In Conversation with Imon Boy
We've been following the entertaining work of Imon Boy, whose quirky piss-take graffiti often uses Internet memes as a core element, but aside from a strong street practice, he has focused much of his time on creating studio work, now on view at Kolly Gallery in Zurich and opens Friday, November 8th, at La Causa Galería in Madrid.
After embracing the idea of being a "toy," the Malaga-based writer has successfully mocked the "graffiti establishment" and its long-lasting rules and decrees. Rejecting work for the purpose of impressing others with technical skills or traditionally valued elements, he puts his name out there in a variety of witty and sarcastic ways. Whether assembling it from characters and buildings or placing it within universally popular memes, one tradition he maintains is claiming the throne. And the fact that he respects this main rule of the game, while ignoring everything else, is what makes his works so fresh and amusing.
Similar to his outdoor practice, Imon Boy spends a lot of time in his studio, creating a different type of work. Still light-spirited and very much focused on himself, these pieces mix naive aesthetics of comics with dedicated and intricate brushwork seen among famed contemporary painters. Avoiding the technical aspect of his work, Imon Boy tells the story of a young graffiti writer living in the 21st century. Browsing the internet, playing video games and writing graffiti are some themes in his work, and they often take unexpected, cartoonish twists, alluding to his genuine and light-hearted approach to art.
That all said, we visited Imon Boy to hear a bit more about the background of his work and his upcoming shows in Switzerland and Spain.
Sasha Bogojev: Do you remember what point you stepped away from "traditional" graffiti, and what made you start making such work?
Imon Boy: I've been painting for many years, so it's all about evolution. Traditional graffiti is based on letters. Everything changes when I start incorporating other elements outside of graffiti and test my curiosity. All this has been over several years and is a continuous process. Now, those elements have overcome graffiti.
How did the graffiti scene react when you began parodying the scene, and how do they like it now?
The graffiti scene has always been closed with classic ideas. I have never felt completely comfortable in the graffiti scene, and I'm still not. Everything has names, rules, and protocols. It seems that if you are not faithful to these rules, you do it wrong, and therefore, you are a "toy." And I like to be a "toy."
I think it is a symptom of doing something different. There are people who like my work because it shows that we are all more and more open. However, there are still people who have in their heads the world of graffiti from the 80s and 90s, much more closed.
You have turned the idea of being a "toy" into something great. Did you expect things to develop this way?
I have never expected any of this. I have been painting since childhood, and it has only been pure fun.
This reminds me of Eminem's movie, 8 Mile. I'm not a fan of the movie, but the reference is useful to me. In the midst of so much ego, when everyone struggles to be the best and tries to stand out by saying, "I am the best, you are the worst," Eminem breaks the rules by being honest and confessing that he is not a gangster. The same happens here. In a battle, nobody is prepared when you call yourself "toy." We all have a little "toy" in us.
When did you start mixing memes and graffiti, and do you remember how that came about?
All I paint is everything I consume daily or have consumed throughout my life. I don't talk about drugs. The Internet is present in our lives and is something I consume daily. Memes, games, curiosities. I paint everything that comes into my life.
One of the things I love about your graffiti is the weird assemblages you use to create your tag. Where are those ideas, like stacked people or buildings, coming from?
Everything is pure experimentation. I draw a lot, it is something that I recommend to everyone – drawing without fear and creating new shapes. When I draw, I don't try to do something perfect, just ideas and play with the letters or scenarios. So when I paint graffiti, it is always improvised. I already have it in my head, it's like studying for an exam. They are simple ideas I have in my head and I have to release them.
There have been so many ideas that I have not drawn and have been erased from my head. It's a pity, but nobody will copy them!
Your studio works also have a joyful spirit to them. How different are those works for you?
When I work in the studio, I have all the time to create. I can debug all my ideas and play with all the details. In the street, I am more limited by technique and time. I enjoy everything differently.
I know that graffiti writers draw, and draw a lot, but at what time did you start painting works on canvas?
I studied art years ago. I wanted to finish my studies to start painting. I knew that if I did it during college, I would change all my work and not be as free as I want. Let's say that, in college, they wouldn't let me be a "toy" on the canvas. When I finished my studies, I began to paint on canvases freely. I was already drawing for many years, but I had never tried another format.
What kind of things are you looking for when creating studio pieces?
In the studio works, I feel as free as when painting in the street. I talk about myself, as I do in graffiti, but in a more subtle way. I capture everything that represents me and what has formed me as a person. Cinema, music, graffiti, friends, police, travel, girls or any experiences from my life. It's like writing a diary. Some things are fiction, others are real and others I prefer to leave them for the viewer's imagination.
The perspective seems to have a big part in your compositions. What attracts you to constructing work like that?
Perhaps the influence of video games, cartoons or drawings is reflected here. I don't feel identified with academic painting or with other modes of composition. With this mode, I feel comfortable and I think I can introduce more elements. It's just a fun way of working!
What kind of works did you prepare for the exhibitions in Zurich and Madrid?
I usually make drawings and canvases, but I also like to create special works. I usually intervene with old frames, make stained glass or create the frame itself. Each exhibition is important to me, and I try to make each one more important than the previous one, so it is something that goes up in the level of importance for me.
Are the works for the exhibitions in Zurich and Madrid divided in any way?
In Kolly Gallery you can see large and small canvases of police, graffiti, and interiors. In La Causa Galería the project revolves around my curiosity about space, planets, aliens, girls, and other elements, which is not the case in my graffiti work.
How does it feel to show your work in a real gallery?
It is fantastic for me! On a professional level, it is a good step. A real gallery makes my work reach other collectors and a different audience that I personally don't have access to. For me, it is gratifying that my works can be seen live and not only on the Internet. I think that painting is something that should be seen in person to appreciate it more.
Kolly Gallery in Zurich will be showing They Are Out There from November 4th to November 9, 2019.
Meanwhile, La Causa Galería in Madrid will be showing Cosas De Casa (House Things), from November 8th to December 7, 2019.