Kris Andrew Small takes on tropic masculinity

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Kris Andrew Small is a uniquely Australian phenomenon. A graphic artist and designer by trade, his practice reflects echoes of tropicana and psychadelia; doing away with the grid to embody (and abstract) a quintessentially coastal upbringing. With a new show 'HOMME' soon to open in London, Small will pit his liquified colours and lofty typography against the definition of masculinity itself. No easy feat, but that's kind of the point. 

Hi! Tell me what you're looking at right now. 
Right now I'm at my new studio, looking at screen-print proofs for my show. I'm working with a printer over in Bangkok called The Archivist, who are amazing. The studio is on Oxford Street in Sydney; it's a new space for me, which is a lot of fun and has made me very VERY productive lately! I love that I share it with a good friend and we continue to push each other creatively and technically. We also have a ridiculously nice rooftop that overlooks the city — that’s a big plus haha. Good to go out there to clear the head every now and then. When I have a bit more time I’m excited to make the space a bit more ‘Kris’ as it is a bit bland at the minute, but it will get there for sure. I’ve just been a bit busy since I moved in.
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I feel like Australian designers' close proximity to water, nature and relative isolation makes us less adaptive to grids or 'historically accurate' design. Is there validity in that for you?
Y'know no one has ever put it to me like that before but I think that explains a lot about my style. I grew up in QLD and was really naive as to how much nature I had around me (and how much it informed my style) — I didn’t realise that until I moved to London. Don't get me wrong, London is incredibly beautiful, but it's sadly not the most natural place on the planet. So after being there and coming back to Sydney I’ve really noticed how much all the natural colours and surroundings influence my work. I go camping quite a bit in a place called Seal Rocks where there is no phone reception and nothing to do; it's just you and nature. Every trip there sees a dramatic change in my work. So yes I think you have hit the nail on the head there!
I guess on the other side of that is the visual overload of your work and its experimental defiance of the grid. Would it be fair to say that's representative of an overactive mind?
I have an incredibly overactive mind; I always think my brain is running at 150% even when I’m calm. So the way I work is really fast and uncalculated because I just need to get the idea out before I move on to the next thing. I need to learn that not everyone is going at my pace all the time and I need to be more patient. I also worked in advertising for a while and was always so limited by guidelines and rules, so it’s really liberating now to not have to pay attention to that. I can make my own things and do what ever I want (to a certain extent of course). It’s nice to make whatever you want and not let ‘rules’ limit you. I honestly think they do put a stop to a lot of creativity.
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How does a show come about for you? Do you pick an idea first and build around it, or is there an organic formulation of work that expresses itself subliminally. 
I always have a relatively similar message in my work, mainly revolving around LGBT rights & masculinity. I don’t think I ever decided that was going to be what I wanted to talk about, but it’s the issues that I deal with in my life so that happened really organically, as you say. It’s a constant evolution of that concept as opposed to a different idea for each show. In terms of the work, I normally know what I want it to look like as an overall piece of work in my head before I even begin. That doesn’t always come out the same once I start, so I just keep making new things and editing old pieces of work or mixing them together until it fits the way I saw it in the beginning. I’m really trying to learn to trust myself. I have doubts every now and then if I am doing the right thing, and I just have to remember I’m the only person that can decide what it is that I want to make, and I should just trust my gut and do it. 
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The name HOMME and subject matter explores masculinity in all its forms. What's your journey been like with that word?
Where to start haha.
I grew up in Queensland, whose culture is very much driven by masculinity. Not from my family (they are incredibly supportive and open); I just felt so much pressure when I was younger to fit into this mould of a man that I didn't fit in to, which obviously made me feel like I was failing all the time. It took me years to overcome it and teach myself to be confident and that I was good at things, that just because I was a terrible rugby player didn’t mean I was going nowhere in life. I don’t think I'm alone in this at all and it's ultimately making a lot of men incredibly depressed and insecure. What I want to question in my work is why the current definition of ‘being a man’ is the way it is. I feel like there are so many different things that contribute to that and the generic definition doesn’t make sense to most men, so why do we keep pretending that it does? 
How do you begin to articulate that across different visual mediums, materials, pallettes and even the space itself? 
I mean, it mainly comes out in my type based pieces coz it's easy to make a statement that is accessible to people, and that's what I really want. I loved how artists like Keith Haring made their work accessible to everyone, but often with a really deep message underneath. That was why he was able to influence so many people and earn so much success. There is a piece in the show that I worked on with my good friend David Porte Beckefeld — an incredible 3D artist I share my studio with. It’s a Porsche 9/11 (one of my favourite cars) that we wrapped in one of my more flamboyant textures.
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A sports car is such a sign of masculinity so to wrap it in a super flamboyant texture didn’t change the fact it was still powerful underneath. When I make more minimal work, that's for sure not what I set out to make, it’s just what happens and is normally a crop or portion of a bigger more crazy piece of work. I like that it creates some form of intrigue, that there is more going on that you cant see.
In regards to the themes you mentioned, how incremental was that messaging was in your practice / to put your insecurities in the public sphere. 
Anything that is repressed within you will eventually come out in a spectacular way. You're right in that I really struggled to talk about all of it when I was younger, but then I realised I had it so easy. In some places it's illegal to even discuss homosexuality — look at what’s happening in Brunei — so I feel I have a responsibility to talk about it.  It does come out relatively easy once you start, but I think I started subconsciously. I always worked with type and I didn’t just want to say things like ’Sunday Funday’ haha, I wanted it to have meaning. 
Haring's work (like many of the era) was in response to a time of immensely turbulent social change. Do you think we’re in the midst of a similar time period of visually-driven social change ourselves? 
Yeah that time for me for sure was a huge influence, the work that was coming out then was so incredible. It’s crazy because people do glamourise that era in NYC (and it was a great time!) but, as you say, it was also a huge time for social change and rebellion. But I think we are really always in that state. You should always be standing up for what you believe in and making a statement. I’m lucky I am able to do that in my work and have people react to it and hopefully that inspires them to stand up for themselves and what is right. I hope it makes them feel like they can have a voice and make work they think is sending a message or that they really believe in.
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What will be the next thing you do purely for happiness? 
Best question so far, haha. Most likely I will just go for a swim at the beach. Also I really love rollercoasters so much, so if I can find a way to go one one soon that would make me incredibly happy.
HOMME opens June 6 at London's Blue Shop Cottage. More info here
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