I have few reasons to be on Skid Row these days. I’m not going to underground raves thrown in the warehouse district anymore, nor am I buying crates of records for five bucks from very entrepreneurial crackheads (shoutout to my 7th St. connect). But when my good friend Ed Zipco – one of the curators of the recent LA transplant Superchief gallery located at 739 Koehler – told me that this weekend they would be hosting internationally renowned artists The Yok and Sheryo, I put some money on my tap card and hopped on the Blue Line and headed over. The Yok and Sheryo have been taking the art world by storm in the last few years since their move to New York (from Perth, Australia, and Singapore, respectively) having exhibited in galleries from Hong Kong to London as well having been declared by Complex as one of “10 Street Artists to Watch in 2013.”
Their Eastern-influenced expeditions into the macabre underworld, manifested via their spooky, but oddly cheerful characters – have gained them critical acclaim around the globe. They’re in town now to display their Nasty Goreng exhibit, debuting this Saturday at the Superchief gallery. We were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to come and interrupt them for a bit (they’ve been putting in 12 hour days to set up for this weekend’s show) and pick their minds about their time in Java learning Batik, love at first sticker, drawing inspiration from the denizens of downtown, the punk ethos of Superchief, as well as why they still choose to stay anonymous in 2014.
The Yok & Sheryo.
SENAY KENFE: So here we are at the Superchief gallery and I am here with –
THE YOK: The Yok
SHERYO: And Sheryo.
How’s it going? How have your LA adventures been so far?
Yok: So far so good. We got here a week ago – feels like a month ago though.
Sheryo: Yeah, we’ve been cranking out a lot of work.
Yok: We got some push back, some riding around downtown and looking at all the local stuff. Eating a taco and checking out the toy district –
Was there any sick inspiration that you took from [your experience in LA]?
Yok: [light chuckle] We’ve been taking inspiration from around downtown [LA]… There’s a taco man up there who’s kind of stoned out.
Sheryo: Palm trees.
Yok: False teeth because someone’s teeth got punched out on this corner up here.
Do you want to talk about the exhibition that you guys are having here on Saturday? The Nasty Goreng? That’s like fried rice right?
Sheryo: Yeah. Nasty Goreng is “fried rice” in Indonesian which is where we made most of the wall up. And Nasty Goreng is when you encounter a case of that fried rice and you have keep going diarrhea through it. [Laughs]
For the people that don’t know, do you want to talk about your guys’ travels to Java and the time you guys spent there and how you guys learned this technique of Batik?
The Yok: Yeah, the sculpture pieces were made in Java, yeah.
Sheryo: They were made in a village amongst the paddy fields, the rice fields.
Yok: Yeah, we kind of just rented out motorbikes and rode out to this village every day for three weeks. And worked in clay, firstly, sculpting the characters and then we worked with another guy to make the resin and cast them, polish them, and finish them up.
Sheryo: Yeah it was pretty fun. It was just away from all the hustle and bustle of a big cities and all that. You’re in a village, it’s really quiet, and you’re just working on your shit; it’s really nice.
How was that disconnect for you guys, being there? Because you’re from Perth and you’re from Singapore, which are two fairly big cities. How is it going from that situation to such a different part of the world?
Yok: Well, we’re based in New York at the moment so I think it was great. Because it was a vacation even though we were working. It still felt like a holiday, and then we brought all that influence from Brooklyn and Bushwick into our artwork down in Java. So you’d have a New York pizza slice hanging out –
[The pizza] eating the pizza, I saw that, that’s crazy! [laughs]
Yok: I got it tattooed.
Sheryo: Then we got a hotdog eating a hotdog as well. So we made a series of food eating food.
Yok: Cannibal food. Dog eat dog.
How did you two first connect?
Sheryo: I think it was love at first sticker. I gave him a sticker and he really liked it so he invited me out for dinner. This was all in Singapore, and then I had moved to Cambodia to set up a studio there and ten days later he arrived in Cambodia and he’s like, “Oh, let’s hang out.” [Laughs] I’m like, “Oh, okay, shit!”
Yok: Yeah, we painted our first wall in Cambodia and were like, “Whoa, the styles are kind of similar.”
Sheryo: It’s pretty easy to jam together because it’s so similar.
Yok: We did a few painting gigs – or we did volunteer art teaching on the Thai–Burma border and we painted an orphanage and just had a few adventures together and it worked really well so. Came back to Brooklyn and have been going for three years now.
How’s that move been for the two of you guys?
Sheryo: It’s great. It’s so fresh for me, but moving from Singapore to Cambodia and then to New York – it’s so different. I still enjoy it, I still enjoy every moment.
Yok: Yeah, it’s a real inspirational city to be in and it motivates you in a few ways. One, to cover your rent, so you have to produce work.
Sheryo: Yeah, you gotta hustle.
Yok: And secondly, you just see other people’s work around you – it inspires you and motivates you as well.
Can you talk about why you still choose to be anonymous? Because in 2014, there’s a lot of intersection between street artists and the gallery system and corporate entities.
Yok: We feel that the focus should be on what we’ve painted, not what we look like. It’s just purely that simple. We don’t think it’s relevant to know what we look like. If it’s going on a blog, I’d rather have an extra photo of a sketch that I did or a drawing than my mug. It just makes more sense to me.
I mean there’s other reasons like the illegal stuff that we do, but it’s more about the focus being on the work.
I’m here to learn about you two, obviously, but I’m here to learn about what you two, together, create.
Yok: Yeah, and it’s about creating a world and how that world looks. A representation of union doesn’t fit in to that wonky world, if that makes sense.
Makes perfect sense. Earlier we were talking about some similar artists that we know and connect with, you said Evil. Did you want to elaborate on why you described your –
Sheryo: I would say like Evil, Gnarly, we paint –
Sheryo: Yeah, Twisted. I think it’s because we paint a lot of teeth so –
Yok: I think we’re excited more about the dark things, like the underworld creatures and –
Sheryo: Or subculture or subversive stuff.
Yok: Monsters and stuff. But we also like to take something evil like the Grim Reaper and then twist it to him on holiday so he’ll have a pina colada in his hand.
Sheryo: He’ll have a tan.
Yok: He has a surfboard. So evil with a twist to make it a bit more different from just everyone else’s take on evil I guess.
What’re the stories that you think your characters tell? For you?
Sheryo: I could tell you a little story about the sculptures. So New York pizza gets sick of New York life. He books a one way ticket to Indonesia and he goes like, “Oh, why the fuck not? I’m going to go on a permanent holiday.” So he gets there.
He doesn’t speak a lot of Indonesian, he lands up on the beach, and he meets some friends. The devil that’s on a holiday as well, he’s taking a holiday from hell. He’s surfing and wearing Hawaiian shirts and just hanging out.
So the devil is hanging out with the grim reaper, who is sitting on the beach drinking a pina colada out of a coconut; they’re just chilling and talking. And New York pizza starts hanging out with them and they all hit it off together.
Pina Colada, the pineapple dude, walks by – he’s Indonesian, he’s totally local, he doesn’t speak a word of English, but somehow they all hit it off together; they communicate by charades. And then guy, the [Gronk] with his tongue out, it’s just this [gronk] made out of stone and he can’t really talk so he just grunts and listens in on the conversation.
What, from your childhood, do you think helped guide you towards being artists who are making a living from your art?
Yok: I think for both of us it’s childhood itself. We haven’t kind of let go of it. People grow up and get responsibilities and kind of lose it and we’ve tried to fuel it more and keep it alive by doing things more like making things that we’ve always wanted to make as a child. Wanting to make cartoons, paintings, and drawings every day.
Sheryo: I think, for me, it was when I watched my Sunday cartoons every day. I was just like, “Oh, I want to make my own too.” I never knew that being an artist was a thing, because growing up none of my family members were artists, none of my friends were artists. I didn’t know it was even a job and somehow I went to design school by mistake and I really liked design. Then I found out I really like illustration.
So I started doing more illustrations and that kind of led me to this, but I never really stopped drawing. I was always drawing... I just liked it, so I kept doing it. I didn’t think it was going to be a career or anything.
Yok: I think we both grew up watching Ren and Stimpy and being influenced by those kind of early/late ‘90s cartoons that were real twisted.
They have a lot of realism to them. They are for children, but they’re also for adults.
Sheryo: There are little bits and pieces that are for adults, yeah.
Like that Ren and Stimpy episode where Ren is humping Stimpy. Have you ever seen that one? He’s singing. There’s one where he’s singing towards him, but the whole time he’s humping him?
Yok: Happy happy joy joy.
Sheryo: Yeah. I feel like people our age grew up watching awesome cartoons –
Yok: And now they’ve just gotten jobs and are making the cartoons.
Do you guys think that you could ever do something like that? In a corporate sense?
Yok: We’d love to make a show out of our characters.
Sheryo: Yeah, I would love to do a full black and white with a two second psychedelic kind of cartoon. Full black and white with two seconds.
Do you prefer not to use color as a medium?
Sheryo: Not really. We kid of made our color choices smaller because we were traveling so much and in little towns and little countries you can’t really find a range of colors. So we just went with the most basic colors.
So you’re using the paint that was most available.
Yok: We just go to the hardware store and they usually have black, white, and red; maybe a green if you’re lucky. Also, when you limit the color, it draws more attention to your line work, which we like. We love our line work.
How did you guys link up with Ed, Bill, and Superchief?
Yok: Just hanging out in New York and going to their parties and seeing what they’re doing. They had a good vibe, cool punk kind of vibe.
Sheryo: Just nice people, got along with them and have been working together ever since.
Yok: Plus their logo is wicked evil.
How was your experience growing up in Singapore compared to where you are now?
Sheryo: It’s pretty different. But we’re pretty westernized in terms of culture. It’s so different.
You can spit on the floor here.
Sheryo: Hell yeah. Oral sex is illegal there.
Whoa. I did not know that.
Sheryo: And you get canned for graffiti, so it’s really strict and pretty sterile there. I felt really frustrated when I was there. I couldn’t really paint whatever I wanted to and I lived in a really small apartment as well. You don’t get these types of spaces to do your shit, especially with spray painting.
What led you to decide to make a living from art?
Yok: It was more of I always wanted to. It wasn’t really until New York that it seemed possible because the audience was there for you, whereas in Australia there isn’t as much support or people didn’t buy as much work or it just wasn’t the right time. It seemed to just kind of more click when I got to New York. I was trying it in Melbourne and it wasn’t flowing as well.
It was also because I met Sheryo and that was a new motivation. Writing around this area [of LA] has been crazy, just seeing all the people and how they’re living and stuff.
You’re in the heart of Skid Row right now.
Yok: Yeah, I’ve never seen anything this gnarly, maybe in Africa.
Where in Africa were you?
Yok: I lived in Kenya for a year and a half.
My dad used to live in Nairobi.
Yok: Yeah, I lived in Nairobi for a year and a half.
That’s crazy. How is your guys’ creative process in terms of painting together? Does someone set up line work? Does someone create the faces of characters?
Sheryo: It’s pretty organic. We do both, so sometimes we take turns or –
Yok: Sometimes I’ll lay down a shape and she’ll make it all wobbly because my lines seem to be a bit straighter and hers are a bit wobblier.
Which is what you want?
Yok: Yeah, so we kind of meet in the middle.
Sheryo: He usually does the eyes because he’s really good at eyes. He’s the eye expert and I do the teeth because I like doing teeth.
Yok: We used to play a game – we call it, “I start and you finish.” I’d start with drawing the eyes and she’d pass it back and she’d draw the mouth and add some ears and legs and see how it goes.
Sheryo: Yeah, we usually have two sketchbooks going.
And at this point of creating with one another, would you say it flows together so well that you couldn’t [tell whose work was whose]?
Yok: Everyone’s lines or ideas or shapes have been informed by the other person’s by drawing together for so long. We steal off each other all the time, like, “That’s a rad hand.”
Sheryo: “I’m going to take it and make it better.” So we just kind of improve it as it goes as a team. That’s why I think we’re so effective together, because we’re kind of competitive as well so we just try to make it better and better with each other’s work that we steal.
What do you feel like you’re showing with this exhibit?
Sheryo: I think we’re showing a lot of new ideas like incorporating shapes and patterns and different compositions into this series of work. We’re also branching out into 3D stuff like sculptures and all that.
Yok: It’s really a collection of stuff we did in Indonesia and stuff we’re creating on the fly with our stay here and what’s been influencing us riding our bikes around downtown. That’s what the collection’s about really.
Is there anything you’d like to end with saying?
Sheryo: I like your [Fubu] hat, it reminds me of my teenage years. I used to wear big baggy jeans and a small tank top. We’ve got a lot of beer at the show. [Laughs]
Yok: 2,400 beers.
Sheryo: Yeah, Tiger Beers always hooks me up.
Sheryo and The Yok’s NASTY GORENG LA will have an Opening Party tonight, November 8th, from 6pm-10pm – at SUPERCHIEF 739 Kohler Street (between 7th and 8th in DTLA) Los Angeles, California 90021.
The Exhibition will run from Nov 8th to Nov 23rd. Superchief Gallery LA is open to the public by appointment only, please email info@SuperchiefGallery.com for any questions or plans to visit. Special thanks to:
THE YOK @_theyok
SUPERCHIEF GALLERY @superchieftv
MONTANA CANS @montanacans_usa
TIGER BEER @tigerbeer