Artists, collaborators and Clarks Originals obsessives Kai & Sunny recently opened their latest exhibition Whirlwind of Time at the StolenSpace Gallery, London. Past collaborations for the pair include prints for Nike and Alexander McQueen, while one of their first commissions was for the cover of the novel Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
Mitchell has written an exclusive short story for a Limited Edition artwork in the exhibition, and the packed opening night attracted a visit from Levi Maestro, in town for a few days to film the installation for his online show, Maestro Knows.
We caught up with Kai to chat through the artists’ process, projects and inspiration.
Tell us a bit about both your backgrounds? You met at art school – what made you work together as a partnership?
When we graduated from Epsom School Of Art I went to work for Mo' Wax Records designing record covers under Ben Drury and Sunny went off to work as a print designer at the clothing brand Maharishi. A few years later in 2003 we reconnected and decided to start working together. We started a fashion label called Call Of The Wild and had a small studio on Hoxton Square.
It was all very step by step, but when we were approached to create the cover for Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell things started to change and other commissions came in. The label was doing well at that point and things just seemed to go from strength to strength. There was no real master plan, things just happened and the timing was right.
Talk us through your work. It's nature-inspired yet highly graphic and geometric. Where do you find your inspiration?
Our inspiration mainly comes from nature but having a graphic background it makes sense to us to abstract and make our work geometric. We both grew up in the country (Kai is a Somerset boy) so maybe this is why we gravitate towards nature. However our work isn't necessarily about nature, but we use it as our foundation and to connect. Our work deals with subjects based on time.
Our images somehow balance the serene with the intense or the fragile with the stable. All landscapes excite us. We often look at water for inspiration and this feeds back into the passage of time theme.
How does your working process actually work? Do you work on pieces together or individually?
We always work on pieces together and discuss as we go. We've been working together for 13 + years, so have our routine down.
Some of your commissions have included collaborations with brands such as Nike and Reebok, designers like Alexander McQueen and book cover commissions for David Mitchell. Have you found them satisfying projects to work on? How does it work to bring concepts together?
We really enjoy collaborating and we find interesting results can happen. Most recently for our current show we collaborated with David Mitchell author of Cloud Atlas.This is a longstanding collaboration and one we are very proud of.
Originally we were asked to create his book covers and a few years later we asked David if he would write a short story for one of our art shows in response to the works. Recently we've collaborated with Element Skateboards on four decks with the concept of Wind, Earth, Fire, Water. Sunny and I are both very interested in skateboarding and the theme fits our work.
"I believe when collaborating a lot of trust is involved from both sides to get great results. There's a certain amount of risk so it needs to feel right - there needs to be a fit or a relationship between both parties, and certainly trust and mutual respect."
How do you choose your materials and processes and how have these evolved over time? Is there a distinctive development behind you / that you see going forward – or does it just happen organically?
Our work over the 13 years of working together has changed a lot and we have grown and developed our process during this time. In the earlier days our work was much more graphic and bold shapes but over the years we have refined this. Our work has become much more linear, using single lines to build up layers using ballpoint pens. It's a very methodic and controlled process. Our work has become very detailed however each line has its individual place. It makes you use only what is needed.
So your new exhibition Whirlwind of Time is at StolenSpace Gallery in London. You've also exhibited in the US – New York, San Francisco and LA – do you have any favourite locations?
We've enjoyed all of our shows and each show has enabled us to work on the next. It teaches you to try new techniques, try new ideas. Having the opportunity to show in LA at Shepard Fairey's gallery was awe-inspiring. We learnt a huge amount from that show and applied that in our New York show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. We couldn't have created our current show at StolenSpace Gallery in London without the previous ones. They are all as important as each other.
Tell us a little bit about Whirlwind of Time – the new work, themes and processes behind it?
Whirlwind Of Time is about the passage of time. The works explore the turning of tides, changing weather and time for reflection. Our pen pieces are built up with hundreds of lines which creates a tension inside each piece. The images are delicate but as a mass of colour and shape they feel powerful. It's a slow methodical process and perhaps that leads into the theme of time somehow.
What about future projects or ideas…? Do you think the same themes of nature, time and reflection will still continue to inspire you?
I believe so. These are areas that inspire us. I feel we are just touching the surface.
I've worn the Desert Boot for as long as I remember. I think as a piece of design they are just perfect. Great handcrafted quality combined with simplicity. Form meets function at its best.