Tel Aviv-based artist reminds us that we're all one

Where do I belong? It’s a question we often ask ourselves, and one’s pursuit for the answer shapes how we self-identify. The answer becomes all the more complicated as life unexpectedly unfolds, such as visual artist KLONE’s unforeseen move from Harkov, Ukraine to Tel Aviv, Israel at a young age.

KLONE began his career with graffiti — tagging walls in Tel Aviv to insert himself into the landscape and make himself a part of his new hometown. As his work evolved and grew more complex — KLONE often includes regional iconography and symbols in his work as a way of connecting with the local community — his exhibitions and murals have been shown internationally in the United States, the Middle East, and Europe.

We caught up with the artist right before his first U.S. solo exhibition opening at Garis and Hahn, Topography of a Daydream, to chat about the past, present, and future.

What is KLONE?

Klone is a name that came from one of my first characters in 2004. Then there’s also the more obvious nod to the word “clone.” I want the name to remind my audiences that even though we’re partaking in the same society, whether locally or globally, and often choosing the paths prescribed to us, we can still manage to be subtly different within that sameness. Hence, the change of first letter from “C” to “K.”

"As a teenager having moved from the U.S.S.R. to Israel, it meant a lot to claim a space."

How did you discover street art? What was its initial impact on you? 

I discovered graffiti in 1999, got hooked on it and haven’t stopped painting since. The initial impact was the excitement of claiming a space as your own. As a teenager having moved from the U.S.S.R. to Israel, it meant a lot to claim a space. I didn’t feel like a stranger anymore. The characters I painted on the streets, made me feel like the streets were mine. Much happened since, tags became murals, interventions, installations and lately also stop motion animation. There’s still so much to learn and try.

"Ways to Hide (Black Cat)" 2014

“Ways to Hide (Black Cat),” 2014

"Sleeping Beauty," 2014 | "Untitled," 2014

“Sleeping Beauty,” 2014 | “Untitled,” 2014

"They Have Eyes, But They Do Not See" 2013

“They Have Eyes, But They Do Not See” 2013

Where is home to you? If home were a feeling how would you describe it? 

Home is where my mind is at peace: my studio, the beach, the woods, the seat of my bike, and, of course, anywhere my family and friends.

What’s the most primal feeling a person can have? What feelings do you hope people access when looking at your work?

The feeling you have when you’re laying under the stars and the moon. The feeling you have when walking through the woods and seeing the endlessness. The feeling you have when looking at waves in the ocean. These are all inward responses and, I imagine them to be subjective, so I recognize that any feeling elicited or accessed is good as long as it’s pure and not overthought.

Describe your process.

I observe, listen, read, interact and work all the way through, before, during and after. I seek to react to the current, besides the obvious and inevitable ongoing. I also believe that through continued practice you learn the most. I keep on learning from my successes and mistakes as both ultimately mix into one progression to a project.

What other forms of art inspire you and your work?

I’m inspired by all means of self expression and most importantly, passion. It can be about modern dance or music or carpentry or iron welding. As long as the person involved is committed and steadfast about his or her practice and striving to take it to another level, it will reflect in the outcome and project to the outside. This is great to see.

"People are generally very good at inventing things to be afraid of."

How is your emigration from the Ukraine to Israel represented through the pieces on display at your new exhibition, Topography of a Daydream?

My emigration is major part of who I am today. Even though I’ve been living and working in Tel Aviv for years now after having moved from U.S.S.R., it’s still an ongoing journey and its represented through the various elements in my work. The characters appearing through my work are commonly understood as lone travelers. They stand on folklore’s borders–passing on the thin line between the widely acceptable and the commonly forbidden. It’s the same for me–an immigrant can become a citizen of a new country, but he will always carry part of his motherland within himself, whether he chooses to accept it or hide from it.

What do you remember most about the move? How has it affected you and your work?

I remember moving from a place I knew to one that I didn’t. Everything around me was new: the language, the light, the smells. I had to rebuild everything. Re-learn everything. But, with that, I had the chance to reinvent everything. My work became a hybrid of cultures, times, and styles. A new language that doesn’t belong to one country, but strives to reach out on a more global level and break the language, time, and location barriers.

Can you describe yourself in three words or less?

I can do it in one: optimist.

A lot of the pieces in this exhibition feature mythical animals you use often — foxes, crows, and black cats — but your depiction of these animals seems almost softer than before. What’s changed?

Earlier in my practice, I was showing more of the wild side of those animals, probably the way people might see them and misinterpret their intentions to be violent or evil. People are generally very good at inventing things to be afraid of. We imagine in our minds a foreign look or sharp teeth and it’s instantly scarier than the reality. Nowadays I’m looking deeper into the other sides of the myths of animals, by looking into their nature and behavior throughout history. The result is a softer line, but that could also be attributed to my compassion for these characters growing over the years. They’ve been with me for a long time.

If you could be one mythical creature, what would it be?

There are many people who will claim my foxes, or kitsunes, are self-portraits. I would agree.

What’s next?

It seems like everything. But certainly, more commissioned murals around the world, more animations, more adventures…

Topography of a Daydream runs at Garis and Hahn from May 14, 2015 until June 20, 2015.

Cover image is “The Eternal Float,” 2013, photo by Eldad Carin.