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ABOVEUmělec magazine 2009/1
Marisol Rodríguez | interview | en cs de es
ABOVE is a native from California of unknown age and identity. He travels almost without a break around the world, like a postmodern beatnik who boasts about having almost anything, and whose work tries to reach everybody with such a kind of undefined art, that we are unable to name it.
He’s not a graffiti artist and he never calls himself an artist nor a designer, but we can say that ABOVE is impregnated with local references and he’s an excellent master of what he’s doing, whatever it is called. I interviewed him by mail some weeks ago while he was in Lisbon. After that, he went to California and a few days ago he was writing me from Italy.
So, who are you?
I’m a person that likes to travel, create, and take part in all that life has to offer.
And, where are you now?
Currently I am in Lisbon, Portugal. I just came from Barcelona, and Rome before that.
Should I call you “graffiti artist”?
By the things that you do you could also be a graphic designer, even a typographer, has any designer approached you for guidance through a specific task?
It's funny as I actually have been approached a lot these past years about advice and consulting of different companies “image” and bullshit like that. I’m not a graphic designer and actually with the computer I don’t know much at all. The computer is an interesting medium to create with but its not mine at the moment.
You were in Mexico City this year, what do you think about the graffiti you found there?
I was happy to see that there was a lot of it. In addition not all of the graffiti was boring there was actually some unique styles and forms that were in the Mexican Streets. Buen Trabajo Amigos.
In you’re website you quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: „Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.“ So, what are the things that matter for you right now?
The war that is going on in Iraq. How the American President should have been killed 8 years ago and never fucked the world up as it is today. Poverty matters to me. Trying to make this world a better place for today and especially for tomorrow. These are just a few off the top of my head.
How does your work reflect that?
When possible I try and comment and incorporate this into my artworks when I can usually with humor, and witty sarcastic remarks.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you started touring the world as an artist with your Arrow Project, seams like that took you at least a couple years. What was the purpose? What kept you going?
I will correct you on this. I was born and grew up in California. When I was 19 I decided to move to Paris, France to basically paint and expose my artworks in the streets. From that time back in 2001 I have been constantly traveling the world not only with my arrow mobile installations but also with my word/plays abstract, and iconic styles. I have done 4 very large tours each year since 2004 until today. I was able and fortunate to have done the USA TOUR (2004) with 14 cities around the USA. EUROPEAN TOUR (2005) with 15 countries around Europe. THE SIGN LANGUAGE TOUR (2006) with a whopping 26 countries around Europe and the east! And the most recent the SOUTH CENTRAL TOUR (2007-08) with 11 countries from Brazil to Mexico.
What keeps me going is the fact that once you learn how to travel and experience all these new and unique cultures, people, places, food, ideas its impossible not to keep going, I make sacrifices and own nearly nothing as far as possessions are concerned so this enables and helps me live this type of lifestyle. I am now focused on exploring the areas in South East Asia. The world is a big place.
How many bones have you broken while painting high walls?
Ever been arrested?
I stopped counting after being arrested 10 times. Its part of the job description, so if you’re not prepared to get robbed, harassed, arrested, and crossed out I suggest you don’t work illegally in the streets.
Now, seriously, how do you sponsor those trips? You mention a couple of tricks on your website, like using counterfeit money, or fake train cards. What else?
All of those mentioned are true. I was able to make a counterfeit Eurail pass to travel for 6 months around Europe’s trains for free. I had traveled Europe the year before (2005) and I noticed that hardly ever did the train conductor even inspect or look at my Eurail pass. The next year I did the 26 country SIGN LANGUAGE TOUR and was confident to just counterfeit the older ticket. It was really quite easy. About the Counterfeit money, I,ll not mention about that due to hard penalties. I finance my trips from working as a waitor in different restaurants in California. I usually travel for 6 months out of the year and the other 6 months I work hard making tips from being a waitor and preparing for my next large travel. Kinda funny isn’t it?
You have this questionnaire on your website, it goes for people that are looking to purchase your artwork. Like a filter for posers I suppose. Does it work?
Yeah of course it works I have set up on my website a questionnaire if someone wants to buy my ORIGINAL artworks. 99% of people will pass but it’s a filter for having people buy my artworks just to hang on their wall to have some type of new social status. I get emails frequently from people all over the world sending it in and to be honest it is a down to earth and personal was to connect with another person. I care deeply for my original artworks and I want to ensure that the people who buy the works care for them as much if not more than I do.
I have to turn at least one of those questions for yourself, like “How do you measure Success?”, for example, when you get to a country with some artwork in mind, when do you know the right time to leave, the right time to go back home?
I measure my success with my artwork when I have this accomplished feeling. It differs with each type of work but I think the easiest way to measure this success would be the size of the smile on my face.
A series of prints of your artwork were released just this week, you don’t care who buys them?
As I mentioned previously the purchase questionnaire is for my Original artworks only. It is true that with every print Studiocromie and I made I did some hand made touches and effects but in the long run they are prints so each one is not unique. I do care and hope that people that buy those print can enjoy them on their wall.
I know you’ve had some pretty rough times while painting, specially in South America, how do you feel about coming back?, No hard feelings?
Yeah, I got robbed at gun point and my camera stolen in Buenos Aires. Then in Quito, Ecuador I got jumped by 3 crack/cocaine junkies. They rushed up on me and all of a sudden I had a fucking knife in my left arm with 1 guy holding it there while 2 other junkies were going thru all of my pockets. It was sudden and totally fucked up.
However in retrospect I felt like it was just a situation of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This could happen anywhere in the world and I have learned this from my travels. You are no safer in your own city than in another. Having said that I will for sure go back to South/Central America. I am planning already to visit Buenos Aires again.