Today we sit down with Yok, originally from a small suburb near Perth, Australia. Yok moved to New York two years ago but he still travels back to Australia from time to time. I first saw Yok’s uplifting characters peeking back at me from the walls of the narrow streets of Hong Kong and then years later in Melbourne. Instantly-recognizable, Yok also produces detailed illustrations, Shellack-based ink drawings and canvases. Given his broad range of talents and his obvious wanderlust, it’s not surprising I liked his work before I even knew it was his!
Yok’s History and Moving to NY
I made up the name ‘Yok’ because I didn’t want a name that already had a meaning. I wanted to give it meaning through my dorky drawings. I recently found out it means Jade in Chinese! It’s also an insult in Yiddish – its slang for a non-Jew! Damn.
I used to paint very loose figurative pieces in a studio in Fremantle (Western Australia). Req-1 was a big influence back then (check Req’s Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/req), so I would try to paint like that. It was just me getting a feel for the spray can.
I never really got into tagging or throw-ups, characters were more my thing. I chose my letters (YOK) with [letter-based] pieces in mind but never really did them; I wanted an ‘O’ in the middle so it could always be a face!
Check out the Yok slideshow:
My characters evolved from drawing moustaches on models’ faces in adverting posters, plus a mix of Mad Magazine illustrators like Don Martin (see references) and the love of a good seaworthy beard. Fremantle (near Perth) is a hippy fisherman town so that fuelled my obsession - lots of manly beard in that part of town!
I read Mad Magazine a lot as a kid and I tried to paint like I was drawing, which I found a lot harder. I got a lot of pointers from the rad Perth crew AYEM (especially Fudge), so I started going out and painting walls with them. They were talented and at that time I sucked! I was also influenced by Ewok, Crayola and Dalek. Later, as I focused on finding my own style, I was influenced by Twist, Don Martin, Mort Drucker, Phil Frost and Mike Giant.
I moved to New York to and push my art and find a wider audience. Plus, it’s where all this rap-spray malarkey started. I had to check out the history behind what I’m doing. I love New York – there’s such a strong creative energy. It also motivates me when someone from Australia comes to Brooklyn. I have to find them a wall so they can ‘get up’ in New York! It’s good to share a beer and a BBQ when you paint!
Yok on Asia
I travel a lot in Asia because its rad: cheap beer, delicious cheap food, plus graffiti isn’t’ really a problem yet. People’s attitude towards characters is positive, which is a nice change. The rich cultures in these countries also inspire me. The Ramayana mythology is a wealth of inspiration. They have gnarly gods, spirits, temples, double-headed snakes and stories to draw from. I’m a surfing addict so I don’t stray too far away from Indonesia, which is a mini art hub in itself!
Yok in Singapore
I worked as a volunteer art teacher in Mae Sot at the Sky Blue orphanage school in Thailand. I felt so energised and ready for more projects after the trip. It filled up my soul in a way! We painted at two schools over two weeks: one for orphans and another for a community of Burmese refugees that live off recycling at a rubbish dump.
Going to where the families lived on the edge of the rubbish dump was a sobering experience. It was rough; there were horribly disease ridden shanty towns and a toxic lake that people were fishing in. It made making those little dudes smile all the more valuable to me. Seeing those little champions go nuts and paint their school from top to bottom was great. They were so enthusiastic. Pat from Spinning Top gathered up a select group of super-talented and super-friendly people to work with so everything was just a big art party.
Yok also publishes King Brown Magazine (see references below), issue 7 of which was published recently. It’s available through stockists in Australia, Europe and Asia, plus internationally online.
I’ve wanted to publish a magazine since I saw my first copy of LoDown Magazine from Germany. It’s a challenge to make it happen in the US. I’m working closely with Morning Breath Studio on a skate issue for the US. Look out for a NY launch party soon!
Since 2001 Yok has exhibited in 10 countries Through various group shows and live painting events: Australia, Thailand, New York, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Canada and Germany Japan, Taiwan and China.
My goal is to keep on pushing; it’s not easy carving a living from art. There are some fun projects on the horizon.
The Yok with Phibs!! Love it!!
- Yok’s site and tumblr: www.theyok.com, www.theyok.tumblr.com.
- Photos form the Mae Sot Orphanage trip: www.facebook.com/theyokyok, www.spinningtop.org.
- King Brown Magazine: www.kingbrownmag.com
OTHER ARTISTS AND PUBLICATIONS MENTIONED
- LoDown Magazine: www.lodownmagazine.com
- AYEM: http://perthgraffscene.deviantart.com/art/Ayem-Crew-140049925
- Don Martin: http://www.donmartinshrine.com