Artist ABOVE recently completed this mural entitled ‘Incognito’ for the City Of Gold Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa. Taking him six busy days to paint and covering a surface 33 metres tall x 17 metre wide, using over twenty different colour, this the artist largest mural to date. We wanted to catch up with the artist and here is what we found out…
Julie: Your latest piece is entitled ‘Incognito’, a recurring theme in your work which echoes your artist signature as you’ve chosen to stay anonymous . Why is that?
ABOVE: To best explain for those who are not yet aware, I prefer to have my artworks in the limelight instead of my identity. It’s been 19 years since doing public art that I’ve been ‘incognito’ and kept my identity concealed. When I started doing graffiti in California back in 1996 I was highly attracted to fact that I can make something so visible in the public domain, yet be able to keep my anonymity and have my indentity in the shadow of the attention. It’s an interesting contrast if you stop and think about it.
Wherever I go in the world I leave a visual / physical trace of myself. A painting, a sticker, or a tag, serves as a physical ‘foot print’ of myself.I have an active imagination and I often enjoy not knowing too much about a person, rather letting my imagination run wild of who a person is, or could be. We live in a world overly saturated and obsessed with looks and appearances. Selfies and accessories like selfie sticks are the most vain ways people share themselves. I prefer to share my art, and keep my person ‘incognito.’ After it’s all said and done, what does it really matter what say Shakespeare, Banksy, Daft Punk and other ‘incognito’ creatives look like? If I were to be in the film industry I’d rather prefer to have my talent and creative eye of being a director, behind the camera be the importance, rather than the actor in front of the camera. I suggest people should use their imaginations more, after all, I’d hate to disappoint you if I showed you how I look.
J: Prepping for a festival is time demanding, you just finished your mural for City Gold festival, can you talk us through your work process?
Once the all the intersecting lines were measured, and marked on the wall, I was ready to start filling in the designated sections with their respective colors. The Incognito design is based from a CMYK style. To explain to those not familiar with CMYK printing process, you take Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black to overlay on top of each other to achieve the spectrum of colors. I like to work systematically, so I started with the three primary colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) then working my way towards the secondary colors (Green, Orange, Violet). These six colors represented the majority of the Incognito mural’s wall space. These colors took about 4 days to fill in. The incognito design has the white (inline) arrow overlaid in the design, producing a lighter color on top of whatever color it was blended with. The same rule applies to the larger black (drop shadow) arrow. You can start to see how each color has a light, medium, and dark quality in the design. It took 6 consecutive days, 12 hours each day to finish the Incognito mural. From start to finish It took 10 days of constant work to achieve this mural.
J: What are the Challenges working on such large surfaces?
A: The biggest challenge for me during the Incognito mural was ensuring the proportions of the design were correct. I needed precision, and a lot of it. The lines needed to be sharp and straight. If any line was miscalculated or skewed the design as a whole would suffer. This was my largest hurdle I had to overcome both with mapping it out, and painting it. More obviously, the larger the wall, the more time and endurance needed to accomplish the mural. I spent 10 full days working in 30+ degree weather. I mentally prepared for a slow, but steady race to the finish line.
J: Each Festival is different and you have been to Joburg before. Can you tell us about your experience on this occasion?
A: You’ve done your research! You’re correct, this was my second time painting in Johannesburg. In 2012 I painted a large word play piece that read ‘Diamonds are a woman’s best friend, and a Man’s worse enemy.’ That piece stretched literally 1-city block and was site specific on the exterior of Jewel City, which is the Southern-Hemisphere’s largest diamond exporter. A few days into painting the Incognito mural I joked with Rasty, The City Of Gold organizer, that I really try and outdo myself with these big mural in Joburg. I need to let the readers know that The City Of Gold Festival was unique in a variety of ways.
The most impressive aspect of this festival was that the organizer Rasty is a graffiti and highly respected Tattoo artist. I say this is because working on a festival when the person in charge is cut from the same cloth and can understand the needs of specific materials, tools, paints, as well as anticipate possible unexpected problems. I’ve been to festivals in the past where the people in charge don’t know anything about the difference between a fat cap and a nozzle tip. Or the difference between a foam roller, versus a thick cotton roller. Having Rasty and his crew helping out when we needed specific supplies was spot on. What was also unique about The City Of Gold Festival is that it’s been the 5th year with little to no corporate sponsorship. Rasty explained to me that they’ve had big money opportunities from a variety of corporate sponsors, but he’s always declined because he see’s that with their sponsorship money comes a lot of control over the integrity of the festival. When I heard Rasty tell me this I truly understood that the City Of Gold Festival is unlike any other I’ve participated in. Rasty does this festival year after year with pure joy, and freedom to have the city of Joburg become more colorful with some epic murals from some of today’s best artists in the world. The final stand out about The City Of Gold Festival is that it’s in Johannesburg, South Africa. Joburg is far from the typical European and USA paint festivals. Joburg has a very raw and unique feeling from the city, and locals. When you land in Joburg you know you’re in Joburg. There are so many massive walls in Joburg, which lends itself perfectly for urban artists wanting to push themselves to their limit!
J: Working outdoor involved a lot of people watching you, did you eventually get a chance to interact with passers by?
A: As you can imagine with the time needed to paint the Incognito mural I didn’t have much time to converse with the groups of people while I was painting up on the lift. I did however get to spend time each day with the locals at the nearby community center which acted as a home base between painting. The people of Johannesburg are so welcoming and genuine. So many big smiles from everyone I met.
J: Your colour palette is unmistakable, you explained your work process earlier but could you tell me more about your choices?
A: My color selections were predetermined by the relationship of how each color transforms when laid on top of another. This was easy, however, in the designing of the mural I had to constantly move colors and shapes to finally get the final color arrangement you see. The design took a good 10-11 hours on my computer. Hours of positioning, and re-positioning the colored arrows to achieve a balance of colors and shapes. What I enjoy most about the Incognito design is the secondary shapes, and colors achieved from the overlapping of each arrow on top of another. There are many fun intersections of color and new shapes that emerge using this style of design. I look forward to exploring more in depth into this style in the future in my indoor and outdoor works.
J: What’s up for you next?
A: I’m now back home in Berlin and starting to prepare for upcoming solo exhibition in Zürich, Switzerland in early part of 2016. I’ll be heading to Miami for Art Basel exhibitions and outdoor paintings.