’12-Months completes a year cycle. I’ve experienced 34-complete cycles thus far in my life. Over the years I’ve become very familiar with the range of different feelings, and impacts each month has on me’ ABOVE says.
With his new solo show the artist’s intention is to show the viewer a visual portrayal of associations, and experiences he has had with each Month. ABOVE’s new series will be on display at 12 Months solo show at Galerie SOON in Zurich in Switzerland with the opening on March 4 @ 17.00. First 25 people receive a free signed, hand finished print!
This is a great opportunity for us to catch up with the artist as he reflects on his approach and work in our exclusive interview.
First of all congratulations for the upcoming exhibition. What made you choose this gallery? Did they approach you?
Thank you for the congrats on the new exhibition. Soon Galley came onto my radar about two years ago. I’d been watching their projects and exhibitions with other artists. When I was in Basel, Switzerland last year for Art Basel I was meeting a lot of galleries and talking with a lot of people about Swiss galleries in particular. An artist friend of mine spoke very highly of them and what they do, so I got in touch and here we are now. It’s a small world because one of the galley owner’s bought an original of mine back in 2007, so the idea of doing an exhibition together was just waiting to happen.
The last time we spoke was during your performance for the City Of Gold Festival in Johannesburg (Covered here). It’s great catching up with you, what have you been up to since?
Since the ‘Incognito’ Mural in Johannesburg in October I cleared my schedule to focus on some new directions I wanted to take my artworks. I was craving some down time to reflect, and organize my ideas. I guess you could say I wanted to ‘log off’ from taking on new projects that would interfere with my pursuit and exploration of new creative territory.
Urban art is becoming more and more popular worldwide. Did this provide you with more artistic opportunities in the past few years?
As the ‘Urban Art’ movement becomes more popular there are certainly more opportunities both indoor, and outdoor. Many ‘high end’ galleries are now exhibiting and selling (very well) the works of ‘Street Artists.’ There are a lot of companies reaching out to street artists to collaborate and do interesting (and UN-interesting) projects. Outdoors you have so many mural festivals going on around the world. What I like seeing is the non-commercial mural festivals that are initiatives funded from the city, or country the project is in. All in all there is a lot of attention and opportunity aimed at this movement. Time will tell if the attention will stay, or not, but for right now everything seems to be picking up more and more attention with each day.
Could you tell us a bit more about this new exhibition? What inspired you to choose this theme?
12 Months is a collection of new works on canvas that were inspired by the colors, associations, and feeling I have with each month of the year. In September, 2015, I was entertaining the idea of creating a body of work that had an enormous range of colors, and differentiating styles, while simultaneously having a level of consistency. In selecting each month of the year as my reoccurring topic, I was able to build off that foundation over and over again, each time with a fresh structure and design. Figuratively speaking It was like building 12 new houses along a street. Imagine each house being unique in color, style, and size than the others, yet collectively still being part of a neighborhood that all belong together.
With this exhibition you have given a new perspective to your work introducing a variety of patterns, compositions, and new colours. Could you talk us through this new direction?
I’d say that during the past year I’ve had an overwhelming interest in Abstract Art, Geometric abstraction, Minimal art, patterns, and Sacred Geometry. All of these new interests has ignited a new approach of how I look, and create my art. It’s like I’ve been overlooking something that has been there the whole time. You know those times when someone points out something so obvious, but you’ve never noticed before?
To illustrate much easier take the word ‘Now here.’ You can see this word as Now here, as it is, but you can also drastically change it’s meaning by simply shifting the ‘W’ over to the ‘here’ to have it read ‘No Where.’ Nothing was added, or removed, it was just moved over. The definitions between ‘Now here’ and No Where couldn’t be more opposite each other. This simple way of shifting and moving a shape, or a letter in this example can have the same profound effect. This is what I feel like now with my artwork. I’ve been overlooking some very obvious, and important elements that have been there the whole time! I’m now able to observe the arrow not as one object, but rather a combination of different angles, and shapes that all compose one final object.
I’ve been interested in taking my artwork to new places and styles, It has never gone before. I’ve noticed within myself a lot of changes during the past 12 Months, so perhaps (subconsciously) the title of the exhibition has to do with the changes I’ve experienced during this time. It’s an exciting time for my art and imagination. I feel like I’ve unlocked a lot of closed doors that were blocking my creativity. Now that I have a key to unlock these doors, I’m now able to explore and adventure more into the unknown!
Many artist we have come across told us that they don’t want their street art work to look as refined as their studio work. Looking at your street art work it’s fair to say that this is not the case with you as your work on the streets looks as refined as your studio work.
That’s a nice compliment to say, cheers! I can’t speak on behalf of the other artists you talked with, but for me I approach both my indoor works and outdoor works with the same ethic and intention of making it look as good as I can. I’m a person that is very detail oriented, and specific. Maybe it’s OCD, or maybe it’s wanting my works to have a strong sense of precision. For me personally I enjoy creating artwork that has involves a lot of precision. The 12 Months collection of works are no exception to this example. For instance some of these canvases have over 15 layers of stencils that all need to be exactly in place. If just one of these layers is off in registration, the whole piece is ruined. As is the saying ‘You’re only as strong as your weakest link.’ I like the meticulous nature, and challenge of working with such high demand on precision.
Your body of work reflects on portrayal of associations and experiences you have had with each month. Can you tell us what impact each month had on you and describe your process.
I just turned 35 years old last month. This means I’ve experienced 34 times, January, February, March..etc. I started my process with writing down all the associations I have with each month. I would start with January and work my way through each month until December. I would start with giving myself three minutes to write down everything I could about January. Anything that reminded me of January. I would take notes on my associations for each month until I had pages upon pages of word associations. I took notes for a week and after I collected all the words, I refined my selection to the words I wrote down the most times. For instance I wrote down Introverted, Transparent, Quiet, New Year’s resolutions, Changes, and Fresh at least a dozen times. These words stood out and were consistent during my brainstorming. So these words acted as the guide to the design I would create of that month. Basically I would take combine my color palette of each month, and my word associations and start to create the design that I felt represented all of these feelings.
How much preparation was going into this body of work? What were the main challenges?
In September, 2015 I had the concept of creating a body of work that was directly inspired by each month of the year. It was an idea that quickly grew inside my imagination. What was attractive, but also challenging was working within the confines of each specific month. For example the month of October. When I would brainstorm my color palette for October I would never select Blue, Green, Purple, or Pink colors. Rather more Browns, Oranges, Deep Reds, and Dark Yellow. It was a double edge sword as each month I would select a specific color palette to create within. What was attractive to working within these confines was that I had used colors I’ve not typically incorporated in my paintings. I mentioned it earlier in the interview that it was challenging to have every stencil layer register in place over and over again. However this is something less challenging for me than organizing my color palette for each month.
The most notable for me was the challenge of using new groups of colors together. More than any of my previous exhibitions, the selection of my color palette played an extremely important role in each work. Selecting colors that harmonized with each other was my most challenging element for this collection of new works. For instance, October is a month I associate with browns, oranges, burnt reds, and deep yellows. I wouldn’t put blues, greens, or violets into that mix of colors, as it insults the integrity of what October represents for me. It might sound funny, but selecting my color palette for each month proved to be more challenging than I had envisioned.
This body of work explores new ways of incorporating your arrow icon, will this be something that you will pursue with your future outdoor work?
Most definitely yes. I feel that the 12 months collection of works are the direction I want to continue exploring in my outdoor works. I would like to paint these designs as large scale murals. Size matters, and to see these works outdoors on the side of a 30-50 metre tall building would be amazing. I hope I will be able to achieve this in the near future. Directly after my exhibition I’m headed to Hong Kong for Hong Kong Walls where I’m going to paint a wall with one of these recent 12 Months designs.
Will you return to your stencil based street art pieces like the very clever ‘Timing is everything’ you had in East London few years back?
Will I return? I don’t think I’ve left to begin with. All of my outdoor stencil works are site specific. This means that In order to make the impact and message I’m trying to achieve for a piece, I need to find the ‘stage’ for the piece to interact with. For the ‘Timing Is Everything’ stencil I painted in East London in 2013, I had that Idea for nearly eight months. During my travels I’d always be trying to find a highly trafficked area that had the constant shadow that would appear in the same place every night when the lights came on. To be honest, I have more ideas for future stencils, but the challenge is about finding the specific site to make it. I’m ready, I just need to keep searching…
You have managed to remain anonymous over the years. Did the popularity of street art makes staying anonymous a challenge? As many people who will have interest in your work will also have an interest in you as a person.
You actually said it in your question, ‘Many people who have interest in my works will have interest in me as a person.’ I assume that people can have an understanding of who I am by the styles of artworks I’ve made, the colors I use, and the social and political themes in my artworks. The thing I don’t understand with society is that they are infatuated with seeing how a person looks. My intentions with keeping my anonymity is very simple. I want my artworks to take the center stage. When I see artwork in the street, gallery, or museum I don’t concern myself with what that person looks like?! I am interested in what they create, not what clothing they are wearing, or how tall they are. It’s very superficial to base your judgement of a persons artworks, based on how they dress, if they are ‘beautiful’ or not, or even the color of their skin. In a nutshell, I don’t care what the artist of a work looks like, and I don’t think you should either.
Agreed! Yet this is the first time that you have decided to attend your opening. Why is that?
I think it’s a reflection of the changes I’ve been going through as a person, as well as with my creative process. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the interview, I’ve been looking at things in a different light. With my new perspectives comes new reactions. I think I’m going to attend my opening simply because it’s different than what I’ve always done. It’s a change from what I’ve normally done. It seems like everything else around me I’ve been changing, so why not see what it’s like to actually be at one of my openings? Who knows, I might enjoy it, or not?! At least I’m going to find out for myself…
What big projects do you have next?
As mentioned earlier I’ll be in Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Walls project in three week from today. This will be very fun as it also coincides with Art Basel Hong Kong. I’m returning home to Berlin in April to start on some new screen print editions, as well as my upcoming solo exhibition in N.Y.C. In July.