Like sharks, Sheryo and The Yok seem instinctively compelled to keep moving. When we catch them, they’re in a brief intermission between opening an exhibition and making their presentation at CARBON 2014. The art pair bonded over a shared visual vocabulary of fast food, weed culture, beaches, ghouls and pop-Satanism, and have been channelling it through a wide range of techniques – extending from painting walls to other traditions, like Vietnamese ceramic painting. Their latest exhibition, Nasty Goreng, saw them heading to regional Yogyakarta to learn a new technique, batik, and bring it back The Yok’s hometown of Perth.
How was it being back home in Perth?
The Yok: Yeah, it as great. Lots of beers with family and friends for sure.
How’d the show go?
Y: It was really good. It was good to have something we’ve been working on for three or four months all together in one room, because we did it in separate projects. We went to a small village in Yogyakarta did batik for a month. We went from Art Basel Miami, and then came back and finished the project.
We learnt all from scratch really. We learnt from these old ladies in the village.
How did they feel about sharing the techniques? Were they happy to?
Y: Not really, they were so nice and so accommodating and patient to because we spilled wax everywhere. There was a bit of a language barrier too. The first few days we made a lot of mistakes. We did a lot of things wrong and we got tips as we went along. Our first five were terrible, or weren’t as good. I think we did 30 or 40.
Sheryo: Yeah, we did 40.
Y: So towards the end, they got better and better.
S: And my mum was really stoked to see that we done all these batik pieces because she loved batik. I grew up knowing that she loved batik and I decided to try my hand at doing it and she was so stoked. There’s just so much work involved in it. So much work.
What is the process? How do you create that effect?
S: Basically, there’s this tool called a canting. It’s got various sizes. It’s got like a fat cap, a skinny cap and there’s a little copper ball where you scoop the hot wax off the stove and then you just pour it on the fabric.
Y: Drawing with liquid wax, you can imagine it’s pretty difficult. Because it just constantly flows you can’t stop it. You can’t really take your pen off the page – you have to keep going.
S: Sometimes it leaks out, through a hole or something and it just flops all over.
Is it more difficult that aerosol?
Sheryo and The Yok: Yeah
Y: I think, like many things, it’s just a lot of practice and you get the hang of it. By the thirtieth one.
Do you get more expressive when you get better at it?
Yeah and you learn that the speed of it really matters. If you go slow, you get lines that are really thick and if you go fast they get thinner, which is a lot like aerosol as well. But what we found quite funny was the old men of the village. Batik, laying at the wax is kind of a women’s job so I was getting weird looks by the men. It’s not masculine to be doing batik, so I was squatting on these really small stools with the ladies doing batik. They were just looking down on me.
S: I quite liked doing the batik but I could tell it was doing his head in.
Y: Yeah, I wasn’t as good at it. I’ve got fat fingers. She’s got smaller nimble fingers. She was a lot better at it than me and just squatting for that many hours. Some of the pieces took maybe 20 hours to finish just sitting on a little chair, that’s this big. I fell off the chair a few times, tipped wax on myself.
S: And then everyone just laughed. It wasn’t even like “Oh my God, are you okay?” Everyone just laughed. All the women laughed.
You’re also doing stuff with ceramics, right? How did you get started in that?
Y: We went to Hanoi and there was a ceramic village. We just wanted to have a look at the village more than anything so we rented a scooter and rode out for an like an hour into the mountains and just asked people along the way where’s this village. And we found the village and we started sticky-beaking around the factories and Sheryo wen through charades and kind of just asked if we could sit down with them and start painting vases. So that turned into a 12-day epic.
I saw that you guys were painting some pretty gnarly stuff. What was the gnarliest thing you did on one of those?
S: Maybe [writing] ‘prison rape’.
Y: They were just amused, or bemused, by us, wondering why the hell we were doing this.
S: [Yok was] some white guy in the village, on really short stools painting ceramics. He broke a pot even before he started painting.
Y: Yeah, I stood out a lot. But I’m not sure how they perceived me. They would always come up and have a look but then go off and have their little discussions and we don’t understand what they’re saying. We were drawing things like marijuana leaves and Satans and skulls and cross bones and stuff like that.
But the thing that we like most about it was that we were taking this ancient traditional vase painting and putting our contemporary stories on it. They used those vases to tell fables and folk law and stuff like that and we were telling our ‘getting your bike wheels stolen in Brooklyn or getting drunk and eating pizza stories on these vases.
I guess it could be the most authentic way of doing it – telling your own stories rather than telling anyone else’s stories.
Y: It would’ve been weird if we came in and painted –
Y: and bamboo leaves and stuff. I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable. It’s kind of a nice tale of old meets new.
Have you got a plan for what’s next?
S: Yeah, we’ve been really wanting to go to Papua New Guinea to do masks.
Y: That’s the next plan. Batik was the one after ceramics and then they also have these cool shadow puppets called wayang kulit so we really wanted to explore that but –
S: We ran out of time.
Y: We did this sculptural thing, devils and pineapples and pizzas. We were hoping to do wayang kulit in the same timeframe but we needed know anything about the process. It takes a lot longer than we thought. It takes so long to do
S: And the colours and to carve it with really primitive tools, like The Flintstones.
Y: its all hand done. It takes one week to do one.
S: One week to just carve one and then two weeks to paint, or something like that.
Talking about a different tradition, you [Sheryo] were painting walls in Singapore. Is that really hard to do in Singapore?
S: Yeah its pretty terrible. It was really tough to do non-commissioned street stuff and there was only one legal spot to paint and that was the skate park and every day you put something up, the next day it gets done over just because there’s only one spot to paint. Painting on the streets – its not dangerous at all but its just really illegal and if you get caught you get caned, you get fined, go to jail.
I was doing it at the start, maybe when I was 18, 19, and then I stopped and then I started doing more commissioned murals. I wasn’t that good at aerosols. I’d say I was pretty terrible and the only time I got to really practice was at the skate park wall or when I had a job for like Nike or whatever. It was kind of difficult and then I decided to just save money and kept travelling. I started travelling and then got out and started painting more stuff and got better. I met Yok on my travels.
Where were you guys when you guys met?
Y: I missed my flight to Indonesia and Sheryo was just visiting Singapore because she was living in Cambodia. And we kind of met briefly in Singapore and I wanted to go visit her in Cambodia. So we painted our first wall in Cambodia and realised our styles were pretty similar and then we just started drawing together a lot. And then I went back to Brooklyn and then I think I lasted two weeks and said I had to come back and get her. So then we just kept travelling from then on.
You guys are based in Brooklyn right? If you weren’t based there where do you think you’d be setting up shop?
Y: We were just talking about this a couple of days ago and we said Bangkok.
S: Because there’s a lot of subculture. It feels like Asia’s New York. Asia’s Brooklyn. You can get into trouble easily.
Y: It has a real Underbelly, a real interesting music scene. It has a real interesting fashion scene – it’s really thriving. It’s third world but it’s got a first world layer. It’s a really good city.
S: I don’t mind Cambodia as well. I don’t mind going back there.
Y: Somewhere in South East Asia I think
I saw an interview where you guys were living around the corner from a $1 beer and metal bar.
Y: We still are. It’s so good.
S: And you can spin the wheel.
You can spin the wheel? What do you get?
S: Yeah! You can get all sorts of things – you can get beer, you can get whisky, or if you’re unlucky you get nothing and you have to stay in the gimp cage for like 20 minutes.
Y: The metal bar has a gimp cage.
What’s it called?
Is it named after Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses?
Y: I don’t know who it’s named after, but it used to be in Manhattan in the ’80s then they moved out to Brooklyn, rent-wise, and they changed their name to Duff’s. I don’t know what it was called before then.
Sheryo, when we spoke to you a year ago and you said you wanted to get into tattoos. Have you?
How’s it been going?
S: Pretty good, I guess. I did one on his thigh.
Y: She’s amazing; she’s really fast at pizza.
S: I drew a regular pizza. Our friend came over with a tattoo gun and we were discussing “Oh man, what should I tattoo on you?” and I just drew a pizza and his friend said it would take forever because it was my first time.
Y: It was a really detailed drawing and he said that would be an hour’s worth. Maybe she would should start with something simple and it took her about 10 minutes and it was really clean.
You’re a natural.
S: I think he’s got really good skin for it too – a good canvas.
How did you decide between a tattoo gun and a stick and poke?
Y: She’s done both on me.
S: Stick and poke takes way too long, I lose my patience. Whereas the tattoo gun just blasts through it – so fun.
Many thanks to the Blackman Hotel for hosting the interviews for CARBON 2014.