Always on the move between different projects and countries, we catch up with Ken Griffen at his studio just before he flies off to L.A for his 3 month residency. Travelling through cities around the world— his anxiety with travelling pushes him further in his work to explore the gritty and the hidden.
Tell us about your background and a bit about yourself?
I’m from Auckland, I grew up on K-road which is a pretty quirky place to grow up in. I’ve always showed an interested in art. My mums a painter. She had a studio set up close by where we lived. I had a little area in her studio with my own easel from the age of three. Mum use to encourage it. And I guess after that I did a Bachelor of Graphic Design, didn't want to go to art school. I’ve been working for myself since I graduated. I had one job at Huffer for a year and a half. For a living I make commercial art for the last 6 years and painting as well. Now it’s half and half.
How do you spend your sundays?
Quite different. Days don’t really exist to me. I don't have a job anyways, so I guess you get less emails on Sunday. But I often work, paint and just cruise around. Everyday is the same. Sundays are probably a bit different — I’d be a bit hungover than usual as opposed to weekdays.
Are you a cat person or dog person?
Cat— I’m a Leo, so yeah cat person.
Where’s the best place to grab a bite to eat in your neighbourhood? And what to order from their menu?
Il Forno, it’s an italian bakery. They’ve got this apple custard donut that is pretty great. You can also get a big breakfast there for 10 bucks or something— It’s actually super greasy and not that nice but it’s in ponsonby and it’s cheap for that.
Do you remember the first piece of art or visual culture that you felt truly attached to?
I first connected to my mum’s art and my dad’s friend Tom Burnett's work. He is a painter and a printmaker and I connected well with his paintings. I actually connected with design quite a lot. I use to make my own T-shirts... but not really my own T-shirts. Do you remember when those 3-Dot Huffer T-shirts that use to be cool? My cousin were all skaters and wore them. Mum would never buy me one cos they were 50 bucks or something. So I would make stencils and paint them on plain T-shirts.
How do you take your coffee?
I take it through the normal way, just through the mouth. Just drink it. Hah, nah I drink half full-flat whites— I guess a piccolo and I have them three times a day.
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’m not a big reader— I’m a visual person. I can't read stuff, I don't feel like it’s relaxing. It’s just effort. I’d rather watch a movie. Have you seen how good movies are now? They’re pretty good. Much better than reading a book and it only takes and hour and a half.
How do you feel work being a hybrid of Art and Design?
Is it? I don’t mind it. I guess it’s a point of difference in a way and I’m happy to embrace it. I just don't like the commercial association with design. I struggle to call myself a Graphic Artist, which is what I am but at the same time, not.
Do you see a rise in the interest of works that hover between Art and Design?
I see a rise in art-design works, people are digesting design a lot more now and see value in it. Creative people get to stretch their means a bit more. There’s actually a growing appreciation of it in London at the moment, there’s quite a lot of commercial artists there making commercial work and they totally embrace it. I don't want to fall into that category though, I’d like to call myself as a contemporary graphic artist.*
How would you describe your process? Give us a run through your process.
It just happens. It’s always have happened. I’ve got a style I found one day and never changed it. I’ll draw something that I like that I’m inspired by in the street in my diary. I’ve got stacks of diaries. I carry it around with me everywhere— when i’m here talking with you, getting a drink with friends, on the train or whatever. Then I’ll sit down in my studio and I’ll flick through and paint.
How has your background in Graphic Design informed your artwork?
Maybe composition? Perhaps understanding executions of shows and how you market yourself. Graphic design hasn’t made a difference to what I paint— what comes out comes out. I think it’s more stuff that is more commercial like designing invites for your shows and windows, which is bare-bones practicality with the programmes and negotiating price.
Tell us about how Roaring Fork came to be?
It was just my portfolio. And I didn't want to confuse the two so I separated Ken Griffen and Roaring Fork. It was 2011 and that’s the two directions that I got going. I have a business partner in Roaring fork who does a lot of work and I outsource.
What does one need to be creative?
You just need to do it. If you’re doing it something's happening. But if you’re thinking about it nothing is happening. When you put yourself in situations that you’re uncomfortable in it definitely affects it. So like travelling a lot for me gets the juices flowing because I’m uncomfortable. I don’t like travelling so I’ll throw myself into it. It’s exciting but at the time I’m actually not enjoying myself that much. Art comes out of that.
Who are you influenced by?
New Hip-Hop music— sounds cringy right? Artists like; Cleon Patterson, Francis Bacon, and Salvador Dali. Movies inspire me and music videos too.
We hear you’re off for a residency in L.A shortly. What are you most looking forward to about that?
Having 3 months to do art and not need to worry about anything else. It’s to have fun really, socialise, meet new people, party, and paint heaps. And to see some good music. I’ve also got two buddies living next to me as well.
As a lot of your latest work was influenced by your time in Berlin, do you expect the City of Angels to have that same affect on you?
Maybe. Yeah. I don’t expect it but it probably would happen. Berlin was quite dark — LA’s pretty sunny so It’ll be different.
What are you working on now? Any exhibitions or projects you can tell us about?
Na, working on nothing at the moment. I’m just going to start in LA. I’m working on developing my portfolio. But yeah, I’m not busy.
Cool, that’s the end. Thanks Ken. Can you draw us something?