ARTIST-TO-ARTIST INTERVIEW: NEO 10Y & AKIRA BEARD
Forward by Melanie Oliva
Ever since The Artful Activist was formed, I’ve been yearning to make interviews more collaborative. It was so easy to interview fellow Contributor Stuart Sheldon. The questions came to me like they had always been there (probably because they had). I was curious as to how he’s managed so much success in the art world while saying what he wants to say. His answers have inspired me to be more outspoken.
When discussing the direction of The Artful Activist with writer/director Kelly Hughes, I had a breakthrough (OK, so maybe it was his idea). Why not have our Contributors interview each other? Artists could interview musicians, activists could interview politicians, curators could interview gallerists, and so on. Intriguing questions would be asked and I could delegate some of the writing (heh, heh). These interviews could connect people who’ve never met; another part of my grand plan. Yeah, this could be good.
So here we are – our first artist-to-artist interview. Both artists seem to say what they want to say, and although they had never met before, (and previously unbeknownst to me) each had created work around the idea “Amerikkka”. I initially “met” both on Instagram, where they each have a powerful presence. But these individuals are proof that large-Insta-following does not always equal large-Insta-ego.
In fact, NEO 10Y and Akira Beard are two of the most talented-yet-humble artists I’ve ever encountered.
NEO 10Y was even described as the “Banksy of music” after using his anonymous moniker. It’s since been revealed that he is Nik Thakkar – London-based multi-platform artist, musician, columnist and menswear entrepreneur. The mystery that may never be revealed is how he does all of these things.
The provocative videos that accompany NEO 10Y/Nik’s futuristic tunes powerfully examine our current political situation. He even artistically “ended” Trump on camera before Kathy Griffin – and not unlike Kathy, has experienced some backlash. Part of me wonders if he’d like to have his anonymity back. But I am not the interviewer, so find out more about him below, revealed by Akira.
Speaking of Akira Beard, I can’t do that objectively because he’s one of my favorite visual artists. I would say the greatest of our time (here I go). He not only creates incredible depth with his paint brush, but also with the thought behind each composition and commentary on the human condition. He makes his flawless work look effortless (NOT easy to do). There’s more. He collaborates. He works with the elderly. He’s kind. His art has a way of helping you learn more about yourself. And now’s your chance to learn even more about about him, thanks to Nik…
NEO 10Y (Nik): I love the name of your series “Love In Spite of Everything”. Do you feel this has become more true due to the current political climate? What can artists do to enhance this mindset?
Akira: I don’t think the current political situation and the effects of concern and anxiety many are undergoing make “Love in Spite of Everything” any more true. When I think of the slogan, I think of empathy, awareness, compassion and so on. It’s an everyday practice in relating to the world from this view – whether it be political, social, or personal. And for any individual to act from such a place is the result of much inner work and healing.
I think artists, or anyone for that matter, could enhance such a mindset by first going to that difficult place themselves. Only then could a person have any inclination with creating from intentions such as compassion for the world, rather than their own personal benefit.
NEO 10Y (Nik): Tell us more about your self-portrait project. As an artist, how do you feel that the medium of expression through the gaze of oneself has evolved with digital media?
Akira: The project came as the result after I began to experience the world beyond the narrow view of myself. Again, experiencing people more through empathy where the experience of conversation for example became more about listening and learning as opposed to waiting for my turn to speak. Reflecting this visually, I played with the idea of Self Portraiture where I painted the image of others under the phrasing “Self Portrait”.
In relation to social media and the Self, I feel it’s an interesting ongoing development how many of us see ourselves and expose it consciously or not through social media. The whole selfie thing for example, or how so many people are suddenly “artists” or make art and put it on social media because the technology exists and is accessible to many with doing so.
But the need for a following and “likes” reveals perhaps a desperate need for the Self to be acknowledged, which I find quite popular and overwhelmingly so, with much of the content posted, and where I choose not to look at the everyday stream because of it.
NEO 10Y (Nik): Are there any artists (any medium) whose work you are particularly interested in at the moment, dead or alive?
Akira: I’m extremely specific when it comes to art; a friend a few days ago called me an art snob. I don’t differentiate between art and the artist’s life, and look for authentic pieces expressing the idea. As a result, this draws me away from an interest in visual art, ironically because I am a visual artist.
So much of the time it seems, to me, visual art is more about the aesthetics than the content of the individual’s inner world behind it. A painter focusing more on how they paint for example – brush strokes, composition, colors, etc. – as opposed to what they’re actually painting. I could name dead artists I’m inspired by but what’s the point in that? When not making art myself, I’m doing anything but looking at it. This may come out the wrong way, but it’s the truth.
NEO 10Y (Nik): Regarding your “Art With Elders” project, how do you feel about the older generations – a large percentage of whom may be holding back the progression for a more free, liberal world? How has your experience with them changed you?
Akira: Working with elders for over six years was one of the highlights of my life up to this point. Elders fundamentally are our greatest teachers with how to live because they are closer to the end of the road. I experienced this firsthand in several relationships with my students, some whom passed during that time.
It is because of them that I learned about empathy, the nature of death and dying, and so many more universal concepts that bind us all despite differences in ideologies such as liberalism and conservatism. Conservatism is just the result of people desperately holding onto something they can’t let go of. It’s one thing to see this in elders, which I guess could be more expected, but my concern would be more with younger generations which among other things, the current political situation has helped to expose, exist in this country.
NEO 10Y (Nik): Both of us reference drug experimentation within our work. Do you ever feel this has limited you on a commercial level?
Akira: I’m not very limited when it comes to art. I’m not a commercial artist and have never pursued this. The creative process, I feel, is a place where the individual can go places far and beyond. The only limit is themselves. To compromise the journey with worries of anything external to that – the market, what others might think – is to compromise the integrity of the higher potentials of however far that journey may lead.
So to be direct, I could care less if there are or were any consequences such as being less commercially successful because I’m open about drug use in relation to my art. To be influenced in the least could only lead to pretense, which I’m allergic to. I may have to compromise to various extents in every other part of my life, but not with art.
To be influenced in the least could only lead to pretense, which I’m allergic to. I may have to compromise to various extents in every other part of my life, but not with art.
NEO 10Y (Nik): What is next for you? Anything you would like to share about future projects?
Akira: After four years of living as a vagabond, making art every step of the journey reflecting the experiences like photographs, I’ve just landed a home in California where I can position myself and take everything I’ve absorbed over that period and push the art making to the next level.
I work in harmony with the constancy of the reality of whatever may be occurring with each day. And so I’m excited to see how this will tie in with the political, global zeitgeist of a situation that has shocked a complacent population into wakefulness. I see my creative journey most currently exploring that world.
For more about Akira Beard:
Akira: Can you discuss the meaning behind the name NEO 10Y?
NEO 10Y (Nik): I was reading a biology book and I came across the word “neoteny” which means “the retention of childhood characteristics in the adult animal”. For me, it’s the idea of the purity that comes with that. I wanted it to feel like code, with a futurist mindset – hence the 10 which also represents “rebirth” and “positivity” in numerology. Finally, my initials are N.T. – so it all made sense to me.
Akira: I read that you received threatening letters from the video “The Kid That Killed Trump”. Do such responses have any effect on your ambitions with creating more music/videos similar in nature?
NEO 10Y (Nik): The emails and hate mail are scary. No one wants to be told that they should be beheaded! No matter how artistically – although I am grateful to Kathy Griffin for speaking up on the matter. It also weirds me out about traveling to America. I’m really conscious of it at this time. I already get second checks at the airport for no other reason than profiling, so it’s not ideal.
To be honest, I just want to step away from the association with him. The whole point of the video for me was some sort of closure – and he feeds on press and content, so I do think we should be silencing him in that way. That’s why I deleted him in the film.
I’ll still make political statements in my work – just not about him ever again.
… I just want to step away from the association with him. The whole point of the video for me was some sort of closure – and he feeds on press and content, so I do think we should be silencing him in that way.
Akira: The video “Amerikkka”, along with the Trump video mentioned earlier were both made prior to Trump winning office. Now that he’s President, are you working on any songs specifically expressing or commentating on the current state of affairs taking place as a result?
NEO 10Y (Nik): The record won’t have that specific association. It’s more focused on our movement and progression as humans. It’s futurist and goes through a dark place with tracks like Dirt Cobain, but it ends in a really positive place.
Akira: I feel music is a medium that can transport a person into another state instantly. In seconds, it can bring one up when feeling down for example. Where would you like to take your audience when they hear your music?
NEO 10Y (Nik): I’d like to take them to an orgy with Grace Jones, Elliott Smith, Lana Del Rey and Tupac in 2020.
Akira: Collaboration can reveal the heights/direction an artist would ideally like their work to go. Hypothetically speaking, dead or alive, are there any musicians/artists you would like to collaborate with?
NEO 10Y (Nik): All my idols are dead – I love Leonard Cohen, Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse, Bowie – but also I think of music like architecture and I love Zaha Hadid. Rest in power.
Akira: I get a sense of concern for the world’s state, empathy and hope from your music. Is there reason why your creativity seems to be motivated by such things as opposed to your own self serving?
NEO 10Y (Nik): It’s not all totally selfless; you have to find a balance. I initially make songs for me – sounds that I like, emotions that I have, poetry that comes from my soul. Anyone who connects with it emotionally or sonically means that they can relate to my work and mind. So maybe that it is partly self serving. Music and performing are totally therapy for me at this stage.
Akira: What is next for NEO 10Y? What can the world expect?
NEO 10Y (Nik): The album is due to be released this Fall/Winter and there are a few videos coming out. I’m focusing on that right now. We’re also working out live stuff, but I’m really excited to start touring.
For more about NEO 10Y/Nik Thakkar: