Ulan Bator, Feb. 2013: Temuulen Batmunkh, aka “TML”, is a digital and graffiti artist hailing from Ulan Bator. The twenty-three-year-old sees himself as part of a new wave of urban culture in Mongolia, where migration from the countryside to the capital city – which until recently had a population of under 1 million – is causing new youth culture to develop. As a street artist and through using digital media, TML aims to create work with an identity that is at once distinctly Mongolian and contemporary. For him, street art is a good “message device” with universal appeal and the ability to reach a diverse audience. Against the traditional style and imagery of art that predominates in Mongolia, Temuulen pursues bright colour and clear outlines in his work, which varies from the graphic and cartoonish to minimal representations of his home city. I met Temuulen in Ulan Bator as he was participating in the Tiger Translate festival, showcasing Mongolian artists and featuring their collaborations with visiting international artists across the city.
Temuulen Batmunkh, street art collaboration with FAILE from NY, 2012; Courtesy of the artist.
Iona Whittaker: What inspires you to make art?
Temuulen Batmunkh (TML): I always loved to draw – I didn’t do my lessons at school because I was drawing on the backs of my notebooks. I used to draw graffiti and street stuff. It’s in my blood I think! [Laughs] No-one in my family is like this.
IW: What was your parents’ reaction to it?
TML: I asked my mother to let me have lessons at the art school, and she never stopped me. My father passed away when I was little, so she had a lot of work, and was busy. I was just drawing at home all the time. But yes, she’s happy for me now.
IW: What are your creative concerns – the things you are focused on and want to get across?
TML: I try to make it personal, and to elevate new media art in Mongolia. Our art and design is kind of old cultural traditional stuff, so I like to do some street art and make more colourful works.
IW: How did you first access this kind of work? Was it easy?
TML: I used to watch Cartoon Network. That was the first step, then I watched a video clip by Gorillaz (the British band), so I started to draw their pictures and buy their old albums; they had a book inside the CD cover – I drew every page! I still have that now, and draw in that style, which is one I like.
Temuulen Batmunkh, Mongo Papertoy design; Courtesy of the artist.
IW: Was becoming a full-time artist an easy decision to make?
TML: Yes. I was at first thinking of becoming an interior designer or a videographer, but I thought it would be better to do my thing. I’m better at this art thing, I think.
IW: Is it easy to get started and get noticed here? What are the networks that you use?
TML: Originally I was sort of a lone artist, staying at home and working away, looking for things online and doing my own work. Not freelancing, but putting a barrier between myself and society, looking at others’ work and absorbing it. I didn’t really want to show off my work to other people – it was just for myself. Now, it’s my profession.
IW: Right now, do you work just for yourself or on other projects, too?
TML: Yes, I do work for clients as well.
IW: What are you working on now?
TML: I am working with a magazine and a mobile network company, making emoticons and brochures, and some software companies.
IW: So, how do you begin a piece of work?
TML: Well, I turn my laptop on, push the button...!
IW: Do you usually have a fully-formed idea, or does it come together as you’re working, for example?
TML: For my own work, I usually begin by sketching digitally.
Temuulen Batmunkh, 'Mini-UB' series, #5 state department store, 2012; courtesy of the artist.
IW: Do you think a lot about your audience and how they will react or relate to your work?
TML: Really, no. I like to show my work to many people now – not just in Mongolia, but internationally, because it’s hard to get exposure. In Mongolia, people don’t usually like it. My work is quite minimalistic, so they don’t really respond to it. People are not into it now, so it’s quite hard. Whatever, it’s mine! But it’s getting better in Ulan Bator – twenty years ago, the population of UB was less than 500,000 people. Over the last ten, fifteen years, people have come from the countryside. For them, this urban culture is still new; digital art and Western-type art is difficult for them to perceive and understand.
IW: Do you feel there are things you share with other artists of your generation – themes, or concerns?
TML: Not particularly. Through my art I want to share this new wave of urban culture – especially with the new generation, the generation which is more exposed to other parts of the world and has new technology, the internet and so on. Basic “culture” – through my work I want to deliver and share this idea.
IW: As a young artist in a small scene here, do you feel responsible for taking it to a wider audience?
IW: The Mongolian art scene is peripheral, still, in relation to the main stream of international contemporary art. Is there a particular cultural angle that Mongolian artists can bring to the international scene?
TB: We are all pushing together, collaborating. Mongolian artists are very talented, and if they can enter the international scene, they can certainly have input. There are also Mongolian artists in different countries and they are creating good work. But the local artists still don’t have the kind of support network of agents, etc., that help artists to integrate internationally. We’re sure that in time, these things will come – more of a structure – and it will become easier to be accepted into the international scene.
Temuulen Batmunkh, F skull; Courtesy of the artist.
IW: What would you say you are most loyal to in your work?
TML: I just try to make it Mongolian. Even if I create a Western-type character, I try to give it a Mongolian inflection. I try to make it simultaneously Mongolian, and my style.
IW: And what are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
TML: I want to start my own T-shirt company, printing all my designs onto shirts. But it’s really difficult here, so I’ll go to China soon for that!
IW: How do you feel about the relationship between art and graphic design?
TML: I’ve never thought about it. I just think it’s the same, because for me, digital media is art.
ArtSlant would like to thank Temuulen Batmunkh for his assistance in making this interview possible.