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Meet The Artist: The Yok

17.11.2011 by Roisin McGuire

Hailing from Perth, Western Australia - a place that bored him to tears - revelation came on a trip to Barcelona where he was introduced to the novel concept of painting on walls. A decade later, The Yok is renowned for his larger than life style characters that adorn walls around the world. We woke up next to him and needed to ask a few questions…

Morning Yok, what's for breakfast and where are we?
A banana and a coffee. I live in Brooklyn. I love that when I go riding I can see on the old factories and I love that you can actually find good waves just one hour from here. 

In search of the perfect wave?
Well, when I'm not creating art I am traveling, surfing, watching people go by. Travel inspires me the most, the different cultural arts of each country are a good source of material and content. I just bought a giant book on South East Asian arts, gods, puppets, masks and traditional arts, that should keep me going for months. My work has been exhibited in Australia, USA, Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, UK, Spain, Hong Kong and I try to accompany it where I can. I guess if I weren't an artist I would be running a beach bar.

How did your love of graffiti start?
I was always interested in drawing, comics, cartoons as most kids are... but as I grew up I discovered the character side to graffiti. I didn't decide to become an artist I was just always drawing pictures of my friends on my school books, and on their skateboards and surfboards. I'm still drawing and I would like to think I always will. I was first inspired by graffiti when I was on a trip to London and later Barcelona. I remember I saw a Phil Frost piece on the side of Slam City Skates, I studied it for a while thinking I want to try that.

The first time I tried to use spray paint was a disaster, but I was hooked, it's such an immediate unforgiving medium, I love working with it.

My favourite place to paint was maybe Tokyo, maybe Thailand, in South East Asia no one really knows what your up to, they just think you're painting a picture, I guess graffiti doesn't have a bad name there yet, so the locals are a lot more chill with letting you paint on their walls.

What’s with the gargoyles?
Gargoyles came from when a friend and I were chatting about some of my characters, we were talking about gargoyles for some reason. I loved the idea that they were just decoration - like street art. Some had functions and some were believed to ward off evil, so my characters kind just borrowed off that old school tradition.

Is your trademark bearded man a self portrait?
hmmm…. kinda i guess, i respect a good man-sized beard.

How do you think street art has changed over the years?
Tough one! I guess trends have come through in waves. The stencil craze blew up and faded away, then came the paste ups, fly poster wheat paste phase. I still love spray painted characters on a raw wall the most. I guess all these variations are great, that keeps it evolving I'm always interested to see new people trying out new tricks. Some catch on and others take up that particular execution of it and then another phase is born, hahaha, I love it all, It's like an outside gallery in a way, for me anyway. It makes a bike ride through the city or a walk to the shop that bit more interesting. 

If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be & why?
Oooh thats a hard one. So many to choose from. It's impossible to pick a favourite because it changes daily, maybe kids that do the raddest drawings! Maybe a really traditional oil painter? I just asked Morning Breath studio if they would like to work on Kingbrown, lets see what happens there.

Tell us about Kingbrown magazine, how did you get involve with that?

Kingbrown Magazine was started in Perth with some friends that I was skating and boozing with. Many people have helped out along the way, and we are trying to push it harder and harder in the states. It started from living in such an isolated place as Perth, no one really gets to see the talented people so each issue would include a Perth artist and we would put them up with the internationals. Nowadays, it's people from everywhere with a strong OZ influence. Hopefully, it will survive for a lot longer.

If someone were to make a movie of your life what would you insist it be based around?
Jacques Cousteau in The NeverEnding Story with me as a superhero who could fly and shoot lasers from my eyes.

What's next?
Another hectic day, then some new travel plans, Kingbrown magazine, a new exhibition and a toy. The best thing about being an artist is I get to draw all day. The worst thing is no dollar. But my words of advice to any aspiring artist is to keep on pushing. If today was the last day on earth I would paint and have a good time.

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