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Call me INKquisitive

Entrepreneurs 08-03-2017

Trailblazer, night owl and world-renowned artist. AWM meets the man of the moment, Amandeep Singh.

Fans including Drake, Madhuri Dixit, Jennifer Lopez, P Diddy, Dynamo, J Cole, Missy Elliot, LL Cool J and Jay Sean, sell- out exhibitions, and an appearance on Blue Peter, not bad for a boy from Chigwell who’s reached heights few of us can only dream of before the age of 30. This is the world of Inkquisitive, AKA Amandeep Singh. of before the age of 30. This is the world of Inkquisitive, AKA Amandeep Singh.

His work is distinctive. Vibrant, brightly coloured ink sketches splattered across sugar paper, sizzling to life. Each work tells its own story and is layered with detail. He’s probably best known for his celebrity portraits and his religious works (more on that later), which have gained him legions of fans worldwide.

So who is the man behind the brand? Well, he’s certainly not your typical artist. He’s no tortured soul, wrestling with his ego and the world around him in pursuit of the meaning of life. He’s polite, unassuming, self-assured, from a solid background, and clearly someone who is really passionate about what he does. And the best bit is he wants to share it with everyone.

There’s no diva strops or getting overly precious about his art. He knows he’s good, his 148,000 Instagram fans and 124,000 Facebook followers attest to that, and he’s not a sellout either. He’s aware of the power of the Inkquisitive brand and the value it holds. “I’ve sold less than 4% of my original canvases because I find it hard to let go of them; they’re my life’s work, my babies,” he says.

Breaking the mould

Amandeep is also a bit of a trailblazer. How many other turban- wearing Sikhs can you think of that are setting the art world alight? Not many. “Coming from an Asian background we don’t traditionally see art as a profession,” he explains. “My parents are both professionals who have day jobs and my sister is a nurse, but they find creative expression through their hobbies. It’s not typical for an Asian to do what I do full time.”

However, far from being disappointed that he didn’t take up a ‘proper’ profession, like medicine, law or business, his parents have been supportive of his career. “When I told my parents I wanted to study graphic design and illustration at the University of Hertfordshire they were a bit unsure but were aware it was something I was passionate about.

“When it became clear that illustration was my passion I think my dad hoped at first I’d go into architecture. It wasn’t until I did my Masters and produced 10 illustrated children’s books that I won my parents over and showed them I was serious about illustration as a career.”

Indeed, it was his parents that inspired his professional aspirations in the first place. His dad, a keen calligrapher, inspired young Amandeep to first pick up the pencil and draw. “I’ve been always been into art, from day one. I used to draw on the walls of my house,” he laughs. “When I was at nursery I loved art and was always mixing things up like painting the sky green and the grass blue. I was doing things differently even then!”

After graduating in 2009, Amandeep struggled to find work. Things began to change when his mum suggested he put some of his illustrations online. What he needed however was a catchy brand name. “It was actually my mum who came up with it. She said to me one day, ‘Your work is very inquisitive, it poses a lot of questions’. Boom! It was like a eureka moment. So with the 10 canvases I’d done I put them online and Inkquisitive was born.”

The big break

Things started to heat up thanks to two fortuitous events. Firstly, UK-based Bhangra band Tigerstyle got in touch and asked if he’d like to appear in one of their videos creating an illustration. “I fanboyed because they’re huge in my community.

At first I wanted to be like Banksy and be an anonymous artist but I’m glad I made the decision to publically present myself. The video was great PR for me as the word started to spread and I made connections.”

The other life-changing moment was when the family of movie and martial art legend Bruce Lee endorsed his work. “Shannon Lee emailed to see if she could share a piece I’d done of her father, and I said she could have it! We bounced emails back and forward and it now hangs in the Bruce Lee studios.” he says.

In fact, social media has been a great platform for Amandeep – a place where he can share new work and connect with influential people. In a world where many artists struggle to make a living, he understands the power and importance of using social media to build his brand profile.

“Celebrities sharing my artwork online has been phenomenal as they have millions of followers and it grabs the attention of art lovers who want to find out more about me,” he explains. “I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t expect to get this much exposure, but to see what’s happened in the last five years is exciting.”

Going global

Inkquisitive’s success has been stratospheric. In five short years he’s gone from being a bedroom artist to a worldwide success story. He has a global fan base that’s taken him on tour to Canada, the US, Kenya and Australia, plus a sell-out exhibition in London. This year he has other exciting tours in production, as well as a number of high profile commissions.

“Travelling is a beautiful thing. There’s only so much you can keep sharing your work until you need to get out there and meet people. I tour and do exhibitions because it’s nice to have people view my work in the flesh,” he says.

As well as exhibiting his pieces, Amandeep also takes the time to tour universities and schools inspiring the next generation of artists with his craft. “Having a finished product is cool but for me it’s all about enjoying the process – interacting with an audience is just as beautiful as anything else,” he says.

Creative influences

What’s striking about Amandeep is his discipline and drive. “I set myself a goal this year of doing three new illustrations a week and I’m doing it. Even if it means not going to bed. I have to be consistent,” he explains.

He credits his background for this: “I have a hugely supportive family. My mum is my biggest fan and my biggest critic. Their love is invaluable and a huge source of inspiration to me.”

Amandeep is also greatly inspired by his Sikh upbringing and his religion influences his work. He says: “Sikhs are descendants of warriors and storytellers. We have a rich culture and heritage and it’s so inspiring. It’d be a crime if I didn’t use some of that treasure in my art. As a kid I was always influenced by the pictures of the gurus in my temple and the stories my dad would tell me about them. The first works in my career were Sikh artworks inspired by the very traditional images of the gurus that I’d grown up with. I tried tackling them in a different way and try something different.  At the time, even my mum was like, ‘Are you sure you want to do his?’ But I had a vision and I decided to put it to paper.

“A few people thought I was being blasphemous but most people liked that I was exploring my religion in a different way. Children’s mums message me to say that their kids want to learn more about Sikhism because they’ve seen my artwork and that’s exciting.”

The night job

When not inspiring youngsters and jetting off around the world, Amandeep keeps his feet firmly on the ground at home, where he produces most of his home, where he produces most of his work. Far from having a trendy Shoreditch studio, however, he prefers to paint in his bedroom.

“My process is simple. I work best at night with my favourite playlist on.  Maybe it’s because everyone else is asleep at night and the best ideas are there to pick… I don’t know. I’m very spontaneous – I have charcoals, acrylics, Indian inks, chalk, calligraphic pens… I never know what I’m going to use until I sit down and do it.

“Art is like life, if you put too much restrictions on what you want to do then you end up overthinking it and damaging what you’re doing.”

Photographs by Rahul Khona

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