10?’s with artist, illustrator and designer, Kris Andrew Small
Hot out of Sydney, Australia, Kris Andrew Small’s energetic work is loud, proud and here to stay. He chats to us about having a voice, his icons, getting the clients you want and keeping it weird.
Kris, so much of your work oozes pure energy. Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I do, it’s quite random tbh though. I have a playlist that is like a constant 50 songs of what I think is interesting at the moment and I kind of just listen to that. But then also I like my studio to feel really familiar and calm, which means I listen to A LOT of cheesy pop cos it’s familiar and kind of just washes over me in the background.
If people judged me on my studio music… I’m not sure I would get hired too much haha.
You’ve used your work as a way to speak out for LGBTQIA+, mental health, the pandemic, BLM, encouraging voting and other important social issues.
What responsibility do designers and creatives have in this and what issues should we be looking to tackle next?
I mean, I just have an opinion on a lot of these topics and I am in a privileged position that I can use my voice to amplify things, I really don’t want to take that for granted and use it for the better.
I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision to make work about social issues, it’s just I can’t ignore those things going on around me, and I find my work the best way to deal with that.
Also, I hope it has a bit of an impact out there, that people see what I do and think differently or realise a certain prejudice they might have. When you come from a marginalised community, I think you see the world differently and have huge compassion for others that are marginalised. I think there are a million things left to tackle, for me, I am very aware of the fact that while a lot of progress has been made in the queer community, there is still a lot of repression, and there are still millions of queer people who live in situations that are not safe for them.
That's what I want to talk about anyway.
Keith Haring is a huge inspiration for you as an artist and queer icon but what current people inspire you now?
For sure… um… my friends inspire me, I know that sounds corny… but it’s true.
I am lucky to be surrounded by artists, we are always sharing our work with each other and talking about projects. I am just one person and while I have agents, it can be a bit overwhelming working on these projects sometimes, so I am very grateful I have people to bounce things off of.
I try not to look too much at what other artists outside of that are doing, it’s easy to fall down a ‘why didn’t I do that’, or ‘my work should be more like that person’ rabbit hole, that isn’t good for me, or anyone really.
You’ve said that you originally wanted to study film not graphic design but didn’t get onto the course so it sounds like you’re into films, do you have a favourite or one you keep coming back to?
Like my music choice… I’m like turbo pop but turbo alternative at the same time haha… my favourite movie ever is Big Business, a very cheesy 80s movie set in NYC.
Best movie I’ve seen recently was Parallel Mothers by Pedro Alodóvar. I thought that was so great. And so pretty to watch as always. I think I wanted to study film more to make music videos than to make movies though… I wanted to make like really glitchy kind of M.I.A. style music videos.
I feel like my work isn’t too far away from that now… kinda.
Your work has hung in the Louvre and at the V&A, but do you have a favourite art gallery in the world to visit?
Haha yeah, that’s a nuts sentence, isn’t it? I love the Pompidou so much, I love the building, I love the collection, I love the big square out front in summer. It’s just super, super cool!
I did just visit LACMA in LA, that was great, I really liked the Barbara Kruger show!
What’s one thing (not design or work-related) you can’t live without?
The beach, or at least access to water.
I don’t like being inland, it stresses me out… like people always ask me if I want to drive across Australia... Being that far from the ocean terrifies me!
This list of clients in your portfolio is incredible, having already worked with Nike, Adidas, Apple, Dazed, YouTube, Adobe and many more household names. For many people, these are dream clients that they’d love to work with, even just one of them in their career.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to work with these kinds of clients?
Make work that is unique, then they have a reason to hire you.
If you make work that already exists, they will hire the person that already exists. I made so much work in the beginning that wasn’t for brands, so by the time they were hiring me, they kind of knew what they were going to get!
You have to show people what you can do, then they can see what you can make for them. I’m always trying out new things and trying to learn new ways of working or putting my work on lots of different mediums, I think that massively helps as well cos it doesn’t limit you to one thing.
Is there anything you can’t do that you wish you could?
I always think it looks so cool, I love the ocean, I wanted to learn when I was a teenager, but I found it super intimidating and I was generally pretty bad at anything physical, I guess I could learn now, but I don’t have the time.
As a commercial design studio, what can we learn from you as an illustrator? Do you enjoy being commissioned with studios and agencies on client projects or do you prefer to work on your own terms as a one-man band?
I don’t have a preference really, I am happy working either way.
I am always quite excited by everything so when I get a brief I am kind of open to anything and want to make the best thing possible. So some things I can do sitting in my studio, and sometimes with a big team of people. I think it’s really good to admit you can’t do everything.
I can animate, but I’m for sure not the best, so it’s better for me to take my work and work with the best animator I can find, then we get such an amazing result and both learn something in the process.
Finally, with such a distinctive style that clients and creatives clearly love, how do you keep this style but move it forward and into the future?
I kinda have this rule that you should always make it 20% weirder, so what I mean by that is every time I get a brief, I look at it and go, how can I change it a little bit, but not completely change everything?
How can it just be a little different from the last. Then if you look at a year of my work, it’s evolved naturally and I don’t get bored of it; hopefully, viewers don’t as well.
My style comes quite naturally to me, I don’t mean that in an ignorant way, I mean I did a million things for a long time and I finally landed on making what I thought was good, as opposed to what anyone else thought was good. Funnily enough, that’s when people started to take me seriously, cos it was finally unique and really came from me.
Everyone has their own style based on their background and experience, we as artists/designers need to tap into that more and look inwards when making work as opposed to looking at what others are doing.
Kris Andrew Small is an artist, illustrator and designer based in Sydney. His work is a joyful explosion of colour, typography, pattern, and collage. His work often takes societal issues and channels them through loud and abstract visuals.
He has worked with Nike, Apple, Channel 4, WeTransfer, Adidas, Dazed, It’s Nice That, Youtube, Sony Music, Reebok Classics and many more.