Symon is the name and the persona behind Ubud’s Art Zoo, a Warhol-esque community of pop artists. He spoke to Lily Shipman.
It’s nice to meet you, but would you be so kind as to tell us your name, age, and where you’re from? And, well, who you are in the greater scheme of things?
My name is Symon, but since we are now on a first name basis, I don’t need to tell you the rest. I’m originally from Detroit. When I was still there I did a bit of work for the MC5 and I also got a gig making posters for The Grateful Dead, so, as I know what the real thing is, I sign my name. I guess you could say that my job is also quality control.
Who would you say is your favourite superhero and why?
Andy Warhol, for sure. I think he qualifies as a superhero. I met him once, he was selling copies of Interview magazine and he got me to tell him about my “Art of Destruction” kits.
How would you describe your approach to art?
I’m very direct. I’ll create a big blue Buddha if someone wants one…or I recently just did 40 big Marilyn Monroes for a party show on the 37th floor of the Sofitel Hotel in Bangkok. So, as you can tell, I have a great team of Balinese Pop Art Pros who help. I wouldn’t be able to do any of that without them.
What is it about pop art that has you hooked?
I like the fact that you can make it fast and keep it funny, and that when it comes to pop art, I don’t forget to get the money…
When, and if, you decide to paint, do you just pick up a brush and begin, or do you have a process you go through first?
Well, I meet a lot of cool people at Art Zoo, both number one and number two, and as a result I get painting ideas thrown at me. I like to give most of them a try. So perhaps that’s my process.
When did you first stumble across Ubud and why did you stay?
I guess you could say that I met up with Arie Smit and he’s way cool, so I set up in Ubud and I’m still here.
Why do you call your place an Art Zoo?
More people pop up here from all over the world than would never walk into a gallery in NYC. Bali is hot global local.
What’s it like inside your Zoo? Is it as dangerous as the sign on the road out front says?
Art is vision and it’s more dangerous than geography because it’s our imagination that enables you to experience it.
Is the Zoo all about you? Or do other people get involved or exhibit their work too?
At Art Zoo we are looking at you! So, no, it’s not all about me. Be it pretty girls or Japanese grandmas, each of the people dancing up the steps is inspired to see one of the greatest studios in Asia. These people are involved as they are often providing vision or direction, sharing their thoughts about what they might like to see on the wall. So we, the Art Zoo team, are creating work for each of you.
Would you say that life in Ubud is like a zoo?
Ubud is in top form and what a success story that is. Just 30 years ago there were only two bemos a day and Jalan Monkey Forest was just a muddy track!
What’s your philosophy in life?
To create the world around you, then dance your role. Enjoy the everyday and try to see your dreams come true.
When was the last time that you were happy?
Let’s see. The last time I was happy was when I was looking at all the creations and people painting. They started with a blank canvas then painted it red. I also love to see the sparkle of the Bali Sea.
Is it all about art for you, or do you have other interests?
I like climbing towers, building Pagoda lotus ponds and I’m also always looking at paintings.
Is there anything that makes you angry?
I hate the ugly half structures left all over the island. If you build it you should tear it down when you leave.
In your opinion, what makes a great piece of pop art?
Pop must be flashy, decorative, cheap and bitch-trashy. Then it’s perfect.
What’s your favourite colour? Why?
Red…because it really gets all over everything!
Is there any kind of art that you would refuse to hang on your wall?
Not that I can think of at the moment.
Tell us some wise words, yours or someone else’s, that you just have to share with the world?
I’ll refer you to the comment I made earlier: Make it fast keep it funny and don’t forget to get the money…