Berlin made me an addict – the color, the rebellion and the message. I wanted to make it my duty these last few weeks to set out and find some of Berlin’s latest and greatest street artists responsible for my addiction, but it turns out there are only an active handful. Thankfully, I did find one (and what a hit): Berlin's living legend, El Bocho. With a name like a mysterious Mexican wrestler and a masked identity, I was expecting a hulking, muscle bound figure ready to tear my interview apart like a Piñata. Instead, he was in a black sweat-pant onesie with pink zippers and offered me tea. His Studio (secret location, sorry can’t reveal) was warm, bright and had more wood paneling than a 70’s amateur porn. His 'girls' surrounded us; pink hair, blue lipstick and with short, sweet communicative social messages to the world. Sitting down I caught in my peripheral vision the sight of a cute red head wearing a beanie with the words hanging above her “I miss my Plattenbau.”
With myself growing up on a farm, my street knowledge is lacking; I had lot’s of questions for Mr. El Bocho. I was here sitting with not some poser but one of the best (and most humble) street artists. He must be so rebellious, so bad-ass, an obvious defier of authority. So this countrified mama’s boy began with the most stupid question:
Artparasites: What do you think of the police?
EL Bocho: I think they have a really bad job. They stop me because of what I’m doing but then they’re just happy that I’m not going to try and kill them – no one has a knife. I can talk to them in a good way because I am doing nothing wrong. I had a nice situation last year: two female officers caught me, yelling "Hey, stop! Don’t run away, what have you done?!” I said “Hey, it looks really nice!” and after she shined her light on it, she decided that yes, it did look really nice. Street art posters are not technically illegal, only graffiti.
APs: What is it like not having people know who you are?
EB: First, it’s a marketing trick; you're more interesting. Secondly, I want to work really free and not have people stop me in supermarkets and recognize me. At the beginning you don’t know how famous you can be. At gallery exhibitions I am always unmasked. It has been years and – amazingly – there are still no photos of me online. The people are really respectful.
APs: Real graffiti artists feel ‘street-art’ is a sell out.
EB: If you do art, it’s important you live from the art. It makes no sense if I can only do my art at 40% and the other 60% I work in a supermarket for 5 euro an hour. In Berlin there are maybe 8-10 active street artists and the posters are always the same: cameras and political things. It’s always in the negative. I like to work with younger people and how to transport the right spirit. I have respect for art but also my own art. To do it really well and live from that; If I can’t live from it, it makes no sense. This is my whole life.
APs: But did you start with a more rebellious attitude?
EB: Yes. I started under bridges spraying typography and characters, but for me there was no all the parts in graffiti so perfect that there is no chance to make something better. For me it makes no sense to do it. You have different materials in street art – different ways of communication – everyone understands what you are doing. In graffiti only certain people can read the typography and that’s why the public are scared of it.
APs: So who are all your girls in the Portray series?
EB: Some of the girls are past loves but not all of them. The picture has to transport the idea in the right way. I think for this romantic thing, girls transport it much better so I am always looking for the right one. The main theme of the series is the romantic feelings that you lost in your lifetime. When you are young you are so free and full of fast feelings and love. If I talk about that with older people at the gallery, they really understand: “Yes, that's the feeling we lost.”
APs: How does an artist truly survive in Berlin?
EB: If you have respect for your own art you should spend time with marketing; interviews to promote your stuff everywhere. Use all the mediums you can for free. I don’t know why there are only a handful people who are using the streets. Go! It’s free marketing and an open space for everyone.
Upon leaving El Bocho’s secret studio (I’m sorry, I just can’t tell you!), he told me he was the one who had to thank us. He recently turned down an offer in Miami from an untrustworthy gallerist – the same gallerist who we unmasked at this years Preview having a fake Banksy on display. Deep down, it was a good parting feeling: to know those that truly break the law are revealed and those that stay true will always remain a mystery.
Article: Tristan Boisvert
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