Morten Andersen found canvas when he dumped walls. It wasn’t a nasty breakup — their relationship had been long, experimental, and by anyone’s standards, a complete success — but for whatever reason, after almost 15 years of writing, the Danish artist dropped his spray can, picked up some acrylics, and got to work.
It’s a common story these days; a graf artist trades (with varying amounts of resolution) his sketchbook for a Macbook, his backpack for a studio, and his play for work. However, the commonality of this scenario is not what some people seem to find odd, but rather the commonality of success among those who make the transition. It is rarely easy to make a name in the art world, and it should be even harder if your genre of art is just beginning to be taken seriously, yet something about today’s post-writer transition makes for a more graceful process than one might expect. Maybe it’s that their work is so accessible, and maybe they’re just that talented, but in any case, they’re doing it, and they’re doing it well. Read on to see how one man is dealing with his own transition, his own development, and the current state of street art.
Joshspear.com: You haven’t been painting your whole life "“ when did you first begin, and what did you do before you started?
Morten Andersen: It wasn’t until ’89, when I was in my early teens, that hip hop culture influenced me to find an outlet in writing graffiti to create and communicate things in a visual way. I started tagging for that specific cause (hip hop) I guess, because I didn’t actually know much about graffiti. I’m from the country — and that’s not where tags are found by the loads in Denmark — so inspiration from other writers was not there to make me start. I just needed something to keep my mind flowing with ideas and a tool to release them with.
I left it alone for awhile, but picked up writing again in ’94 and got busy for ten years, mostly doing huge wall pieces around the country. This time around I stuck with it until 2004, but I must have done something right, because 3 years after I quit writing Denmark’s biggest hip hop magazine did a six page special on me from when I was writing! I still had the urge to create and mess with lines, patterns, and everything I else I played with artistically in my graffiti, so I started getting in to acrylics and canvasses in 2002. At that time I studied at a college and art classes there really inspired me to go full throttle with painting. So here we are now in 2007 and I’m still urging for that feel of stretching lines upon the canvas. .
JS: How have things progressed for you since your beginnings as a painter up to now?
MA: Artistically speaking, I really try not to use the same styles over and over. You can definitely feel when you’ve pushed a certain form of painting or series too far, then you need to redo it so people don’t go, “Aah… he did that last year too.” You know, the same old color scheme over and over. Like that.
Some years ago I ran strictly with acrylics and brushes — a real traditional Danish way of approaching the art of painting, and too overused if you ask me! But then I started not caring too much about how I approached the process and just started using whatever I felt came in handy, looked cool and had a special look/ feel to it.
On a more personal level, I still work really hard with my paintings. They take like forever to do cause I spend so much time in front of the canvasses just staring at them thinking of where the angles and lines can go next. So it’s not like it’s becoming an easy habit I can just turn to and do easily because of all the years of practicing.
There’s also the progressing recognition in it of course. That’s really something special when people know your works, follow where you go and so on. That’s just making me wanna do even more and more… maybe quit my job to pursue this fulltime one day. Travel all over the world.
JS: You talk about having an intense relationship with color "“ what is it about color that you love so much?
MA: Hmm… I think working with colors like I do is really like transforming communication into an abstract language through which I express my emotions and experiences with. It’s not words or sounds, it’s something extra… kinda hard to explain. It’s something you can feel when it’s there. Like another level of communicating with the audience — not that I have to say a lot about my works — I feel that paintings should speak with no words! The energy that comes from the right composition of colors can present a certain personal state of mind or feeling. Yeah, hard to speak on!
JS: Is there a general concept that you work to convey in your art?
MA: I seek the outcome of abstract forms, hand styled line work and patterns, and a similar energy to that of graffiti. I pursue that sort of power in my art. Like I said, I don’t use words to communicate, so I try to make my paintings really all about moods and atmosphere.
JS: Is there a typical type of person that seems to enjoy your work more than others?
MA: Even though people can be a bit conservative over here when it comes to newer forms of art and contemporary art — urban, low brow, street, what have you "“ people in general are really impressed when they feel the works bouncing off the walls and connect with it. I can’t say I attract more of the younger crowd than older people. I think it’s about state of mind; people like the effect of receiving, and when a painting gives you that unexplainable something, then they’re connecting with it you know. Age doesn’t matter in my case, I believe.
JS: What role do you think the Internet has played in your development as an artist? Do you think it has helped you achieve more success than you would have found otherwise?
MA: Being that we live in a complex modern society where almost everything is possible and doable, a serious artist should use whatever comes in handy when it comes to profiling themselves. The key is not to over do it and to choose wisely — so you don’t look too hungry, you know. As long as you keep a high level of control of how much you push and keep your integrity tight, you’ll succeed one day with a good feeling of how you accomplished it.
I think that I wouldn’t have been showing in London, Paris, Sweden and the US this year if it weren’t for the Internet. It’s my showcasing window. I can’t sit and wait in my studio until a big international gallery phones me wanting my works. I have to get out there and show my works so I can compete. There are SO many great and really skilled artists in the world today, so you have to makes moves to show you even exist and then prove your justification. So the Internet plays a huge role for me no doubt.
JS: What is the urban art scene like in your area? Can you compare it to the scene in the US?
MA: Hmm.. It’s not like there really is one, like confirmed and accessible to a bigger crowd. I think it definitely will be another good handful of years before the urban contemporary art scene will blow like it has done in the US and other places around the world. Lots of people, even gallery owners, don’t even know of it’s existence and it’s raw beauty. So time will certainly play a role for the platform to build on here.
Where I live is in the part of the country where you find our capital, Copenhagen. A lot of the major international art attractions we see here, like the few urban-style ones, tend to be shown in Copenhagen, just because, logically, that’s where you can find a much bigger audience seeking new stuff. I think people are curious to see what’s up, but we still need more than that — like a steady flow of oncoming shows presented at the right venues in order to make people who collect art really focus and pay attention. I keep my fingers crossed for it to happen soon so people can enjoy the undeniable skill level in/fascinating ways of urban contemporary.
JS: What is your opinion on urban art as an actual movement? Do you think it will eventually be as significant as something like Modernism, for instance?
MA: No doubt! But not to the same historic extent like some of the really big movements we have experienced. I think things change too fast in today’s society, so before this will be cemented and firm it will be run over by something new! Can’t even imagine what that’ll be!?
JS: In your opinion, who are the most significant urban artists to date?
MA: I like it when artists experiment with new mediums, incorporate them in to their paintings, and also are able to mix them with more traditional media. That’s the way of the modern artist I think. The old phrases like, “it’s not a painting if it carries spray or markers,” are getting thrashed cause young artists using those media can blow peoples mind way hard — and maybe even harder than what traditional media allows you too expect.
In general, I dig a lot of US pop surrealism because it’s still new to me. South America shows good stuff too, and I like people in general who came from graffiti into fine arts. I don’t have a list of artists I can say I really follow and pay attention to "“ anything can impress me as long as the style is nailed.
JS: Are you primarily inspired by urban artists, classical artists, or both?
MA: I don’t get a lot of inspiration from other artists in general, so I can’t say I’m inspired by urban artists or classic ones. Sometimes I might get inspired by someone’s layer work or painting technique and then snap a bit of an idea, like, “Okay, how the hell did he/she fill in that area to make it look like that with that look to it?” or something like that. I try to stick to my gut feeling, believe mostly in what I think of first, and intuitively overcome difficulties in a painting. That way, it leaves me much more satisfied with myself when I’m all done and the goal is reached. It’s a greater feel of happiness when the painting process is over and you know it’s yours only!
That’s what I think is a characteristic of a real artist; one who trust his vision and sticks to that and evolves off of that. Who starts somewhere and keeps building his lines and strokes. I get a lot of recognition from people who comment me on the uniqueness in my style. It’s hard duty work but by the end it’s much more worth it than borrowing stuff. I really focus on keeping it all mine.
JS: You’re currently represented in DC — any plans to come to the West Coast?
MA: I’m represented by Art Whino in D.C. — an invitation I got just when the gallery was about to pop. I really dug the artists that Shane (Art Whino’s director) brought to the table; the new and (to me) unseen styles, the vision, and the possibilities within that gallery. I wanted to show at a venue like that for sure! I went over there to attend the opening night of the gallery and, coming from a much more stiff and high brow gallery world like Denmark (my part of the country at least), it was nothing but a blast. I’m really happy with that opportunity, and the fact it’s the biggest and one of the newest galleries in Washington makes it exciting also.
West Coast… at the moment I’m doing a bit of connecting with some Bay Area folks. They’re in the process of trying to get an exciting group gathered and planning a show in San Francisco, hopefully during some time next year. I’d like to go there and see what’s up with everything we only can catch thru the net from over here. But right around the corner is Berlin in Spring of 2008.
JS: Are you currently doing anything other than painting?
MA: I actually work full time with minor kids teaching them social skills, how to communicate with each other and not whoop each others asses all the time… haha. I teach them things about behavior, relationships and stuff like that. I really dig that for a job. I like to have something different to think about for a certain amount of the day, and then when I get home I’m full of ideas and all ready to hit the studio. I’d like to see a bit more time off from work every now and then, like when things are hectic concerning shows and traveling. I am very busy at times.
I’ll have to wait it out, these are my struggling years right… getting on. Paying my dues.