If we are mindful about our interactions, there are no strict transactions. Every encounter is a collaboration, a meeting of ideas, a chance to learn—and that's exactly what we found earlier this year with our first commissioned mural project. At the start of 2017, Mindful Release was preparing to drop the debut collection when we heard from Jon Shih of Vibrvncy. Jon, who works closely with a California-based dance crew called the Kinjaz, had taken notice of Mindful Release's beautifully intricate lettering and meditative mission. Like the Morton salt bottle says: when it rains, it pours, and sure enough the week after we released our first garments the Kinjaz invited Shane, our founder, letterer, and the driving force behind Mindful Release out to Los Angeles to paint in their dojo.
To give you some background, the Kinjaz are a self-described "artists' brotherhood" characterized by (as the name suggests) a ninja-inspired aesthetic; a mission to innovate, entertain, and positively impact the world through movement, media, and mentality; and a mantra: Respect All, Fear None.
They are best known for their dance crew, which is currently taking their characteristic, intricate choreography to the World of Dance 2017 competition. Working on the murals gave Shane a chance to work with the dancers as well as some photographers and models from the Kinjaz crew as well—a tiny peek at the brotherhood the Kinjaz seek to cultivate "at all costs."
There were three murals painted in the week Shane spent with the Kinjaz in LA: a complex, Kanji-inspired mural on the Kinjaz' "Great Wall," an inscription of the crew's "Respect All, Fear None" motto on a wall above their dance studio mirrors, and a text-reversed work in the hallway leading into the Kinjaz' dojo that when read in a mirror reveals one of their secondary mottos: "Movement in the Shadows."
The Great Wall, pictured above, stands in the Kinjaz' studio waiting room as the barrier between their physical dance space and the outside world. The scope of the mural on this wall far surpassed the others and it resulted in a sprawling collection of inscribed circle calligrams and columns of glyphs that Shane invented specifically for the project. The glyphs were inspired by Kanji, a set of characters integrated into Japanese writing from Chinese origins. Kanji glyphs don't indicate sounds to be made in pronouncing a word but rather represent a whole idea, like a hieroglyph, which makes them impractical for writing a whole language but packed with meaning. As characters, Kanji stand out for their inherent balance, a trait that struck and inspired Shane in the process of creating the murals. When asked about the Kanji, he says "the balance and the stroke construction are what resonated deeply within me. I took those lessons after the mural and have applied them to every piece of calligraphy since."
The Kanji-inspired glyphs cover the sizeable expanse of the Great Wall in gold and white but the design is minimal with a soft earth-toned aesthetic to it that is meant to resemble rice paper. The balance of the glyphs is tied to the balance of the mural's massive scale against its quiet design, the characters weighted with meaning but seated on the fragility of rice paper.
The balance and tension of the Great Wall mural are no coincidence. The foundation of the Kinjaz' philosophy is made up of the balance and tension embodied in their mantra: "Respect All, Fear None." The wisdom is not lost on Shane who said, after the project, "I believe that [their motto's] meaning lines up with everything I believe in as a human being, as an artist, and as a business." He had plenty of time to meditate on the four word code of conduct as he painstakingly brought them, stroke-by-stroke, into the Kinjaz' dance studio.
"Rule number one on this planet, in all aspects of life, is respect all." Shane reflected when I asked him what he thought about the motto. "I will never know the struggles each individual has had, so I can never judge. And I will always know that any form of hate from anyone is just a deeper problem within themselves. I can understand them, and regardless if I like what they are saying or doing, I will respect them. The second part to that motto, Fear None, is how I've lived since I started studying letters and pursuing my dream. It's how I believe all people should live. Fear is a concept that is made up within our brains. It holds no physical form, and disappears the second we face it. I let fear guide me. If I'm afraid, or nervous to do something (within reason), it generally is a sign that I need to do it ASAP. Once you face it, the growth achieved within is enormous."
The third wall of the project, though smaller than the Great Wall, was perhaps the most technically challenging. The hallway that leads to the waiting room where the Great Wall is housed has one wall entirely in mirror, and rather than painting the other wall in bold design to fight for attention with the mirror the final part of the project brought the small hallway into harmony by relying on the mirror to be fully realized. The third mural features one of the Kinjaz' more characterizing statements, "Movement in the Shadows," but painted in reverse.
The vertically-flipped design of the mural fills the very first space a person enters when they come into the dojo, and the effect is captivating. The work is cryptic when viewed straight on, with the meaning revealed only when the viewer examines themselves. Then, just as the viewer finds their reflection, the bright letters jump out of the dark tendrils creeping in from the side of the wall. Like the Great Wall, this work relies on the power of working in subtlety, which is the core of the Kinjaz' work and resonates strongly in our own hearts here at Mindful Release.
The chance to work with the Kinjaz and learn more about their mission was invigorating. This shared appreciation for not only artistic expression but for balance, harmony, subtlety, reflection and respect—this kindred mission made our collaboration with the Kinjaz a true honor. During the week that he worked on the murals, Shane was lucky enough to watch the Kinjaz in action as they prepared for their next performance on World of Dance, which was just as inspiring as meditating on their motto. "The thing I noticed most about them, and with Jon from Vibrvncy, was their amazing work ethics. They literally never stopped working. It was inspiring and really made me rethink the activities I do each day and how I could cut out certain tasks to work as hard as them." The way this brotherhood of artists seeks to continuously hone themselves and their art to positively impact the world should be an example to all creators, whether working collaboratively or on their own.
It is a pleasure to work for something that you believe in, but the kindness and wonderful hospitality of Jon Shih, Vibrvncy, and the Kinjaz also made this project quite enjoyable to work on. Our many thanks go to all of them, along with our best wishes as they continue to compete for the title of World of Dance champions and live out their mission.
To see more of these murals and get a glimpse of Shane at work, visit our Portfolio page. If you'd like more regular updates about where Mindful Release is going next and who we're working with (along with special offers on signature pieces of Mindful Release gear) click here. And lastly, as you go into the world to pursue your own Mindful Release, remember:
Move in the Shadows