Interview with Ken Flewellyn for his current solo exhibition ‘Remix’ on view til Friday March 17, 2023 at The Brand Library & Arts Center

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?

Hands down, Grabelsky’s Crow-Magnon. I LOVED the crow growing up. When I went to his studio to see that piece before the show, the first thing I said was “Dude STOP IT!”

On view only until this Friday March 17th at The Brand Library and Arts Center in Glendale, California.

The Brand Library and Arts Center
1601 W. Mountain Street
Glendale, California 91201

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.

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.