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Track Light Interview #10—> Mario Jin (Italy)

Wall mural by Mario Jin in Milan

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 Jin graffito tag on wall
A bit more than a throwie.

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.

Wall mural painting of Indian by Mario Jin
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin in Milan, Italy.

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.

Wall mural painting by Mario Jin and Tosk
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin and Tosk in Milan, Italy.

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.

Wall mural painting by Mario Jin
A wall mural painted by Mario Jin in Canarias, Spain.

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.

LunchKraft lunchbox print designed by Mario Jin
LunchKraft Lunchbox screen printed design by Mario Jin.

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.

Mario: Yes.

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.

Mario Jin's Classic DrawBag
A Classic DrawBag hand-painted by Mario Jin.

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?

Wall mural of Limbo video game by Mario Jin
Wall mural painting by Mario Jin inspired by the video game Limbo.

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.

John: Cool. You can check out more of Mario’s work on Instagram and his official website.

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Track Light Interview #7—> Derek Brown (South Africa)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with South African mixed media artist and illustrator Derek Brown.

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John: So, Derek, where did you grow up and where do you now call home?

Derek: I grew up and still live in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

John: Tell us a bit about that.

Derek: Jozi is wonderful. You have to be on your toes but it’s a beautiful place with awesome people and even better weather. Growing up here has been amazing and continues to teach me about who I am as a person in relation to our dynamic culture.

Graffiti in particular has taken a big step up in its quality in Johannesburg. There’s so much talent out on the streets and I’m honored to be a part of this really special thing being cultivated down here even if it’s only a small part for the moment.

Graffiti by Derek Brown.

John: From your Instagram account, it looks you do a bit of motocross, yeah? South Africa has a history of some top riders, including DH mountain bikers, which I really dig.

Derek: I agree, South Africa knows how to produce a classy champion or two. My brother Barry and I grew up riding and racing bikes and still try get out as much as possible. I’m more into the mountain biking and jumpers these days and having crazy fun thanks to the foundations motocross gave me.

Sasolburg Saturday, photo montage taken by Derek Brown.
Tabletop tail-whip in Johannesburg; photo taken by Derek Brown.

Unfortunately, my free time is limited because I’ve recently taken a fantastic tangent in my career, moving away from multimedia and graphic design into 3D industrial design alongside my brother in our company, Tim Mabel Design. I’m also doing original art projects and commissions as much as I can between the day-to-day work. 

Balance in life is key I believe… I refuse to have my time filled only with work. Physical activities like motocross and mountain bike riding (and hiking and building on hillsides for trails and jumps), boxing and more recently, carpentry and metal work all help me have fun, release stress and think differently allowing me to express myself in new and different ways.

John: Do you travel much for work or leisure? Any favorite places in the world?

Derek: I wish I could travel more for either. It’s a goal of mine to work overseas with my art. I can’t pick a favorite place in the world, but I will let you know when I find it. Holidays are proper luxuries these days but looking forward to one soon. Regardless of what I am doing though, I almost always have a pen and paper with me. Or my camera.

“This Time Last Year It Was Bad” doodle by Derek Brown.

John: I’m going to recommend Queenstown, New Zealand for some MTB and MX….

Derek: Sounds good. I also hear Canada has some super cool riding.

John: Absolutely. So your style is rather unique– it feels like a bit of biro and notebook scribbles plus street art. How has it developed over time? When did you get started?

Derek: I’ve had the odd notebook full of scribbles, so you got me there. My dad taught me to draw cartoons when I was really young and I haven’t put down a pen since. I studied multimedia design and also had the very fortunate luck to have an excellent art mentor for a number of years, too.

“Piece Of Escape” mixed media on paper.
“Snake Wrestling” acrylic and ink on paper.

John: Where do your inspirations come from?

Derek: My process of art-making is to have lots of fun and ultimately enjoy what I’m producing. Simply trying to do the best I can with what’s available at the time. Learning is a big part too. Everyday. About myself and the way I produce and channel my creativity. Unless I’m being paid or have a passion for a piece, I scrap or shelve work very quickly if the energy fades.

I have an amazing bunch of close people (family and mates) from whom I draw inspiration and direction. Most of them are successful creatives in their own right so we have similar mindsets and the ideas flow openly. I find strangers serve well for unexpected insights and then finally, opportunities to work with exciting new people like yourself on projects like the DrawBag has been so cool and really motivating.

 

“The Wiener Dog Confrontation” mixed media on upcycled cardboard.
Up-cycling and re-purposing are always a bonus… I’m a big fan of a waste-free world. I hate to ignore the potential to transform something most would considered as scrap or trash into a contemporary work. Creation is my aim, what it’s achieved with is negotiable.

John: Favorite artist?

Derek: Picking a favorite is difficult… I enjoy different things at different times. But Pablo Picasso would be one of my favorites. I dig his style. To me, his simple illustrations are beautifully unforced.

John: And who or what do you make art for?

Derek: In the past, I created art mostly for myself as it came very naturally to me. It was an organic practice… I was always drawing and thinking on concepts. Now, I have a more considered approach to making art for people and businesses who value the work I’m producing and are interested in the various applications that it can be executed on, in, or for. And then still for myself when I get the chance… I also love hitting up a dirty wall with some fresh cans or rollers or simply getting the camera out and shooting what’s in front of me.

John: Where did your design for your DrawBag come from? Is it something like a stream on consciousness or are there some intentional, hidden messages in there?

Derek: I had no idea how it was going to turn out when I started. The content defines itself as I work. There are definitely some deeper meanings to some of it… I drew this during a time when I was starting to find some balance in my life and focus on a new direction.

John: I think alot of artists work this way, at least from time to time. It can be difficult to trust that the work will in some ways become apparent without forcing or deciding early in the process, right? But that’s where alot of great ideas and work ultimately can come from. 

So, if anyone wants to connect with you, what’s the best way?

Derek: Feel free to hit me up on Instagram @derekbrownart or drop me an email: helloderekbrown@gmail.com

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Track Light Interview #1—> Acer (Portugal)

The “Track Light” series serves to briefly introduce a number of individuals involved
with the One World Artist Gallery (OWAG) from their various places around the globe.

<- – – – – 

Today, I talk with graffiti and street artist André Perreira (Acer).

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John: So, André– how did you get into art and graffiti/street art?

André: It started when I first began art school and met some big names in the portuguese graffiti scene at the time. This was around ’98/’99, at António Arroio, which is the best art school in Portugal! Most of those artists aren’t even active anymore, but I remember the names of Capone, Hel, Res and few others that were pretty strong in the scene back then.

John: What’s your memory of your first piece?

André: I have memories of my first attempts, but the biggest memory I carry with me is from when I entered my first “wall of fame” in 1999 along with some artists I admired.

John: So why do street artists use tags instead of their birth names to identify themselves?

André: In the graffiti scene all (graffiti) writers have a tag, which becomes their identity. Once the “street art” movement became part of the picture all that changed. So it’s all a matter of where you come from. I stick to my tag (alter-ego) of Acer because my background is as a graffiti writer. 

John: Why did you choose Acer as your tag?

André: Acer came from the word “Ace” and also just mixing up letters from my name. My friends picked it up and  started to call me by it, so it stuck.

John: Haha, simple enough. What’s the street art scene like in Portugal? Do you travel much to do work?

André: Portugal has a very strong street art scene right now with many local artists getting their work recognized all over the world. I travel a lot, but that’s mostly for modeling and acting jobs.

John: Who do you usually collaborate with? And who (or what) are some of your artistic inspirations?

André: I have to say the members of my crew Zk’s are both my partners and my biggest inspiration.

Acer and Zk’s.

John: What about modeling? How did you get into that?

André: Well, I started modeling for fun and to get some extra cash, because when we got hit by the financial crisis I couldn’t afford any longer to live only from my art. But soon I realized I had potential to do much more and became a professional international model and actor working around the world.

John: Nice! Sometimes what looks like a setback is really a kick in the ass to move forward, right? I actually had the same experience running a small black-box theatre in Manhattan. We shut it down around Christmas of ’98 and I left for South Korea, which launched the rest of my life’s work, really.

André: Failure is part of life; only when you fall down will you be able realize how strong you are to get back up. My advice to younger artists is to be true to yourself, find what you love and stick to it all the way… see and try different things, get inspired and keep developing your style and identity.

John: Right on. So who is the woman in the DrawBag you did up?

André: That woman is my wife. She’s my muse and the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. The design on that DrawBag is all about love. If I named it, I would call it “Romance Dawn”.

John: It’s a beautiful piece. So what music are you listening to these days?

André: I like to go heavy when it comes to music. Lately I’ve been listening to August Burns Red and Architects a lot… I mean A LOT.

John: And how can someone connect with you?

André: I have Instagram accounts for both my modeling and art work. And anyone can message me through Behance, too.

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A New Take on the Street Artist

(Image by Daniel X. O’Neil from USA (Man Sits for Portrait on the Seine) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Last weekend, the high school where I’ve been teaching IB Theatre held a community “Fun Fair” for parents, students, and visitors on campus. Teachers were responsible for coming up with at least one booth or stall to raise funds for a local Guangzhou charity.

My mentor group organized a portrait/street artist booth and invited a few local artists, including Hong Kong-based Fumui Wong and American artist Tim Gerstmar on the day to do live drawings for paying guests.

Thanks to all who participated, especially our two artists!

 

Here are some images from the day, courtesy of my designer-friend-partner Gigi:

Here’s Tim getting into a drawing:

 

And Fumui Wong captivating the young crowd: