The Shadow Gallery travels to Tokyo to catch up with Swedish-born super prolific designer PMKFA. With a slick approach he has worked for numerous people from identities to wearables as well as handling things with his clothing label, It’s Our Thing. Obviously a busy man it’s good to grab a quick word or two.
TSG :: Hi. Care to introduce yourself?
PMKFA :: I’m PMKFA, a graphic designer trying to work as diverse as I can as long as I can keep a high level of quality. Always trying to explore new styles and new mediums and techniques. That exploration is my main inspiration, repeating myself is my nightmare.
Since 2006 I’m one half of It’s Our Thing, a graphic clothing label that I design and art-direct and the production is taken care of by my partner down in Osaka.
I’m based in Tokyo since 2005.
TSG :: Did your Swedish upbringing help as a foundation for being involved in design? Having been there a couple of times the overall aesthetics level I always find as high as you’d expect.
I grew up in a small industrial city 3 hours by train north from Stockholm. The county I’m from was once described as “Swedens cultural freezer” and it’s very true. My upbringing in Sweden didn’t shape my style but probably my ambition after I moved away from my hometown. Music made me dream about the outside world, sitting listening to Jeff Mills and Underground Resistance in my middle class home and look at images of a dystopian Detroit meant a lot for me. In my hometown you don’t have ambition so when I got my first produced jobs and earned my first money almost ten years ago I had already by far exceeded my dreams. It’s not until recently I started setting up real goals for PMKFA and It’s Our Thing, because I never grew up with the culture of doing so. I see a very exciting future in front of me.
TSG :: Now that you are residing in Japan has it altered your style of work?
It certainly has and since I moved away from Sweden in 2000 I’ve been working on disconnecting my style to my my origin, but being away from Europe the past four years it have intensified. I try to disconnect the logic I was born with as and I believe through doing that I can go in directions I wouldn’t be able to go if I was living in Europe. Long before I moved to Tokyo I used to look at japanese stuff and was stunned by the total absence of the stale rationality I had myself. Some of my recent stuff that’s coming out through Sixpack next year and some other stuff I think represent the fact that I finally managed to disconnect my old logic, but I also work hard on balancing it.
TSG :: I guess today your location doesn’t matter, but a lot of your output seems to be for Europeans huh?
I haven’t promoted myself since 2005 so my clients geographical location is random. This year I’m doing a lot of work here in Tokyo, some large sized projects for a huge exhibition and another a identity for a database/research company and I feel very lucky to be able to design a sweater one week and work on a strict visual identity the next. I am endlessly happy for the clients that put trust in me even in fields that I haven’t proven skill in yet. That trust has to be taken care of and that’s why I push myself to my limits whenever that happens.
TSG :: Your own clothing label, “It’s Our Thing” has been really well received in the past, how is the new line going?
The new line is doing well thank you! It’s Our Thing needed a clearer branding and I think with the new logo and the new line that’s now in place, we got a few brand new shops too so I’m really happy and there’s a bunch of new stuff coming. Very soon we will start releasing mix-CD’s and first out is Paris biggest secret DJ Seep who’ve made a absolutely amazing mix that gives all DJ’s a run for their money. After him a friend in Sweden will do a mix, I’m doing one myself and then we gonna unleash some Japanese people. The CD’s will come in plastic 3D moulded packaging and I can’t wait to get it out.
TSG :: You’ve also been creating a Sixpack micro-line and book, has it worked out how you’d expected?
Working with Sixpack is amazing, the trust and challenges are so inspiring my focus is total when a new line has to be made, last month I finished s/s10 and it’s the best I’ve ever done. The book is just out and I’m looking forward to see how it’s received, some especially made material in there showing my “graphic” photo works of landscape models and stuff, was a lot of fun to make the book.
Sixpack have really turned into a dream client because it’s so much fun.
TSG :: Having dj’d for a Kim Jones event did that spawn any further clothing projects?
The only thing it spawned was a intense headache the next day for me and my friends. Le Baron really was like a warzone that night, we all lost our minds, but it was fun, not much time for that these days unfortunately.
TSG :: You’ve done several designs for musical artists, it seems you like your dubstep, are there any acts you’re itching to wok with?
I came into graphic design through music, I started with photography in the mid-90′s but got into graphics after getting into music and getting to know a lot of people who made music and who ran small labels so I started doing their graphics and that’s how I got into graphic design more or less. Since a couple of years ago I parted with the music industry because it’s rotten, but I’m planning to do a record for some friends and look forward to that a lot, will be quite big but as I have no ambition in getting further into the music industry I started doing things more for fun and only if I believe in the music and the people behind it.
TSG :: Would you like to do more motion graphics or are you content with the static visual world?
Yeah I guess I would like to do some motion stuff, or more like filming. I’m trying to photograph more and that’s my first step towards video, I think in video quite often but have no time at the moment to go into that direction, but one day I will. Have done some VJ’ing in the past.
TSG :: Your typography is always pretty tight, is that something you especially are interested in or does it just simply go hand in hand with graphic design?
Hand in hand, my vision is that there’s no rules in how the elements can be crossbred, illustrative typography, graphic photography etc. That’s the way I’ve thought for a long time and I think it’s contributed for me to be able to do stuff in different directions, for example Probarious, the big installation I did a bit more than a year ago here in Tokyo. I think graphic design is way more broad as a medium than the common perception, there’s really no boundaries I think, but you have to respect the medium, what works on paper doesn’t work as wall on a shirt or in 3D or whatever. I never though what I did was good enough to just transfer between the mediums, I always doubt that it’s good and wanna know more about the medium, target group etc, but still put my stamp on it. This is also the reason why I don’t have a trademark style AND WILL NEVER HAVE ONE. I’m sure it works for some people but there are many out there who I wonder how they keep the joy levels up when they go to office day after day after day doing the same thing. Unfortunately that’s the graphic design world works, do a trademark style and get up fast, for me the most important thing is to feel that in 10 or 15 years I will be as happy to make this as I am today, or even in 30 years.
TSG :: Another style I like of yours is the sort of airbrushing feel you give some parts, are their old influences there?
Yeah for sure, I love stuff from the early 80′s, it’s really a golden era for many things, music, graphics etc. I like to sort of create my own vision of that time as I was too young to remember anything in 1982, but it’s also something I’ve explored to in retrospect see what was going on in a time when I was just a little toddler.
TSG :: If you weren’t a solo designer are there studios out there you’d love to be involved with?
TSG :: With printed magazines dropping like flies at the moment do you think illustrators will suffer at all?
I’m not an illustrator, haven’t made a magazine illustration for many years.
TSG :: You had a show in Japan not so long ago, it was styled on the past, present and future of PMKFA, was it diffcult in picking which works to showcase to show the timeline?
Which one do you mean? My latest exhibition was Probarious and there I only showed site-specific stuff, large size posters, the big installation and written work.
TSG :: Any future shows on the horizon?
There’s some discussions and I know exactly what I wanna do, but what I wanna do is kinda 3D and I’m developing new techniques and building machines at the moments, there’s a lot of fine tuning left but the day it’s ready it’s gonna be striking that’s for sure, next exhibition will be 3D and 2D in a way it’s never been done before, it will be great, but the work in front of me is humbling, I know where I wanna go but the path there is rocky.
TSG :: Sounds intriguing, I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds. Cheers for your time.