Artist Keegan Simon, founder of 1ndividual Aesthetic, is known for his eye-catching work. His vibrant out-of-the-box illustrations and expressions on T-shirts and sweaters were created to communicate the energy of TT and the Caribbean.
Simon, 35, talks about how he found this individual aesthetic — and how he manages to stay focused and above the challenges with anxiety and depression, known to haunt creative people throughout history.
The self-described perfectionist believes the product is as good as the process, and he will, therefore, hold pieces of work back when he feels they may not be ready. "Somethings also feel like the time isn't right for them – like people might not be ready for them. But then you realise time goes by so fast and I have also grown to realise, no matter how good something may be in my mind as a concept, things will always have some kind of flaw."
Reminding himself there is always room for improvement, Simon said despite his zeal for creating eye-catching work worthy of the spotlight, he must pay attention to quality and detail. "It's like being a magician. You know how the magic works, but the audience has no idea what goes into what is presented to them. Even when you're not pleased with the final product, the audience may still find it amazing."
He said, "In the creative field, I do a lot, sometimes graphic design, sometimes artistic consultations, Carnival costumes, merchandising – I do many things."
Asked if he saw himself being in the creative industry as a teenager, Simon said, "Not everything I do now, but I always loved graphic design. But I realised over time it was not what I wanted to do."
The self-employed artist said he does not see himself ever doing graphic design alone, despite his love for it.
"It is a very difficult job. It is tedious, and so, I have a lot of respect for graphic designers. I try to use my understanding and skills in graphic design for application in other realms of design."
The only child of his mother Gemma Simon, he said while growing up she wanted him to work in information technology because he showed early signs of being good with technology.
"So, I worked in IT for some time. At around 2005 I worked doing IT management for several ministries. I thought that was my path at the time.
"I also planned on being a DJ on the side.
"At school, however, my teachers always saw something creative in me, so some of them figured I would have done something related to art."
Being the child of a flight attendant, Simon said he was always exposed to an array of cultural expressions which he believes had an impact on his way of creating art.
"I was also drawn to art because I grew up around a cousin who was like a big brother to me and I would mimic everything he did. He has always been very creative and from that early age I followed him in expression through art and realised I was creative too."
A former student of Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica, Simon said being trained allowed him to hone his craft, after which he did a master’s in creative design at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine.
Three accomplishments of which he is most proud include being awarded gold and silver Addy and Best of Print awards at The American Advertising Awards in 2014. "The other one was being privileged to attend my dream school, Bauhaus art school in Germany. Being the only person from the Caribbean who was accepted for a short programme there in 2014 with designers from all over the world was amazing."
Among the accomplishments of which Simon is most proud was the opportunity to work with soca giant Machel Montano. "My mother would tell anyone I have been a Machel fan since I was six. So to know him now and to have been able to work with him is something I will always cherish. And of course, always seeming to make my mother proud."
As he gets older, Simon said he has been finding it easier to talk about his journey with mental health and coping with anxiety. "It has always been a challenge for me. I don't speak much about it because I don't want to burden anyone else with the thoughts. But creating new things and wondering if they will be loved or accepted comes with a lot of weight." He said the risky nature of the creative and uncertainty of how well work will be received can lead to what may manifest as procrastination – though it stems from anxiety and fear.
"Dealing with these challenges is an ongoing process. I want people to know there are always people with whom you can talk for help. You are not alone. It may sound generic, but it is true."
To overcome his challenges, he tries not to do everything on his own. "I push beyond these growing pains by pushing harder, even when I do have to do most of the work on my own while trusting the process."
He said having a voice and to want people to hear that voice, by whatever creative expression, should be enough motivation to keep anyone going. "Believing what I create is worth being seen, heard and understood is enough motivation. I realise a lot of people cherish the forms of expression and look forward to seeing what is to come. Those things keep me going. My family and friends – and even 'bad-mind' people."
Asked how he manages to stay true to his aesthetic, Simon said, "It goes back to never forgetting core values – always keeping in mind what young Keegan would have wanted to do, and what would have made him happy. It may not be cool, according to what others think, but what makes you who you are."
He said he looks forward to doing more of what he loves most which include going back to the drawing-board, literally. "I need to get back to listening to young Keegan more and creating more things without caring too much about what everyone will think."
Simon said he hopes his work and contributions will have some impact on the landscape of the regional creative industry. "I am known now, primarily, for my T-shirts and the unique style of creating. I hope when I die my influence will be seen, remembered and understood in the Caribbean – and hopefully around the world."
Visit Keegan Simon's instagram page @1ndividual to see more of his work.