Jamel Armand & Chantel Koo

Why separate "work" and "life" into distinct categories when work is deeply intertwined with personal life and identity for many? Especially for artists, it's not just a job, but a passion and a way of life. Trying to separate the two can feel unnatural and limiting, but balance is critical. While I see some creative people around me struggling with this balance, I feel that Jamel and Chantel, who welcomed us in their home away from home, have found an overall life balance that works for their tribe and keeps them happy, inspired, and satisfied with life.

I'm always curious how the person we get to portray sees themself in this world. So who is Jamel Armand?
Jamel: I see myself as a very energetic, curious human who loves to create and try new things. In addition, I am a proud father of a wonderful son and the partner of the kindest woman who is now physically standing beside me and who stands by me in life, both in front and behind, leading me where necessary and supporting me in every step I make. I am very grateful to have her as my life partner.
I started drawing and making things at a very young age. As long as I can remember, I've been crafting and playing with different materials using my hands. There is so much more I want to do, learn, and experience that it sometimes creates restlessness. But it also gives me an overload of energy and excitement. I really feel like an energetic, playful person, full of joy and a joy for life.

Chantel: As long as I've known Jamel, he’s always been very creative. He can do anything he opens his heart for, from illustration to photography, animation, painting and everything crossing over and in between. He can do anything and want to try everything, which isn't always easy to see a clear path going forward.

Now that we know a little more about Jamel, who is Chantel?
C: I'm Chantel Koo, and I've been Jamel's partner in many ways since I was 18. Fashion has played a significant role in my life from a young age, leading me to study at the fashion academy. After my studies, I worked as a stylist and set up many fashion shoots with Jamel. When our main partner for shoots dropped out, we started making music videos. Now I mainly focus on everything behind the scenes, supporting Jamel from administration to production and maintaining contact with galleries and customers.

J: I am extremely grateful to have Chantel in my life. She takes care of all the necessary but seemingly boring tasks, and also provides valuable creative input. She often helps me choose the right colors, and her keen eye notices things that I don’t.

What prompted you to work more behind the scenes instead of determining the creative part like when you were music videos previously?
C: Becoming a mother was one of the greatest gifts for me, and I realized that I wanted to fully dedicate myself to it. The transition to focusing on motherhood and being less active in my own creative pursuits happened very naturally. The success that Jamel now has with his painting, feels like my own success as well. We stand here as a team, as parents, and also as a creative team.

J: Even though all the work now comes out under my name, it is often a collaboration. For example, when I'm working on a series of paintings or starting a new project, Chantel is great at keeping an overview, combining colors, and ensuring that it all comes together. I find it exciting to show her my work; sometimes I even hide pieces so she can't see them because I value her opinion so much. If she has a comment, I'm afraid I won't be able to let it go while working on my art.
How do you manage the balance between work and family life when working closely together? Jamel, can you disconnect from work when you leave your studio, or do you find it challenging to switch off?
J: This is definitely something to be very aware of. I find it quite difficult to switch off my creativity. Can you even do that? At times, it flows more strongly than at others, but I don't think you can turn it off. The passion for creating is so immense and hard to confine to a specific time. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning, my brain is busy creating new things or adjusting existing ones. So, I can also come home super excited and want to share everything with Chantel or ask her, but she is busy cooking or doing something else in the house. Then I have to learn to hold back, realizing that life doesn't always run at my pace, and I need to consider her schedule and also the sacred time for our family.

C: Finding that balance is challenging, and I understand because I know what it is like to be creatively engaged. So I happily give Jamel the time to do what makes him happy and what he is good at.

J: It's hard for me to say no. I always plan to take it easy after finishing a project, but then I get excited about new opportunities and end up juggling multiple projects at once. I've been spending all my time in the studio, even on weekends, and I'm starting to feel overwhelmed. However, there's still so much I want to explore and learn. (laughs)

C: The studio has become a second home for all of us. Louvel often comes to play with friends so we spend a lot of time together.
I read that music is a determining factor in your work. Are there any other influences we can find in your work?
J: I find inspiration in unexpected places. It could be through music, travel, new experiences, or simply discovering something new. For example, a trip to Morocco inspired a recent series of my work. The colors, structures, and the overall atmosphere of the place influenced my art. Music also plays a big role in my creative process. I often discover new music that I play repeatedly, letting the lyrics and melodies guide my artistic journey.
Sometimes, the music I listen to becomes intertwined with the art I create without me even realizing it. For a recent show in Berlin, the latest album by Idles influenced the look and feel of my work. Interestingly, when I arrived at the gallery, the same album was playing, even though I hadn't mentioned it to anyone.

C: I remember you wanted to buy that album as a thank you, but the universe had already determined that it would be there. It was very special.

To what extent have the faces we can see in your paitings changed along your journey?
J: The first faces I painted had a more frontal view. However, as I delved more into myself and my Indonesian roots, they have changed to a side view. In the typical Indonesian Wayang Puppet Play, which uses shadow play of the puppets, you only see the side views. It is even so that the good always look to the left and the bad to the right. This has led me to start depicting the faces in my paintings in side view and looking to the left, which typifies my paintings. This deep dive into my own roots, and consequently the evolution of myself and my paintings, was initially triggered by becoming a father and seeking my roots. In Indonesian culture, it is customary to ceremonially come to terms with your ancestors so that the generation after you has less or no burden from the ancestral line.

What does fatherhood mean to you?
J: Learning to know love on a level I have never experienced before. Being complete, finding peace,... A feeling where words fall short in trying to describe it. Becoming a father gave me a very concrete goal in my life.

C: It is often said that marriage is the seal of love between two people, but I am convinced that the arrival of a child and thus becoming a parent is the real seal of love for each other.

J: From the first moment I saw Louvel, I noticed that I was much more alert, more purposeful. I felt like a wolf needing to protect his pack. It made me a different person and gave me a different perspective on life and purpose.

C: I have seen Jamel become much softer. You can also see this in his work. It has gone from very raw to more balanced and perhaps a bit more controlled. I think purposeful might be the right word.

What does 2024 have in store for you guys?
C: Lately, we've realized that we've been constantly attending exhibitions without giving ourselves the opportunity to find peace and create work from that calm state. Therefore, we want to be more mindful of this and give ourselves the space we need.

J: When I finish the current series of paintings in the studio, I want to shift my focus back to sculpting. I've developed a strong interest in it and I find it complements my painting work nicely. As I think about it, I realize that I am much more interested in the next creative step, while Chantel is more focused on approaching galleries and planning our next moves.
In June, we are going to Portugal to scout for a potential show next year. However, I believe that this year our primary focus should be on creating a space for experimentation rather than producing work to meet specific deadlines. When you're constantly working to a schedule, you rely on the tools and knowledge you have at that moment. There's nothing wrong with that, but at some point, one feels the need to explore new avenues and deviate from the familiar path.
**If you're in Antwerp between June 15 and July 28, come have a look at some of Jamel's work which will be on show during the group exhibition FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING at Gallery Hioco Delany in company of Anuk Rocha, Bob Geerts and Diego Boonen.**
And give Jamel and Chantel a follow on instagram if you want to stay up to date of their future adventures. 
Styling & Production: Gijs Grondelaers
Text & Photos: Wouter Struyf