Sugar Colony, yeah? Saw it and we thought it is wicked. Could you tell us about it?
K: Thanks. Yeah, The Sugar Colony is something I’ve been putting a lot of my thoughts into. Like around a year ago or so I was on a train to the East and I saw this old guy staring into space, chuckling to himself. Could be for some funny reminiscences or for no particular reason, but at that time I thought maybe he’s seeing something nobody else sees. I can’t quite remember what kind of thought process I went through, but it got me to the old guy, right then and there, is actually looking at this sort of like a flying magic carpet, filled with these weird intercosmical miniature-sized creatures which are fueled by banana peels, good music and our wandering thoughts. They came from their own multidimensional worlds and that flying carpet is like their Mecca, their New York. As if it’s a myth, for all the lost ones, or troubled ones who are lucky, the Sugar Colony would fly through right before their eyes into their stream of subconscious and they’d be gone before they know it.
I plan on turning it into a concept store, or like a brand, where it can become some sort of an outlet for my works, like prints, tees, postcards, anything really, but we’ll just see what happens.
Please let us know when the concept store is done. That project (The Sugar Colony) is about circus, eh? We think there’s something chaotic in circus, so is your work. How so?
K: Not quite, it’s more like a freak show, no wait I don’t like that word, a carnival perhaps, like the one used to be in Coney Island. But I’ve been studying the circus a lot lately, and they may look chaotic, but they actually are all about precision and orderliness. A bowling pin juggler has to know the precise timings every time he has to throw the pins into the air or he’d break the rotation. They had to undergo lots of training in order to master their skills. Just like illustrators, painters, or any kind of job for that matter, either you’re self-taught or a graduate from the finest schools, you have to practice a whole lot, experiment here and there to get the kind of results you want.
But my drawings is kind of chaotic, in a sense (like I’ve said before) they have much going on. Those are the kind of artworks I most enjoy, and those are the ones I want to make. I like that feeling when you’re trying to decipher things, and that’s the kind of feeling I want to project when people see my drawings.
Studiorama x Localfest The Sugar Colony
Boy, you’re a madwhack. Do you wish you can live in your subconscious?
K: A madwhack? *Laughs* isn’t that another word for like a crazy person? Well in the immortal words of Kerouac, the only people for me are the mad ones! I definitely don’t. Why would I want that? Why would anyone want that? Living in your subconscious means you’ve literally gone cuckoo. There are already enough people in the mental institution, you know. There’s no doubt Syd Barrett was a genius, but he took it way too far. He self-decayed himself so bad to a point where he looked like a vegetable, which is ironic, because he wrote Vegetable Man. So yeah, maybe like an all access pass that comes with a time curb. You grab whatever you can until the time is up, and you go back to this maybe shallow but lovely conscious state where everything is real, where everything matters.
We think mad isn’t related to crazy “crazy”, man. It’s more like you lose your mind a bit, therefore you’re extraordinary, innit? Anyway, you also have the ability to express the carnival in your head through other platform of arts, video and music. But since you seem to be focus on drawing, we wondered; does every song you’ve listened affect your drawing style? Or vice versa?
K: There’s drawing style and then there’s drawing’s imagery. A drawing style is like an identity. Your drawing style is yours, her drawing style is hers, and his is his, it’s very personal and different for everyone. Like if you see a Moebius, by one glance you’ll know it’s Moebius because of his distinct drawing style. I don’t know how he got his but I think mine comes purely from visual inputs, sort of like a compilation of my most influential artists. So the songs I listen to do not affect my drawing style but their role is to help me build the drawing’s imagery, set the mood to the story. And not just music, it could be sceneries, films, mind-wanderings, or dreams. Like the Kamala series, the whole thing was inspired by Ram Dass’ ‘Be Here Now’, that’s why it’s got that brown sort of old paper look. From there, I needed stories to tell, so I became a sponge trying to absorb everything. I got the concept of Waltz of Jonah while I was sitting on this huge tree branch by the sea with Brian Eno’s ‘Deep Blue Day’ playing on my earphones. That song somehow made me think of a girl who’s swallowed by a whale and found enlightenment. Then I took that story and drew it with my drawing style.
Waltz of Jonah
That’s a good reason. Aight, can you tell us the top 5 songs / musicians you’ve been listening to lately?
K: I’ve been reconnecting with the Beach Boys a lot lately; it gives me the right imagery for the drawing I’m working on right now. The others hmm let’s see… I’m currently into listening full albums, and the ones I’ve been playing over and over are ‘Eduardo Gudin’ by Eduardo Gudin, Psychic TV’s Allegory and Self, Shintaro Sakamoto’s ‘Let’s Dance Raw’, The Soundcarriers’s ‘Entropicalia’, and ‘Fantasias de un Robot Psicodelico’ by Modular. Oh, maybe some Molly Drake or Budd & Guthrie for lullaby purposes. *Chuckles* never too many.
See! We’d like to dig your library next time. Now, as an enthusiast/practitioner between audio, visual and audiovisual; which one is more influential on creativity in life? Because people are unconsciously always consume those arts to accompany their days ahead.
K: Blind, deaf, blind and deaf, why do we have to categorize everything? Be the frickin’ Hellen Keller, man! *laughs* Well yeah, I mean each of them can be as influential as the others. Let me ask you something, have you experienced the Dark Side of Oz? If you have, if I take the Floyd off, would you still like the Wizard of Oz? And if I take Dorothy and the gang off, would you still like the Dark Side of the Moon?
Hmm, according to you, what should be changed in the realm of the visual arts in Indonesia, so that people can be more open or exposed to any art developments? Because people, in general, are resistant to the change, eh? So that’s why there’s always been a miscommunication and problems will arise, there goes criticisms and so that becomes an unavoidable cycle.
K: From what I’ve seen, I think the visual arts scene in Indonesia has skyrocketed substantially in these past few years. Not only the artists getting bolder and bolder, but the people themselves have also been more appreciative towards art. You can see clearly how plenty and jam-packed art exhibitions nowadays can be. Art fairs here, participation in international art fairs, media platforms and coverage, installations in malls and buildings, there was even an exhibition series just about sex and they were great! But we do have our Eastern fundamentals and we have to respect the fact that majority of people here still hold that belief dearly. Like you can’t pull a Milo Moiré here, where your art involves walking around stark naked in the middle of the day, rocks would be thrown at you, that’s just the way it is and how it’d always be. Aside from that I think we’re doing okay. We do lack of good museums though.
That’s a referential answer. This has been an interesting conversation. We have nothing more to ask you. Nope wait we can do another session next time, maybe. Ha! Best luck to you, Ken!
K: Likewise, cheers!
Interview by Febrina Anindita
Photos doc. Kendra Ahimsa