My Adventures Up & Down the Ladders – Interview with Mear One
• Interview with Mear One by Neight Adamson & Ben Fellowes
Mear One is a true artist – exceptionally skilled, incredibly intelligent, totally unique, and absolutely devoted to his craft.
His murals and graffiti pieces have made him world-renowned. As a graffiti artist, his work goes far beyond the typical graffiti art that we see on bridges and street corners and has been elevated into the realms of “high art”. His works of art have a style and sophistication that is unmatched by any of his street art contemporaries.
Mear One has had art in his life for as long as he can remember. Born to an artistic mother in Santa Fe in 1971, he moved to Los Angeles at aged three and has lived there ever since. He has been creating art for as long as he can remember.
I talked to Mear while he was in Los Angeles, busy creating a colossal tribute mural to the artist Alphonse Mucha.
Why paint Alphonse Mucha’s portrait on a 30ft wall? Who was he and why choose him?
Alphonse Mucha was a late 19th, early 20th century artist, painter, and graphic designer from France. He represents an age of artists that have affected me in multitudes of ways. I feel that that his age of art was the one that produced the highest painting and was the strongest example of how people and artists can re-invent themselves and not fall into simulacrum and repetition. There were no re-do’s, or makeovers or, carbon copies, instead, there was a lot of originality and a lot of unique thought going on. It was almost like a golden age of renaissance thinking but modernized.
People like MC Escher, Maxfield Parrish have highly influenced me and have blown-my-mind! A lot of Los Angeles’s architecture of that era has also influenced me, like the Los Angeles Observatory, Downtown City Hall, Bullocks Wilshire – these things are grandiose structures that I’ve always been very close to and to the ideology behind them of science, psychology, philosophy, mathematics, symbolism and mysticism.
Alphonse Mucha was the quintessential artist of this time period because he painted pure, absolute beauty! In a sense everyone loves art because it’s beautiful, but to me, he embodies everything that is beautiful because he was able to reproduce beauty time-and-time again and view it in the most beautiful way.
Do you plan on making any more homage’s to artists that have inspired you? Do you have another artist in mind?
Definitely! I’m already looking at another wall right now but it takes a lot of energy and paint and I don’t have an artist picked out (it will all depend on the wall!)
There are a lot of ideas of peace and love in your work; do you think that your work has a positive effect on people?
Absolutely! Although sometimes I paint really negative stuff–nightmarish images of violence, death, plague, famine, and deterioration but it’s to shock people. I want my work to be like looking in a mirror. If you don’t like what you see then you have to change yourself – it’s a reminder to redefine oneself and ones reality, or at least to question it, or to ask a question, or to become serious!
If I can inspire people to look inwardly, or at least to involve themselves in a conversation that asks questions, then I feel that my work has had a positive effect and the purpose of my piece is complete. I can then move onto the next one!
You’ve been dedicated and devoted to painting all your life. Have you ever had a “regular job”?
My first real job was working in a movie theater in LA; carrying bags of popcorn, showing people to their seats and other dumb stuff like that. I had to watch 100 movies in a row! Then I got a job in a restaurant and got fired for drinking their alcohol. Then I ended up at a health food store, and then as a sous chef at the restaurant next door where I learned to cook but ultimately got fired for creating my own menu and not taking orders properly!
At around eighteen I dropped out of high school and got seriously into graffiti art. I didn’t have a job any longer so I had to get by “hustling” and trying to make ends meet, but it wasn’t working so I got a job for the next 3 years working for a set building company where I learned mad skills – both artistic and social.
It was a super-artistic independent company that worked in the back alleys of Hollywood – totally tripped out artists running the place. It taught me a lot and from there, I continued to do graffiti and get jobs doing graffiti and that’s how I got known.
At what point in your career did you realize that you’d made it?
I guess in about 1991 – when I was doing the Con Art t-shirts and the Guns n’ Roses imagery. I was also creating storefronts and interiors and designing furniture for stores in Beverley Hills and doing all kinds of other craziness on an independent level that I considered successful.
But you know, you have a dream of what success is. You reach points within it but your perspective on success continually changes. Eventually you come full circle until now, through my adventures up and down the ladder, I’m on my way to finishing a mural of my life.
I’m at a point now where I just spend all my time painting. Getting here has meant sacrificing a lot of my personal life to be able to do that. Times are tough. I don’t paint cheap work – it’s all heavy-duty involved work. I need money to pay for this stuff and these are tough times where these pieces aren’t selling! But no matter how I look at it, I’m doing what I love doing and I’ll sacrifice anything to be able to spend the time doing the art that means so much to me; I’ve sacrificed making money, fixing my car, and even eating some days! But that’s okay because at the end of the day I have the colors that I want, the brushes I need, the spray paint I want, and the wall I need. The things that I really love, I’ve always got that stuff!
It’s interesting what success is; been there, done that and then come back to the streets, then off the streets to do other things, and then back to the streets again! And I find myself always coming back to the streets and to my roots in graffiti art, vandalism, and big productions – doing art that isn’t thought up by someone else. Creating art that’s thought up by me and illustrates the things that I think about and how I perceive the world around me. It’s not like this project that’s funded by corporate thinking – it’s all coming from me.
I feel that I’m living the life of a real artist compared to those who chase money and try to appeal quickly!
Do you think that street art has become more acceptable or is it as rebellious as ever?
It’s pretty much influenced everything around. The art form that started in a spraycan that was this super-urban rebellious thing is now just a form of advertising – on buses and everywhere else! So I think that not only has it become acceptable but it also got co-opted! In some ways this is good because the entire scene that came from the streets is now considered to be a valid art form.
Have you ever had any run-ins with the law while doing your graffiti art?
Back in the day, I was going to jail many times for doing graffiti and I cost me hundreds and hundreds of hours in community service and money that I could’ve used – having to bail myself out for my freedom!
Just recently I was out with a bunch of people putting up some work and I had a run in with the cops. It was hilarious because we just told them that we were doing some promotion for “The Hollywood Propaganda Movie Machine” and they said, “Oh! Okay, that’s cool! We thought you were vandalizing!”
What’s the most exciting adventure you’ve been on involving your art?
Some adventures have been criminal and some have been glorious but they all kind of blur together. The whole thing has been an adventure! When you go to sleep at night that doesn’t mean the adventures over, you’re just dreaming now, and then you get back up in the morning and you start another one! The whole memory is the whole adventure!
Have you made any mistakes along the way, would you do anything differently?
I think about that all the time because there are things that I wanted to do that I should’ve done, but I think all humans think like that. The mistakes I’ve made have made me who I am and even made me a better person and I wouldn’t want to fuck with that.
Graffiti art is not inherently profitable. How do you make money from what you do?
Graffiti art is all about Hustling! I’m from a hustling state-of-mind where you’re not privileged. You don’t have doctor or lawyer parents to support you; you’re from a blue collar or welfare background. So I think that the point of doing it was never to make money, although you have to eat and survive, so you have to get creative about selling your work and representing yourself.
You have to find a way to fit into the picture and be creative with it. I’ve never created art for money; I create art for my feelings and my life. And I know that its good art and someone will like it. Although I don’t believe in capitalism, I’m not anti-materialist either. I don’t mind selling my work, hustling my work and showing my work at art shows. I like that reality.
Creating Street art means that you don’t necessarily have to subscribe to the whole system or go about things in the same ways that other people do. I think that’s also part of it – finding a unique way of coexisting in this crazy scene.
Do you have any words of advise for young artists who are trying to make it out there?
Seek uniqueness and originality in your own life and the way you live your life. Let your art evolve as opposed to looking at what other people are doing or trying to make your work fit into what’s fashionable because there’s too much of that. When everything is starting to look alike, it wears away at originality! I have friends whose work has been eroded by other people copying their style.
There should be an element of innocence and honor to your work that hasn’t been blatantly copied. We live in such a retro- reality where everything is recycled. We need to start reinventing our work so that nothing is old and everything is new.
In closing, I asked Mear what superhero he would be. He explained to me that he had already created a superhuman character called the Fence Jumper who had a unique ability to “dip into the darkness and get away with it!”
I think that this statement better describes Mear One’s own brilliance and superhuman artistic ability!
- See Mear One at the FIND Art gallery show On Saturday 14th August –1640 Superior Avenue Costa Mesa, CA, 92627 from 4pm to 12pm. He joins a group of over 50 artists showcasing cool, edgy, and brilliant artwork! There will be live art, food, drink, DJ’s and dancing!