Street Life: From Sweden To Berlin

Waiting for street artist DWANE on the corner of Revaler and Warschauer Strasse, I am not sure what to look for. When a middle-aged man with impressively large glasses approaches me and lounges on his bike causally at the intersection, I eye him doubtfully. After a few minutes I realize yes, it is him (I should have known from the paint splattered attire) and we set off amicably to his work space—avoiding the kids who had previously tried to sell me drugs loitering on the corner.

The space is quite a walk and the furthest building within the impressive urban sprawl of the RAW Tempel complex. We get comfy next to the heaters and crack open some beers. Dwane begins the chain smoking of his 'Moods' Cigarillos (some weird cigar/cigarette combo), which he keeps up throughout the interview. He looks at me through his massive, paint-speckled glasses and I begin.

Artparasites: Can you tell us a little about your creative background – what is the earliest creative moment that you can remember?

DWANEThere are really a lot of them – I was the same when I was young as I am now. Actually, there was a very graffiti-related incident which I can remember: it was at kindergarten and I was outside playing in the sun. I discovered if you took a brush and dipped it into water you could actually draw on the wooden wall and the sun dried it instantly…this is so close to my work now it's ridiculous! I paint over myself here the whole time so the first layers don't exist… I hadn't thought about that connection before!

DWANE in his work space at Skalitzers Contemporary Art. Photo: Chris Phillips

APs: You're originally from Sweden, why did you choose to live and work in Berlin?

D: I've been coming back and forth to Berlin for two years to slowly shift my life into being able to live here. It's a good spot for everything I do, and also with my Hungarian/Polish background. Having parents growing up during the war, you get damaged in a lot of ways because they're damaged and because of the stories they tell you – it just left me wondering what it was all about during the Second World War. Berlin for me is the epicenter that affected my childhood.

APs: Street life — Stockholm vs. Berlin.

DBerlin compared to Stockholm is two different planets, also with the way you look at graffiti or art. In Sweden, if you say you're an artist they're like so do you have a real job as well?. Nobody would ever ask you what type of art you do or what your topic is – that's really far back in the discussion. 

APs: You've traveled all around the world working on different projects, but which was the most memorable?

D: Going around the world and living in squats with other graffiti artists was great, but going to the South Bronx was like Mecca! It was so funny just walking in the street because my view was just romantic, like I was looking around project buildings at night and hearing them play African music I grew up with, and I said to my friend "This is incredible man!" and he was like "This?! Old people listen to that shit!." Then we painted a handball court and I had to stop and just breathe – it was so incredible. And then in the next moment some hoodlum kids stole all our paint…

 DWANE and his canvas pieces with his tag written repeatedly. Photo: Chris Phillips.

APs: Ha! Why do you think Berlin is so popular amongst street artists?

D: I think it's more the city in many ways. Berliners are lovely and liberal and open – this culture wouldn't work in Sweden: people pasting things up and the city and even acknowledging it sometimes.

East Side

DI think there's also a history of creativity here after the Berlin wall – even when the city was divided there was the de-militarized zone so the people in West Berlin who didn't want to do military service moved here to the East. That meant creatives, writers and artists moved here, a very strong underground culture.

APs: When I visited the Berlin Wall recently I thought it was sad about how the work on it had been mindlessly destroyed…

D: What, on the back or the front? I call some on the front mindless. I think that the lines on the front you're referring to aren't so bad after all. If you look at the commissioned paintings there, they are mostly painted in the underground 80s punk style – but a lot of it is crap.

If you look at graffiti or stencils on walls, you have to realize it's a kind of disrespect you have to have for the city – but we are a part of the city too. We are actually doing what we do, not just destroying something. If that wall is meant to be a live, living thing in the streets, where do you draw the line of preserving it or not? I think they should just put glass on it if they want it to be a dead museum object.

Say My Name, Say My Name

APs: Tell us about your show, Writing My Name Until It Matters, where you literally spray-painted your tag on canvases thousands of times. 

D: I would say this work is a new take on graffiti. I really was thinking about this for a few years, because I really dislike graffiti on canvas – it doesn't usually translate; taking a piece off a train or a wall and putting it onto a rectangular white space. It's a problem a lot of people have chosen to ignore or do in their own way.

Installation view: paintings by DWANE. Photo: Chis Phillips

What I thought about was: what are the basics of graffiti – is there a blue print for it? I started making and short-listing in my head what the most important elements are and thought that tags are the foundation for everything. To tag is really what graffiti is about. But after a while, you decorate and make it bigger but they never lose their energy no matter where you put it. You also have to remember the funny things, like you do a piece on a train and actually destroy it but you do it in pink. This is really important: graffiti is not in destructive colors like brown and black, it's super cute!

  • DWANE [Price range of works: €5 – €50,000]

Article by Marie J Burrows