The Yok & Sheryo: Danger, Adventure and “Shadow”

Here are some sneak peeks and behind the scenes photos with the Australian-Singaporean Street Art/graffiti/fine art duo named Sheryo and The Yok in advance of their brand new show, “Shadow”, opening tonight at Brooklyn’s Masters Projects in DUMBO. We had the opportunity to speak with both of them during their preparations in Bed Stuy last week and we gained some valuable insight into what inspires them both and what the working dynamic is of this “Danger Couple”, as they are sometime referred to as.


The Yok & Sheryo (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The “danger” here probably speaks to their mutual love of adventures and the borderline disasters they run into during their world travels off the beaten path – which thus far have taken them to Tokyo, Sydney, Taipei, Beijing, Singapore Bangkok, Mexico, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, among other places. If you’ve never seen their unhinged freeform spraycation videos, don’t wait any longer. In terms of combining their inner demons it looks like putting them on display in their works is a therapeutic way of taking the sting away. With their unique collaborative sketching and painting style it may be a palliative treatment that they are giving to life’s real dangers and fears that is working so well – by depicting fears and disgusting circumstances as wild boars and wildebeests and other creatures, comically portrayed with a touch of grotesque and sometimes a slice of pizza.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The Yok and Sheryo’s affinities for adventure and collaboration still include catching an illegal tag occasionally under cover of darkness, but they have also led them to a serious study of how to do ceramics, Batik and sculpture in Indonesia, and to refining and developing chaotic and progressively more elaborate murals. The last half decade of intermingling their gnarly monsters and animals with bulging eyes and horrifying/funny expressions is resulting in a recognizable Yok and Sheryo aesthetic, and one that continues to take it up a notch with their combined style resulting from the two pouring themselves into one. In terms of a working dynamic, the two friends credit their naturally competitive relationship for pushing each other to better their techniques and to reach deeper creatively as artists.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In preparation for their show that opens at Masters Projects in Brooklyn tonight, we stopped by their digs in Bedstuy, Brooklyn to talk about their work and to shoot a few teaser shots from tonights’ show.

BSA: Your show is titled “Shadow” and will be comprised of works on paper and sculptures. What is the inspiration for this new show?
The Yok: Some of the works on paper are loosely based on the sculptures in the show and they are imbued with many personal stories and personal references – like the one depicting the bicycle for instance. It refers to the people who like to steal the wheels off of my bicycles in Brooklyn. They are also homage to the places that we have visited or lived in. You can see a New York bodega bag or the Greek coffee cup. All of our work is based on experiences we’ve had or places we have been to.

BSA: Would you say that the inspiration for this show is a little bit of a compilation of your diaries? For how long?
Yok: Yes. It is an accumulation of stuff that we have written in our sketch books but it’s always evolving because we keep adding new stuff as we move.

Sheryo: Yes, we write or draw what we see in our black books. Then when we get to a place and we need to make work for a show we just look to our diaries for inspiration and as a resource. It is very cool because we see a lot of things. When we were making the sculptures we were in Indonesia – so this piece here has a lot of what we experienced in Indonesia. It has a lot of jungle references and to batik textiles. Also in the show there’s a sculpture of Satan surfing – and it’s represented on this piece.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you tell us how you got into Batik?
Yok: Sheryo really wanted to learn the craft because she loved the look of it and I like surfing. So we went to this island that has the best batik in the world and some of the best waves. We rented a motor bike in the town and we rode for 40 minutes to this mountain town where they make all the Batik. We walked around and look into a lot of places until we found one that would let us learn the craft.

We didn’t know the language. They were very nice to let us into their village to learn Batik for like a month – every day for eight hours a day. It is really difficult to get the hang of it because all the wax is in liquid form and you need to be very precise to get the wax to do what you want it to do. If the wax is too hot it runs all over the place and spreads out so you need to work very fast. So you need a lot of practice – and it is harder than spray painting! Those batik pieces are not on this show but those experiences are still with us.

BSA: Do you include bad experiences from your travels in your pieces?
Sheryo: Yes but we turn them into funny things so we can laugh about it. So an accident would turn into a mad character in a motorcycle. We actually were in a bad motorbike accident in Indonesia. We were going down a road to get supplies and the roads are terrible and this bus was coming straight into us. We managed to survive. In Thailand we were chased by a pack of ferocious big dogs. We were in a dark alley. The Yok tried to scare them away by doing the “windmill” with his arms but more and more dogs kept coming out. Yok: But Sheryo stepped in and acted crazy and that was enough to scare the dogs away.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: For how long have you been collaborating artistically? Was there a moment, or project, when you felt that your styles had completely melded with one another?
The Yok: Five years. We started playing this game we call “you start, I finish”. One of us begins the drawing and passes it to the other one and says “OK you finish it.” And that became quiet a natural thing for us to do. Like Sheryo will just come and get my drawing and add to it. She will give it back to me and either would like or not like it and we go back and forth like that. But if I paint a whole piece by myself it might be that I stole an idea from her sketch book to include in the piece. I might have painted the whole thing but the process of back and forth is so fluid now that I couldn’t say with certainty where that foot came from or that use of line etc…

Sheryo: We also get competitive too. So if he draws a good hand I’ll go like, “I’m going to make it better,” so I steal his hand. So if I see his hand coming much better after that I’ll go, “Damn it I’m going to make it even better!” We have become better doing it this way and it has improved our craft and that’s how our styles have melded together as well. The competitive nature of our characters have made us better artists but also we have gotten more drive and motivation working together and we have improved very fast in a short period of time.

The Yok: I think I wouldn’t be doing nearly as much work as I currently am without Sheryo because she is so motivated to paint every day. It pushes me to be more creative.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Sheryo: When we first met five years ago we immediately began drawing together and I remember the first piece we did together and I was looking at it and I said, “This actually looks good”. So our work together has been fine tuned in these five years and it is getting better and now it is very hard for people to distinguish the one from the other. Also our visions for where we want to go with our careers are very similar so the collaboration between us doesn’t seem forced. It seems very natural.

BSA: You also have a great sense of humor…
The Yok: We find it funny to draw things that are supposed to be scary – doing something silly like surfing, or using their iPhones etc…

BSA: Any thoughts on the prevalence of red, black and white in your works – as well as other artists on the street like How Nosm, Shepard Fairey …
Sheryo: We like red and black for two reasons: One, the combination of red and black is a very powerful even historically – like the NAZI party used that combination of colors. Red is very strong, the communists used it. Also red has been used through Chinese history. Secondly, you can always find these colors in the most weird places in any corner of the world. These two colors are always there. Also we have been adding a little bit of gold to the palate and we discovered it in Cambodia and began using it ever since as an accent. We also valued the line work in our work and using those three colors is a good way to bring the line work out, so the less colors you have the more emphasis you put on the line work.


The Yok & Sheryo. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you describe the process of moving two dimensional work into three dimensions?
Sheryo: We began doing ceramics in Vietnam.

BSA: How was it?
The Yok: Sheryo had an idea and she really wanted to do it. We both thought “what a wonderful way it would be to experience the culture first hand” – to go away from the tourist areas and go to the villages and getting to know the locals in a very natural way, like spending hours a day with them for a month. Painting those vases is a very intricate labor and very time consuming. We spend two weeks there and every day we’ll go to the village to paint ceramics and on the last night they took us out to dinner and we went to Karaoke.

They really didn’t speak English at all but somehow knew all the words to the songs in English. We did research to find where to go to learn the ceramics and we also asked the locals. Everyone was telling us the same village. We wanted to pay them for the lessons but they refused to take our money. They told us this is our gift to you. There really is a lot of kindness in this world.


The Yok & Sheryo at work in Indonesia.  (re-photo from their computer © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Doing ceramics is entirely different from what you have done in the past, including Batik. Was it difficult to learn?
Sheryo: Diversity is important for us because it keeps things fresh and interesting and it keeps our minds alive. Changing the medium is a fun way to do that. In the case of the ceramics it was interesting because we were painting contemporary elements with new colors on vessels that stylistically are very old. So it is the old and the new merged together.

The Yok: It was very difficult to paint on the ceramics, first because we had never done it before. I didn’t like it, but because it is so hard that at the end it is very rewarding when you finally get it. It is like the proverb that says something like “you need to hate it first to love it”. We try to stay in New York for longer periods but at the same time we feel like we need to travel so we can get inspired and learn new things.


The Yok & Sheryo at work in Indonesia.  (re-photo from their computer © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Would you describe your characters as aspects of your imagination and your personalities as individuals?
Sheryo: The characters are a mix. From what’s inside our heads and from what we see. But we also try to draw from the local environment when we travel to other places. It is also a great way to make a connection with the locals.

The Yok: That’s why at the beginning we said that our work is kind of like a diary. We paint things that are in direct relation to the country where we are – but also we paint things that happened to us in the country where we are.

BSA: Do you like to work solo sometimes too?
Sheryo: At the moment we are very happy doing what we are doing, working together and exhibiting together.


The Yok & Sheryo at work in Indonesia.  (re-photo from their computer © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo in Indonesia.  (re-photo from their computer © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo in Indonesia.  (re-photo from their computer © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo (photo © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo (photo © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo (photo © Jaime Rojo)


The Yok & Sheryo exhibition “Shadow” opens today at Masters Projects. Click HERE for details.



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