Distinctive, colorful, weird and downright gorgeous are all words that I’d attribute to the work of Ox King – and even then, they are meager words and are not able to give full justice to the pieces he does.
Having worked across the years honing his style, which crosses between pop and fantastical fauna, to the realms of saturated manga-come-blade-runner-esque feminine visuals, Ox King has quickly become one of the most recognisable artists painting walls across Australia. Working predominantly around the streets of Sydney, Ox has also traveled wide and far, spreading his work across a legion of walls and into the view of more and more fans.
Although a fan of his work for many years, I first met Ox King down a dirty laneway as a part of Meeting Of Styles Melbourne back at the beginning of the year and got a chance to see him in action. Not only did he rock out a clean, fun piece, but I found him to be a genuinely friendly, passionate guy who just loves to do what he does.
I’ve been wanting to get a chance to interview him for some time, and now that time has come – so read on, and enjoy a few words and the background behind the man himself … and check out a whole bunch of his amazing work in the process!!
So, back in the day… Had you always have inclinations towards creative art, or was it an accidental road you wandered down one day, never to look back? How did you start creating art in the first place?
I guess I always had an inclination for drawing as a little kid and into high school but I didn’t really see it as anything I could do seriously. I got into filmmaking pretty young which lead me to studying art at University where I focused on animation.
After I finished there wasn’t much opportunity to work on the kind of thing I wanted to do in Australia so pretty much threw that all in the bin and started to teach myself how to paint from scratch so I could work independently on what I wanted.
Okay, you go by Ox, or Ox King – whenever I google Ox King, I get results on two things – your art, and a Dragon Ball Z character – tell me that this is a co-incidence? and if it’s not, well, that’s just as awesome! How and why did you originally adopt the Ox moniker anyways?
I used to go by a bunch of names but they were always too long and complicated so I wanted something really simple that could be represented symbols as well as letters, so I ended up with OX. For me, the O symbol represents everything and the X represents nothing, everything I do is somewhere in between those two symbols.
Ox King was more for fun, I developed that when I wanted to write more than just 2 letters and yeah it is totally inspired by the DBZ character! He is a big beardy chill dude so I thought it was a good fit. I was really influenced by DBZ growing up, I would draw the characters obsessively after school which kinda taught me basic anatomy.
The color pallet in that series, especially the original Dragon Ball, is amazing, I think it has really influenced my use of color over the years.
Your style is very illustrative, what are some of your favorite types of illustration, and what artists do you rate that had a direct influence on the style of work that you create?
This question kinda breaks my brain, I don’t really know where to start. There is so much that I look at that inspires me, it’s hard to pin down main influences.
I have always been very into anime and comics growing up, I would horde whatever crap I could get my hands on back in the day, I think my favorite style of illustration is somewhere in there, that hybrid between an eastern and western style that was happening in the 90’s, stuff like Peter Chung’s Aeon Flux and Jamie Hewlett’s Gorillas were a really big influence growing up. I don’t know if that translates in my work at all, but I think that’s what I’m going for.
Later on I guess the biggest influence on my mural work are guys like Broken Fingaz crew, Illustration is such a distinct part of what they are doing, they have been some of my favorite artists for a long long time and I still love what they are doing which is pretty rare for me.
Lately, I have been looking at guys like Etam cru and James Jean a lot as I want to try and make my illustrative style a little deeper and those guys really pull off that kind of illustrative / realistic painting hybrid that I think is amazing.
Can you remember the first time you painted a wall, and what it was? How would you see the work that you do out on the street as opposed to when you first started out, and why/how did you do your first piece back in the beginning of it all?
I started painting walls for fun with some mates in abandoned factories and scrappy little spots around streets. The first biggish wall I painted was in Dunlop factory in Sydney, I probably have a flick lying around somewhere still. I started out spray painting for fun just to hang out with mates and have something to do but it really really quickly became a focus for me, using spray paint in weird, different spots just made so much more sense to me than everything else I was trying to do with art. It was just so fast and fun and more than anything it is a heaps more social experience.
Being able to paint with mates, going to different places and meeting weird people, I guess that has always what it has been about for me and why I keep painting walls.
Honestly, I’m just a huge fan of the colors in your work – lots of blocks of complementaries – are there any favorite swatches or groupings of color that you like to explore? How important a part do the tones you use play within each piece?
Thanks dude, yeah I focus a lot on the colors I use in each piece, I really love figuring out color schemes and I reckon a color scheme can pretty much make or break a piece. I think a scheme of blues with a pop pink is pretty much my calling card and something I use a lot if I don’t have very long to think of a new scheme.
At the moment I’m currently really trying to bring down the overall saturation of my work a bit so I can make those few bright powerful colors really sing, so it’s still an aspect in my work that I’m working on and is really important to me.
I can see so many pop styled influences in your imagery, but it’s always so colorful that the grittiness of what you’re portraying isn’t always obvious at first glance – where does a lot of this come from, and did you ever make a conscious choice to show some of your harder elements in such a playful way?
To be honest a lot of the color in my mural work originally just comes from the spray paint I was using starting out. I used to draw and paint a lot of dark monochrome and desaturated stuff but when I started painting walls I was using a lot of crazy bright glossy paint and looking at a lot of graffiti for inspiration on schemes. I think I was focused on making color and form work and just kept painting the same sort of imagery I had always done.
I noticed what I was doing and just leaned into it, I really like the idea of pushing the natural and unnatural together and that suited how I was painting. I got to mess around with graff influenced form and color schemes and still do the illustrative kind of concepts that I am into, I found that the most fun way to work so that kind of evolved into what I see as my personal style now.
How do you find the cities you work with influences your art? Does the place where you are working feed back into the work you do, and if so, how?
Sydney is a kinda weird place to paint, on the one hand, you could argue that some areas are really supportive of the culture and chill places to paint but on the other hand, especially lately, it can be a real battle to get a wall to paint.
There is a lot of money in property here and it’s only getting worse, most of the lower class that supports art are broke renters and don’t have a say in the matter so you end up having to deal with property owners that either don’t give a shit or want to control what you are painting. I have gotten to the point where I only want to paint big legal stuff so it is a really thin line to walk trying to get walls done that I am happy with. But I think it just keeps you hungry to keep painting in the end.
I don’t think Sydney comes into the content of my work, I like living here but I’m really looking to travel with my painting as much as I can and I want to make my work without a real sense of time or place.
What have been some interesting projects and exhibitions that you have worked on in the past? Tell us a bit about some of the cool shit you’ve accomplished and some of the more unusual stories or adventures that your art has led you on?
One of the coolest thing I have ever worked on was for Run the Jewels on an international project for the launch of their second album. I was one of 30 artists around the world to paint a version of their logo, amongst guys like Low Bros and Sofles! I got the e-mail and fully thought it was bullshit, I had no idea how they had even contacted me to start with as I was even more of a nobody than I am now haha. But I thought I would paint the wall anyway for fun as I was heaps into RTJ. Turned out to be legit and I got to hang at the show in Sydney when they toured and the wall even popped up on The Colbert report for about 5 seconds.
Apart from that, I have been able to go to a bunch of festivals and around the world off the back of painting. One of the best was getting flown to Perth by my now good friends at Loser Unit to paint a couple of walls over there and be part of an exhibition – which was such a sick experience.
Outside of Australia, where else have you travelled and done art within? Given any destination to go and paint and create in, where would you go, and why?
I have painted in a few places, traveling and painting is the ultimate goal of all this. I painted some abandoned factory ruins in Mexico and narrowly missed getting caught by a cop with a semi-automatic who was on patrol which was crazy, but I actually felt a lot safer painting there as I knew I could at least bribe the cops like a reasonable man haha.
Also painting Tokyo was amazing, it is crazy strict on painting there but luckily I met a local dude who helped me out the whole time, hooked me up with one of the very few legal walls in Tokyo and then took me out to paint other awesome missions all over.
I think one of my favorite times painting ever was when we went 2 hours out of Tokyo into the forest to find this abandoned world war II factory hanging off the side of a sea cliff with the whole sea facing wall completely destroyed. It was this kind of Japanese hall of fame Graffiti spot that has 3 or 4 floors of all the local legends, was one of the most surreal places I have ever painted! easy.
In the future I would really like to paint around Europe, my favorite artists are all from that large scale euro scene so getting to paint over there would be amazing.
What do you have planned for the rest of 2016, and beyond? What projects lie unrealised, and what things would you like to explore with your work next?
I have a bunch of walls and shows to fill out the rest of the year and I’m working on something pretty cool with Stupid Krap at the moment that I’m excited about. After that I’m looking to take some time off everything and chill for a while, I’m still working a job on top of everything I have done this year, it has been great but I’m pretty burnt out at this point. I’m looking to work on art full time at the beginning of next year so I want to step away from everything for a bit and start fresh so I can work as hard as I can in 2017.
I’m not really sure exactly what I want to work on yet but I plan to develop my studio painting style a lot more and maybe do a show, I definitely want to paint bigger and bigger walls where ever I can find them and really push that aspect of my practice.
Maybe I will train in the hyperbolic time chamber and attain my final form, just have to see what happens.