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Kami (You Know Me Well) - Light It Up

Words:

Edd Norval
June 1, 2022

Kami aka YouKnowMeWell, has carved out an interesting niche for himself in contemporary art - sitting somewhere amongst popular culture, graffiti and neon signs. All of these are popular individually, but together, Kami negotiates the strengths of each to make his glowing work shine brigh. A sum greater than all of its parts.

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Everybody loves neon lights. This is a hill I’d be willing to die on. They look good in most contexts, particularly in the e-popular aesthetic of ‘Tokyo’ or ‘Blade Runner’ Instagram accounts, where gloomy urban corners and steamy food stands are accentuated in the night sky by the buzz and glow of the gas filled tubes.


Kami, coming from a background in graffiti, knows a thing or two about eye-catching compositions. This is even more true considering he hails from Berlin - one of the world’s meccas for urban art. To stand out in such a huge city, in such a crowded street art marketplace, one must not only act differently, but create work that resonates. Just looking cool isn’t enough.

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So, how does the artist do this? For starters, he’s been immersed in the culture for so long. After taking the decision to help open a club in Shanghai in the early 00s, the graffiti writer and DJ became its de facto art director, bringing his sense of the culture into an entirely new realm. With a bootleg copy of Photoshop from a nearby street vendor, he set out on a new artistic career.


Unbeknownst at the time, his earlier foray into design - initially for flyers, posters and general promotion - coupled with the graffiti background, meant that he was honing in his talent for making statement pieces. In the entertainment industry, nothing is pure function and nothing is pure art. All materials bring elements of the utilitarian into the artistic and vice versa.


Curating the iconography and symbolism of popular culture lent itself to Kami’s collage style of art which quickly got noticed, leading to festivals, labels and events calling upon his keen eye to help with their own branding and identity. In 2018, he decided to focus solely on his own work, incorporating a sort of autobiographical perspective of his life - weaving in symbols of Asian culture, like good luck charms - reflecting the time spent living, working and travelling around the continent.

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Perhaps it is due to his time there, combined with the inherently aesthetic qualities of the neon glow, that led to Kami seeing the light as his muse, the protagonist of his art that overlays complex backdrops of nostalgic images from video games, cartoons and film. The slogan often found on his neons are fun, humorous and evocative of the signs we associate neon being used for. Rather than choosing to reinvent the wheel, he’s opted to give it some high-end rims.


The sometimes paradoxical, sometimes contradictory imagery, where the neon is one layer and the backdrop another, makes the art even more endearing to decode. Rather than something you glance at, the fact that the ‘background’ is so complex and detailed immerses the viewer into the piece. Just as a neon sign would function on a shop front - hinting towards the real treasure that lies beneath/inside.

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