Words by Eddie STATS Houghton
Kevin Lyons is an artist, designer and typographer who’s been among the top rankings in New York’s visual culture for decades now, blessing Giant Step, 555Soul, Spike Jonze, Nike, Tokion and SSUR (among a whole lot of others) with the benefit of his distinctive aesthetic. It almost goes without saying then, that he is a dancehall fan, an influence on his work that bubbled straight to the surface with his latest one-man show at the Colette boutique in Paris, titled simply Red, Gold & Green. LargeUp caught up with KL in a rare break from his self-described daily routine of “drawing type and bumping Twin Hype” to discuss the show and age-old philosophical dilemmas like: Ranks or Banton?
LU: How did the current exhibit come about?
A: The Colette show really started as a book launch/book signing event that Sarah from Colette convinced me could be a show. I had just finished a book called Miles Runs The Voodoo Down which was a collection of drawings over the past two years which were aggressive, bitter, angry, and all-out vengeful. The book was in many ways “therapy” – I was shedding myself of a lot of anger. Originally the show was meant to be another extension of that anger but really, by doing the book, I had gotten a lot of that negativity out of my system. So in searching for subject matter, I basically wound up returning to a lot of my work that I have made (and make) while more happy and content. Posters, the totems, skateboards, silkscreen, repetition of language, and reggae and dancehall are all elements of work that I have done in the past and that I have fun doing. A lot of the past two-plus years have been really heavy, and with Colette–in Paris, in the dead of the winter–I wanted to do something a little more positive, bright, and have a little color to it.
Q: Can you tell us about the influence of dancehall music and visual culture on your work—how/when did you get into and discover the music? Is it as persistent an influence as Twin Hype on your worldview?
A: Music has a tremendous impact on my work. The more colorful and crazy the music, the more it affects me. I am a designer by trade, so I am obsessed with words and meaning, pronunciations and interpretations. That is why I loved punk as a kid, and then hiphop, and then reggae and dancehall. The language is fantastic and so fun to illustrate and draw; words like “BOOMBASTIC” or “COLLIE WEED.” The letters are fat and juicy.
Q: What type of influence do you think the culture of the Caribbean has had on global pop culture overall?
A: Obviously a tremendous amount as really, hiphop began with Kool Herc, a direct descendent of dancehall culture. He came to NYC and changed the game. I think you can look at record companies like Fool’s Gold, Diplo’s Mad Decent, ZZK Records, MIA, and Egon at Stones Throw who are all tapping into that vibe as a major influence. Look at Ed Banger and So Me and guys like Parra. We are all doing letterforms and bubble letters that are found in old reggae albums and other Caribbean artwork.
Q: Some of the pieces seem to be based on characters (angry monster, ice cream cone with feet, etc.) that are not directly related to the theme of RG&G although they are reminiscent of some dancehall LP covers by Limonious and more generally of pop culture figures of the 60s & 70s. How did you develop this iconography and does it draw on any specific inspiration in JA, US or elsewhere?
A: My monsters honestly came from drawing them for my two daughters, True and Lulu. They were meant to communicate with them. Then they just took off for me again. They are fun to draw and now can express things that I can not really express anymore. They are crazier than me. Younger than me. They travel in packs. They can tell you to fuck off, or to smile. As for their relation to reggae, well, they listen to it all the time. And crazy dubstep and grime too. But really they are just another way to speak on reggae and dancehall culture. I think they represent me and my slant on it really. I am influenced by Limonious and Tony McDermott of Greensleeves among others but they really are their own thing.
Q: In the King/Ranks/Man poster series, is there any particular reason you omitted Buju Banton, Mega Banton, Burru Banton & Pato Banton from graphic treatment? What did the Banton clan ever do to you?
A: No, no reason other than there were other examples of this repetition that had more names and fit the artwork better. I love all Bantons. Trust me, I would never puposely piss Buju, Mega, Burro, or Pato off! That is one tough bunch. Walking razors….
Q: Without thinking too much, name your favorite dancehall LP and favorite dancehall LP cover (they don’t have to be the same):
MY FAVORITE REGGAE LPS ARE: Burning Spear, Marcus Garvey; Jacob Miller, Who Say Jah No Dread; Yellowman, Purple Man & Sister Nancy, The Yellow, The Purple, & The Nancy (Greensleeves); Dr. Almantado, (Tell Me Are You Having A) Wonderful Time; Junjo Presents Two Big Sounds featuring Beenie Man, Dillinger, Fathead, and Ringo; Yellowman Nobody Move, (I’m old school, I guess) and Reggae Massive presents Hypocrite inna Dancehall Style, featuring some of my personal favorite Dancehall artists like Tony Tuff, Wayne Smith, Don Angelo, Midnight Rider and Michael Palmer.
Q: That was the right answer. What else is on your plate for February 2011 and the near future?
A show at Beams-T in Tokyo in mid-March and an Arkitip solo show in the summer for now and as mentioned, my book Miles Runs The Voodoo Down just dropped, out now on AndPress. Check out Natural Born to always stay updated.