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The making of Karan Singh’s Village takeover

Favouring bold colour palettes and dynamic patterns that verge on optical illusions, Australian artist and illustrator Karan Singh has given our open-air destinations a fresh new look for spring.

Joyfully bright, refreshingly minimalist and a little bit hypnotic: Karan Singh’s art is just what we need after the past two years. The Melbourne-based artist, who taught himself digital illustration in high school, has built a career creating artworks that lift spirits and challenge perceptions through his colourful, playful take on optical art.

With designs for Louis Vuitton, Nike and The Academy Awards under his belt, Karan has been tasked with giving our open-air Village settings a much-needed endorphin boost for spring. We sat down to discuss his process, favourite spots for inspiration and why his house is currently green.

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Tell us about your journey as an artist and illustrator…

Karan: “I was given a creative computer programme when I was in high school and just started drawing from there. I became really obsessed with it. It married my two loves: computers and drawing. I never had the patience to learn to draw properly.

“I joined design communities online and by the time I finished high school, I knew I wanted to do something with design. I didn’t realise illustration was a job until after I completed my degree in Interaction Design. I got my first full-time job at a design studio after graduation – I definitely wasn’t qualified but they took a chance on me based on my portfolio.”

I think I can spot your Oscars drawing in the background… how would you describe your creative style?

“It is, it’s a bit self-indulgent of me! The short way of describing my style is it’s a contemporary version of the op art movement, which included artists such as Sol LeWitt and Bridget Riley whose optical illusions transformed mathematical equations into art. Mine is a reimagination but in a much more colourful, playful way – and I animate my work as well.

“I’ve been creating pattern-based work for a long time, and I get the itch to evolve my work constantly. Over the years I’ve been experimenting more with colour play. My compositions are always minimal, but my artwork has become more three-dimensional. But still, it’s rooted in communicating an idea as simply and effectively as possible.”

It’s interesting you say that because, in the digital age, I feel you need that simplicity to cut through the noise.

“It was never intentional, to be honest. It’s just something I’ve always done. That simpler approach in conveying a message and using visual metaphors is, I think, one of my most consistent ideas.”

Where do you begin in terms of deciding the colour palette and composition?

“I usually leave it till the end as it’s the most challenging part, like solving a puzzle. I have to convey as much detail, depth and dimension as possible in as few colours as possible. Working with a restricted palette really highlights specific details, so you have to be deliberate.

“I start with contrasting the light and dark, then bridging the gap and balancing things out diagonally. A while ago, I spent a day choosing my favourite blue, my favourite green, my favourite pink, my favourite yellow, and arranging them in a way that I knew they would always complement each other.

“I’m so excited by colour combinations, I think that’s still my biggest obsession: how colour defines the tone of a piece. It’s so subjective, you’re using colours hoping to capture that emotion and I think that’s what fascinates me.”

I’m so excited by colour combinations, I think that’s still my biggest obsession: how colour defines the tone of a piece.

Karan Singh

Artist and illustrator

So, what’s your current favourite colour?

“Great question. I think it's green: emerald or even like a bottlebrush green. It's crazy, because I've hated green for the longest time, there’s very little green in my older work... and now I can't get enough of it.”

You're very on trend. Green is Pantone’s Colour of the Year…

“Maybe it's all just subliminal and I'm just a sponge. Whenever I need new furniture, I think ‘oh, what about a green thing?’. But the trend is going to be over in the same way that millennial pink came and went, and we’ll just be stuck with all these green things.”

What is it about your creative style that you think lends itself so well to luxury brands?

“There’s something appealing about minimalism; the simplicity and the elegance of it.”

What’s been your favourite piece of work to create, and why?

“That’s a tough one, but I think I’m always most engaged with the art I’m working on at that moment. Of course, it was surreal to watch the Oscars on television – when that email came in, I was like ‘This is it, I’m done. I can stop now.’”

How does your work connect with digital audiences?

“Motion plays such a big part in it; moving content is so much more engaging. I started creating these hypnotic, trippy GIFs and I was lucky to ride that wave of popularity. In terms of connecting with an audience, I try to keep my social media to a minimum and be deliberate with what I post – I value those meaningful interactions.”

Who are your bucket list brands to work with?

“It would be really cool to create a capsule collection, such as a sneaker, with a high-fashion brand. To have something tangible out there, especially something wearable, would be fantastic.”

You’ve lived in Australia, Amsterdam and Tokyo, how would you say those different cultures and countries have impacted your artistic style?

“The place that had the biggest impact was probably Tokyo. The Japanese approach to everything – whether skills, goods, food – is to honour it by doing that one thing really well. That spurred my obsession with stripping back an illustration to the necessities.”

Is there any city in particular that inspires your work?

“One place I loved walking around was Tangier in Morocco. It was like nowhere I’d been in my life. My favourite thing to do whenever we're traveling is people watch, so that was one of the most inspiring trips because I just wanted to sit outside a cafe and watch the world go by.”

Do you have any landmarks, museums or up-and-coming artists you’d recommend?

“The Stedelijk, a contemporary art museum in Amsterdam, is awesome. It’s the one that looks like a bathtub from the outside. When I lived in Amsterdam, one of my favourite things to do was pop in there and the Rijksmuseum next to it with my season pass. I’d go to see the Dutch masters on the top floor because I can't get enough of those, they’re so beautiful.

“There’s also an artist whose work I'm loving right now, his name is Braulio Amado. He’s a Brazilian graphic designer based in New York. I love his work; he captures the playfulness of what it is to be a child and an artist and have the confidence to put it out there.”

@madebykaran | madebykaran.com