Interview of the famous Belgian street artist Roa. He talks about Jimi Hendrix, Marcel Duchamps, abandoned places, street art movement and many more.
Picture by The mouarf
Street art from Belgium. Interview of the Roa.
FC: Tell us about your beginnings and your discovery Street art.
Growing up in Europe during the eighties, we were under a great influence by the American music, skating, movies etc. The first time you get to hear Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim or the first time we saw Wild Style was impressive. Later I became a huge fan of The Beastie Boys, Wu Tang Clan and everything about hip hop attracted me, also graffiti. Very modestly beginning with doing some Throw ups under bridges and on walls, grown out to an every day passion.
FC: How is the graffiti and street art movement in your town?
My hometown is very tiny, in American terms, it isn't a real city but more a village. But in this town, Ghent there is always activity, in every way of expression it turns out like a breeding nest for many styles, you can not stick one particular movement on it, but everybody has mutual respect and doing his/her own stuff, which is a comfortable environment for many people. Most of my friends are busy with painting; and we have a lot of people from abroad dropping by to paint, so actually it’s a mellow city were pretty much everything is possible!
FC: What’s your taste in movies, music, and books?
There are a lot of crappy movies but there are also a lot of real inspiring good movies, when I was a teenager until now, I think David Lynch movies makes the most massive impression on me. I like a lot these type of director movies because they try to offer the viewer something more controversial and defying. At that point looking forward to see the new Vincent Gallo movie. And the "popular" European directors like Lars Von Trier, Fritz Lang, Godard, Fellini … and I will never forget the first time I saw the Belgian movie "Man bites dog". But also movies, like The Shining, Raging Bull, The Birds, Ramble Fish, or Patricia Arquette in True Romance!
Best books: The illustration version of the "On the Origin of Speces" I read books when I am on the train, in waiting areas, when I am sleeping alone, …
At the moment I am reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein!
Best album ever: That’s hard, in what kind of music ? Because so many music styles and to many good albums, but personally most listened top 5 bands; The Beastie Boys, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan. Not that means that these are for me the best bands or musicians (maybe Hendrix he is), but just where I listened most to it when I was younger. But I also listen to Kraftwerk, obscure guitar bands, George Clinton and many more!
FC: Name an artist (or many) whose work you respect and admire (not only in the graffiti or street art world).
Again, difficult question, but I like to feel the passion of an artist if she/he is a dadaist, a surrealist, an expressive painter, a director, it doesn’t care, she/he need to tell me a different own story. I love the creativity of Picasso, the genius Marcel Duchamp, the LA artists Paul McCarty and Mathew Barney, the skateboard art from Jim Philips and so on, to many options to choose from.
Style and Flow:
FC: What's the point with all those animals? You never wanted to paint Humans or monsters, or even landscapes?
Not in this moment of my life... monsters and robots I used to do longtime ago, which was fun, but I am obsessed by animals! For me they tell so much more about this world then any other creature, but maybe in a year I'll only paint landscapes…
FC: How do you choose your animals?
It depends on the region where I paint, I like to paint the ordinary animals from that location, I dream to go one day to Africa or Australia to extend my choices.
Picture by Romanywg
FC: What's the idea behind showing animals organs?
Organs are the vital substances of our body and they represent a lot of symbolism which i like! Painters like Rembrandt did it ages before me, slaughter paintings!
FC: How do you organize your paintings? Do you do sketches before? Do you have any “gestures", characteristics or paint habits? What tools do you use (paint brush, stencils, cans?)
I don’t sketch every piece, mostly I work with a copy of a found animal on the web or from a book, but when I have the opportunity to do something big, i like to sketch it, it makes me much easier to paint. Sometimes I use latex white paint to cover big surfaces, but mostly it’s only spray can.
FC: You seem to love lost places. We saw your pieces in Doel, and in many abandoned places. Can you explain how do you find it, and what's your feeling about it.
It’s nice to paint in a restful and left behind place. It’s like an oasis between "the civilization". These places have an unique character, the decay and the lost industrial activity (like the factories) offering lots of interesting situations. Once place with a lot of agitation turns out in a wasteland where nature calls back, little rodents and birds are the only survivors in these black holes and taken over the places like humans did some centuries before. It’s fine to paint with nobody passing by or watching you, just do what you love to do, paint!
Doel was a special case. It’s an abandoned village near the harbour of Antwerp and known in Belgium for his power plant. The village always had a dubious character; at one hand it’s located by the harbour it has an old school wind will and it looks quite peaceful but at the other hand there is the power plant and the industry in between and for many years the inhabitants are threatened to have been compulsory purchased by the government in favor to extend to industry. But after like 20 years of discussion nobody couldn’t believe Doel had effectively to disappear, and suddenly people were obliged to leave there houses, stop the school, ruin the whole village. So when we all paint there, there are also mixed feelings from the last inhabitants involved. Some conceive it as an act of rebellion to get attention for their case and bred it in a larger cultural action for there case. Others experience it as pure vandalism and hunt down graffiti painters and promoted themselves as neighborhood watchers by day and night. But for us it’s just a cool playground!
Picture by Romanywg
FC: Did you know this project? : Ghost village
No, didn’t know, that's great!
FC: Yes, there's a lot of lost places to paint! Do you need something particular to be creative?
Sometimes music can be helpful!
FC: What was your most adventurous and dangerous piece?
Comparing with the stories I heard from LA painters, I guess I don’t have any story that come close to this! Yes, I undergoing some strange situations, mostly the more dangerous situations were abroad at night time but never get troubles by that, mostly I get troubles with Legal walls from council haters etc. The most adventurous pieces are the most creative challenging ones; the ones you cannot have a fear of heights, and when you suddenly look down you realize that fear lunges in your veins meanwhile you need to focus on your piece.
FC : Have you been arrested for graffiti ?
Yeah I had some problems in the past, but mostly not in my country, because the tolerance here is quite ok when you compare this with London or Barcelona nowadays.
FC: What kind of reaction do you want your art to evoke?
Not a particular one, everybody reacts different and that’s the cool thing about it! Sometimes I hear reactions from people that I think that’s more profound than it was meant to, but that’s nice, the more different reactions, the better!
FC : How's the collaboration with other artists going?
Between painters it’s smooth and fun, even when we can’t speak to each other because of the language, you have that common expression that offers a kind of connection/communication which is very cool! A lot of times you met somebody for the first time just before painting, you can not understand each other, but than you go painting and it’s fun and works perfectly!
FC: Tell us about your Show in Paris. What are the feed backs?
It turns out all fine, but I think everything is relative in ‘the Art World’. I need to be satisfied by myself, and good commentaries are really great and flattering but it’s all quite new for me and it keeps for me a challenge to work between the white cube of the gallery. I want to transform these spaces in correlation with the outside paintings and I don’t want to have it hermetic or fancy. For that reason I attempt to experience one show as one large installation where every work interact with the others. Ideally would be one left building or something more rougher to paint the whole space and create an overall installation. But I was satisfied about my first international solo show, in April and May the London and NY show followed and these were amazing experiences and of course it’s cool to hear the visitors liked the works.
FC: Ever had any serious graffiti beef?
Nothing serious, like I mentioned before, Belgium is a quite small World…
FC: What advice would you give to other up and coming graffiti writers and artists out there?
I am not the person to give advices, but for myself it is painting, painting and painting and keep it fun!
FC: With who would you like to paint?
It's difficult, in Belgium I paint a lot with friends with different styles which make it sometimes more interesting than people with more comparable approach. I like style crashes and make it not to esthetically but more organic and improvised. But you know, everything depends on the contact with one person, a nice contact can generate a nice collaboration.
FC : Does Street art make you free?
Yes, I think so. Graffiti is one of the most free art expressions of the world; you don't do it for money nor for an institution, it's free expression and it liberates yourself creatively from a lot of restrictions.
FC: Why do you paint?
That happened over the years, it wasn't a moment of awareness to decide to paint. My whole life I draw and making stuff just for pleasure and discovering the medium graffiti was a way of free expression. At the beginning I was using the medium in a very conventional way trough my huge respect to early painters, i never thought about experiment too much with the medium for that reason. But after some years, I wanted more because I like to paint with a spray can and latex rollers, I like to paint wild and doing big surfaces!
FC: There seems to have been a sudden surge of interest in graffiti and street art recently, why do you think this is?
I don't know, but I do know there are some good painters including in the past exhibitions at Tate London and at Foundation Cartier Paris and people who like art get to know this people in a larger context. It is one of the most biggest continuing international movements that I can imagine, people from South to North America, Europe, Russia... are connected by painting without any funds or institution involved. So sometimes it gets attention and other times it gets denigrated, but the good thing is: all these guys (and some women!!) don't paint to impress the press, they just do it anyway, so I don’t think it gonna ruin the scene.
FC: How do you see street-art in 10 years?
Changed again and again. There will always be an underground scene that improves the medium and bring it on a new and higher level. But I am pretty sure hot cities will replaced again and street art will evolving where nobody expect it. In the nineties Barcelona was the nicest city to paint nowadays the police of Barcelona haunted on the painters meanwhile East-Europe became the perfect region to paint while a few years ago you couldn't paint there any wall, so it is unpredictable, but everywhere there are creative people and a lot of regions we don't know the talent yet! Let's hope that Asia also get more involved, like the South America styles and the Russian Styles do at the moment, they open the medium to flourish!
Picture by Romanywg
FC: Who’s the owner of the street?
FC: What are your worst and best habits?
Worst & best together; I do what I want!
FC: Do you practice other forms of art?
FC : Your favorite colour ?
Every color has his qualities.
FC: Word Association : I’ll give you a word and you give me the first thought that comes to mind.
Paris: Impressive architecture
Brussels: Waffles and Chocolate
Street art: all kind of graffiti off springs
Vandalism : What's in the name
Mc Donald : Pricks
Britney Spears: Slutty Mini Mouse
Subway systems: Boogie Woogy, amazing well organized transport with a huge subway culture history
FC: 3 things to do before you die ?
Just try to do every day something enjoying. Live, breath and think.
FC: Favourite 3 pieces of all time and why?
Because it’s under the chapter ‘perso’, you mean from myself? Uuuhhmm, The NY cranes, the dead bird, and…the lenticular rabbit. Why?
The NY cranes: because it was a real pleasure to be back in NYC and painting there stays something very special. The cranes are partly paint with rollers (latex) and finished with cans, which I don’t do often, but it’s great, it’s so fast and nasty…I want to do this more. When it’s about action painting, this one was great to do.
Roa NYC 2010. Picture by Luna Park
The dead bird: I just liked the situation; being on the silo and try to cover every piece of it, sometimes I need to be very athletic to get my last stripes on, but I was satisfied with it and I want to find more situations like this.
Roa 2010 in Ghent.
The Lenticular rabbit in London: Painting that gate wasn’t easy…it was wintertime LND, cold and dark and I needed to be focused to get that rabbit in 2 angles well proportioned and right. It was a hell of a job and it was probably the piece that I swore constantly under my breath!
Roa Curtain Road in London 2009. Picture by Romanygw
FC: Favourite city to paint and why ?
NYC because of the history of graffiti and the big American sized walls!
FC: Perfect day ?
Beautiful light shining to the curtains of the room demanding to awake with a smile, going out to a place to paint come back a few hours later and enjoy good food and company, crashing later with a good movie up to next day.
FC: What's coming up in the next few months? Show etc…
Just did the three solo shows, travelled a bit to paint trough Europe afterwards and in the future, some mural festivals, and maybe soon …LA!
Picture by Romanywg
FC: What's your real goal?
Never had a real goal, maybe a dream that I could be in a situation that offers me satisfaction with my life and it all comes more and more realized… something that I never really could believe, I have a driver license, I have a great love, I do what I want to do and I travel a lot, I have a passion for painting, that’s really more than I EVER Expected!
FC: Any words of wisdom?
Thank you Roa!!