A little girl sits in our editorial offices. Crouched on an oversized bar stool, she has stringy cord bangs and a tiny bird on her head. She was brought here as the office’s first occupant, so to speak, and has watched over us ever since, without getting involved. With her father, Jaybo aka Monk, artist and CD of Stylemag.net, we discussed difficult characters, the streets of Berlin, the echo of art history, girls, mice, and the death of street art.
Tell me about Hell Girl! Who is this girl? Where does she come from and where’s she going?
If only I knew. “Hell Girl” is a parasite of mine, which at some point emerged from circles, as I trained my hand. Then she got legs and became a girl—but I don’t know where she comes from. She emerged from a cording experiment that took place during my first battle. Hell Girl is a figure who lives in a parallel world, whom I generate and put in different situations. In the process, I’m more of a spectator than actor.
She looks so sad!
Hell Girl is withdrawn into herself. She’s not necessarily sad. She watches, has confrontations with what’s currently going on in the world and that’s definitely not all rosy… In other words, she has remained in her dreams, in a protective covering of lines and circles—that’s all safe.
Are the Mickey Mouse gloves also a protective covering? You have worked a lot with this icon.
The first thing I ever drew as a child was Mickey Mouse from head to toe. And the hands were the most difficult. Until at some point I could almost do it with closed eyes. Wednesdays I always waited in front of the kiosk until it opened and bought Mickey Mouse magazines. I devoured them! For as long as I can remember, I copied them meticulously.
In the image you projected on the Berliner Dom in the summer, the Mickey Mouse hands form a wave similar to Japanese artist Hokusai’s woodcarving of the famous wave.
Definitely. That’s where the idea came from. It’s based on a visual reflex—I like using things people are familiar with, simply to change their preconceptions. The many hands become a mass and the mass looks like the ocean. The idea behind the cathedral was a small snow globe. “How can I put an ocean in there now?” And that’s where Hokusai helped me with his classic wave form. First you see Mickey Mouse but you think of the wave.
Why do you increasingly look for role models in art history?
When I grew up I never went to museums. I have been going for about ten years now. I left school too early. That’s why I have such a thirst for knowledge which I am now busy quenching. For me, one of humankind’s major problems is a type of thinking that’s filled with preconceptions, and I want to get away from that. That’s why I work with famous role models including Jasper Jones, Andy Warhol or Francis Bacon—those are the good ones for me. I make use of them to find another language for people who, in my opinion, don’t know street art or immediately distance themselves from it. And then I try to create a liaison.
You so to speak transport Bacon to the street context?
A lot of people say: “Graffiti isn’t an art form, that’s all just scribbling on the wall!” At the time I did graffiti, I was really bothered by that. Because I, for example, only made characters and no letters, no tags (laughs). And for me that was already more than just scribbling and naturally that’s still the case. I also wanted to show that I can master Bacon just as well, that I can now— perhaps in a bit of a loudmouthed way—also do that on the streets. And then you have a gallery artist, one of England’s greatest, suddenly on a wall in Berlin. And it has nevertheless been done with a spray can and with the means we have available.
So it’s about more than just mere imitation.
Yes, because I’m not copying a picture. I’m imitating the technique. I use the artist’s technique.
Exactly like Warhol, for example?
The Brillo boxes are also intentionally copied. But I could make a nice print or a stencil too or get some Brillo boxes and draw on them (laughs). That’s actually what Warhol shows us. Only, I paint them all individually. And Warhol’s case is more special anyway, because it’s much more about consumerism than painting technique.
But Warhol’s actually far removed from street art and from Bacon as well?
Not from street art anymore! Street art is currently very based on the same sellout communication we see in Warhol. That’s exactly the same now and very current at the moment.
Street art is increasingly pushing its way into the commercial market…
…which is also normal. Before the galleries were interested, major brands like Nike, fashion companies or record labels were first interested, and the commerce was there immediately. When hip hop started, every graffiti artist was of course asked to make a record cover, a flyer or whatever. As a result, this relation was there. That others are now making money with it like Banksy, Nick Walker, stencil artists, blek le rat—for me personally, that’s too much.
Should street art instead stay on the street?
Of course, that’s where it belongs. It’s a paradox, because I also sell paintings, but I still try to keep this vision alive, that street art has to do with the street. That’s where I’m divided: street art is outside and art is inside.
But can you do both?
Yes, of course, as long as you are allowed to. The problem is: With all the excitement that comes with “sell everything!” and “fast!” etc. you are asked to make the same things inside you make outside. That bothers me. But I would definitely like to uphold street art’s integrity.
Its integrity is clearly endangered—by big companies that appropriate the strategies of street artists for commercial projects—those are actually ideas that come from the street.
Definitely. Or from graffiti or urban culture. For me it’s also the case that the cult effect of “being outside” and the art world needs to have the right balance for a work. The street is there to measure itself and for me it’s a lot more than the gallery. I used to make a lot of things from wood, for example, a woodcut of a bird. I then put it at a specific corner and there was always a grandmother out walking her dog who said: “I thought what you made yesterday was cool!” or “I thought that was crap!”—and you will never see this woman in a gallery. That’s definitely the case, but it takes place outside. That’s the beauty of the street!
You just made a sculpture with the subject “Street Art Is Dead.” Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a grave and the letters in “Street Art Is Dead” are glued together from cardboard. There’s also a cross on it with Mickey Mouse hands hanging from it as a statement.
How do your street art colleagues react to a statement like that?
That’s their problem. I don’t care. They can say what they want. I think it’s enough of a tip to ask yourself whether they know what they are doing. It’s really easy to understand.
In terms of Berlin, Aaron Rose speaks of “illegal talent” and “a bomb with a lot of explosive content”…
(laughs) Yes, he of course comes from the US, where everything is very, very strict. In Germany there’s pure freedom, which means that by comparison, creativity is huge here. You think the walls in New York are all full of tags, but that isn’t true: Berlin is loaded, there’s no space here.
So, freedom isn’t really that good for street art?
Yes, because you have to have the problem of illegality which makes you more determined. And no, because you can try something else if you have freedom. But without oppression, you get watered-down.
How important is illegality for street art?
Important, because it makes you determined. As soon as you make it legal, then it’s business. It’s about prestige. I’m not really illegal, but if I would like to legally hang a birdhouse on the wall, then I would have to go to so many officials. It has to be wind-proof, rain-proof, etc. And when things are illegal, you simply do it. Of course I would hope that my birdhouse doesn’t fall on somebody’s head. I would be really careful.
JAYBO aka MONK, “AS FAR AS U CAN C“
From Sep. 20th until Feb. 1st. 2009 at CIRCLECULTURE GALLERY
10119 Berlin-Mitte . Germany
+49 (0) 30 275 81 78 86
Tuesday – Saturday 2 PM – 6 PM
Text > Interview > Marcus Woeller