Yok, Australian born, and Sheryo, from Singapore, are a muralist duo and couple based in Brooklyn, New York. They first started painting walls together in Cambodia, where they realized the aesthetic and personal affinity they shared. Known for their twisted, dynamic illustrative style, and their use of stark primary palettes, they often work in red, white and black tricolor. Their hallucinatory murals feature everything from cannibalistic pizza slices to pineapple people and hot dog characters, incorporating the monstrous to the macabre with ample humor and absurdity. Eastern influences and kitschy references to surf and skate culture often appear in the work, and both artists cite 90’s cartoons like Ren & Stimpy as major graphic influences. With a love of gnarly subversive imagery, from grim reapers to deadly pina coladas, their line work is detailed, complex, and a total trip.
Thinkspace Gallery in collaboration with Berlin’s Urban Nation, is pleased to present DUO, a group exhibition featuring works by internationally acclaimed contemporary art duos. The following is an exclusive Sour Harvest interview with Yok and Sheryo.
How did you two first meet and decide to collaborate together?
Y: We met by accident, after I missed a flight and had a day to spend in Singapore. Sheryo gave me a zombie sticker and I was hooked.
We hung out for a day in Singapore and went our separate ways. We met up soon after in Cambodia and painted our first wall together and discovered we had a similar style and vision for future artworks. We also discovered a shared passion for traveling and experiencing new cultures.
S: That zombie sticker I gave Yok when I first met him must have ignited that deep passionate fire in him. It was love at first sticker for him. For me, it was all about the beard, just the beard.
What inspires you or where do you find inspiration?
Y: Inspiration comes directly from our surroundings. We draw what we are interacting with, what we are eating, what we are seeing, we are like sponges absorbing everything that comes at us and putting our twist on it. We keep a black book and all the idea’s sketches and scribbles go in there. It’s kind of like a visual diary. We spend a lot of time in NY and Indonesia so you will see a lot of influence from these two areas. For example we did a series of bad pineapples that were breaking into train yards, doing tags and getting up to no good. There is always a lot of jungle foliage and some pizza slices in our paintings. NY with a tropical angle.
The pattern work is based from batik patterns that are native to a certain part of Indonesia, they also infiltrate the artwork in various places.
S: I find inspiration in the littlest, most mundane things like dry leaves, and interesting people in interesting places. Some come to me in dreams, others on our adventure scooter rides around the world.
How do you two work through conflict when creating a cohesive vision?
Y: Normally if we are butting heads on an idea, we will just talk it out and see what works best. Sometimes we find it’s best if one person leads on a project, so there is a clear direction, and keeps things cohesive. The other person usually chimes in along the way and makes a change that makes the whole project come together in a way that would have been reached alone.
S: When things get awkward, we turn to the almighty rock paper scissors.
What is your process for collaborating, does one artist do XYZ and the other ABC? Please elaborate.
Y: We normally start with a sketch that we have both developed. Sometimes we pass the artwork back and forth, erasing parts here and there as we go till we have something we like. Some time one person will draw the whole thing but it will be based off the other persons sketch or idea, then there will be some erasing and tweaking from both sides. It’s all very organic and there is no real method, but there is definately a rhythm to it that we kind of just fell into from the first few walls.
1. Arrange a beverage of choice (tea and coffee before 5pm, beer after 5pm)
2. Sit down and talk ideas and make sketch together
3. Look at sketch and erase off parts we don’t like
4. Make new sketch if needed, else skip to 5.
5. Hi-fives, more choice of bevys – rinse & repeat till too tired – sleep
Do you remember your first wall? Or have a good story to share from when you were doing a mural together…
Y: We were painting a lot in South East Asia and we were stopped for painting a spot without permission. We were taken back to the station and Sheryo was proposed to by a detective. This was all happening via a translator. It’s funny to look back on. But I was terrified I was going into a manky prison, I thought the detective was going to lock me up to take me out of the equation, Hahaha.
S: We have plenty!! Second wall in Cambodia, we painted on a public holiday, no one was around and there were a lot of monkeys on the wall, so we painted a monkey god, some local guy rode past on his motorbike and tells us to stop what we were doing because the popos were on their way to bust our asses so we ran to the nearest hostel, and some dudes from the hostel hid us and covered for us while the popos showed up.
Had a few funny comments along the way painting too, like an American guy who lived in Mexico told me I was an ornamental oriental. Thanks dude.
And also that detective who made me sit on his lap and took a ton of selfies with me, proposed to me said he wanted to marry me. So they had been looking for us for a week or so and finally turned up while we were having beers and satays (skewered chicken cubes with peanut sauce) at the front of a convenience store….He proposed through a translator and held on to my hands and looked me in the eye. Good times.
If you could live in a movie for a day, what would it be? Would you be yourself or a specific character?
Y: Mad Max would be pretty fun, adventuring around in one of those turboed out frankenstein-mobiles.
S: This is a toughie, for over a day this question has bugged me, what will i choose? But I’ve finally decide that I want to be in a Wes Anderson film as myself, but tweaked out or in Ghostbusters
Anything else you would like to share? Next big project?
Making surf shacks in various parts of the world (might or might not come with rice wine) and 10ft Sheryo & Yok characters and a short 15-minute cartoon thing more animated stuff and 3d sculptural stuff in general.
View a special installation from the duo Yok & Sheryo during our opening reception for “DUO” Saturday, February 27th from 6 -9 pm. For additional information on the exhibit please visit Thinkspace Gallery’s website; if you’d like to receive a preview of the show make sure to sign up for the Thinkspace Gallery mailing list.