Sunday 23 September, 2018

Young People in Business: Keegan Simon displays his 1ndividual Aesthetic

You may not know his name but you know his distinct style of design. Keegan Simon doesn’t mind, choosing to let his vast suite of work speak for itself.

Keegan is the man behind The 1ndividual Aesthetic, a visual art lifestyle brand that is graffiti art-meets-Andy Warhol and has changed the way we consume art in Trinidad and Tobago.

His love for visuals can be traced back to his childhood when he first picked up art simply because he wanted to emulate his older cousin. “I have an older cousin who I wanted to be like so badly (still do). He taught himself how to draw, how to  sew...as a kid, you want to be like the coolest thing you see and he was it. I taught myself how to draw because of him."

Barely five years old, he taught himself how to draw, and, with a lot of time spent watching television, he was able to develop his budding craft recreating everything he saw around him.

"Over time I realized that creativity was an important factor in my life...being an only child, I watched a lot of TV. My mom was a flight attendant and she worked very hard, but realistically it was just me and television. As a child, you latch on to all the things you see around you like a sponge, and with all the creative ways people would try to do something, you try to create your own version of it. It’s just a natural progression. Visuals were always a part of my life and in addition to trying to emulate my cousin...I eventually came to the realization that this is me.”

Although he knew that art was what he was meant to do, he recognised that there were very limited avenues in Trinidad and Tobago to properly develop his skill. 

“I wanted to become an artist..but there aren’t proper facilities in this country to properly foster art. You may do art but there was nothing fully in place to further develop the skill. It went down as I became an adult because you can’t really make money off of art; that’s why I went into computers, got Microsoft certified and became a network engineer.

He couldn’t stay away for too long, so when his aunt and uncle suggested he pursue art in Jamaica, he jumped at the chance, taking up studies at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts.

Keegan’s path to becoming an artist was far from a straight one. He had brief stints working in corporate Trinidad, with the length of his length of stay at various jobs ranging from four hours to one month. He was unapologetic in saying that he’s not made out for the corporate world.

“It’s basically “b--ch work, he said frankly. "Everything that’s done is for a higher up and higher ups don’t understand creativity. The higher up you go up the ranks in corporate, the less creative you become...the more settled you become. You have no risk anymore. It’s like a square peg in a round hole but the round hole is ridiculously safe.”

"These situations made me realize that if I had to come back home to work, I need to a name for myself on my own. You can’t do anything in this country without creating your own name."

 

That, partnered with the fact that he refused to spend money on brand name clothing, led to the genesis of The 1ndividual Aesthetic. 

"I just didn’t have the money. I started to ask myself: why am I spending all this money buying three stripes and a tick when I can make it myself? It was to the point where I was spending hundreds of dollars on something when I could have just done it myself." 

Though he started making his own graphic t-shirts for himself, his prints were noticed by friends as well, so much so that a friend took one from him, claiming it was a gift from an aunt who bought it in the U.S. Recalling the funny incident, he said that was when it occurred to him that he really had something great on his hands. “When you’re making something for yourself, you’re in your own little bubble, you’re your own biggest fan. Having someone else find your work is on the same level or higher level than what’s currently out there...that’s when you realize you really have a product and I used that to my advantage.”

His work soon caught the eye of Kwesi Hopkinson, CEO of Scorch, who saw potential for collaboration with his brand. His first project was designing tees for Scorch for their pan semis packages during Carnival 2011. That was the catalyst of the relationship with him and Scorch, to the point where he now creates all the visuals for the brand.

“Kwesi was the first person to see something in me. I will always love and respect the man for that. He always likes to see people, especially young, black people, be successful. It was to a point where there was a branding necessity. I feel proud to say that I was a part of molding the visuals for the Scorch brand up to this day. Kwesi sees a lot of talent in people who don’t see it for themselves.”

The Scorch collaboration was the first of many. With a laundry list of high-profile clients including Anya Ayoung-Chee (cANYAval), Kes The Band, the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee, and Sun Nation Jamaica to name a few, propelled The 1ndividual Aesthetic to a level beyond just making graphic t-shirts.

In 2014, he was commissioned to do the cover art for Machel Montano’s hit songs, ‘Haunted’ and ‘Ministry of Road’, an experience that felt almost surreal. "I used to idolize that man since I was 6, 7 years old. To be working alongside him...I had to stop myself and really acknowledge that I had come full circle...it was crazy. To see him now as a friend and not just a performer..it was really cool  to see him in a different light.”

It was only up from there. A chance meeting with Valmiki Maharaj set in motion a new avenue for Keegan to display his art on the greatest shows on earth.

Costume Designer for Tribe and Bliss, and Creative Director at The Lost Tribe, Maharaj met with Keegan, initially to get a t-shirt design for Dandelion, one of the sections in The Lost Tribe. Upon seeing the original design, however, Valmiki asked Keegan to remove the lion’s head from the dandelion and keep it for himself, offering Keegan on the spot a section of his own to design in the band.

Roar of the Road was born.

“Working with guys like Val, JP (Richardson) and Chris...they all held my hand; they all helped as much as they could, while still giving creative integrity. If it wasn’t for that collective, Roar of the Road would not be what it was. I was very fortunate to be in the evolution of that [initial] conversation.”

When asked about some of his struggles before the glory, he jokingly lamented that he’s still struggling, but takes it all in stride. In fact, he embraces it.

“When you’re trying to create your path in anything, there will be struggle, and there’s even more of a struggle when people doubt you. There are a lot of things I’m not confident in but I’ve realized over the years that failure is a necessity. I love to fail. Failure isn’t a downfall but a step up. It gives you benchmarks, it gives you notes a sense of purpose because you’ve tried. I will always prefer to fail than pass." 

With calm confidence but humility and candour, Keegan Simon's success is owed not only to raw talent but a worldview well beyond his years.  

"There’s no one else who’s gonna push as much as you with as much passion as you. It hurts now but you’ll smile later.”

 

Check out more of Keegan's work by visiting his website or follow him on Instagram