29 Jan Featured: Black Koki
One look and it’s immediately clear that Cape Town based artist, illustrator and designer Black Koki lacks nothing when it comes to the imagination. Employing a mix of traditional and modern techniques, his work is filled with curious-looking characters layered with symbolism. To create it, he either works independently or together with fellow artist and long-time collaborator Ello as Love and Hate – a multidisciplinary visual studio that the two of them began in 2004. Here, we get to know a bit more about Black Koki and the many things he does and makes:
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your journey so far.
I was born in Johannesburg in 1984. I attended art school, where I majored in painting and graphic printing. In 2004 I began working under the alias Black Koki. I started Love and Hate Studio with my two best friends, Ello and Elbowgrease. With a DIY approach, we produced and curated various collaborative projects, exhibitions, fashion products, jewellery pieces, lifestyle items, silkscreen prints and artworks, and exhibited in several group exhibitions both locally and abroad. I’ve stayed busy doing murals, design and illustration for commissions from friends, musicians, advertising agencies, magazine, fashion labels, comic anthologies, zines, brands, record labels and community mural projects.
Would you say that you grew up in a creative environment, or an environment where creativity was actively encouraged?
Yes, I am lucky to have a very creative family. My mother is an amazing artist and my father is creative, a great cook and into music. They have always encouraged and helped me to pursue what my plans and interests were.
How did you come to be known as Black Koki? What’s the story or meaning behind the name?
I had tried various aliases for graffiti and enjoyed the freedom that comes with making work anonymously. When I started exhibiting my paintings and illustrations I decided to also use an alias instead of my own name. I always had a koki with me – I was practicing to draw without using a pencil to make a rough scamp and to instead draw the idea straight from my head. Initially I was considering “Black”, then Ello suggested the name “Black Koki” and it stuck!
How do you and Ello know each other? When/why did you decide to start working together as Love and Hate studio?
We met at art school when we were 16. She became a great friend, love, help and inspiration. After school Ello studied fashion design on bursary. We wanted to work for ourselves, so it was natural for us to try and do something together because we had always been on a similar wavelength. We started Love and Hate Studio as a fashion and functional art label – a platform where we could work on ideas, and utilize our different schools to make things together while having fun. We stocked various stores including The Bin, Astore, Baseline Studio, Misfit, Helter Skelter, Bread and Butter etc. We also did some publishing, and in 2006 we curated our first group exhibition “New Suburbia” with Michael Ilias Linders (featuring 26 artists). We both wanted to do the poster, so we decided to collaborate and we’ve never looked back since.
What role has this collaboration played in your own growth as an artist?
It has had a profound effect on me and my work. I’ve learned many things and it has definitely helped me grow my style and technique.
Tell us more about your process. Does this differ when you’re working on individual projects, and when you’re working together with Ello for Love and Hate?
I try to approach every project and each work that I produce differently, depending on variables like the brief, the amount of creative freedom, what/who it’s for, how much time is available, who the audience is, which medium is to be used, etc. With my personal work there are various themes, styles and techniques that I explore and experiment with – sometimes with a set idea of what is being created, and other times with nothing in mind other than simply enjoying the process. There is definitely more planning (and good times) involved in our collaborative work.
Describe your work to someone who’s never seen it…
Positive, abstract, surrealistic. I work in various mediums, from painting and drawing (big – small – outside – inside – detailed – minimal) to digital and analogue. I mix traditional and modern techniques, and I use flat colours, natural shading, simple shapes and colour combinations and textures to make different images and compositions. My work is character based and contains symbolism and hidden meanings, hand drawn type designs, wordplay and messages that will hopefully inspire. Most of my images are happy, sometimes with dark undertones.
How has your style or aesthetic developed and/or changed since you first started out?
When I just started out, I used to draw whatever came to mind first with zero planning. As time went on I started to over-think things and my work became more and more detailed. I’m now trying to return to a looser, more spontaneous and naive style.
Are there any themes that seem to reoccur in your work?
Themes that reoccur are: hope, love and hate, opposites, mistakes, time, space, warped perspectives and depth, positive and negative space, things that are impossible or absurd, defiance.
What are some of the things that influence and inspire you?
Having projects to work on, being busy, comfort, my friends, day paint missions, music, places I go and things I see, art history, space,
nature, colour combinations, hardworking people, other artists, my family and history, South Africa, cultures, personal life, conspiracy theories, documentaries, traveling, photography, textures, decay, walls, blank paper or canvas…
What is the most rewarding part of what you do?
Doing what I am passionate about, the freedom of working with and not for people, brainstorming a new project, solving briefs and restrictions, the process of working to finish project and getting paid!
Is there any advice you have for someone who’s looking to do what you do?
Stay true, stay busy, keep it unreal!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on a commission from a client. I’m developing and scanning and 35mm film shot over the last 5 years, for the upcoming book for my Black Film project. I’m busy putting the finishing touches on the artwork that I have been working on for Black Lung’s release on Angry Africa Records.
What are your plans going forward?
I started ceramic classes – making objects, characters, functional and decorative pieces. I’m also preparing, planning and producing new work for our show on the 8th of May (at The Black Box gallery in Cape Town) with Jean de Wet, Ello Xray Eyez and Mymo. We will be doing collaborative paintings, installation, drawings, a limited run of silkscreens and books for the show. I also want to paint more, and star making a silkscreen and a zine each month.
What is one thing that you never go a day without?