The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery from their various places around the globe.
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Today, I talk with Italian graffiti artist and illustrator Mario de Stefani aka Mario Jin.
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John: So where did the name Mario “Jin” come from?
Mario: When I started to do graffiti as a kid in Milan everyone had a tag. So I decided to start with Jin, like the character from the PlayStation game Tekken.
Mario: But later I discovered a different meaning for this word: jin, jinn, jinie.
John: You’re sounding like David Bowie there.
Mario: Haha. I mean the djinn or genie. A demon or spirit… like a soul. For me, the meaning was like another way to be myself. Another form in which to express myself.
John: And where did you grow up and do that early tagging?
Mario: I was born in Milan and grew up in the southwestern suburbs there. Now I’m living right here in the city as a senior designer for my firm. It’s my home for now. But I’ve been feeling the need to travel and find and live in new places, too. In the future I don’t know where I will call home.
John: if you could paint a wall anywhere in the world, where would that be?
Mario: Anywhere! Really. Anywhere.
John: Who do you collaborate with in Milan?
Mario: In Milan there are a lot of great artists I regularly work with. Most of the time it’s Foskia, Yems, Prosa, Daste, Trust, Plinio, Zelig, Draks, Close, Tawa e Dada, Poms, Mr. Pollo, and the 10G crew. We just paint walls together for fun.
John: And how did you get started painting?
Mario: My aunt was a painter and teacher of art. When I was in her home as a kid I would get alot of inspiration. I was also influenced by manga and hentai growing up. And I started with graffiti in the streets in 1998.
I first started by copying the heroes and protagonists of manga or hentai and cartoons that I read or saw on TV. Some of my favorites were Lupin the Third, Kenshirō from Fist of the North Star, and others from The X-Men and Dragon Ball Z. I remember drawing them everyday on my desk at school.
Later I started to redraw my friends and brothers in an anime style. And when I discovered graffiti, it opened a new world of inspiration, colors, and ways of expressing myself.
John: And being Italian, have you been influenced by any of the greats from the past?
Mario: A lot influenced me. I don’t have any specific preferences, but for sure I remember moments like the first time I saw Caravaggio’s paintings or one of Michelangelo’s masterpieces.
John: What are you communicating through your work? Are you?
Mario: Sometimes I work in freestyle simply as pure expression. Other times I think about the sick world in which we live and how I would like to change it. Or maybe that’s just a way I take refuge from it.
John: What do you mean by the world being “sick”?
Mario: I’m talking about a world full of pollution causing global climate change. I’m talking about bad vibes like hate and racism. I feel many people are thinking only for themselves these days.
John: Yes, I remember our first conversation about your design for the LunchKraft lunchbox. I asked you to just come up with something you felt strongly about and would want to communicate even through the canvas of a lunchbox.
Mario: I was thinking about our overuse of natural resources at the time, while also the respect for nature that people can and do have.
John: So the gas-masked figure is trying to protect that fragile bit of nature under the domed glass.
John: I also asked you about drawing that LunchKraft lunchbox into the design itself, because I have some of the same concerns about our use of resources in a consumer culture. Sometimes I wonder if I’m helping or harming by manufacturing anything at this stage in history. I’m hoping to change a certain consciousness about fashion in small ways, but I still wonder.
John: Currently, we don’t really play up the eco-friendly elements of the bags much in marketing. We focus on the art. But maybe we should. It’s been more of an attempted baseline rather than a marketing angle, and in some ways using it to market would feel deceptive to me.
Anyway, yeah… I’m trying to figure these things out.
Changing topics… you and I were talking recently about Playdead’s video game Limbo as well as their (somewhat) more recent release Inside. I brought it up because you had devoted a wall to the former. What is it about these games that have inspired you to reinterpret them in your work?
Mario: Yes, I really like these games. The world and characters are so simple yet wonderful at the same time. But the gameplay and the stories are the best things about them. You have to think about how to overcome puzzles all the way up to the end. And the stories are speaking into the darkness of the world that the characters are entering.
I like how their stories inspire my imagination… and not in a way just meant to get you to buy the next episode. They really made me think. I did a piece of work based on Limbo. I think I’ll do another one about Inside also.