Inside INSA's Collection

Inside INSA's Collection

INSA is a self-described Graffiti Fetishist. Over his 15 year career, the anonymous artist has added his signature black and pink throw-up to walls, clothing and more recently NFTs. He’s also amassed an enviable art collection featuring works by legends like Murakami and ROIDS. His 'hunter-collector mindset' doesn’t stop at art, he spoke to Avant Arte about his 452 Gundam Robots, 2000 nudie lighters and the rocks that cover his house.

6 min read

Collection of Gundam robots

"With Gundams, it’s more about building the robots than owning them. It’s like meditation for me. It slows down my overactive mind, and quiets a lot of my anxiety."

Avant Arte: Why do you think people collect? 

INSA: I think collecting is a human trait, something that we’re all born with. It’s funny – I’ve got three kids and when we go to the beach, they naturally just start collecting stones. Picking their favourites, cleaning them, organising them. I’ve now got a house full of stones.

Avant: How did you start collecting?

INSA: I’ve always collected things as long as I can remember. As a boy growing up in Leeds pre-internet, collecting was about gathering information. I’d collect Ninja Turtles comics, different glass bottles – anything that excited me. I had racks and racks of VHS cassettes with TV clips I had recorded and edited together.

In 1989, my mum bought me a book called Subway Art – from that moment I was fascinated by graffiti. I collected everything graffiti-related I could get my hands on, mostly magazines like Graphotism, While You Were Sleeping and Life Sucks Die. They connected me to subcultures a million miles away, like the LA Latino lifestyle in Lowrider magazine.

Looking back, these magazines really shaped the life I live now.

Subway Art Magazine

Xplicit Grafxx 7 magazine

Avant: How do you think the internet has changed how people collect?

INSA: I don’t want to say it’s changed for the worse of course, but there is a very different energy from going and finding something rare in an old comic shop, to looking through a catalogue online. Everything is rated and financially valued and that feels less soulful. The positive I guess is the ease you can find things and chat to other collectors, I guess it builds communities and subcultures.

Avant: Does community influence your collecting habits?

INSA: I don’t think I’ve ever discussed my collections with anyone online. I think for me collecting is very personal, it’s a physical embodiment of all the interests and experiences you’ve had throughout your life. I wouldn’t want that to be influenced by communities. 

However, I remember when I bought the Neo Zeong 1/144 scale kit at the Gundam Base in Tokyo. It's the largest kit they’ve ever made. I don’t really watch the anime and I barely know the character names. But I remember walking through Tokyo getting thumbs up from the locals. 

Collection of Gundam model boxes

PG Astray Red Frame Kai

RX-78-2 Gundam Hello Kitty and 7/11 Editions

My Collection: INSA, Gundam Robots

Avant: How many Gundam Robots do you own?

INSA: 452

Avant: What is the Gundam collection about?

INSA: I definitely don’t need any more plastic robots.

With Gundams, it’s more about building the robots than owning them. It’s like meditation for me. It slows down my overactive mind, and quiets a lot of my anxiety. For that hour or two all I focus on are the complicated instructions. Like when I make art, I find total inner peace while being technically challenged. 

Sometimes I worry that my obsession is a bit unhealthy. I do get a bit anxious if I don't have a stock of kits waiting for me to build. But, if I stopped collecting Gundam Robots today, I would probably start collecting something else just to satisfy that impulse. I’m worried my love of retro Japanese aesthetics will develop into a full-blown collection of Japanese minivans from the early 2000s. I already have a few and not much space for more…

Avant: Does your art collection reflect your attitude and wellbeing?

INSA: The first artwork you see when you come into my house is a piece by the Mexican painter Smithe One. I love the bionic nature of the character in the painting. It really resonates with me because my son is profoundly deaf and hears through cochlear implants, so I’ve witnessed how life changing technology can be. The painting represents an interesting vision of a symbiotic future between humans and technology.

Avant: How did you start collecting art?

INSA: I started collecting art organically as a painter. I would always swap work with peers and friends. These days I’m lucky enough to be able to buy work from artists that I love. A work is much more meaningful to me when I empathise with the story behind it.

Roids

Smithe One

Takashi Murakami

For example I have an artwork by the artist Roids who I have painted with many times. It really sums up the complex relationship and history between graffiti and the art world. It’s about the contradictory attitudes around vandalism and art, and the experience of graffiti artists getting sucked into the system. It’s an interesting tension, one that I think about a lot in my work.

Avant: Do you see a connection between your art collection and other collections? Do they influence each other?

INSA: I think there is a theme that runs through my art collection and other stuff – it's all a visual overload, hyper-bold, colourful. I like to be over-stimulated, and seeing these shapes and colours en masse really keeps me ticking. Sometimes I wonder if I’d do better in a minimal calm space, but I don’t think that’s even possible.

INSA choosing from his collection of spray paints

Avant: What’s the most unexpected item in your collection?

INSA: I started collecting nudie lighters twenty years ago, and have amassed more than 2000 of them from around the world. I’m yet to find another collection of them anywhere on the internet. They’re hard to find these days but for me this is the purest collection I have. It’s not about value – they don’t cost much money, are tacky and disposable by nature. 

At first collecting them was about creating a challenge for my hunter-collector mindset. Looking at them all together, I love how they represent so many challenging outdated ideas: cigarette smoking, single-use plastic, gratuitous objectification. It’s kind of sad to think these models on the lighters are all individuals that have lived full lives but are immortalised as this piece of tat. I now see this collection as an art piece I’m working on called Disposable, that dives into all of these ideas.

Avant: If you could add one thing to your collection what would it be?

INSA: If I could add anything to my art collection, it would have to be a Hajime Sorayama life-size robot sculpture. Funnily enough, one of the first prints I ever bought aged 14 was a  Sorayama Robot. All these years later and it’s still the piece that I want the most.

Nudie lighter collection

Hajime Sorayama

Cleon Peterson

Going through my collection now it seems all of them stem from my teenage years: the robots, the lighters, the art. I think that period in my life really shaped me. I feel really lucky to be coming from an age pre-internet where sub cultures needed to be unearthed and discovered, information needed to be gathered, you couldn’t just buy and trade your ‘collection’ online. I guess I’m lucky I’ve created a life where I am able to indulge all those fantasies now.

Avant: What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own art collection?

INSA: If I was going to give anyone a piece of advice about buying art, I would say choose something that you're happy looking at every day. When you turn the corner and see the work up on the wall, it needs to make you think or smile. I recently got an artwork by Cleon Peterson that’s not just visually stunning, but is also a daily reminder to me that the hedonistic lifestyle I once might have craved is not the life I want now.

INSA using face filter

We're interested in collections of all kinds. Have one to share? Get in touch.



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