Colombian street artist pioneer, Stinkfish, talks about the power of graffiti, reclaiming the city and the international flavour of the Bogota Scene.
Interview by Lauren Johnston.
FC : How did you develop such a distinctive style?
Stinkfish : My style is both improvised and prepared, for example I take thousands of photographs and select the ones that I want to make a stencil out of, but then the rest is done quickly out in the street. I also like to use different materials, so that my work is constantly evolving.
FC : What are your thoughts on the graffiti scene in Bogota?
S : The graffiti scene in Bogota is a recent development, but it is unique from many other scenes due to the emphasis on respect instead of rivalry. One of the reasons for this respect is that there are many places to paint so there is not an ongoing turf war over prime pieces of wall. Also, due to the new nature of the scene there is no one style that constrains peoples creativity leading to a melding of styles.
FC : Is the melding of styles the ideology behind the collective APC?
S : The APC is a very loose, unconventional collective of grafitti artists from Bogota and those who are traveling through Bogota. There are no rules governing the style of the collective, but instead it is based on a group of friends that enjoy graffiti. Also, i think one of the most important factors is the mix of nationalities: Mexican, Argentine and Guatemalan to name a few, ensure that the scene is kept fresh and new influences are always being added.
FC : You mentioned, the numerous areas suitable for painting, how do you chose where to work?
S : Well, I have two main criteria, the first is that i want to maximise the amount of people that will see my work, therefore I favour crossroads and busy streets. The second is the character of the wall i prefer old walls, because I enjoy making the texture, the crumbling paint and the dents a part of my new creations. I feel like I am continuing the history of the wall mixing my story into the larger narrative.
FC : How do you choose your subjects for your stories?
S : I am constantly taking photographs, especially when I travel I like to take citizens from one city and use them in graffiti in different cities or countries. However, I also go to flea markets and rifle through old photographs and magazines and also photos that I find in the street.
FC : Why do you use real people in your work?
S : I want to capture moments of humanity in my work and leave the interpretation to the public. I never use people that I know, and I never ask the permission of the people before I take their photo. I have no interest in drawing a staged or posed portrait.
FC : What is your opinion on political graffiti?
S : All graffiti is political. The act of writing your thoughts on a public space converts it into a political space and an area of protest. Graffiti is a way of reclaiming the city, Bogota is more than landmarks, homeless people and robbers, graffiti is an uncensored medium that can empower people. It is everything that is running through your head blasted onto the city.
FC : Do you take part in any exhibitions or events?
S : I am not a fan of taking part in festivals. Normally, they have a theme which limits my freedom of choice and I am not really good at sticking to a set theme, but I think they are a really good idea for the community. Therefore, I organize graffiti events in Bogota with fellow artists such as b******illa to get the graffiti community together. I also organized an event to show the history of graffiti.
FC : What do you think about graffiti artists that work for companies, such as Sprite?
S : I believe that graffiti is not for sale, but I understand that it represents an avenue of income that can be essential for some artists. I respect their decision, but it is not for me.
FC : Do you sell reproductions or merchandise of your work?
S : I have been selling things for a year now, but only things that are simple and quick. So, I don't sell canvases only photographs because I hate being caged inside. Even with my preparation of stencils, I do them as quickly as possible and then leave for the street.
FC : Do you have any pieces of advice for young graffiti artists?
S : Well, for one graffiti is not art, for me art is commercial, a thing that belongs in galleries, but graffiti is about freedom and something that should be enjoyed independently of everything. Therefore, I think that it is something you should learn alone, obviously skills can be taught, but a personal style, is well personal. But, don't be put off by a lack of technique you don't need an aerosol just a pencil to make your mark, don't be narrow minded!