Mr. Raymond Ahn is one of those rare-breeds of artists, who has managed to carve out an art and music career, totally independent from any ‘scene’. Ray’s art style involves scatology and geometry, bringing to mind gods such as Jack Kirby, and Robert Crumb. Importantly, Ray infuses his art with his own unique humour and perversions.
(Below is an illustration by Ray for Australian label ‘We Empty Rooms’)
Ray has recently celebrated the milestone of becoming a father for the first-time, but that has not diminished his talent, or his enthusiasm for art and music – especially with his band, ‘The Hard Ons’ approaching there 30th Anniversary…
Get to know Ray, his art and his music in the interview below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
RAYMOND AHN + 10 JUNE 1964
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
I was born in Seoul Korea but since October 1974 have been living in Sydney Australia
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together Mr. Ahn’s pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, Halloween highlights, college… ANYTHING man.
* age 10 – pre pubes:
My father took my brother (he is 2 years younger than me) in 1975 to see AC/DC, they played for free in a park near our flat. I bought tons of comics around this age. Also started to buy cassettes around this time. Our family bought a turntable in 1976. My hobbies were comics, music and making model aeroplanes. My favourite bands: Beatles, Abba, Kiss and Skyhooks.
* age 15 – pube rage:
My hobbies were still model aeroplanes, comics and music as well as slot-cars.
My favourite bands at the age of 15: Magazine, XTC and the Cure. I went to see Kiss in 1980, I was 15 then. By then I was really into punk/new-wave but still could not say no to KISS as I still loved their first 6 or so albums.
(Photo below of Ray + ‘The Hard Ons’ in 1982)
* age 20 – acceptance of pubes:
Well by the time I was 20 the Hard-ons were already an established live band and playing lots, going on tour and had already released a 7”. There was a lot of artwork to be done, for handbills etc. I was enrolled in University at this age and used to spend a hell of a lot of time at the university photocopy machines to make handbills for gigs as well as doing my own music fanzine called “ZIT”. Around this time other bands and small labels started to commission me to do art for them. Basically I was drawing non-stop. And playing music non-stop.
“Keep materialism at a good arms length”
These bands have had the most influence on me: Velvet Underground, Residents, Kiss, Damned, Ramones, Stooges, MC5, X-Ray Spex, The Saints, Radio Birdman, The Who, The Music Machine, The Creation, the 13th Floor Elevators, Dead Kennedys, I am sure I have left a lot out. I am especially a huge fan of Australian underground bands.
(Picture below of some ‘Hard Ons’ posters and flyers with art by Ray)
Favorite TV show(s)?
Everything ever made, but I will mention “THE TWILIGHT ZONE” as my all-time favourite
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
I love the Parramatta Eels (Rugby league) and the West Indian cricket team
Police Academy, Revenge of the Nerds, Un chien andalou, Summer With Monica, Seven Samurais, Jean de Florette
Favorite books and comics?
‘Cat’s cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut is my favourite book and I am very fond of Marvel superhero comics from the 60’s and 70’s. Also everything by Robert Crumb, Jim Woodring and also Charles Burns
(Picture below of some Ray Ahn art, done for ‘The Hard Ons’)
General Art Questions
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
Probably all three, for sure
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (masks, drawings, paintings, anything)?
My mother’s father had a big house in the middle of Seoul and it was a fascinating house full of antiques and old art. My grandfather was a fantastic artists, he was very good at drawing animals for example. I would spend a lot of time there drawing with my grandfather when I was really young, before I even started school. He got me started. Plus when I was very young I was madly into comic books. That continued when my family migrated to Australia in 1974
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle full time?
I never went into art hustle full time
Any formal art training? Or pivotal moment/influence?
No training other than reading lots of comics.
Favorite ‘other’ artist(s)?
(Picture below of a ‘Hard Ons’ t-shirt designed by Ray)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
There is no worst aspect as I only draw when I feel like it. It’s easy. I wish I had more time on my hands
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Ray Ahn Art Specifics
Describe the method of making a typical Ray Ahn piece? (dot point all o.k.)
Everything I do is done only in B/W.
I draw in pencil first then ink it most of the time but a big percentage (may be 30%?) it is done straight to ink so I gotta be very careful
I use cheapest photocopy paper available from Kmart
(Picture below of a classic Ray Ahn illustration – done for band ‘Fire Witch’)
Are all your works by made by yourself? If you use collaborators; whom and in what capacity?
I would not dream of using collaborators, I could not be bothered
Do you use digital technology in your work at all? If so how, and what has it added to your practice?
I use photoshop to scan my work and fill in vast spaces of black quickly – I save money on ink too
You have recently begun re-releasing your classic t-shirt designs for ‘The Hard Ons’ in preparation for ‘The Hard Ons’ 30th Anniversary…
(Picture below of the 1st release in the ‘Hard Ons’ t-shirt re-issue series – originally from 1990)
– Why the decision to re-release the old classics – PLEASE tell me you will be re-releasing those amazing shorts from back in 1992 again?
The same reason the Hard-ons reissue our old albums, because it is nice to revisit a path that was trodden on 20, 30 years ago, our fans also really like it. The shorts: I don’t think so
(Picture below of the ‘Hard Ons’ shorts from 1992 – hassle Ray to re-issue ’em)
– Do you have a favorite piece of ‘Hard Ons’ memorabilia?
I quite like very early handbills from the early 80s where I used collages from newspapers etc, influenced as I was, by Dead Kennedys album inserts
How did you come to your definitive geometric-scatological style?
I saw a TV special in the late 70s about M.C. Escher the famed artist. At the end of that year I was given a voucher to get a book of my choice for coming first in English at school so I got a huge book of Escher’s art, and I really loved it, the mix of surrealism and eye-catching use of geometry really sold me. From that moment I started using protractors and compasses a lot when doing my drawings. Escher’s art seems to work in 3D but only really works in 2D, many of his pieces rely on optical illusions, I have taken this concept and discarded things like perspective, correct ratios etc, as long as it works in 2D I am fine. For example many of the circles I draw go behind one solid object but in front of others which in 3D could not happen.
As for “scatological..” I am a big fan of surrealist art, and surrealist music even. I am a very big fan of psychedelic and avant-garde music for example. Therefore I do not like my art to be so direct and I am not a fan of forcing a message down the throats of people. Therefore a lot of people mistake the meaning behind a lot of my stuff and personally I do not find my art “scatological”. Arguably, the things that are happening in my drawings are less vulgar than what is happening in the catholic church in Australia, at a suburban McDonalds restaurant, the boardroom of a multinational corporation or at a Big Day Out festival. I am not one to censor myself either so I am sure a lot of people find my stuff crass or offensive.
What trouble has your uhhh… shall we say, ‘in your face’ art caused you personally, and for the ‘Hard Ons’ as a band?
(Picture below of some iconic art by Ray, for ‘The Hard Ons’)
No trouble. Very minor things that ended up actually giving our band more publicity. It has always been good. When I did stuff that made fun of neo-nazis it caused a little trouble. In 1989 in Germany there was a riot at our show, a group of pretty militant skinheads turned up armed with slingshots etc. Our gig was inside a left-wing youth centre and the gig was an anti-fascist celebration so it was a bit of a red rag to a bull thing. On the whole, my art stands on its own so I think it has all been good. The band is good. The art is good. So we don’t really get into any trouble, and when we do, it doesn’t matter, in fact it is quite helpful to our cause. If the wrong people are offended, we are quite happy about it. Mind you, when I by chance hear music coming from a big radio station, say triple J, I am mortally offended, but you don’t see me complaining, I just move away from the shit or turn it off.
You often provide designs on a commission basis for other bands (such as ‘Straightjacket Nation’), musicians (such as Laura Imbruglia) and record labels (‘We Empty Rooms’)…
(Picture below of Ray’s art for ‘Straighjacket Nation’)
– What is the worst commission you have worked on, and why?
Probably a handbill for Taronga zoo, I drew to specifications and that just turned me into a commercial artist. I could not think of anything worse than taking your most valuable creative point and doing what others want you to do, just to make money. It would be taking a band like the Hard-ons, and trying to get airplay on commercial radio. How depressing. Mind you, I have done tonnes of work for bands that I was very happy with, and never got paid, these people take advantage of my relaxed attitude to invoicing and they cut communication, and I am too busy to chase people up. So it is my fault but you’d think a small independent band would have enough empathy and send me a few bucks. In one case, a band from USA paid me two years later. The guy paid me a bit extra so I can start work on art for his new band. I am thinking of making him wait two years. in many cases I have done things for bands and labels that decided that they didn’t like what I came up with and chose not to use it, and chose not to pay me either. So it is 4 hours of my life working for someone, for NOTHING. That happened a lot but now I am good at weeding people out. I just write back with the words “I have retired from drawing”
What is the best commission you have worked on, and why?
I am fond of a piece I did for Melbourne band BLOOD DUSTER, the band liked it too I think.
(Picture below of Ray’s art for the band ‘Blood Duster’)
Does your self-directed work all exist in its own ‘universe’; such as the ‘Ray Ahn’ universe? (Yes; I am basically asking if you see your characters all interacting in your head.) IF so, what do they get up to?
No, not at all, they just go on paper and that is it. I tried to do a series of comics but my brain just doesn’t work that way, by the end of the fourth comic there were no more frames, just big pieces that took one whole page, with no direction or story.
Are you currently represented by a gallery or dealer?
How can people buy your work – prints, t-shirts and original art?
They can contact me directly firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Ahn General Questions
You have often described your self and the other ‘Hard Ons’ as “puny migrant kids into punk” and have discussed an “us vs. them” mentality between punk kids like you and the stereotypical Australian male…
– What to you represents the ‘typical Australian male’?
When The Hard-ons first started, the Typical Australian Male was into shit music and was pretty racist too. This was an image we created in our head because a young band like us needed a siege mentality to get up and play a lot of shows. The early 80’s was not a feel-good place for coloured teenagers playing punk music but this mentality we adopted very early, mainly through necessity, put us in good stead. Soon, we proved that we were a good band.
– What were the best, and worst, parts of growing up a migrant in 1980’s Australia?
The best part was the feeling a part of a great melting pot nation. I grew up in a very multi-racial suburb. I used to love going to my friend Graham’s house for example for lunch, he is Lebanese. It is very enriching to be a part of that. the worst part was the unrelenting racism from the mainstream. For example a t-shirt company called TOP HEAVY back in the 80’s produced a t-shirt that said “ski down the slopes” with a white guy skiing over the top of a Vietnamese refugee. those were the days. Ironically, a country that is founded on migrants is also founded on racism. It is very easy to be a racist in Australia. Australia could be a lot better and can be a model country for other countries to admire, but our track record is shit. Human nature being what it is, we still love these notions like tribalism and nationalism. Of course countries like Japan are far more racist but all I am saying is, as a migrant nation we could really lead the way but on the whole, the suburbs of Australia are festering pits of hostility. It doesn’t help that for some reason the mainstream thinks being a “bogan” is being a real ‘australian’
(Picture below of some art by Ray for ‘The Hard Ons’)
– Do you think Australia has ‘matured’ since the 1980’s?
ha ha ha. Have you been outside your house mate? You been to a Big Day out concert on Australia Day in Sydney? You heard the words come out of mouths of politicians, both Labor and coalition in regards to refugees?
You recently became a father for the first time – how has having a baby daughter impacted on your art? More scat and diapers/nappies as inspiration I assume!?
(Picture below of Ray the proud dad in 2013)
It has really stopped me doing too many art or music related things as I am required to help raise our daughter but I would not change that for the world.
What does ‘punk’ mean to you?
The term “Punk” is used to describe so many different things that I truly believe it has no meaning other than very brief descriptive moments. For example one might hear a song on the stereo with a driving rhythm with a buzzsaw rhythm guitar style, one might say it sounds “punky”, other than that, the term PUNK seems to be too wide to be of any value. For example, the overdressed life-style goombahs of newtown Sydney would consider themselves “punk”. they can have it. the problem of “punk” to me has always been that it denotes that horrible thing, “life-style”. I detest it. the right tattoos, piercings and right shoes. Overdressed people never give me good music or good art. Which is all I am interested in. I learnt this in high school when for a few weeks I spiked my hair and I copped endless shit from mohawked punk dickheads in the city. It seemed that only white people were allowed to be punk. “punk” actually does not provide refuge for minorities at all, it is just another bogus “tribal” fad for morons that like to play dress up , to join, as it gives them a kick. Good for them. the rest of us are busy doing something creative.
(Picture below of a huge pile of ‘Hard Ons’ releases with art by Ray)
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I do not want to collaborate with anyone
Any major projects you want to hype man?
Hard-ons are doing a split single with the incredible NECKS next year. We are very thrilled.
- Ray Ahn Email – email@example.com
- Ray Ahn – Facebook
- The Hard Ons – Facebook
- The Hard Ons – Website