For centuries, artists have understood the influence of art used for social commentary, empathy, and affinity. It’s natural for these modern activists to use their contributions to fight for just causes to reduce plight, raise awareness and funds for compelling issues, and create potential for growth. The circumstances behind these issues vary, but for Simon Röhlen, the global artist also known as KEF!, unity, harmony, and humility stand at the forefront of his mission.
Röhlen shares, “The idea of how we got away from unity escapes me. We’re being taught a lot about individualism, and the truth is that our lack of empathy, respect, and tolerance is going away more and more. I’m hopeful that we will look back and reflect on this moment in history, perhaps 500 years from now, and that the challenges we face, endure, and struggle with will come to a consensus. After all, we’re only human.”
VENÜ: I feel that everything you do has a purpose, whether creating work to champion a philanthropic endeavor or bridging the gap to collectively bring people together. Can you share your thoughts on the world’s calamity and how it relates to your process of creativity?
KEF!: You’re right. My attention during the creation is to focus on the intention of the work. My most profound belief is that we need more harmony in the world, and the way for me to express myself is through the discipline of painting. I see my work ubiquitously used as a tool to spread joy and positive energy. Although this ideal is fundamental, the aim of my collective is to create conversations and shared moments among people where true healing can begin. This type of currency is the most heartfelt and testament to my work.
“INSIDE THE CHAOS, YOU CAN ALWAYS FIND HARMONY.”
KEF!: Everything I paint is spontaneous. I always have a rough idea of the story I want to tell, but when it comes to the actual depiction of it, I release my thoughts and turn on a mind off-switch to let the work ebb and flow out of my subconsciousness. My intuition becomes second nature with my hands in the driver’s seat. When I feel there’s balance, I stop painting.
VENÜ: Do you feel it’s up to the observer to detect the intendment in your work, or do you deliberately engender a message in the embodiment of a particular painting?
KEF!: That’s a good question. In my work, people have an individualized experience, as each viewer has a subjective eye. What I ask of my audience is not to overthink what is being seen but to silence the mind enough to feel the transformative energy of the work.
VENÜ: Are the selection of colors planned?
KEF!: The selection of colors is happenstance. First, I do the lines of the painting, and then I add in the colors. It’s exciting to see how the entire painting changes, even with the simplicity of one chosen color. Specific colors create warm feelings and add depth to the work.
VENÜ: Let’s discuss An Evening with Robert Plant & Founding Duran Duran member and guitarist Andy Taylor, (“THEY FOUND THE FUCKING GENE”), where you gave 100% of the proceeds from the painting that Taylor named for you to The Cancer Awareness Trust to celebrate Andy’s bravery in marking his extraordinary journey with cancer. What was this experience like for you?
KEF!: It was cool and stirring. I don’t like to speak about hierarchies, but when you’re around creatives who have achieved so much in their careers, you get a vibe of who they are. I got a small glimpse of the indelible impact their music has left upon the world. For me, it was more personal than the human connection as my grandfather had the same type of cancer Andy did. I was happy to support and contribute to such an excellent foundation, making great strides in helping others combat this horrific disease.
VENÜ: Does music play an essential role in your work?
KEF!: Not so much. I often paint in quietude to avoid distraction. I enjoy losing myself in the work – in the thick of my own zone.
VENÜ: How have you seen the evolution of your growth that’s transitioned from graffiti to fine art? Does it require a different posture of thought?
KEF!: Yes and No. With the different textural aspects of the surfaces I’m painting on, the discipline is the same. What has changed is that I don’t paint outside a lot anymore. Today, my work is seen on canvas, paper, and Charger Plates. I love working on different consistencies and arrangements. The other aspect for me is that I enjoy living with my work. As a sole graffiti artist, it was impossible to do this.
KEF!: Since the beginning, it was clear to me that I wanted to work with galleries and museums. With graffiti art, there’s more of an anti-commercial system of how the work is being perceived. However, I’m working within the distinguished distribution of fine art channels.
VENÜ: It’s easy to recognize the symbolic references of the lotus flower and the influence of Nature in your work. Please share more.
KEF!: My two primary sources of inspiration come from Buddhist principles and Nature. Nature gives you the feeling of being grounded and the ability to just be still; Nature just is- it is harmonious- it’s peaceful. Samatha practice is about discovering inward happiness that lays the foundation for changing our relationship with ourselves and the world. Nature is my spirituality, the utmost statement of perfection. It’s still flawless even amidst the disorder of elements and pandemonium. Humans can never attain this type of sublimity, but we acquire to.
VENÜ: Can you share more about your collaborations?
KEF!: I’m getting approached by hoteliers in Hong Kong and China and various brands. I enjoy working collaboratively and the limitless possibilities of applying my art. This allows me the freedom to not be stereotyped into one discipline but also opens the “DOORS of CONNECTION”, both literally and figuratively.