Interview: Mode2

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UK urban art intelligencia, Mode2 may be from Mauritius originally but he’s bounced between London and Paris, worked with major brands like Heineken and exhibited worldwide. A founding member of the Chrome Angelz, one of Europe’s premiere graff crews alongside Scribla, Zaki Dee, Eskimo, Zerox, Pride, and later 93 NTM of Paris, it was hip hop that first sent him on his tryst with the artform. Mode2 has harboured a love of music since, championing its relationship with album cover art and hosting nights like Loud Graphix with King Britt. His work remains unmistakable, unlike much graff out there his human forms are curvy, sexy, real and always about a good time. After meeting him during Singapore Design Festival a considerably time ago at DesignEdge, we dug up this interview with him for your reading (and viewing) pleasure.

We love your work. How do you describe what you do?
I call it illustration and painting. When you’re doing something illegal then you can call it graffiti or vandalism or whatever the public wishes to call it.

Where did it all begin?
I’ve painted with oil, acrylic, drawing with a pencil, before I picked up spray paint. I’ve kinda tried all these, you know brush marker, whatever. Especially when you’re traveling, you’ll find yourself with a book and a couple of pens. Recently someone suggested I try pastels. It probably comes closest to spray paint because it’s still touching the surface and you’re dragging it along. It’s slow in that sense, but also you’re picking up a stick of colour and applying it directly, not like a brush you have to dip it repeatedly because the brush is getting dry or you wanna change colours. You pick up a pastel and you go straightaway. Like back in the day when I used to try and explain to some of the guys, you have to paint the way you draw….

Why do you do it? Is there a message?
Uh, fun, mostly. Like when you want to say something, you better have something to say. Also you can’t force your ideas onto other people. Use persuasion, use humour, without sounding too angry. It’s really hard in this chopped up, high speed world to make any kind of statement, you know, because, [statements are] very particular to one place, one time.

You created this fantastic piece in Omagh which was all about the Northern Island peace process. Is that your favourite piece?
The actual sketching was done on the day the bomb went off in ’98 on the 15th of August. The actual first sketches are in my book from that day. I did wander around, taking pictures of landmarks, and all that kinda stuff. Like I wanted do something with the landmarks in it, the 3 different churches, like Presbyterian and Catholic and Protestant, to try to give it a sense of identity and belonging and ownership. People could see the whole process, some people come in, then go away. You’re not messing around with this stuff, you’re not doing advertising, you’re actually doing something that really can affect the grief that people are having. That’s the most poignant thing that I’ve done.

The women you depict in your artwork – they’re pretty curvy girls.
Usually if you look at fashion magazines and stuff, it tends to be the other way around. So many girls have eating disorders and all this kinda stuff, an identification problem what with all the examples of models today, stuff that they just cannot follow. Like for me, not everyone looks like a Barbie Doll. I mean everyone has a similar skeleton underneath, but then how we’ll hang muscle or flesh or fat, all these things hang off the skeleton in a different way…. And you’ll never be able to get to the point of being able to draw (a person) totally, but just interpret what’s around us. Like I really like some of those traditions in Chinese and Japanese painting, where a stroke represents a feather and a stroke represents a bamboo stem … based on an understanding of the structure and dynamics of a living thing and being able to replicate that with a stroke, that’s really the kind of interesting stuff that’s not something that in the Western education.

As an artist what item can’t you live without.
I lead quite a nomadic life so all my stuff is centralized around my laptop, like when you get e-mails, photos…. Like nowadays people aren’t doing original pieces of art. They’re doing stuff for prints. I’m an illustrator, I work with my hands. And then like I’ve got a scanner and I take it from there … you know, like I don’t create directly on the computer, but it’s still an integral part of my life now. It’s that thing of being the tool and not you being the tool of the tool – that’s like one of man’s great problems.

How do graff artists collaborate? How do you do that and still stay true to your own style.
I compare it to music (I had to give up music in school. I played guitar). When you wanna jam, everyone’s got their drum solo, everyone’s got their own thing. And if people are respectful of each other’s space, as long as you both know ‘we’re playing this tune and and we’ll see where it goes’ then those kinda collaborations work. But there are people that I’m naturally attracted to. It’s usually people who are at opposites with me.

What advise can you give to young graff artists?
There’s not much space left for people to dream, you know, which is why you have to cut your own world and do your own thing. You have to find a way to commercially survive. But whatever you have to do don’t compromise yourself and you’ll be able to have some kind of freedom somewhere.

A lot of young artists take their cues from more established ones.
But like so many people copy each other; this is a problem with sampling. If you do not acknowledge or recognize and say to the people “Yeah, I was inspired by so and so”, if you do not give credit to those that inspired you then I don’t know what you’re doing because like that is not culture. The culture has a history and an origin.

What do you listen to?
I’ve got 15GB worth of music on my laptop. So many things come to mind. But I don’t listen to dush dush dush kinda techno. I don’t listen to angry people, people pointing their finger at someone and not looking at their own problems. And I don’t listen to people who say that there’s a war going and everybody’s fucked up. Just whatever’s good for the soul. Whatever’s uplifting. Whatever’s appeasing. Whatever’s inspiring. And it comes in all shapes and sizes.

Word.

More at Mode2.org. You can also get high quality limited edition prints of Mode2’s artwork at POW, Pictures On Walls at www.picturesonwalls.com.

Images DesignEdge