Over the past month, Hense has been in Lima, Peru painting this massive mural. The following is a recap of the events courtesy of Hense:
We just finished up a large exterior installation in Lima, Peru. This is my tallest work to date measuring 137 feet tall and 170 feet wide. The project was organized by Morbo Gallery and funded by the ISIL Institute in MiraFlores, Lima.
I worked with my head assistant and a crew of 10 professional painters over the course of a month to complete the work.
With all my exterior projects, I rarely use a preconceived sketch or concept to go off of. In this case, I presented a few rough concepts to the school to express my vision for the building. However, I always like to leave some room for creative freedom and spontaneity while working. This project was challenging because of the scale. Every shape and mark that we made on the wall had to be massive to be seen from a great distance. I also wanted to leave smaller, details that would be seen by viewers close to the work. In this case most of my painting crew were local to Lima and spoke little to no English and I speak very little Spanish so it was challenging to communicate with them in the beginning of the project. After a month of working everyday with them we managed to be able to understand each other. I’m very grateful for that experience and I learned a lot from them and hope that they were inspired in some way by assisting in the process of the artwork.
We used over 200 gallons of exterior latex paint and a small amount of aerosol on this work. Most of the tools we used were rollers of various sizes, a paint sprayer, brushes, and homemade tools. One thing I feel is important when working on this scale is the improvisational use of tools to create the marks and shapes. In order to reach heights and lengths I had to attach brushes to extension poles to paint in hard to reach areas. We used strings and ropes to create circles and lines that needed to be accurate. However, most gestures and shapes were created freehand. I always push to keep a loose, painterly feel at a large scale. All my work is purely abstract and non representational.
These works are inspired by the architecture and context of the structure. In this case I wanted to use very bright colors that would pop against the sky and next to other near by architecture in Lima. This piece has many layers in it. some of which we covered completely. It’s important to me that the work has a very layered and built up look. I’m never afraid to destroy the image at any given time if it means I have to in order to achieve progression in the work.
I’m always wanting to challenge myself and the viewer in regards to painting and what that can be.
Special thanks to: Jules Bay, Taylor Means, Morbo Gallery, ISIL Institute, Luar Zeid, Panorama, Angel, Paul, Pedro, Alex, Miguel, Jaime, Mayo, William, Christian Rinke, Gino Moreno, Os Villavicencio, Carlos Benvenuto, Candice House, Elard Robles. For all the hard work and making this project come to fruition.
Hense has been committed to growing as an artist for nearly two decades now. The Atlanta native sticks to his guns by constantly showing support and advocating for the art scene in Atlanta. He’s done murals for the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, the Museum of Design Atlanta, and recently transformed a historic church in Washington DC into a colorful, multi-surfaced piece of public art. Hense has exhibited his work nationally and internationally in solo and group shows, and has a long list of public art projects, commissions and collections. His abstract paintings and murals can blend precise line work with bright colors, shapes, and gestures.
Nico Glaude: Let’s kick things off with the church you painted in Washington. First of all, congrats on the massive amounts of attention that the project got on blogs and art sites, well deserved. If you can just talk about how that project came to being and your overall experience painting such a historic piece of architecture?
Hense: The project in Washington DC was probably the most interesting structure I’ve ever painted. I worked with a small crew to complete it. The project was a private commission which was located in SW Washington DC across the street from the Rubell’s proposed Contemporary Art Museum. The area in DC is a part of town that has huge potential to be the next art district and this project is the first step in bringing some life and color into the area. Taking an existing object like the church and painting the entire thing recontextualizes it and makes it a sculptural object. We really wanted to turn the church into a three-dimensional piece of artwork. With projects like this one, we really try to use the existing architecture as inspiration for the direction of the painting. I did several concept drawings for the church to present to the owner as rough ideas of aesthetic direction. I knew that visually, I wanted it to be drastically different from what it looked like before painting it. I also wanted to use very bright and bold colors to catch a viewers attention from far away. Most of my works are done in layers. The first step was to just get paint and color on every side and surface of the building. We then started developing large shapes and marks that would takes days to paint. The entire process took several weeks of layering and working. I’m very happy with the outcome of this project. I really enjoyed working on such interesting architecture. I also love working large and with multiple surface changes. When I’m working in my studio I usually am starting with a blank piece of paper, canvas or wood, and with projects like these I’m starting with an already beautiful piece of architecture to add color to.
NG: Moving on to another mural you made for the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center. This mural is a complete departure from your most recent work; it’s a call back to letterform, minimalistic, comprised of only two colors and we get to see your name painted across a building. What was the inspiration behind the piece and why such a drastic change in style compared to previous murals?
Hense: I actually had another piece on the Center prior to this one and felt like it was time for an update. We were working on another exterior project right down the street for the Westside Cultural Arts Center which was very colourful and decided to do something totally opposite of that. I enjoyed taking it back to the pure essence of getting up. Silver and black, drippy block letters.
NG: Your murals always tend to be vast in terms of scale, and covered with a wide range of colors and shapes. What’s approach to doing a mural?
Hense: It really depends on the project. Right now I’m very influenced by interesting architecture. That could mean historic or contemporary. I enjoy working on flat surfaces of course, but a structure that has multiple planes and angles is much more dynamic visually before any paint is applied. It’s like having a blank canvas that is already layered and ready to go. Depending on the scale, I may have assistants work with me on projects.
Almost everything I work on is completely spontaneous and I rarely use a preconceived sketch or concept. I’ve been recently experimenting in treating my exterior works similarly to my paintings. Color is another important aspect of my work. I like to use bold, bright colors that make a statement and really pop.
The work is purely based on abstraction and the physical process of painting. I want to constantly push myself and the viewer as to what can be defined as a painting. I enjoy the experimental process of painting in my studio or outdoors and I never want to know ahead of time what the final outcome of the piece will be. For me, the exciting part of the creative process is the unknown and the experimenting that takes place to get from one stage to the other.
I worked large early on with my letter-based graffiti, so painting entire buildings was a natural progression. I used to write my name in big block letters 100 feet long and 50 feet high using silver and black oil-based paint. I think that has helped me understand how to execute large exterior works which can also have multiple surface changes. Working large for me is the best. As much as I enjoy painting in my studio, I can easily say that working on large exterior projects has been the most exciting. One of the major challenges of working on that scale is the material application to the surface. We need lots of tools and lots of paint. The marks and shapes need to be larger than most studio tools can make which means we have to invent new tools or methods for the particular project.
NG: The great debate of graffiti writers moving into gallery settings will always be contested, but it’s something that’s becoming the norm of late. How was your transition from the streets to the gallery and any advice for artists trying to make that same switch?
Hense: I would say to do what feels right, go your own route and be original.
NG: You’ve traveled a lot in the past because of your work. What is it that draws you to, and keeps you in Atlanta?
Hense: I enjoy Atlanta for many reasons. I think I’ve kept Atlanta as my home base because it allows me to grow as an artist and lets me hold down an affordable, nice studio.
I’m able to travel for projects whenever I need to and the City still has a great sense of originality and culture.
NG: So there’s the story of you getting booked bare foot while on the run from the cops, any other interesting stories that have happened to you whilst getting up?
Hense: That story your referring to is probably the most ridiculous of them. I’ve had my share of chases, bookings and incidents.
NG: What’s your favourite kind of spray paint to use?
Hense: I like them all.
NG: Do you have an all time favourite mural you’ve made?
House paint and aerosol
NG: Toss up between a blank canvas and a blank wall, which would you pick?
Being an elusive figure in the graffiti/street art world is slowly becoming obsolete. Artists find themselves making the transition from anonymity to the limelight, for what many think is solely for profit. The proliferation of social media has amplified the audience of street art, and led to increased exposure and opportunities for artists. But what motivates street artists to step away from their elusive lifestyles?
Recently, it seems many graffiti writers have cast away their incognito identities and made the transition towards becoming legitimate artists. What was once considered an act of vandalism is now commissioned by brands and displayed in art galleries around the world. But in order to market themselves as legitimate, recognizable artists they need to step away from their personas and present themselves not as vandals, but as artists.
At one point, street artists in question would mask their voices and hide their faces behind a blurred out lens in order to keep their identities hidden to the general public during interviews. Now, all that smoke and mirrors are gone. Personally, I used to love D*Face. He was strictly recognized by his moniker and nothing else, with his face always blurred during interviews. Then, seemingly overnight, it all changed. He began to create work and appear in interviews under his real name. Suddenly, D*Face became Dean Stockton. His work became mild and denotative. His mythical qualities as an artist were diminished. He just didn’t seem as interesting.
So why make that transition? Why not stay hidden and attempt to make a living while staying private? Artists such as Kaws and Shepard Fairey could easily have stayed elusive, but now they’re the biggest names in the street art world. When Kaws started hijacking billboards and bus shelter ads, no one knew who he was. They only knew him by his name. Now he’s making vinyl toys, taking part in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, and getting interviewed by Pharrell Williams. Similar tale with Fairey: he started out pasting up stickers around his local skate park, nobody knew what Obey meant, but it was everywhere, so it must have been important. Fairey stepped out of the shadows and now, a decade later has his own clothing line and his face is one of the most recognizable in the street art world. Why? Artists realize that in order to market their art, they need to market their persona first. Is this the process of selling out?
But then there are the ones that stay elusive, the purists of the street art world, artists like Dain and Bäst. Born and raised in Brooklyn, the elusive Dain creates sublime works of art the merges old Hollywood glam with new age colors in their composition. This, along with his roots in graffiti, creates a gritty yet delicate street art style that is all his own. There was a weird video that came out a while back about Dain, starring someone other than Dain portraying him. It followed around an old guy as he talked about his life and art and all of his inspirations while answering questions from the camera man. At this point, we know that Dain isn’t really the old man (notice his pasting skills), but one can only assume that the video was meant as a marketing tool, for people to get on the Dain bandwagon and spread his name out to the public without ever being seen. But apart from that video, Dain has never really been a public artist but his works will always be deemed as some of the best of our generation.
Bäst plays his part really well. Brooklyn-based artist Bäst has been wheat-pasting throughout New York’s urban landscape for over a decade now. Bäst has remained an elusive character that has rarely been seen in public and whose very existence has been debated. There are very few video interviews where you can hear Bäst talk. The only interview that comes to mind was for the Deluxx Fluxx collaboration with Faile (which is, in my opinion, one of the best street art based collaboration to have ever happened). Bäst manages to frequently collaborate with Faile, who are not anonymous artists, but apart from that, he’s a pretty elusive guy that keeps producing on a consistent basis. Sure, he had this weird, super small scale collaboration with an olive oil company, and the Marc Jacobs collaboration which confused pretty much everybody, since his art being displayed on a sweater for a highly lucrative brand could be seen as an uncharacteristic “sell out” move, but apart from that, he’s always stayed true to form and just stuck to street art.
I bring up Bäst and Dain not only because of the elusive nature, but because they are in fact brothers. One can only assume that some sort of pact was made between them to stay pretty much anonymous to most social groupings. Sure they might have ulterior motives, but as long as they stay elusive, we’ll really never know.
And of course, one has to mention Banksy or as we know him now, most likely Robin Gunningham. Regardless of his moniker, he helped cement street art’s place in the established art world. Street art fans will forever have a love/hate relationship with Banksy. At this point, his work can come off as banal and obvious, but the fact that his identity was questioned for so long, in our surveillance culture, is pretty significant. He got his art up in the Met, or someone posing as him did. He got in and out of Disneyland without getting caught. Banksy’s evasiveness lends him a mystique and fascination, but he still manages to profit from his art.
These are the kind of question that people ask themselves when artists stay anonymous. We question everything about them, not knowing what they’ll do next. Suspense and curiosity will always play a part in their persona. Their anonymity is what keeps us interested; it plays a part in how we perceive them. Take these qualities away, and we realize that these artists are just like the rest. Would Banksy of reached this kind of popularity if he was just Robin Gunningham all along? Of course not. But he’s also a unique case; it’s hard to imagine a street artist will ever achieve what he has in our life time. So why stay elusive? Well, I guess it’s a question at the core of street art. Artists are supposed to be a hooded, hidden characters putting art up illegally, leading people to ask questions. How did it get there? Who did it? Why did they do it? When it comes to people like Kaws and Shepard Fairey, they answer these questions in the interviews that they partake in. But for others, maybe we’ll never know.
Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Nico Glaude, who will hopefully be contributing more to Vandalog in the future. – RJ Rushmore
RJ tweeted this a few days ago “Alec Monopoly is in the latest issue of @JuxtapozMag. Seriously? Come on Evan. I know you’re better than that!” Which got me thinking; what exactly is going on to the state of street art culture? For those that don’t know, Alec Monopoly is a street artist who “lightly” appropriates the Mr. Monopoly character in the streets, sometimes he’s playing a keyboard or even playing the turntables. His interior work follows the same guidelines of appropriation; Mr. Monopoly on canvas either pasted with monopoly money or news paper articles related to the economic state of the U.S. The point of it all? Maybe there is none.
Meaningless art is something that will always plagued the art world, and most definitely plays it’s part in the streets. Yes there will forever be the debate of subjectivity, but let’s just be closed minded for a minute and examine things. What’s make Alec’s art pointless? The lack of effort in it all, the irony of taking on the economic state as a message, yet selling his art for thousands upon thousands of dollars. There’s no sense of real purpose or substance in his work, no evolution. If you take a minute to think about it, the same can be said about countless other “artists” who are getting rewarded even though they’re in a constant state of mediocrity.
Another case of substance abuse can be latched on to Curtis Kulig’s overly redundant “Love Me” campaign. It’s grown from a simple tag to becoming nothing more than a brand. In terms of marketing, it’s pretty genius, but at what point does it not become art anymore? Like with Alec’s work, Kulig’s work doesn’t evolve, what once had some substance, is now replaced with something that is lost in the world of pure redundancy. “Love Me” is now found on tee-shirts, skateboards, and sneakers. The slogan has become meaningless because the message is gone. It’s now become simply a marketing tool. Maybe, that’s all it ever was.
The point to all of this? Well just like Alec’s and Kulig’s art, maybe there is none. Yes meaningless art will forever be inescapable, this article won’t change that, and as I mentioned Alec and Kulig are only two cases of many. But we, as a culture, need stop validating such pointless attempts at attention, and realize that it is simply that, artists trying to get noticed by pawning off pretentious, uninspiring and empty art. This fact will be true until the end of time, but we need to stop letting artists off so easy, stop granting them a “Get out of jail free” card, and make them realize that in order to gain our attention,they need to start making art that isn’t so meaningless.