GN$F! Exclusive Q&A: Artist Phantomkay takes a renaissance approach to hip-hop



Phantomkay is an artist to look out for. This Georgian artist describes himself as a “graphic designer slash digital artist.” He graduated from Valdosta State University with a B.A. in mass media; A.A. in creative writing and graphic design; with a certificate in journalism. Phantomkay’s work is incredible, the nobility in which he depicts hip-hop artists is refreshing to view. It’s almost hard to tell he’s from the Dirty South because many of his digital paintings pay tribute to west coast notables: Linkin Park, Ice Cube, Kendrick Lamar, Kobe Bryant, and Ab-Soul. If Jackson Pollock did ink bomb droppings on Da Vinci’s portraits of hip-hop artists while watching 1970s flicks you would get a Phantomkay painting.

GN$F!:  How did you get your name Phantomkay?

PHANTOMKAY: I get this question a lot … haha. Well, my name is Kerry Laster, and all my life my friends have called me “Kay.” After I started my design studio Phantom Media Productions I wanted to come up with a easy alias for all my artwork and production work. Thus, “Phantomkay” was born. It fit my personality and design philosophy, which is to make art that makes people wonder who I am and what I look like.

GN$F!:  You have a very sophisticated urban decay – echoing the 1970s – with a love for music – kind of style. Or am I wrong? How would you describe your style?

PHANTOMKAY: I love that description. And I wouldn’t change it. I think it’s easier to make art that connects if you let people connect the dots for themselves. Things that one person might find great about the work another person might not see, and vice versa. Still, they both love the work, and I think that is all that matters. That is why I love music. No matter what the person could be saying in the actually song – if there are words– you still come up with your own meanings and messages for the song. And don’t forget to keep in mind I’m a phantom. I only create what you see based on how I feel from the things that inspire me. The rest is up to you – man, I sound really deep and artistic … haha.

GN$F!: What do you think of art schools, great or waste of money?

PHANTOMKAY: I think school is like any job. You get what you put into it. I went to school for film, and didn’t discover digital art until my senior year. I taught myself the entire Adobe Creative Suite and have never stopped designing. Still, I would have not find it had I not been in school for creative art in the first place. Now on the other side, I know plenty of amazing artists that did not go to school and have very successful careers. So, like I said earlier, school is what you make it, like life. But the bigger question is, whether or not you are willing to work hard for your dreams?

GN$F!: You’re from Georgia, but you seem to illustrate the west coast in your work, do you have a love for west coast rap and rock if so why?

PHANTOMKAY: I do, do a lot of west coast work. To be honest, I don’t have preference for the west coast or east coast. It is about the feeling and the attitude. Right now you [Los Angeles] have a huge underground scene that’s happening in the west right now. Some years ago it was New Orleans, then Georgia, then Texas, and so on. And each time it was the attitude that drew people in. In the west people are experimenting with sounds and imagery in new, fresh ways while still making great art. I just want to be where the scene is, and when it moves I want to move with it and embrace whatever comes next.

GN$F!: How did you team up with Ice Cube?

PHANTOMKAY: I linked up with Ice Cube through a really great company called RareInk. They asked me if I would be interested in working with Ice Cube on some artwork. I could not have imagined the experience would have been as great as it was. I was blown away by the lineup of great artists I was teamed with, and even more amazed by the artwork they created. It was kinda crazy to hear Ice Cube talk about my artwork. I mean he’s Ice Cube, you know. So, the thought of him digging my work enough to select it, to put his hand-print on, means a lot. Great experience.

GN$F!: Were you a former graf artist and what do you think of anti-graf laws?

PHANTOMKAY: I’ve been into graffiti artwork for years, but I’m a beginner as far as creating goes … haha. But, as for the anti-graf laws, I have mixed emotions about them. I understand the need for the line in the sand law enforcement is drawing. As artists, we sometimes forget the old [science] adage of “We’re all about coulda not shoulda.” Sometimes artists forget that people are paying mortgages on the buildings they spray on. Still, what is a good art movement without upsetting the establishment … haha. It’s just a weird space to have an opinion on. If I owned a building that I had taken a loan on – and worked hard to get – I would not feel very grateful that someone chose it to spray paint some random face on the side of it. Still, half of the passion of the graffiti movement is pushing the boundaries of your artwork and putting it places that no one else would dare try and copy. So I don’t know, I’m torn.

GN$F!: What rap artists (or others) do you play while creating your artwork?

PHANTOMKAY: I play a lot of different music while I work. Everything from Claude Debussy to producer Abjo out of San Diego. While I’m working on a project I’m forever searching for the right song to set the vibe for that piece. When I find it I keep it on repeat until I’m done working. I’m kinda funny like that.

GN$F!: If you were only allowed three colors to paint with for the rest of your life, what colors would you choose?

PHANTOMKAY: Blue, black, and white. My favorite color is blue, and all of the most powerful images I’ve ever seen were black and white or had those elements. It’s just something about the vulnerability of those three colors that I can’t explain. It just does something to my spirit to see them mixed the right way. It’s like hearing the violins in Thomas Newman’s piece, “Road to Chicago.” Just amazing.

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