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Da Mental Vaporz Art Collective - An Interview! |

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Da Mental Vaporz Art Collective!

An Interview + ‘The Wall’ Exhibition Berlin

Street art, graffiti, urban painting. These are just a few of the words which attempt to describe what no one word can define. The French graffiti crew “Da Mental Vaporz” first formed in 1999 in the Parisian suburbs and over a 10 year period, the collective grew to its present day form: a surprising combination of styles, individualities and creativities which still manages to maintain a creative unity. Celebrated for their huge murals representing childlike characters, monsters and dislocated dolls, the collective combine the perfect marriage of cynicism and innocence. Welcome to the parallel colourful world created by the collective Da Mental Vaporz.

The collective is currently in Berlin preparing for their exhibition “The Wall” which will run from April 26th to May 31st at BC Gallery in Friedrichshain. Luckily for us and especially for the users of the S-Bahn trains running to Alexanderplatz from Ostkreuz, DMV left behind them a large scale mural piece of art on a block of wall between Ostkreuz and Warschauer Strasse. Keep your eyes peeled next time you go by!

Their exhibition will show individual pieces, some « cadavre exquis » on canvas and an installation. We had the rare opportunity to meet them in person and hear some insight into their art and working together. Sowat stepped out to answer our questions, uncover the truth about their juxtaposing relationship with the underground vs the commercial  art world and exposed the many kinds of shades and colour nuances that run through DMV.

Member Profile #1 :: SOWAT

Born and raised between Marseilles, France and Los Angeles, Sowat is a self-taught artist who picked up his first spray can at the age of 15, secretly hoping to impress girls at his high school. After spending years smearing the streets, back alleys and freeways of his hometown with his tags and throw ups, he started experimenting with the more legal and artistic side of Graffiti around 2001, indulging in all the good stuff that legal ‘Street Art’ has to offer: workshops, commissioned walls, Jams around the globe (Mexico, Brazil, Argentina…) and DIY exhibitions.   In 2003, he co-wrote with Lime the book ‘La France d’en Bas’ (Graffiti in the South of France) before moving to Paris to pursue a career as a freelance videogame writer (Ubisoft, Atari…) Searching for new ways to play with letters, Sowat then naturally turned himself towards calligraphy, trying to adapt the styles and techniques of this ancient art to the ruggedness of the wastelands and abandoned factories he usually paints in.   Eventually, while joining the DMV crew in 2009, he started working on his latest and most exciting challenge: painting on canvas what the streets thought him during these last 15 years, whether it be through dripping tags, crooked letters or hand made Ascii.

KALTBLUT: Painting walls by day, graffitiing trains at night. How does it feel being on the border between illegal vs a commissioned work? Would you say that painting walls has lost its illegal element?

DMV: If I was 16 then I would be answering this question totally differently to how I will do now at 35 because I’ve balanced out my judgment. Of course, if I could have stayed 100% on the illegal side it would have felt fantastic but I enjoy what we are doing today. We are now in Berlin to do a commissioned wall and ironically the wall we painted will be seen by the people  taking the  train -  I was doing exactly the same thing illegally when I was 16. Well, now we still do it for free, we are totally free and I really enjoy it

Member Profile #2 :: BOM.K

Liker many European writers of his generation, Bom.k was converted overnight to vandalism thanks to Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant’s legendary ‘Spray Can Art’ and ‘Subway Art’ books. Influenced by local pioneers such as Mode 2, the Force Alphabétik and Creator (RIP), he quickly learned Graffiti’s grammar on the walls, abandoned factories and train yards of his teenage neighbourhood. In 1999, he created with fellow writer ISO, the Da Mental Vaporz crew. Together, they started working on more personal and intimate paintings, on bigger than life murals, showcasing padded seclusion rooms, scary concrete projects and sinister-looking B-Boys, a reflection of their lives in the grimy and depressing southern suburbs of Paris. Continuously expanding, this unusual crew soon integrated Kan, Jaw, Brusk, Gris1, Dran, Sowat and Blo.Since then, Bom.k’s gruesome bestiary has grown exponentially, with minicap precision. He has multiplied artistic experiences on industrial levels, creating hideous toy-sized sculptures, flyers and posters, published a notable illustration book, HB Blacktrace, and participated to many exhibitions across the globe (France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, UK, Hong Kong..) Regularly featured in magazines and international publications, showcased at auction houses, his body of work focuses nowadays on large scale canvases showing weird Aerotic creatures, sexually hybrid chimeras with a glimpse of Francis Bacon and a touch of Gonzo imagery. Staring at them long enough, they seem to breathe and crawl towards the viewer. And that’s when your heart goes boom. BoooooomK.

KALTBLUT: DMV is a collective of very different artists – how do you guys work together to balance being independent and artistically unique and yet simultaneously a collective. In what sense is the collective part important to you?

DMV: We are living and enjoying both sides. The collective brings out powerful moments in our year but we are not always together. It has been 2 years since we were together on such a big common project for such a long time (the last time was in Melbourne in 2012). One nourishes the other:  we are learning a lot when we are focusing on our individual art and then bring that into the collective to share. No opposition between the two. If I could, I’d love to do more of this, but it is also very nice that these moments are few because I couldn’t live in a pack for a long time.

Member Profile #3 :: KAN

Born and raised in the south of France, Kan’s initiation to Graffiti came through boredom. Trapped in high school, the young artist was busier sketching in his school books and carving his name on his classroom tables than listening to his teachers.  Painting anonymously at night in search of his hometown’s best spots, Kan fell further down the Graffiti hole after a first trip to Paris, followed by another one to Los Angeles, both exposing him to the best of what our culture has to offer.  A long time fan of Bomk’s work, he joined the Da Mental Vaporz in 2000 after moving to Paris to pursue a successful career as motion designer. Together, they embarked in the production of high scale murals throughout Paris southern suburbs. Since then Kan has participated too many graffiti jams and steadily exhibited his work in galleries across the world, from Paris to London and New York.  Combining his passion for computers, video and design to traditional Graffiti techniques, Kan has distorted his name a thousand ways, from throw ups to digitalised block letters to pixel art,  halftone graffiti and dripping QR codes. At first glance, a series of dots hypnotise the viewers, suddenly connecting in their mind to form a portrait, a familiar figure that stares back them. Who’s watching who?

Member Profile #4:: BLO

Before attending art school in Marseille in 2002, Blo discovered graffiti at the age of 14, covering the walls, streets and highways of his home town, Lyon, France, with high class tags, block letters and throw ups. Gradually, he switched from chrome and black to more elaborate murals, creating a psychedelic world where letters became as important as characters, inspired by the urban landscape and hip-hop culture of his childhood.  Following his first personal exhibition in 2003, Blo’s work evolved towards a more contemporary approach, yet remaining firmly attached to tools and codes of his graffiti background. Moving to Paris in 2005 to work as an artistic director for a graphic design studio, he further developed his figurative style on a variety of mediums, from canvas to walls, to prints, abandoned factories, and so on…  Integrating various techniques and influences, the art of Blo is a smart balance between illustration and graphic design, earning him respect from the graffiti community as well as recognition in the contemporary art world, allowing him to display his work in prestigious venues such as ‘le Grand Palais’, in Paris in 2008. Living in Berlin since 2010, Blo continues to expand his dreamlike characters and dislocated dolls bestiary, enhancing their aesthetics with masks, skulls and typographic signs on large murals across the world.

KALTBLUT: Some of you guys are also graphic designers, illustrators etc. How do you handle this fine art and the street art juxtaposition? Do they both overlap or is it more like oil and water?

DMV: DMV was not created with this in mind. It happened around affinities. The technical level of our crew is high and it is important that our ways are crossing. We have different way to create and this is the richness of the crew.

Member Profile #5 :: BRUSK

Brusk spent his entire childhood with a pencil in hand, aimlessly doodling until discovering graffiti and Hip Hop culture in 1991.In a time when Graffiti wasn’t as accepted as nowadays, the young artist had a hard time imposing his views to conservative teachers while studying art. Making the most of these years, he managed none the less to discover new techniques and medias to express himself (photo, video, IT), constantly shifting his interest from figurative abstraction, to realism and sharper graphic designs… which enabled him to exhibit his work in the most unusual locations.   Present on the international graffiti scene for more than 17 years, Brusk is also one of the many pioneers of light graffiti, a quickly emerging discipline combining photography to the ancient art Calligraphy, only with light.  After touring the world to attend various international exhibitions and performances (United Arab Emirates, London, Hong-Kong …), he continues nowadays to search for a balance between urban painting and a more natural environment. The new aesthetics of graffiti he is seeking is no longer restricted to signs, symbols and figures, but aims at truly reflecting the intricate relationship between man and nature.

KALTBLUT: Wall painting often denounces the imperfections of any society – I think of Jean-Michel Basquiat and more contemporary street artists such as, Bansky – Do you think that your art has a mission?

DMV: When I was 16, I thought so. I was passionate and I believed that I would help to change things out. Now I understand that people can simply not be touched by this and I accept it.

Member Profile #6 :: DRAN

Based in Toulouse, Dran is a multi talented artist who has spent his whole life talking through his images.  At the age of 8, he was blown away when discovering a classmate’s sketchbook and started to draw too, in class, at home and on the street. He has never stopped since. An avid comic-book fan, Dran saw cartoonists such as Richard Corben, Dave McKean, Katsuhiro Otomo and Bill Sienkiewicz as role models while growing up, appreciating both their talent for drawing and their dark humour, similar to his own perception of reality. As a teenager graffiti became his second big love, giving him the same feeling and adrenalin that comic books had provided earlier in his life.   During art school, Dran began to travel abroad and paint with international artists when he wasn’t busy designing flyers, record sleeves and executing commissioned jobs. He also started working on more personal projects, like building ephemeral installations in abandoned factories. After spending years doodling sketches whenever possible, he published six successful books of his hilarious everyday life observations. In 2006, the young artist also started expressing his art on recycled cardboard boxes, using these symbols of consumerism and waste as a canvas to express his dissatisfaction with modern society. Last but not least, in 2010 Dran was invited by Banksy for two simultaneous solo shows at Pictures on Walls in London.   As an artist always in movement, working both independently and with his crew, the Da Mental Vaporz, his body of work can be seen through a wide variety of media, including installations, large scale murals, paintings, drawings, publications and advertising campaigns.

Member Profile #7 :: GRIS1

Gris1, aka Lime, is a profuse graffiti artist. The adrenaline running though his blood drove him to cover the cities of Aix en Provence and Marseilles with tags, block letters and throw-ups during his youth. Later, he tried taming his graphic fury by integrating a graphic design art school and  co-signing with Sowat ‘La France d’en Bas’, the first book on graffiti in the south of France.   Since, Gris1 has led a successful career as graphic designer, creating logos, posters, magazine covers, album covers and murals for many clients (MAC Lyon, Hugo Boss, Burton, Discovery channel, MTV base, Rumble wear …)    Despite these various experiences, his heart still beats to the sound of graffiti as it continues to dictate him hundreds of colorful typographies, increasingly purified and original in style, which he works frenetically to spread wherever he goes with the Da Mental Vaporz crew, the W73, the GREETINGS or the AYCE …  His prolific style led him to participate to numerous exhibitions and festivals around the world (Paris, Barcelona, Seville, Mexico, New York, Sao Paulo…) as well as auctions, and become a regular feature in international publications.

KALTBLUT: A few words about berlin?

DMV: Berlin is a city taken by a storm! Chrome letters, roof tops rolled from up to down. It may be specific to Friedrichshain where we stay but it remains striking! We have this image of Berlin but I am not disappointed. Here we see a certain school of street art; futurist, minimalist, and this is something we are not used to seeing in France.

Member Profile #8 :: ISO

ISO discovered graffiti in 1995 both by observing his Parisian suburbs surroundings and getting his hands on the France’s famous old school magazine « Intox ». Quickly, he started sketching his first characters and letters, while tagging the streets of his neighbourhood.     In 1999 he finally settled for the name “Iso” which he painted on numerous walls. After meeting Bom.k and creating the “Da Mental Vaporz” crew, Iso chose to focus on 3D letters that gave him more freedom than traditional block style, allowing him to play with shadow, lights and deconstructing typographies. As the “Da Mental Vaporz” crew grew bigger, Iso shifted his interest to backgrounds, adding his cold and dark touches to the crew’s monumental walls.    In 2005, he successfully transitioned from walls to canvas. With this new medium, he began exploring a more intimate and personal approach to graffiti. Letters soon became more discreet in favour of the composition and choice of colours. In parallel he also participated as artistic director to the creation of the book “Graffiti” published by Fitway and Dran’s sold out book series for les Editions Populaires.

Member Profile #9 :: JAW

After being initiated to Graffiti at an early age and graduating from a visual communication art school in Marseilles, France, JAW joined the ARTMADA collective where he has been involved in numerous artistic, social and cultural projects. His unique graffiti style and growing reputation led him to start traveling to spread his art  By 2003, he integrated the Da Mental Vaporz crew, and has been touring all over Latin America  (Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico), Europe and Russia since, to attend exhibitions and major international graffiti jams, allowing him to further develop intricate lettering style and love for distorted B.boys.  A partner at Drops creative agency since 2005, Jaw has managed to successfully design creative campaigns for many commercial clients (Nike, Clarks, Universal Music…) while keeping a firm hand on his spray can.   Featured in numerous international publications, and showcased at auction houses throughout Europe, Jaw’s extravagant colorful lettering technique, larger than life characters and monumental murals are sought after as he is regularly invited to major festivals across the globe.

“The Wall” by Da Mental Vaporz
BC Gallery bcgallery.de
Libauer Strasse 14, 10245 Berlin
Opening Reception: Saturday, 26th April, 6pm
Duration of the exhibition: April 26th to May 31st
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Saturday1 pm – 6 pm


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