Thinkspace is pleased to present Ken Flewellyn ‘Remix’ with a new reality from the lens of his history and the culture that has shaped him. Introspection and self-examination is not always easy, and it may take some time for him to open up to people but hopes to continue to share pieces, like a Remix’ tape of familiar songs, with a new twist. As an extra bonus, his longtime friend, mentor, and Thinkspace Projects co-founder L.C. collaborated his collages onto Ken’s paintings with him to combine and capture the true essence of a mixtape… bringing a certain meaningful vibe when you need it most. He hopes this Remix’ sends you on a sonic journey through art.
Our interview with Ken Flewellyn discusses his most challenging piece, collaborating with L. Croskey, and shares a Remix-only playlist.
How long have you been showing with Thinkspace? What does having an exhibition up at the Brand Library and Arts Center mean to you?
I’ve been showing at Thinkspace for the past 9 years. Remix is my 3rd solo. This is also my first museum solo and so excited to have it at the Brand. For those that haven’t been, the Brand is a beautiful historic building in Glendale featuring a museum and massive art and music library. One the grounds is a Japanese garden, hiking trails, and lush park. It’s pretty stunning.
Showing at the Brand felt like a return to origin stories. Before I showed at Thinkspace, I was in group shows at a number of galleries in Los Angeles. Among those galleries were Cella Gallery and 11:11 ACC. At the helm of both spots was Shannon Currie Holmes, who is now Exhibitions Supervisor at the Brand.
I showed in some of my first 30 day shows in Shannon’s spaces and was stoked to show with her again.
When I was invited to show, I didn’t know the lineup or what all was planned for the rest of the museum. The show ended up becoming an Art Family Affair. My show is up alongside one of my besties, Matthew Grabelsky, who also showed with me at Cella and 11:11. In the other rooms are Anthony Clarkson, Cody Jimenez, and Anthony Hurd, and Raiz curated by Tlaloc Studios, all of which long time Thinkspace Fam. The show felt that much bigger seeing the rest of them shine too.
What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?
Covid really had a hand to play here. I found it hard to get inspired during and sometime after the pandemic. An important part of my process is working from models and of course COVID, made that difficult. Without new models to work with I decided to go back to basics. This sent me back to old sketchbooks where I found some solid ideas and compositions that I dismissed. Back then I struggled to paint most subject matter but had ideas. So I still jotted all that stuff down, no matter how bad the drawing looked. Going back to those books now, I have years of skill and a different eye. I went through these old ideas and remixed them, again and again until I put together some pieces I’m really happy with.
What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?
Cityscapes… Why do I keep painting cityscapes? ‘Know the Ledge‘ took a ton of work. I basically worked on that piece for most of 2022. I started early in the year and just chipped away at it. When I got tired of painting buildings I’d set it aside and work on another piece until I was feeling it again. Don’t get me wrong, I love painting cityscapes but it’s time-consuming. Every day I’d take a pic of my progress and anxiously await the last building. Wow, that feeling when you finish the background? And know the rest is a breeze? It’s like the walk downhill after a hike.
I try to do this every show. I put together at least one composition that’s going to test my patience, one I have to work on in increments. Maybe I do it to grow. Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Either way, I love the effect when it’s done. I love what it adds to a narrative. Well worth the time.
The opening at The Brand Library and Art Center was quite the scene; what was one of your favorite moments from the evening?
I’m always happiest seeing my friends and family come out to support. I had a ton of friends come out, some of them I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. I had some great convos with DJ’s and other hip-hop heads. A lot of artists were in attendance too, so I got to talk shop for a while on process. I barely left my room it was so busy. Before I knew it the night was over.
Can you share your process for collaborating with L. Croskey?
L and I have collaborated on other projects for the past decade. I started in this industry working with him on Cannibal Flower and later for Thinkspace but never on art. Once the lineup for the solos was announced we both knew we had to collab to add to the family vibe of Nexus. We were in the back of Thinkspace, kickin it, talking about mixtapes we made back in the day and it just seemed like a natural progression.
We worked out the vibes of the tapes first. Then L got going on design of the collaged elements and layout. He’d take pics and show me so we could plot the rest. Once he had his part on the board he passed it back to me. I then designed and painted the tapes to match and complement colors in the collage.
Did this latest body of work have an associated playlist or source of musical inspiration per piece?
All of my paintings in this show are named after hip hop/R&B songs.
• You Know My Steez by Gang Starr
• Juice (Know the Ledge) by Eric B. and Rakim
• Scenario by A Tribe Called Quest
• The Choice is Yours by Black Sheep
• Love Like This by Faith Evans
As I was working on the show, I of course had remixes on the brain. That of course led to a playlist, Remixes only. Lets Go!
Your work explores bringing a sense of harmony to subculture and more traditional cultural elements, especially within hip-hop and Japanese motifs. Do you see yourself folding in other cultural influences in the future? If so, what do you think you’d want to explore?
I think a lot about the traditional aspects of my work. When I began this series it was important to me to make sure the Japanese elements remained traditional, to pay reverence to the design aesthetic that inspired me. Juxtaposing that with hip hop culture you get this sharp contrast. Two diametrically opposed cultural identities, talking to each other. Going forward I’d like to add some nuance to that conversation. I want to add more cultural elements. I’d like to take those traditional motifs and build on them, let them be inspiration for a blend of iconography. I’d like the music to be more dynamic introducing other subcultures so I can really make the conversation complex and engaging.
Did you ever create mixtapes or write down lyrics by waiting for a song to come on the radio? If so, what tracks were you trying to catch?
Oh my god, I did all of that. I used to set up two boomboxes next to each other, waiting for 2pac to come on. I had my timing down too so the transitions were smoooooth. It’s a weird thing being a millennial. I both have this nostalgia of making mixtapes and the relief of a playlist that doesn’t include me eating chips next to the microphone.
A world-renowned chef wants to make a dish inspired by your artwork, what would it be, and the dish’s distinct ingredients?
Mmm, some kind of elevated soul food sushi. Like a southern fried octopus nigiri served on a bed of fresh collard greens, garnished with small flowers and a drizzle of sauce in the shape of a Wutang “W.” On the side, the cocktail 2017 interview, The Vieux-Tang Clan. Boom!
There are more than several amazing pieces in the exhibition, and this might be a difficult question, but are you up for the challenge – what piece would you want to add to your art collection, and why?
On view only until this Friday March 17th at The Brand Library and Arts Center in Glendale, California.
Viewing Days / Hours:
Tues. – Thurs.: 11am – 8pm
Fri. & Sat.: 10am – 5pm
Closed Sun. & Mon.
Free Admission & Free Parking
For more about the exhibition and opening night click HERE!
Photos by @BirdManPhotos.