“I think it’s essential for visual communicators to use their skills to make a change in today’s society, no matter how big or small that change may be. Art gives everyone a voice and it’s our responsibility to ensure we use it wisely.”
Although we are constantly inundated with information, most of what we see is ignored or not absorbed. Events, both tragic and inspiring, are overlooked almost before they are over because something else is happening. It’s understandable to get overwhelmed, but it’s important to remain observant. Usamah Kise is an artist with not just a message, but a challenge. With bold and arresting works, the art draws viewers in and asks something of them—to engage in not only its creation, but the story surrounding it. In this interview with The 7th Magazine‘s blog, Luxury Chapters, Usamah Kise discusses inspiration and the role of the artist, among other topics.
- You have done work in illustration, design, and graffiti. What do you do to adapt your mindset for each medium? Does the inspiration stem from the same source?
Yes, I would say to a certain extent the inspiration does stem from the same or a similar source. I don’t tend to look for inspiration separately for illustration, design and graffiti, if I like a piece of work or artist I often interpret elements I like in different ways to fit the final outcome, whether that is design or something else. An example of this is if I am working with a colour palette I like in my design practice, I will implement it in to my graffiti.
I also quite enjoy overlapping the different mediums, for example bringing elements of graffiti in to my design work, doing this allows me to bring a sense of individuality in to my work and challenge the ‘rules’ of design.
- What is the most unlikely place, event, or person you have drawn inspiration from? And did that experience expand where you find creative inspiration?
I try to draw inspiration from everything around me and not limit myself to what I’m exposed to and often come across things that inspire me when I least expect it. Sometimes, when I’m on the tube or walking down a street and I see a group of shapes which work nicely together or something that has interesting values to it I can take inspiration from that. Which is why it’s always really useful to carry a small notepad or sketchbook around with you, you never know when you need to document something. Sitting down with a nice coffee is a big source of inspiration for me as strange as it sounds, it usually helps clear my mind and focus on what needs to be done. Plus, I really love coffee. I also listen to a lot of TED talks and lectures which I’m feeling quite unmotivated or lazy, they really boost your confidence and make you want to get up and work. Other things I draw inspiration from is music, podcasts, travelling…the list goes on!
- You’ve said that you have moved away from typographic letters and graffiti as you have gotten older and started to focus on illustration and design. Do you hope to find new means of expression as you enter new phases of life, or have you found your preferred media?
I think everybody’s means of expression is constantly changing and developing, if you aren’t challenging yourself and trying new things and coming out your comfort zone there’s no fun in it. My move away from typographic letters and graffiti was very natural and unintentional, I think if you’re forcefully trying to reinvent yourself all the time it can become a burden and you’ll never be satisfied with what you’re doing. As I get older, I’m definitely going to continue trying new mediums and techniques, I already have a lot of things planned. I don’t think I’ll ever have found my preferred media, because there’ll always be something I haven’t done or experimented with.
- Being confident about one’s work is often difficult for artists—especially new artists. How did you become confident as an artist?
This is something I’m still trying to figure out. A lot of artists including myself frequently measure their confidence to their success, which can be really dangerous. Without sounding too much like a cliché, the more time I’ve spoken to and spent time with older and more experienced artists I realised confidence in yourself and your work comes when you enjoy what you do. When you do something because you want to and for yourself, not because it fits with a certain culture or trends or because you think it’ll sell. I think there’s always going to be moments or days when you doubt yourself and your abilities, which is completely normal. What’s important is not to dwell on it and get caught up in overthinking everything. At this point is when I usually turn some music on or listen to a podcast or TED talk. Just try your hardest to believe in yourself and what you do, don’t let anybody tell you can’t. There’s always going to be people or will put you down. But just smile and keep pushing yourself.
- Can you describe your creative process from beginning to end for an artwork—be it design, illustration, etc?
To be honest, I don’t really have a particular process in my work, each piece is quite unique. I try to not restrict myself too much in terms of process and be as experimental as I can. Though, this can be quite difficult when working to a tight brief for a client, in which case my creative process is a lot smoother and cleaner. But when I’m working on my own practice, it’s a lot more laid back with a lot trial and error. I enjoy the beginning stages of my creative process a lot, I usually have a lot of ideas going around in my head which I’m looking to implement in to the work. By the end of it, I’m usually looking at ways I can improve the next time and just keep progressing. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied.
- Working as an artist sometimes mean that you will have to work even when you aren’t feeling motivated. What do you do in order to be productive when you aren’t feeling creative?
I’ve learnt over the years to not force it. When you’re not in the mood to work, then just do something else that’s productive until you feel motivated. In the past when I’ve forced myself to work despite not being in the right place mentally, I usually just get more and more frustrated and hate what I’m doing. That being said, try to stick to a routine, don’t just do nothing when you’re not motivated. Go visit a gallery, read a book or something but just keep active and make sure you’re doing something which will benefit you.
- You have stated that one motivation for your work is to challenge the viewer. Which artwork of yours do you consider to be the most challenging, and can you talk about the thought process behind the piece?
One of my recent design projects was reciting a poem called Ahmed. Ahmed was a typographic project which focussed on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly the young Syrian child called Ahmed found lying lifeless on the beach. This body of work was produced in the form of a book and forces you to acknowledge the horrendous refugee crisis happening as we speak on a scale of over 500,000 people. It’s very easy to ignore things in the media we don’t like, so with this project I wanted to force people to read what was happening in the world today.
The final outcome was in the form of a newspaper which was hand screen printed, consisting of 24 pages and recites some heart wrenching words by rapper, poet and political activist ‘Lowkey’. This was a very difficult project to work on, always having the horrendous image of Ahmed lying on the beach in my head. You can see the full project on my official website.
- Expanding on the previous question, what do you think it means to be a challenging artist in a cultural climate where nothing feels shocking, yet so much is divisive?
I think it’s essential for visual communicators to use their skills to make a change in today’s society, no matter how big or small that change may be. Art gives everyone a voice and it’s our responsibility to ensure we use it wisely. The beautiful thing about what we do is art does not show people what to do. But when you engage with a good work of art or design it can connect you to your senses, body, and mind which has the power to open up a conversation, to think, engage, and even act.
- It seems you have a definite purpose in mind for each creation of yours. Is there any room left for interpretation by the viewer? How do you feel if the viewer’s interpretation differs from the intention?
When I was younger I was very fixated with ensuring my message was clear and fathomable, which of course had negative implications on the work. But as I’ve matured I’ve learnt to strip that control away and leave my work open for interpretation. Now I very rarely talk about my ideologies, my inspirations for individual pieces and the meaning behind it. Now I usually put my work out there silently and let people make of it what they want – positive or negative. Since doing this I’m a lot more relaxed about the process of interpretation and intention.
- Although your work in graffiti, illustration, and design differs according to the medium, the imagery is often bold and complex. Why are you drawn to this type of imagery versus a simplistic or minimalistic style?
I can’t really tell you why, but I’ve always loved complexity and boldness in anything from visual communication to architecture to cooking. I think it probably started with my graffiti, I was always attracted to wild style, which then transitioned in to my art practice and implementing those wild style techniques into the canvas. Though, more recently I am trying to play around with more minimal and subtle designs solutions. It’s a very organic transition between complexity and simplicity for me and I do often find myself going back and forth.
Look out for Usamah Kise as he continues to produce work that allows the viewer to step through a portal into a place of not only beauty, but thoughtful information.