Ken Sortais interview

In July 2012, Ken Sortias joined Horfe and a handful of other artists to paint the walls of a Norwegian ghost town. He tells us about Komafest, big walls, animated frogs, king crabs and mortality.

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i. Paintings at Saint-Ouen, France. Acrylic and aerosol on wall, 2012
ii. Edition produced in collaboration with 'Lefthand' edition, 2012
iii. Untitled Installation, School of Fine Arts of Rouen. Wood, nylon, petticoats. 225x250cm, 2008
iv. Dagger, ink and acrylic on wall, Paris, 2012
v. Installation view, last lap, Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Acrylic on wood, variable dimensions, 2011
vi. Paintings produced in collaboration with 'Horfe'. Acrylic and ink on wall, Vardø, Norway, 2012

All photographs © Ken Sortais 

Where did you grow up and when did you start making art?

I grew up in the Parisian suburbs and spent my childhood travelling through France. I started with graffiti at 16 or 17 because I had to stop my professional career as a golfer.

What is it about painting outdoors that you find so interesting?

I always have to move and I never just spend my time inside a studio. Finding new spots and expressing myself on great big walls is interesting for me and I find excitement in it… I love the act of painting with my body, and the streets teach you different things to a studio.

"We were ten artists and we could do whatever we wanted with those empty spaces."

How did you get involved with the urban art and graffiti event Komafest in Vardø, Norway? What was the experience like?

My good friend Horfe was approached for the festival and he invited me. 

It was the first time for me that I went out of the French territory, and that I tried ‘king crabs’, which is a speciality of Vardø and was a big change from crabstick... Also, a 24-hour day was incredible for painting walls until 2 or 3 am. 

Vardø is a ghost town; unemployment made people leave, so a lot of houses, sheds and buildings were abandoned. We were ten artists and we could do whatever we wanted with those empty spaces. Organisation was great and we could work in very good conditions. People were amazing. What I will remember most is a visit to the cabin of Aksel, a local fisherman who had his spot near a lake in the middle of nowhere.

Some of your work seems influenced by 1930s-era cartoon techniques. Why is this, and what are some of your other inspirations?

Since two or three years ago I’ve been very interested in Disney, Fleischer, Van Beuren... It was Ub Iwerks’ bouncing style (Flip the Frog) that got most of my attention. It's a very fluent animation and always positive and happy. The graphics are precise and incredible – his work with black is just perfect. 

Today I look more at Japanese cartoonist authors like Miyazaki or Ottomo, or manga authors like Mizuki or Tezuka. I'm fascinated with all kinds of imagery, from drawings to movies. Everything can influence me and I'm open to any media – a child drawing or an ad that I see in the street are sources of interest for me. My day-to-day life gives me the best matter to work with – people around me, where I live etc...

In today's contemporary artists I like different stuff, like the funny installations of Alain Sechas, the brutal works of Thomas Hirschhorn, or the monumental setups of Wim Delvoye.

"I love the act of painting with my body, and the streets teach you different things to a studio."

What’s your preferred medium to work with?

Extinguisher and the 0.1 rotring.

Tell us a little about your Untitled Installation, exhibited at the School of Fine Arts in Rouen, depicting a skull made from wood, nylon and petticoats?

Around this time, I made a lot of grimacing portraits on paper with little dots. My idea was to put this technique of drawing into space. From that I started to work on vanity, a recurrent subject in art history. It is the weakness and lightness of the materials used in this installation, related to the skull that is outlined, that are creating the paradox and the tension. For the first time I talked about death in my work and it has never stopped since.

What is your favourite thing about Paris?

BHV [the historic department store Bazaar de l'Hotel de Ville].

Least favourite? 

Aquaboulevard water park.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on a publication with the studio Adult-Adult, an exhibition at the Sunset Résidence in Lyon for November, and another exhibition in London at the Galleries Goldstein in December. And of course continuing being productive with my pals.