NY Elite: Tell us a little about yourself and your career beginnings.
Ken Forbes: My beginnings as an artist were a bit different than most. My background was actually starting off in hospitality management. I was a front of house manager for a restaurant, and assistant chef, and I was eventually a financial advisor on Wall Street. While living in the city, I used to go around taking pictures of street art. Then in 2016, I was dating a woman who had studied fine art in school. Sometimes she would accompany me on my street art adventures. Then one day she came to me with her art supplies and said “OK. Now it’s time to make your own“.
Then I was on vacation with a few friends in Mexico. We were painting on the beach. I made a painting and shared it with my friends. They responded “Wow, we didn’t know you were an artist.“ I responded, “Neither did I.”
I made us a sketch and got a similar response. Then I kept creating and sharing and people were responding, so it kind of spiraled from there.
A year or two later I was considering going into music production as well. I audited a class at the DJ Scratch Academy. It was looking like between equipment and a year’s worth of classes, it was going to cost me about $20K to the functional level I wanted to be at. So I stepped back, thought about my art origins, and said to myself, “Let me see if I can do this on my own…” And then I did.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Ken Forbes: Currently I’ve got a few projects I’m working on. I’m never not working. I’m blessed and cursed in that I am my own worst critic. I drive myself harder than anyone else can. Additionally, I feel like I am never doing enough, while at the same time the people close to me around me tell me that I need to slow down and that I’m doing too much.
Right now I am working on an NFT drop for my series called COVIDIOTS. It’s a collection of animated original digital portraits of celebrities paired with original musical compositions as well as quotes from those celebrities about the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of this series is to form a topical time capsule that encompasses the vast myriad of emotions, from triumph to tragedy to comedy to confusion and fear, that we all felt during this unprecedented time.
I’m also working on putting together a solo exhibition for my series called Abstract Express Yourself. The show should be in Bushwick in Brooklyn sometime in August.
On top of that, I am collaborating with an amazingly talented photographer, Ylva Erevall. We will be dropping a series of NFTs as well as a collaborative blend of the photography and fine art worlds.
NY Elite: What art do you most identify with?
Ken Forbes: I identify with a lot of pop art. Basquiat, Banksy, Warhol…I also identify with Street art, Abstract art, Black art….
I like art that makes people think. I like art that makes people feel things. I don’t like art that you look at and you say, “Ooh that’s cool.“ And then you move on.
I like art that propagates people to instill change in the society around them. I have coined the term “Social Artivism” – a movement that utilizes art to not only change viewers’ perspectives, but also motivate them to change the environment around them for the better. Social Artivism is a type of pop art that is more defined as a social political expressive conceptualism.
NY Elite: What themes do you pursue?
Ken Forbes: My art centers around the themes of love, equality, politics, race, perception, humor, satire, the African-American experience.
NY Elite: What’s your favorite art work?
Ken Forbes: What is my favorite artwork? If we are talking about another artist, I would probably say Guernica by Pablo Picasso. The technical aspect is fantastic of course, but the emotion, the message, the pain, the despair, the grief, and sheer pain that went into the piece is what really makes it. I remember when I was a small child in elementary school, we had to take an artwork and write a short essay on it. I chose Guernica. I was so moved by it, even has a small boy, that I wrote an eighteen page story. I guess I was a bit of an over achiever and “extra” even back then.
If we are talking about my own artwork, then my favorite piece right now is probably “American Beauty.” It’s one of my favorites because I feel that it encompasses all aspects of what I’m trying to accomplish with my art through all the mediums that I have available at my disposition. American Beauty is a portrait of a Black woman staring longingly off into the distance, with an expression that invites you to read her thoughts and soul. The accompanying music talks about the world and how it is such a strange place now and how we often feel like we are drowning. I had the vision of the final picture of the piece in my mind when I began to make it, however I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there. The really cool part about this piece is that I designed all of the animations backwards. And I did so with the intention of them perfectly timing with the music and lyrics of the piece. Serendipitously, after my first try at the animation I put the whole thing in reverse and put the music to it, and it synchronized perfectly, as if it were meant to be.
NY Elite: Tells us about some of your recent exhibitions. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Ken Forbes: Hearing people’s responses to my artwork is my favorite part of the process outside of the creation itself. It’s hilarious to me when I’m at a show and someone is looking at my art and they start talking to me about one of my pieces not knowing that I’m the artist. That’s one of the most fun experiences I have. I get to get their unfettered view of what the piece makes them think or feel and that is a truly beautiful thing. Often times someone will come up to me and let me know that my artwork made him cry and whether that is for joy or for sadness, it means the world to me because I was able to move them and make them feel in some way. My friend Brian Ish, talks about how art can be magic in that way. When I create a piece, that piece can have the ability to make someone laugh, cry, think etc. five minutes, five days, five years, or fifty years in the future. And that is truly magic.
A few responses that I’ve gotten recently were that although this one person has always loved my art and he felt like in the past few months, it’s really turned a corner and is hands-down the best art I’ve made in my entire life. Another person I recently sold a piece to was telling me how she hung the piece so that is the first thing you see when you enter her home; it’s the talking piece for her home, and she always asks guests to share with her what they see and how the piece makes them feel. I love that because that way the piece is ever evolving and we are ever evolving with it.
Furthermore, I recently visited my mother at home, and she was inquiring about some of my artworks and what they meant. As I was finishing describing one of the artworks and its metaphors and themes it had, she said to me, “Wow. Damn. You’re way too deep for me… I don’t know, maybe you got that from your father.”
NY Elite: Tell us about one of your projects which you are very proud of.
Ken Forbes: One of my favorite pieces right now that I am most proud of is my work, American Beauty.
The lyrics to the song speak about the “strangeness all around me…feels like I’m underwater.” And I tried to reflect that imagery in the video. Nowadays, I – like many of us – empathize with this sentiment. The world is so crazy right now that it almost seems surreal.
“I need a long breath, looking up the sky shines brightly on me…” We all need an occasional break from the pandemic, from the systemic racial injustice. We need to occasionally come up for air and to be reminded that the sun is still shining and will continue to shine on us so that our own beauty and light can be illuminated and reflected back onto this strange world.
“All I need is…nothing…” is the lyric near the end of the song. I use this as a reminder that the light, beauty and love that the world needs is forever within us. We are that Love. We are that Beauty.
I’m also most proud of my COVIDIOTS Series and my upcoming NFT Drop. This series captures not only my best technical work in digital, portraiture, music composition, and animation, but also the diverse emotional range and depth that brings it all to life in an interpersonal way. We are all connected, whether we realize it or not. The fewer walls we build around ourselves, the better off we’ll be. This series illuminates one of the only periods in our lifetime where everyone in the world was simultaneously affected by the same thing.
NY Elite: What does “being creative” mean to you?
Ken Forbes: To me being creative means being expressive in thought and emotion and ways outside the norm. Being creative means having a final vision in mind and then having the grit to figure out how to get there. It’s not necessarily about skill, but about the ability to figure out how to get from point A to point ZZ.
NY Elite: What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?
Ken Forbes: What creative patterns do I have? Well for starters I’m a psychopath. There are times when I will go on two or three – day binges and benders without sleep where I just create nonstop. It might not be the healthiest process, but it is my process. Often times I also find that it helps me to hop back-and-forth from one medium to another. Typically, that means hopping from visual art to music and back. If I find myself having some sort of “writers block“, when I step away from what I’m trying to work on and reignite my creative juices in a different medium, when I come back to the original piece I find that the answers are there.
Sometimes I also let my subconscious do the work that my ego and conscious mind cannot. Before I go to sleep, I will think of the aspects of a piece I want to incorporate. Then in my sleep, my subconscious goes to work. When I awaken, all of the pieces are put together and then I have to rush to put that all down before it evaporates.
Then there comes the not so fun part of my process. Guaranteed every single time I’m working on an art piece the process looks something like this:
Ken thinks about an art piece. Ken has a vague vision of what he wants the final product to look like. Ken has a rough plan of how to get there with some gigantic holes in the middle. Ken starts his art piece. Halfway to three-quarters through, Ken starts freaking the hell out. Ken says to himself “What the hell am I doing? This is a piece of shit. This looks nothing like what I want it to. You’re a charlatan. You’re a hack. You fucking suck. You should just give up now…“ Then Ken says to himself, “Well you’ve already come this far, you might as well just go ahead and finish it.” Then Ken keeps painting. Then Ken goes “Oh shit! We’re good!” And all of a sudden the piece comes out as desired.
NY Elite: What are you trying to communicate with your art?
Ken Forbes: I’m trying to communicate a sense of perspective. Nowadays in the age of fake news, social media, he said/she said… we are so oversaturated that we often tune things out. I want my work to hit you in a way that reawakens your senses, a way that you have not seen or heard before. I like to take a look at the world and our society and make a statement about it, whether it’s my own point of view or someone else’s. And then for those who see my art, the true art to me, is that our real reality is stranger than the one in the images I depict.
NY Elite: What role does the Artist have in Society?
Ken Forbes: The role that Art has in society is to awaken us. Art’s job is to move us, make us think, to please and to please and soothe us. Art is the face and voice of the divine. Art is here to remind us that there’s beauty all around us should we take a moment to appreciate it.
NY Elite: What are your thoughts on being an artist in today’s world?
Ken Forbes: Most people in the art world today are posers and clout chasers. Conceptual art like invisible sculptures or a singular strand of fishing lines that runs from the ceiling to the floor, are complete horseshit. These “artists“ are going for the money grab. There’s this propensity to try to ride the wave of cool, to get the most influential following you can get, to sip the like button kool-aid… when I see a banana strapped to the wall with Duct tape, it infuriates me. It also motivates me because if this shit is selling well into the five figures, then I should be able to have enough more to cure world hunger in no time.
Personally, I want Damien Hirst to tell me my art is cool and I want to tell Nicholas Costello he can’t come to one of my parties.
NY Elite: How has painting influenced your life?
Ken Forbes: Art has change my life drastically. It’s finally giving me a voice to all the rage, love, joy, sadness that I have in my life. It’s giving me a way to share myself with the world and simultaneously grow into a self accepted version of myself.
NY Elite: What art movement or artist would you say influences your work most?
Ken Forbes: I follow the pop art movement as well the street art movements, the NFT and digital art movement as well. I’m also now proud to not only follow but be a part of the movement of young black emerging artists in the fine art scene.
NY Elite: What can we expect from you in 2021?
Ken Forbes: In 2021, you can expect a lot of big NFT drops, flash offerings for originals and prints, solo and group shows, interactive pop ups, and possibly a music album drop under my other moniker ArtBoy.