On view concurrently in the Thinkspace project room is Shine, featuring new works by Los Angeles based artist, and Thinkspace family veteran, Ken Flewellyn. A realist painter fascinated by the intersection of diverse cultures, personal histories, and Hip Hop, Flewellyn creates portraits of women that challenge our assumptions about identity and cultural homogeneity.
Inspired by his lifelong love of Hip Hop and his coming of age as a boy during its golden age in the 80s, Flewellyn’s work has always been about music and its impact on his personal vantage point and outlook on the world. As a cultural form, Hip Hop emerged from a localized cultural moment only to evolve into a variegated and international form that would systemically embrace the freedom of appropriation, and the complexity of multiple voices. This idea of cultural heterogeneity has influenced recurring themes in his imagery and has shaped his belief in the positive power of cultural mash-up.
Borrowing motifs and inspiration from Japanese culture and aesthetics, a visual influence in his home since childhood, Flewellyn often depicts women in traditional Japanese garb, silks, and kimonos. The subjects, however, remain anonymous, visible only by hands, body, and gestures, seldom, if ever, are faces or individuals revealed in their entirety. The subject’s identity, as a result, is relayed by the presence of revelatory objects, tattoos, and accessories – external clues that point to something beyond the seen and allow for the aesthetic to prevail over individuation or the distraction of specificity. That being said, however, Flewellyn depicts real women based on actual people – friends, and strangers – anchoring his imagery in reality rather than unrealistic idealizations.
The juxtaposition of formal cultural garb and pop cultural accoutrements keeps the work fascinating. These tightly cropped compositions are always informed by the presence of Hip Hop imagery, whether in the form of boom boxes, tapes, gold chains or typography. Playful and energized with tactility and detail, they’re both sensual and contemporary – solemn and light. Each painting featured in Shine is adorned with the sumptuousness of gold and includes hidden Hip Hop references to its golden age throughout, all as an ode to the genre that has never lost its shine.