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British street artist INSA recently made his way across the ocean for an American showing of his artwork in San Francisco. For close followers of the art meets sneaker scene, INSA has been a prominent figure for his signature use of highly sexualized imagery including ample amounts of backsides, breasts and legs, the unequivocal standards of physical human beauty.
In this interview, we discuss with INSA regarding the conceptuality of his art and how it has changed over the years. All in all, readers will probably be surprised to know that strong underlying themes that are associated with INSA’s artwork. Despite the simplicity of painting scantily clad women, the complexity of it all offers some great social commentary and insights.
Prints from his recent showing are available now at Upper Playground.
Interview: Eugene Kan
Interview with INSA
What brings you to San Francisco this time around? What have you been up to since you’ve been in town?
I came over for the show at Fifty24SF, but decided to make a mini tour out of it so have mainly been down in LA doing a bunch of big walls and a couple of my new GIF-itti paintings.
What has been the biggest change in regards to your work in the last few years?
The conceptual consideration has become increasingly more important to me. These days I spend a whole lot of time deconstructing what it is exactly I’m putting out and why I’m doing it. In fact right now the focus is much more important than the aesthetics although shit still has to look popping fresh!
Have your themes changed and become more complex as you grow older?
Even though aesthetically my work may continue down a similar route, I definitely find myself reflecting on the role my art has in the world more and as I get older I want my work to be taken more seriously so I take it more seriously.
Initially, you had a strong involvement within the street but as you grow older, do you find yourself moving away from the streets into gallery settings?
Yes and no. I still like to maintain a street presence albeit differently from the graffiti bombing I did as a kid. I could lose the buzz of having big walls around the world but I do feel less need to paint in the street as I now have a lot more avenues for self-expression. Like when I was bombing and stuff it was because I had no other way people would see my stuff and a real drive to get up. Now I’m invited to show in galleries and express my ideas in collaborative projects. I don’t think my street stuff comes from the same need it used to.
What place does sexuality have in culture and society? Do you feel it’s overly repressed and should be viewed in a more liberal manner?
Well I don’t really think it’s repressed but i do think we are quite disengaged with the sexuality we see in the media. I think the fantasy sexuality we see in advertizing and music videos is very far removed from how we actually interact on a sexual level. It’ss like we accept that fantasy is what sells us things and is more related to money than culture.
Do people ever see your work as objectifying and placing women in a negative sexual light? Or does the focus on women in any medium tend to draw criticism regardless?
I imagine at first glance a lot of people see my work as objectifying women but then that is deliberate. In my paintings I want to exaggerate the commodification of the sexualized female form to highlight the relationship we have with the ownership of items. I use big butts in my work to represent the unhealthy aspiration of wealth and supposed success.
Your focus on women together with its relationship with street culture is an interesting one. Are women undervalued or underrepresented in street culture?
Yeah I would say they are probably quite under valued as ‘street’ culture is definitely a bit of a sausage fest and I’m happy to produce work and products that are appreciated by both girls and guys. In fact I probably have a larger female following which may seem surprising to some.
Some of your work for this show focuses on the “insatiability of consumerism”. How does this work together with much of your traditional off canvas mediums that have been very much focused on product such as sneakers or women’s high heels.
I focus on the contradictions we all suffer when it comes to consumerism, the fact that I know I love a new hot pair of kicks but know I don’t really wanna be wasting all my money on them. And the questioning of it is can you ever really get to a point of happiness with owning stuff. Can you ever own enough things?
As an artist I’ve always been fascinated by the role products have in our lives and represented this product fetishism with high heels so i think it’s is very apt that part of this understanding of the power of product is to own my own high heel company.
When you display in an arena of much more conventional art representation such as the Tate Britain versus say a more upbeat, graffiti/street art arena such as FIFTY24SF, are there any differences in the work you show?
The work I make for any arena is all coming from the same place, so I don’t see it differently. I may approach a project with a bigger budget slightly differently as there are less limitations on what I can do. The major difference is there are a lot more people in white gloves ready to receive the work at an institution like Tate Britain.
Are there any other creative mediums you want to get involved in? Sculpture and lighting seem to make their way into this particular exhibition.
Yeah I’m always looking to expand my creative repertoire and explore new mediums to me. I aways find just painting on a canvas so limiting and like to have fun with different things. I have done a sculptural piece for this show that i’m really happy with and am definitely gonna be doing more 3-Dimensional work in the future.