To his nearly 300,000 social media followers, London-based graphic artist Amandeep Singh is known simply as Inkquisitive.
The pseudonym is fitting, as his work — which which touches upon musical and cultural icons — examines the intersections of identity and culture, while also raising questions about what it means to be a citizen in today's world.
Inkquisitive's latest exhibition, "The City of Dreams" opens at the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association in New York City this week. He took a few moments to sit with NBC News and speak about his rise to prominence, the sources of his inspiration, and the way in which his Sikh upbringing informs his vision.
Tell us about your inspiration. What drives you?
I could certainly put forward many artists, poets, and musicians who bring me and my hands to life. However, I feel the greatest source of inspiration comes from life experiences. Sometimes, we're so focused on searching for inspiration when inspiration is just sitting behind us in the form of a crack on the pavement, a coffee stain on a mug, or simply through a conversation birds are having on a tree.
For me, attention to detail is key, and I enjoy exercising that in reality. It's always allowed me to find my answers and escapes. I'm driven by the spontaneous movement of life. I tend to absorb this and put this forward any way I can into my work.
So much of your work draws from the society, people, and influences around you. What compels you to bring those aspects to bear in your work?
I feel much of what I do stems from the influences of everyday living, the experience I have, and the people I meet.
I feel my journey is a reflection of the art I create. Having that type of mentality allows me feel my art is as honest as can be. Be it a piece that serves to be a simple orange ball for someone, maybe a sunshine for someone else — the beauty of art and delivery. I also feel, my illustration are not just visuals, but more so pages of my diary. It's exciting to put down to canvas these influences. At a later stage they serve to become some of my favorite memories. I'm a story teller — therefore it's a natural state of mind for me to submit my experiences.
What is the best thing about being an artist that you didn't expect?
Growing up, I was this shy guy who wouldn't dare think of travelling, but now here I am embarking on my 14th global exhibition. It's quite remarkable. The amount of energy I have gained from travelling to the corners of the world has been a blessing. The moments I have collected have allowed me to create some of my most favorite and charismatic pieces, some of which I would not have been able to produce without seeing the world.
I didn't expect travelling on tours would hold so much value in relation to a creative process. I also think the best thing about being an artist has aided me in gaining confidence and easily being able to be vulnerable. I feel that type of honesty is hard to come by, but I am who I am, as is my work. I wake up feeling proud and confident, something I wasn't when at school.
What are the toughest challenges you face as an artist?
Making a profession out of the imagination has been the toughest challenge I have encountered.
With God's blessings, I am thankful to have had the right moments light up the way to see me secure that but continuously takes a lot to maintain the difference between it being seen as a hobby and a profession. Sometimes, the struggle lies in the creative process and blocks tend to play a big part in my career, which ends up being nights full of restless sleeps. However, with the idea of inspiration being around us at all times, I've never let it get too much of me.
Acceptance was my initial challenge, trying to fit into the society with a specific type of art. This was the wrong mentality to have and so I decided to let loose of all my 'trying' and started putting out art that was a reflection of me rather a reflection of the engager. It has allowed me to gain a following who wanted to see me for who I am.
In what ways would you say your Sikh identity or worldview informs what you do?
Being a proud Sikh, and taking that respectfully within my outlook and persona, there is a sense of doing things, which highly revolve around the basis of giving and aiding others.
Sikh, being a student of life, is one of the reasons I am open to conversation and experiences and use these to my advantage to gain a greater meaning and understanding of things. We're all learning, and I highly believe my Sikh identity and beliefs are a huge reason I am undertaking and orchestrating the art as I do. I am thankful for my father and mother teaching me the values of being a Sikh and being identified as one. I wouldn't change it for the world.
What does it mean for you to be a public figure? How does that impact what you do in your work?
I still feel I have much to provide in order to solidify that 'public figure' spot.
Yet, with those who do appreciate me and my artwork, its very important for me to represent what I want with genuine honesty. My content does need to be overlooked when I am producing a piece, say on politics, or even religion. Something as fragile as that requires a lot of attention and time, making sure the impact that specific piece has on society doesn't disrespect or offend. I do like the idea of art being art, only if it emotively hits a nerve, but with that said, there is still a fine line on how to go about that. For the most part, as a public figure visual artist, my job is to tell a story in the form of visuals. Therefore I don't restrict myself to how I exhibit this to the world, because none of my work disrespects but the thought process does play an even bigger role than it did five years ago, when I first began.
As someone who is not American, what does it mean for you to be a person of color visiting the U.S.? How do your experiences differ here as opposes to the U.K., or other places you have visited?
I quite like the feel of "different," which is what the stay becomes.
"Different" has always empowered me to celebrate my vision within art and experience within my life. I wouldn't say I go through any heavy sort of approach but there is a sense of being. I don't really put too much attention on it as I feel being who I am will reflect in the way others approach me, and these experiences will help me produce art. So if anything, any experiences in USA or outside will validate me in creating new artwork.
You're incredibly active on social media. How does this platform serve you? How do you think about a social media presence?
Without a doubt, social media is my "9 to 5" while others may feel its just internet time waste.
Social media for any artist in any field has played the most important role, if it is used in the correct manner. For me, it's an online exhibit, and it's also a way for me to interact with my audience. I'm able to publicize my events, and — most importantly — self-reflect on all my pieces on a daily basis. These platforms are catalysts and I have relied on this the most to convert my techniques learnt while studying my degree and masters into a profession. For any upcoming, budding artist, I would highly suggest putting out work on such platforms.
The world is now in our hands and a simple retweet or comment can really take any artist to a completely different level. I for one wouldn't be in NYC if it wasn't for posting about the potential of me wanting to do a tour out here, here I am in NYC.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.