Los Angeles- based artist, Ken Flewellyn is a realist painter fascinated by the intersection of diverse cultures, personal histories, and Hip Hop. Flewellyn creates portraits of women that challenge our assumptions about identity and cultural homogeneity.
Inspired by his lifelong love of Hip Hop and his coming of age as a boy during its golden age in the 80s, Flewellyn's work has always been about music and its impact on his personal vantage point and outlook on the world. As a cultural form, Hip Hop emerged from a localized cultural moment only to evolve into a variegated and international form that would systemically embrace the freedom of appropriation, and the complexity of multiple voices. This idea of cultural heterogeneity has influenced recurring themes in Ken's imagery and has shaped his belief in the positive power of cultural mash-up.
Music On Walls had the chance to discuss with Ken about his work on the occasion of the opening of his newest solo exhibition "Stay Gold" at Andrew Hosner's gallery Thinkspace.
Hi Ken, could you tell us how the influence of Hip Hop is represented in your work. And especially in the artworks presented during « Stay Gold » show at Thinkspace.
I love to let music especially, permeate my work. I can't fight the urge to hide Easter eggs and head nods to musical artists that have inspired me. Every piece in ‘Stay Gold’ was inspired by a golden era hip-hop producer or influencer. In each there’s a head nod or two and hidden references for other real hip hop heads.
Was there a specific song that inspired each one of your artworks presented during « Stay Gold»?
With the exception of two, every piece in Stay Gold is named after the song that inspired the painting.
"Living Large" was inspired by Large Professors - I Just Wanna Chill,
"Yo!'" was inspired by the MTV Show partially responsible for hip-hop's international disseminating.
"Flash & Flare" - Little Brother
"Rebirth of slick (Cool like that)" - Digable Planets
"Low End Theory" - A Tribe Called Quest (album)
What is your favorite artwork of the show?
"Triumph" is my favorite piece from this body of work. It's been my biggest challenge to date. It forced me to work in new ways I never really have before. Testing my skill and patience. Much like the Wutang Clan this one took enlisting the help of a friend or two.
I got my reference shots of that sharp gf999 from a vintage boom box collector I met on Instagram. I also got the help of a Japanese speaking friend to hide more Easter eggs throughout the landscape.
Why is music important in your art and in your life?
It’s always been in me. From a very young age I was that dude bobbing his head to a beat that no one else could hear. I think of all things in how they relate to music. I think of different events life as scenes in a movie but mostly to image what score would do it justice.
Do you listen to music when you create?
I’m the most focused when I paint to music. I’ll switch things up and do podcast or audiobooks from time to time but for some reason it’s easier to lose myself to music.
What kind of music would you listen to when painting?
I listened to a ton of golden era hip-hop while working on this show but I’ve recently I’ve been doing more Grime and UK MC’s.
What is your favorite song at the moment?
Man, that's hard but if I have to pick one it’s "Sensei on the Block" by Mos Def and Ski Beatz. The beat made by Ski Beatz is fresh, crazy original. That mashed up with blistering hot bars from the incomparable Mos Def, what else do you want?
What was the last gig you went to?
The last show I went to was Quintron: The Weather Warlock at the Music Box at the end of world in New Orleans. On a trip out there in April of this year a local invited us out to the Music Box and it was incredible! To start, the music box is a large interactive art installation co-curated by Swoon where every structure is itself a musical instrument to be played. Normally this place is open to the public to play to their hearts content but that night we were all there to see Quintron. The Weather Warlock is said to have created a machine that can play the weather, harnessing wind rain and atmospheric conditions to articulate an electronic stack of instrumentation of his design. Quintron combined with a band of 20+, a brass band, and a rapper put on a mind-blowing hour and half experience.
Are you a musician?
I used to be a musician before I got into painting. I played the drums and the trumpet for most of my youth in various different bands. My high school band KCB (Ken and the Crazy Bastards) was by far the best skapunk band at Culver City High. I should mention, we were the only skapunk band at CCHS. Once out of high school I played in a couple different punk bands on drums, in a Ska band on trumpet; I played in a rap-rock band (unfortunately) and experimental trip-hop projects. All of the projects were fun, none really took off to do anything serious, so once I fell in love with painting it was only natural for one to absorb the other. I feel like now I have the ability to express my love for both through painting.