Arts & Culture

Escapeva: Balancing Artistic Integrity with Commercial Clients

Do clients think about art?

Words by
b-side staff

Born and based in Kuala Lumpur, Mohammad Zaki Nordin, also known as Eki, has been filling the city’s urban spaces with vibrant murals under the moniker Escapeva. Eki started in the world of public art as a graffiti artist in 2006, and his murals often feature female portraits and pop-culture characters stylised in a riot of bright and bold colours. He has, however, since taken his strong visual style into more intimate realms through drawings and paintings.

Besides his own art shows, his works have also been commissioned by a long list of clients, from government bodies like the municipal council of Petaling Jaya to global brands like Mountain Dew.

Eki shares how his art has evolved and the challenge he faces in trying to balance commercial work with personal style.

You started with spray painting and wall murals. What made you want to explore drawings and paintings?

I think I love progression. Whenever I’ve painted a piece, sooner or later, I’d start to think that it could have been better. It’s rare for me to have favourites. There are actually very few of my works that I am satisfied with. Thus, exploring new mediums is one way I seek satisfaction. I find it (satisfaction) when I am challenged with something I have never done. It’s more gratifying when you do not have complete control over the outcome.

No matter the medium, your works still have a recognisable flavour to them. How would you describe your style?

I think my style is a mixture of my emotional reaction towards certain topics combined with visual elements to create a sense of visual storytelling. Most people recognise my work from the characters I do, usually a portrait of a female figure executed with bright colours and other visual elements that fill up the wall.

You have been sought out by many commercial clients such as Air Asia and Mountain Dew. What do you think it is about your works that attract attention from these clients?

Many of them find me online and through social networks, and I think they approach me because my art is able to capture attention despite spanning a wide variety of styles. Being versatile has helped me stand out from the crowd, I guess.

It wasn’t my intention, I simply enjoy exploring and challenging myself with new mediums and styles.

But maybe that’s what they are looking for in an artist.

How do you balance between what your client wants and your artistic vision?

It really depends on the purpose of the campaign or project.

Sometimes there’s no room for artistic vision, as it might just be a corporate identity or something simple and plain.

For these projects, I just try to finish them, so I can move on to more interesting projects. On the other hand, some clients might want something more radical or to push boundaries and that’s where my art can really come in.

Your mural for Fox Network’s Outcast is based off a scene from Outcast’s comic series. For projects where you have to interpret the work of another artist, how do you find room to inject your own flavour?

A local consultancy approached me for this project, as its client wanted artists in different countries to interpret the storyboard scenes of Outcast on to wall murals. There wasn’t much room to improvise, as the storyboard was already provided by the client’s illustration artist.

During this period, I was very much into the galactic themes and the theory of mind, as inspired by movies like Interstellar (2014), Enter the Void (2010), The Fountain (2006) and many more.

And through these influences, I saw an opportunity to turn the black areas of the scene into something space-like. It was very interesting to see that when you add these galactic colours and effects to a plain black area, it suddenly creates a sense of ongoing depth.

Which is your favourite collaboration with a commercial client and why?

There are plenty of projects I’ve enjoyed, but the Mountain Dew project stands out. The concept was for me to create a hand-painted billboard of about 85ft by 25ft. I had to use a gondola to paint it and it got tricky because I was just a few inches away from the billboard wall and so, I couldn’t see the bigger picture.

I had to scale everything up from a smaller reference and measure everything down to the right point. At the end of the day, I headed down, and it was only then that I could check if my painting was accurate. And if not, what adjustments I needed to make the next day. All in all, it took seven days to finish the billboard.

With more than a decade in the industry, do you have any advice or insights for other artists when working with commercial clients?

Well, you won’t always get to do the design you want to do. Focus on finishing the job, as it’s your bread and butter. There will always be the next project to look forward to.

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