Berlin-based MadC incorporates traditional graffiti lettering with extreme methods of paint application using industrial spray guns to paint walls up to 700 metres long. Her huge scale productions are a feat of endurance and technical skill. Here she chats with London’s street art legend and accidental gallerist Pure Evil about publishing, paint quality and why macho attitudes towards graffiti don’t faze her.
Pure Evil – So, how did you first get into all of this?
MadC – It was through a book called Graffiti Art Germany, it basically covered the whole history of how graffiti evolved in the USA and then the graffiti culture in Germany. I’m from a small village, so I had never seen much real graffiti. I read the book and the next day I started doing graffiti because I was so fascinated by the whole culture behind it, not just the images.
PE – I was thinking about skateboarding, it seems that wherever you go there’s always going to be a family of people you can relate to you who have the same attitude.
MC – I was hanging around with lots of skateboarders for the first couple of years after I started because there was no graffiti scene, even the next town wasn’t that big, but I did graffiti with some other guys there… it was like ‘skateboarders who also painted a little’. I was never really part of the hip-hop culture, or the real graffiti community.
PE – You recently painted a 700 meter-long wall. I can imagine painting a wall that’s, say, eight metres wide and thinking of it as a really big job. How on earth did you come up with the idea of covering a wall that huge?
MC – I just wanted to do something really big to see if I could do it in a set time frame, and If I could put a message in there for the graffiti people and tell a story. I found this wall and I talked to the owner about painting it. Originally I thought I would do one piece, and then the next piece, and so on, but then, because the wall was so long, I thought of it like a lm strip, and since I had studied animation I thought, “Perfect, lets put everything I do into one wall and all these ideas and points on there.”
PE – I imagine if you are standing in front of the wall every day you must have had some pretty trippy dreams
MC – Yeah, I was painting in the day, in the heat, and then I started painting at night with lights on because it was too hot to paint in the daytime, when I would do commissions instead. I had dreams of painting and falling o the ladder, because that actually happened a couple of times. I dreamed of shaking cans, I was really crazy. At some point, when I painted for two weeks in a row and hardly spoke to anybody, I thought I was going crazy. I think that was the hardest point, the social aspect of hardly speaking to anybody for two weeks in a row, standing there for at least ten hours every day, paint, paint, paint… It helped a little to listen to audio books, somebody is talking to you and you listen to a story, it made it a little better; but I was really anti-social at that time.
PE – Going back to graffiti and hip-hop, they’re both traditionally quite macho worlds, you are one of the strongest and most prolific graffiti writers I know in the whole scene. ere will still be guys who say your stuff is “good – for a girl”, but your work goes beyond any of that BS
MC – Yeah, seriously, I think so. I got that very often back in the day its true, but I never hear it any more.
PE – When did you think about publishing? Was that something that’s happened recently?
MC – I had the idea in 2000 or 2001 when I started studying graphic design. When you graduated you had to do a final thesis design project, and, strangely enough, at my university a lot of people did books (that never got published), just random stuff . I thought of doing a book myself because I love books and I love reading, and because a book got me into the whole thing. I always loved art but through graffiti I decided to study design and to follow a creative path. So, I thought it would be good to make a book that would encourage somebody else to go the same way. Then, in 2003 I think, I started collecting images of posters and stickers and the street art scene and also articles; the whole street art movement wasn’t really covered back then – there were articles in newspapers and magazines but they only showed photos and said ‘something is going on’, but nobody really looked into it or talked to the people doing it because it was difficult to find them… they didn’t have a ‘name’ like a graffiti artist has, they were mostly anonymous. is became my project: I went to lots of shows and took photos and I travelled to get to know these people and did a lot of interviews. In 2005, I was in New York and I interviewed Flower Guy, Shepard Fairey, Swoon, etc… and that resulted in my final thesis which was the book Sticker City.
I designed my own font for the book and did the layout, and when the complete book was finished I sent it o to ames & Hudson and Gingko Press, and both wanted it. Of course I went for ames & Hudson just because they have a fantastic tradition of [art] books.
PE – T&H also published Subway Art…
MC – Yes, exactly. I got to know my publisher there and in the end they didn’t change a thing and left it completely the way it was, they only changed the cover design. This was the first book, and I loved it, seeing it in a book shop and on my own bookshelf was fantastic. I was sure it wasn’t the only book that I would make, and I already had some new ideas. After being in the street art scene for so long and dealing with people who do characters all the time I felt like I wanted to talk about the typography aspect. People really relate quickly to characters, to faces and stuff that they recognize but the public always has diffculty with the letters in graffti because they don’t understand them or because of adverse media, they don’t want to see them, it’s a tag, its vandalism… people don’t really look at it.
PE – Exactly.
MC –I thought I would try to educate the public a little, to give them a key to understand the beauty of fonts and explain the tradition they have in graffiti culture. People have done alphabets for ages and occasionally they have appeared in graffiti magazines, and so I decided to put together a book that became Street Fonts. It was funny, because when I was talking to the artists and interviewing them, many of them said “this is not a new idea”, and I said “no, it’s not a new idea to do something about alphabets, but no-one’s ever done a book.” So I tried to collect as many alphabets and articles as possible to show the vast variety, so that everyone could nd something they liked. You had stuff that was influenced by the street art people, by graffiti people and also designers who were graffiti artists who had opened their own design studios and created their own fonts. There are old school graffiti guys like CAP who just do tagging and throw ups, then for example the Russian people who do alphabets out of 3D shapes.
PE – The book, in a way, becomes a Rosetta Stone, a way of translating different alphabets. Some people see graffiti as a kind of hieroglyphic, hidden language that they don’t understand. I’m looking right now at a piece by MASIKA and theres an ‘E’ in there that’s really nice; you know it will evolve and be bitten by other writers… You go into a spray-paint shop in Sao Paulo and they are looking at the latest graffiti magazine, looking at fresh letters and transferring them to walls. It’s similiar to the way that Pixacao writers in Brasil climb buildings to write words using alphabets taken from Iron Maiden and other heavy metal band fonts, because they can relate to that more than US graffiti of the ’70s and ’80s. It’s great to be able to pass this information on and hopefully see where it’s taken from there.
MC – It’s also about when people see the names, when they see a MadC or a Can2 and they know its 26 letters going ABCD, etc, even if its hard for them to read it, they can work out where the letter is in the sequence, between all the arrows and the other elements. I had a lot of people go “Wow, OK, I understand…” – even my grandmother.
PE – The strangest thing about when you came to do the show in London was having a person who worked for a perfume company come in and buy an alphabet that you had done which was then shown to the company so they could start to imagine a perfume that smelt the way your painting looked… a kind of synesthesia. We go out and do graffiti and paint walls and we know there are people out there taking photos of it and documenting it, but somebody taking a photograph of graffiti artwork and taking it as inspiration for a perfume (or seeing paint on a pair of an artist’s shoes and taking a colour from that which then becomes Pantone colour of the year 2010) is another thing altogether.
MC – We aren’t in a closed-off world any more. It [graffiti and street art] has influenced advertising and product design. People have co-opted street art to sell a car or a hamburger. Its opening up a lot, the whole street art community, has always involved the passer-by, the graffiti community on the other hand was quite locked up, and closed; it didn’t care if people on the outside understood what it was doing.
PE – Like a secret society in a way.
MC – But it was different in the beginning, when you saw the train going through the whole city of New York it communicated with a lot of people. It had topics like Happy Christmas and whatever to involve the public… but I think politics really locked it up (literally). Now I think, thanks to the street art movement, it all blends in and has started opening up. A lot of graffiti artists like it and start thinking about different concepts, putting your name on a sticker somewhere; trying to do something more than just writing your name; trying to get into the whole art movement.