Outside of his large-scale street animations, INSA’s art draws attention to the commodification of women through color and line. Beautiful women and sexualised imagery fill paintings, murals, installations and photographs; just see for yourself. He plays with black and white lines to distort spaces as well as draw the viewer into fantasies and fetishes. He questions contemporary consumer culture and exposes our materialistic aspiration. His work ranges from commissions by Nike and Kid Robot to his own line of INSA-heels and INSA-bikinis. Believe it or not, girls like his work more than the guys do. I’m guessing because it’s hot, sexy and all about popular culture. Right, ladies?
What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on some designs for a huge wall I will be painting in Taipei, Taiwan next month, while inflating balloons for my daughter’s fourth birthday tomorrow!
You have a signature graffiti style — did you grow up painting the streets? How has your style and art practice evolved over the years?
Yeah, I grew up doing graffiti. I started when I was about thirteen. When I was a teenager, graffiti was all about tagging and doing trackside and stuff. My style and practice have evolved naturally as I evolved as a person. When I was an angry teenager that form of expression was ideal- but after one too many fights and a short stint in prison, I wanted to do more than just graffiti. I had always considered myself an artist, not a vandal, but I wasn’t focused on that as a professional outlet when I was younger.
How would you describe your work?
That’s hard to define as I like to try lots of different things. I definitely think all the things I do have a kind of conceptual or aesthetic coherence, but at the same time I keep a lot of different things going. Like painting a Bentley in the classic heel pattern (which I’m working on at the moment) is very different from an animated painting on an African mud hut, but they do both come out of INSALAND.
Tell us about your fascination with the female form, especially in regards to what you’re trying to depict in your art through her form.
I obviously use the female form a lot in my work- from the legs and heels in my pattern work to the ‘big butts’ I’ve painted on canvas. I’m very interested in the relationship we have with form, in the way we objectify body parts to an extreme, to the extent they become commodities like any other object. In a way, it reduces women’s bodies to the plane of consumerism. Our desires for thingsalign with the way we desire these body parts. I see these ‘objects’ I paint as being a discussion of our obsession with material gain, rather than reflecting a personal sexual fantasy.
Where do you see the commodification of women in everyday life?
I think the female body has been commodified in every aspect of modern mass media, from music videos to adverts to magazines. I think our relationship with this glossy image has even transcended our real relationships with the actual women in our everyday lives, the image sovereign.
Does your work get a different response from men and women? How about curators and galleries — have you ever had any backlash towards your subject choice and imagery?
People are often surprised by the fact I probably have more female ‘fans’ or followers of my work than male- but then I try to make my work inclusive. I think women have just as much of a disembodied relationship with this kind of female imagery as men do. I think my work gets taken the wrong way a lot of the time, but I’m used to that. If people like or don’t like my works without fully understanding what I might be thinking about, that’s cool – I’d rather that than have people think my work was preachy and basic in statement.
Even though you got your start in graffiti, many of your works are three dimensional — either painted rooms, objects such as high heels, etc. Why?
I don’t know, why not? Just ‘cause I did a lot of graffiti as a kid doesn’t mean I can’t expand my practice. That’s mainly why I deliberately moved away from graffiti. Graffiti has a very narrow minded attitude to what you can and can’t do. I want to try everything – have a go, you know? I guess I am also drawn to making work that is very limited edition or not possible to buy, or even encounter in the real world, like the GIFITI work.
A few of your recent projects include heels, bikes and GIFs — all elements of modern day society. What does each represent to you?
The GIFs are a slightly different thing, but the heels and the bikes represent the commodity. They are symbols of our consumption and our conviction that they are our choice. Heels in particular have so many connotations; they’re sexualised objects, fetishistic, symbols of female freedom and yet also male dominance — they’re loaded with meaning for me.
What do you like to do in your free time besides art?
Cook, drink, raise my children….
Are you a sneaker-head? How has that played into the development of your art?
I was once a sneaker-head back before the rare were hyped and the queues (lines) formed! I had a whole series of works called Sneaker Fetish which tied into those themes of commodity, fetish and marketing. Capitalism as a lifestyle choice.
Do you find it ironic that your art critiques consumer culture, yet you have worked with many brands like Kid Robot and Nike, in addition to your own product lines of INSA-HEELS and INSA-BIKINIS?
I would say less ironic and more relevant. My critique or questioning of consumer culture is one that includes myself and my role as an artist in the world. I am not critiquing the world as an outsider looking in, but as someone who struggles with their own relationship with capitalism and consumerism. It also has to do with the battle I fight between being an artist and a designer. As an artist, I think we need to leave material possessions aside, but as a designer, I love to make and produce things. My compromise is to only make very small amounts of the products that I produce so, hopefully I’m not adding to a landfill somewhere, while still creating a more interesting way of owning my art than framing a print.
Was your collaboration with Ruth Shaw on INSA HEELS successful?
It was successful in the sense that I wanted to experience what it was like to own and run my own company, and go through every stage of manufacturing, yes. I started INSA HEELS at a time when I was having numerous sneaker collab deals offered. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that if I wanted a shoe on the market to represent my artwork then that shoe should be a heel. Rather than hand over the artwork to a major company, I figured I could do it all myself. It was an experiment in independence. We sold all the short run of heels we made, and I learned a lot in the process.
Interview done by: Sydney Lindberg
Check out the rest of issue 32 here