Interview with Ken Flewellyn for “Stay Gold”

Thinkspace is proud to present Stay Gold in the project room featuring new works from Los Angeles based artist and Thinkspace veteran, Ken Flewellyn. Stay Gold is the first solo exhibition with Thinkspace Gallery from the realist painter. The works dissect the intersection of diverse cultures and Hip Hop with portraits of women that challenge our assumptions about identity and cultural homogeneity. In anticipation of the exhibition, our interview with Ken Flewellyn discusses his creative process, cultures, and best brunch places in Los Angeles.

Join us for the opening reception of Stay Gold at Thinkspace Gallery, Saturday, August 5th from 6 – 9 pm.

SH: Your work is inspired by bringing Hip-Hop and Japanese cultures together. At first glance or thought, these cultures seem in diametric opposition of each other, but can you outline how they might be more alike than they are different?

KF: I think it’s a natural inclination to simplify when thinking about culture. We always think similar or different which is very black and white. Cultural identity is complex and nuanced, and more malleable than similar or different. I want people to expect cultures to clash and when they don’t then question what notion led them to expect that clash in the first place. I hope that in my work there’s a harmony or balance that’s struck illustrating how subculture and traditional culture compliment each other.

SH: Can you explain a bit of your art background and education?

KF: I started as a photographer, I carried a camera with me everywhere clear into college. I eventually took a figure drawing class to fulfill a requirement and loved it. I’ve never really stopped making art. I later graduated from Cal State Northridge with a BA in Art, Media, Design and a focus in illustration. Once I graduated I popped around doing a bunch of different creative jobs, whatever I could get my hands on. I did some toy design, some graphic design and web development work; I even worked in visual effects for a while painting backgrounds back into movies. I was still painting at night but I wasn’t really doing anything with the pieces. Eventually I reached out to LC at Thinkspace for a portfolio review. He’s helped me along the way to refine my skill and make work I can be proud of. I showed my first piece ever at Cannibal Flower, his one night art event. There I was introduced to an art community that lifted us all up. The painting lessons I’ve learned from fellow artists like Ariel DeAndrea and Matthew Grabelsky have been invaluable. I think combined with what I’ve learned from Andrew, Shawn and LC about the gallery world I can definitively say the best of my education has taken place outside of school.

SH: You walked away from the paintbrush for a while and picked it up again 6 years ago. Can you share what brought you back to the canvas?

KF: About 6 years ago I injured my right hand bad enough that painting wasn’t really an option without surgery. I had injured myself at my day job and even with surgery I was looking at a long recovery before I’d be able painting again. What can you do right? So I got the surgery and just didn’t paint for a while. After a certain point I realized not painting was driving me insane and using my right hand was hell, so I started learning to paint with my left. Haha those paintings were terrible. I never gained the same dexterity or precision that my right has but it was a good exercise thinking how to solve problems from the opposite side. I kept this up and started working in galleries to immerse myself in art until the day I could paint with confidence again. Once I regained better control of my right I had all sorts of new ideas to explore and finally a way to do it accurately.

SH: If your body of work inspired a cocktail, what is the recipe and what would it taste like?

KF: I think it would be like a Vieux Carre, maybe with a Japanese twist.

Let’s say:

1 shot Suntory Whiskey
1 shot Cognac
1 shot Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Benedcitine
1 dash Peachauds bitters
1 dash Aromatic bitters

Served in a short glass with one big cube. It would be a little sweet and smooth, but with a punch.

SH: Walk us through a day in your studio?

KF: Well a Sunday painting shift starts with brunch am I right? Once I’m back I’ll grab a cup of cold brew and get myself prepped to paint. If I have a new album I want to check out or new podcast I’ll normally start that up, put my phone on silent and the get busy. I’ll mix all the paint I think will be necessary for that session before I start. Ill normally get a good 12 hours in a day on my days off only really stopping for dinner or a cocktail now and then. Once I’m at that 12 hour zone, if my brain is mush I’ll call it for painting and use the rest of the night to thumbnail new compositions while I watch sometime mindless.

SH: What is your creative process from concept to completion?

KF: They all start in my sketchbook. I think like a lot of illustration students my sketchbooks are full of thumbnails; tiny ideas for pieces jotted down as quickly as I can. I don’t really care about accuracy I just want to get an idea of down on paper. In a way the simpler image the better at this stage. I may do 50 thumbnails before I find 1 that I like. I’ll then draw it from a bunch of different angles and then crop and move things around and crop until I have an idea I think is clear. Now I can elaborate to better flesh out the narrative. Once I feel like the concept is clear and concise I set up a photo shoot to get the reference ill need. Once I’ve got all that I’m ready to get to painting. From there the piece kind of takes on a mind of its own. Even though I have a plan and reference, I’m not bound to it, this way I can allow for moments genuine inspiration. Flexibility in the plan is key.

SH: Were any of the pieces you’re showing particularly challenging, if so, which pieces and how did they push you to grow as an artist compositionally and with technique?

KF: I try to make sure there’s a new challenge in every piece but “Triumph” definitely pushed me the furthest. That piece took a lot of patience; I worked on it for months. I’d work on it for a week or so and get frustrated and put it away. A few weeks later when I finished another piece I’d be ready to dig back into it. Now that it’s done it opens the doors for so many possible new pieces, with new imagery. I’m stoked to get back into the studio and work out some new ideas.

SH: What excites you about other artists’ work?

KF: I think technically I look at use of color the most. I admire artists that use a broad pallet and still find harmony organizing every color imaginable into one composition. I also admire artist that have mastered same finesse with a very limited pallet and range. Both show a great amount of control and foresight and make for stunning pieces.

As for subject matter, Surrealist painters that envisioned mind bending worlds with incredible beasts get me every time.

SH:  What did you have playing in the background while you painted this latest body of work, Netflix, podcasts, music?

KF: If I’m doing Netflix I’m normally watching stand up or a documentary. For a while Netflix had 3 hip hop documentaries everyone should check out:

Stretch and Bobbito(History of 2 bad ass DJ’s influence on Hip Hop)
Fresh Dressed(History of Hip Hop Fashion)
Hip-Hop Evolution (The History Of Hip Hop)
All three were fascinating with an awesome soundtrack.

I also watched a ton of Doctor Who. I’m even watching it now, while I fill out this interview.

When I was listening to music I was deeply immersed in hip-hop, funk, break beat, and trap. I’ve been hooked on Spotify’s discover weekly and daily playlist all year. I’ve probably logged 8-12 hours daily.

All of my podcast are nerdy:

Freakonomics(economist do nerd stuff)
This American life
Lavar Burton Reads(LB reads you a story!)
Ryan Posseins Nerd Poker(Ryan plays D&D with friends)
Tell Me Something I Don’t Know(nerd game show)
Lore(‘real’ ghost stories)

SH: Favorite brunch food, and second best brunch spot in Los Angeles? If you’re nice enough, you can also share your number one brunch spot.

KF: Haha you’re not getting number 2 and number 1, that’s crazy. Best brunch food? I’m thinking shrimp and grits, or maybe I’m just hungry, it’s impossible to tell.

I’ll give you my number 3 and my new fave. Number three is Metro Cafe in Culver City. It’s Serbian style food with mad delicious scrambles, sandwiches and even fresh salads for the weirdoes that have salad at brunch. They have good coffee and better wine/beer and parking is easy.

My new favorite spot though is The Mar Vista. They’ve got killer food(chilaquiles!), sangria in a glass the size of your head, and mellow vibes spun by Mr. Numberonderful while live painters work on pieces. It’s the Sunday get down.

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