The Myth of Himbad and the 9th Wave
I heard of the enigmatic artist, Himbad, long before I met him. A London artist with a far travelled reputation. The buzz came to New York when word got out he was doing his first solo show in NYC. Rumor had it several galleries were trying get him in. The bid was won by Bushwick’s finest, 3RD ETHOS Gallery. Connie and the 3RD ETHOS crew set him up for a month long residency. Given the expense of shipping, Himbad opted to paint all originals for the show. Thus, for nearly the whole of May, he painted like a madman, conjuring new creations.
Himbad’s work makes uses of vibrant hues, deep purples, aquatic greens, and sunset reds. I thought to myself his masterful palette fit well within the canon of 3RD ETHOS shows. The big night came. The walls glowed with an ethereal aesthetic. Stepping into 3RD ETHOS, one crossed the void into the 9th Wave. The art and aura resonated with an otherworldly feel. Himbad had painted a span of canvases, large to small, in a range of styles, satirical pop-art to complex mythologies – all drenched with dynamic colors. Several featured the faces of his imaginative world. Meowl, Apocolyptoad, Dreamwise - creatures made of myth and memory.
Looking at the art, one understood there was a story, a tickling of the subconscious, even without fully grasping the depth. His paintings were enchanted by secrets and myths.
The Myth of Himbad
Later, Himbad let me in on some of the secrets of the 9th Wave. His oeuvres incorporate a variety of mythic elements. Quiet Celtic and Japanese backdrops are often contrasted against animated figures.
“I’m a fan of Joseph Campbell and Karl Jung. I like to see patterns within world mythology.”
In particular, Himbad is attracted to recurring themes and archetypal characters. Often overlooked, Celtic ideas played a foundational role in the U.K. as well as Himbad’s work. He alluded to the Roman suppression of the Celtic culture as one of the reasons it is not widely celebrated today.
“The [British] landscape is dotted with remnants from earthworks and stone circles… not much is known [due to] an oral tradition. Most of what we hear about them is racist nonsense written by Romans."
Himbad's work also has a strong Asiatic influence. “The Monkey is one of my favorite characters. So mischievous and funny.” He described the idea of ‘Himbad’ as a “cross between Monkey, Odysseus, and Sinbad the Sailor.”
During his tenure at 3RD ETHOS, Himbad collaborated with Outersource on a wall in the Lower East Side. Their styles play together well, Meowl perched against a cosmic backdrop. The character reminded me of Greek myth, where the owl symbolizes wisdom and knowledge. Himbad explained, “I like playing with meaning and interpretation. I’m aware of historical archetypes… I try to convey ideas on a subliminal level.” He continued, “I don’t like to be too literal… I prefer to leave interpretation to the eye of the beholder."
Like his paintings, Himbad cloaks himself in mystery. Part of this is pragmatic; hiding his identity allows him to avoid U.K. graft databases that track vandals. Another part of it allows him to see the true nature of people. At an art show there are the fakes, who will glow about an artist, and ignore anyone else. [Pulling what in the U.K. they call a ‘par.] Himbad likes to see how people react to him, before they know who he is.
The origin of Himbad came from stories he wrote. In one, the main character was named Himbad who traveled with his sidekick Dreamwise. Dreamwise possessed the power of prophecy, but only when he slept. While showing the story to a mate, his friend liked it; ‘that’s a sick name, I might use that.’ Himbad shot it down ‘Shut up, Bruv. That’s me.’ In that moment he chose the moniker. He grinned, “I went hard on Himbad ever since.” Silly as it seemed at first, Himbad began to grow into the identity. He realized its power.
“I love that symbols and words can hold many meanings.”
His distinct signature is made of kanji and ruins. Within it, he keeps a secret element. For the true of heart.
Mastering the Technique
Sprezzatura is the technique Himbad employs. In a way, this is a means of spray paint pointillism. However, Himbad adapts his style to fit a given medium.
“I like the unique properties of a particular medium. I like to explore and express it. For example, paint drips move with water."
Himbad is a gifted artist. He established his craft by experimenting. Trial and error.
“I like mistakes… either incorporating them as a base, or painting on top of them. I see them as an idea from the subconscious…” He elaborated, “development comes out of practice… I still have a long way to go. The more you do, the more you grow.”
Himbad continually tries to push himself to further his art. In his aim to master the sprezzatura technique, he hopes to create “confidence and ease with each stroke.”
“Sprezzatura can be translated into Zen.” Though, he favors the former term. He quipped: “I think the 60s ruined Zen.”
Himbad's color palette resonated under the variable lighting of 3RD ETHOS. “I like that the paintings… bloom under different lighting.” Himbad offered his theories on color. “That particular purple I like, as it gets very dark without going to black.”
When painting, Himbad doesn’t plan out the end. Rather, he lets his colors lead him.
"My best practice for starting a painting is to reach for paint and just start covering the canvas. It’s very much an organic growth from that point on. [The] starting colors I have used will influence the piece... I will paint until the painting reveals itself.” However, Himbad is an artist of diverse styles. In the back of 3RD ETHOS, hanging by t-shirts printed with his logo, was a series titled ‘For Get Pop Art.’ In contrast to his large canvases, this satirical series pokes fun at the simplicity of the style.
They mock the cultural dominance of Pop Art, and the American capitalist system it serves as a proxy for.
“Masters of media and mind. Exploiting our fears and creating new ones in the subconscious.” He remarked, the power of repetitive imagery comes from a trick of psychology, playing with the mind’s attraction to the familiar.
"People see an image, see it a few times, they recognize it - you recognize and feel clever, we think we’re clever. Your subconscious mind picks it up.”
He expounded on his theories of corporate geopolitics, the ways the image of ‘The American Dream’ is sold to the world. In essence, most films and art are Amerocentric. By representing American ideas via pop culture (via characters like Captain America) they promote American values as being superior to the rest of the world. Pop art relies on the same tactics of corporate advertising, with mass produced imagery intended to induce comfort.
"Pop art is shit. Doesn’t make you think, just visual puns.”
Still admitted, some isn’t terrible “sometimes it can be layered [in meaning.]” But in essence, pop art is just “spot joking on something already familiar."
The Journey Continues
"Under the 9th wave is the gateway to the underworld… Underworld is the same as the other world. The one next to this one. The sea is a great symbol of the unconscious. The subconscious being — that great never ending well of inspiration – is something I try to connect with.”
The show opening was a massive success. The who’s who of NYC street art scene came to pay tribute and view the 9th Wave. Himbad hung back, perched on the benches, watching the crowd meander and mingle through the gallery. He reflected on his artist residency.
"3RD ETHOS was a great experience. I came away from it with a lot of new friends. Everyday filled with laughter and great people. I can’t thank them enough for their love and support."
Shortly after the opening night, Himbad flew out. His creative journey continues abroad - currently, he is on his way to China. A traveler as much as an artist, Himbad’s passport marks his never-ending journey.
Wrapping up our interview, he provided some final insights to his art.
"I guess I’m saying there is more than meets the eye. And if you peel off one layer there is a lot to see. Extra dimensional underworld, whatever you want to call it. I just want to open people to the idea there is more. To say that life is just the 9-5 drudgery until your meaningless death - I don’t buy it. Life is so much more.”
And his advice to other creatives, those who seek more to life: "step out of your gilded cage!"
Photos via 3RD ETHOS Gallery, Triple Cs, and Daniel Krieger