It’s often said that art mirrors life, and in the case of Alfie Kungu, the adage could not be more true. The painter’s effervescent and spirited character is unmistakably present in the brightly-colored, gestural strokes he’s come to be known by.
Kungu’s artistic identity has been developed over years of experimenting with paint on an unlikely canvas of satin silk sheets. Focusing on a unique type of ‘relief’ painting, the Yorkshire-born artist creates his figurative shapes and objects by merging paint blends. It comes together to create a style that is playful and almost childlike in its fluid characteristics.
Earlier this year, The North Face proposed a new medium to Kungu as the pair joined forces to work on their debut capsule collection. In a fanciful offering unlike anything The North Face has dropped before, the 10-piece range – made up of garments, bags and mules – comes doused in the artist’s signature abstractural art.
The designs are inspired by Kungu’s enduring love for the outdoors, nurtured by his upbringing in the hills of Yorkshire. Using a palette of earthy greens, cool blues and deep purples, he references the intrepid wildlife that has constantly surrounded him. Looking closely at the smudges, a landscape of rivers, mountains and twinkling skies can be made-out from the overlapping prints.
For the new collaboration, Kungu took to both his remote Yorkshire studio and inner-city London space to create the “hundreds upon hundreds of characters, compositions and abstract pieces” that led to his final print. While it’s not his main creative residence, Kungu gives Hypebeast a look into the London space that fed into his process. Find out more about his artistic journey, the collection and the studio spaces he calls home in the exclusive interview below.
Casting your mind back to your youth, what first influenced you to get into art?
I’ve always grown up around art in the house because my dad is a painter and my mum is also really good at painting. I just really enjoyed drawing monsters and wild animals as a kid. It was a good way to pass time and something that was so familiar to me that I just kept doing it and realized that I never stopped.
Tell us a little bit about how you have developed your practice over the years?
I’ve found that I don’t really like to break up my practice into separate things. I think that it all informs one another. This technique that I’ve been developing for just over a year is called relief painting. I’ll get a canvas and put the silk over it. Then, I’ll do the painting onto the silk and take off the canvas from the back and it’s got the bleed through – the relief. It creates beautiful nuances that you couldn’t deliberately paint in. It’s the gaps and mistakes from your actions that give more of an essence to the painting than the one you actually tried to do. It’s the bits that you don’t paint that tells more of a story. It’s almost become a bit overkill but when you’re familiar with something, it’s like your favorite meal, no matter how many times that you make it, you still kind of like it.
“It’s like your favorite meal, no matter how many times that you make it, you still kind of like it.”
Your technique is very distinct with bold colors and textures, why have they become an important part of your process?
Experimenting with new materials is one of the main things that fascinated me. The relationship between color and texture makes you want to touch it and be involved with it. I think that exploration with different materials is what gives my work that distinct oversaturated use of color and what drives me to continue to create. It’s also about color pairings. One color on its own is really good. But the relationship that two colors have is what really excites me.
Touching on the importance of materials, how does your collaboration with The North Face and working with garments compare to the typical sheets of art that you make?
I actually went into it the same way, thinking about how I could translate my idea on a piece of artwork. Initially, I didn’t consider the fact that it was a garment or a bag or the mules. I just needed to create a piece of work on paper then translate the different elements into colors. So, blue is the water and sky, green is the land and nature. Then by having these few elements, I could create my own environment within the painting and an abstract composition. In a way, I broke it down. First, I did the foreground, that’ll be like the river and it builds back to the mountains then the skies. Each color relates to different environments within nature.
Were there any particular feelings or emotions that you hoped would come across in the design?
I like the way I was able to share a passion of mine and communicate my appreciation for the outdoors and nature via my practice. They’re seemingly quite separate things – you might be quite outdoorsy, and also make artwork but they come together. I was really excited to be able to make this collection because it was creating a functional yet expressive thing that celebrates my passion for the outdoors and nature.
Why are you constantly fascinated by the outdoors in your work?
I’m always inspired by the outdoors because no matter how familiar you are with somewhere, there’s always something new that you’ll come across and it’s just really important to me to spend time outdoors.
As someone who was brought up in the countryside, what does The North Face signify to you?
Ever since I was young, it’s always been the most sought-after outdoor brand. I remember asking my mum if she could give me some money to get one when I was younger. When I first started university in Bristol, I had this The North Face puffer jacket that I wore all the time in the studio because it was freezing. Over the years, it just got more and more paint on and eventually it was covered on the inside and outside – and I still have that jacket. I’d wear it all the time in my studio and people would always say, “Is that a limited edition?” Or, “Is that a collab?” I’d always reply, “one day, one day.” But without realizing, the jacket related to this collaboration. I thought ‘I could do it like this’ and make it part of the story.
“Without realizing, the jacket related to this collaboration. I thought ‘I could do it like this’ and make it part of the story.”
Tell us a little bit about the studios that you’ve had in the past then.
I remember the first studio that I ever had was when I graduated from university. They did this residency program where they provided one of the students with a studio and I was selected for this. It was the best thing ever and got me to where I am now – being able to make my work in places like this.
Studios really dictate the nature of work. If you’ve got a desk, you’re going to make small work. Or, if you’re in a big room, then you’re most likely going to spread out and make big pieces. I’ve been quite appreciative of working in larger spaces because I think it’s led to my work being quite big as well as quite expressive.
What particularly in the studio do you feel is needed for it to feel like a sacred place?
Daylight, and doors that you can shut for some privacy. When you’re in the studio, you can crawl around on the floor a bit and pull funny faces, you get involved with what you’re doing. It’s quite a good place to get into that flow state with no distractions.
Where else can you see yourself working in the future?
I will always cherish my studio in Hebden Bridge Yorkshire because it’s just five minutes from my house and it’s next to the river. It’s different because it’s a really nice place to be and very peaceful. I like it because I have good memories of making good artwork there.
Explore the Alfie Kungu x The North Face collaboration on Hypebeast now. To shop the pieces featured, head to The North Face’s website now.