Still young, only 23, PaperMonster is finding his niche in the art world. A certain part of that comes thanks to a short term mentorship under the famed Parisian stencil artist, Blek Le Rat who taught him to take his stencil work to the next level and incorporate more dimensions and eye-popping colours than he ever imagined. PaperMonsterâ€™s work is based around women in various states of shock, fear, or wonder. Every canvas is its own story.
â€œI really love the name PaperMonster because from initially hearing it you have these expectations of something very tough and manly but when you see one of my paintings there is none of that and you see something that can appeal to anyone.â€
Format: Where are you coming from, as an artist, and a person?
PaperMonster: We all have two lives. I am an artist in one and in the other a scientist. Both have the same goal: to create something that will touch or have an impact on a person. The colors I choose in my paintings have turned into the same colors that I wear on a daily basis. I am inspired by my environment and when an image catches my eye it is like a punch to the chest and you just feel the urge to cut and paint. My work has no constrictions and my stencils can be any size, shape or color. As a stencil artist I have developed my style through mistakes. All of the things I did wrong are what you see now and what stand out the most. That is what is exciting about stencil art and what motivates me every day.
Format: Who are the women in your pictures?
PaperMonster: The women in my stencil art paintings are real life people that I have come across and have really caught my eye. They are from all over the world including the Middle-East, Europe and the United States. These women are not models but normal people who have a glow that captures your eye.
Format: Do you only draw women?
PaperMonster: Women are the central focus of my work for many different reasons. The types of women that I choose to paint express a wide range of emotions that turn and change immediately through just the slightest shift in their eyes, lips, hair or face angle. A woman’s eyes and lips can completely change the feeling that you are trying to present. Each of these women has a story within themselves. I tell their story through the collage work inside of each of the main images. Like any woman, her facial expression can be a wall that she is putting up and it is only through time that you figure out her true intentions and what she is really thinking.
Format: Who is the real monster in your work?
PaperMonster: The real monster in my work is my process. In my studio there are mountains of paper everywhere, whether they are magazines, newspapers, comics, stencil shards or any other type of paper. From this massive mess I pick and form the story that I want to tell. I really love the name PaperMonster because from initially hearing it you have these expectations of something very tough and manly but when you see one of my paintings there is none of that and you see something that can appeal to anyone.
Format: Does your work have any political commentary?
PaperMonster: All of my work has a message or story. It is not in the main black stencil of my pieces but rather inside and underneath the patterns and texture. My commentary is on religion/politics as well as stories of love, loss, war and adventure. I intentionally compose the backgrounds so that nothing is obvious at first glance and the audience really has to dive in deeper and explore. It allows for a great level of active interaction with my paintings and it brings a new dynamic as someone who has never seen one of my pieces before and does not know where to start first – away or up close to the painting.
Format: What is your background in graffiti and street art?
PaperMonster: My initial background started out as an observer. I had created my first stencil without ever seeing one on the street and the process came about through wanting to recreate a cartoon character that I would draw constantly. The more stencils I created the more I wanted to learn about the history and really explore what was going on with stencil graffiti and street art.
I ran into stencilrevolution.com and it fuelled my curiosity. In the summer of 2005 I took on a massive research project comparing street art in both London and Paris. It was at that time when I contacted Blek le Rat as I wanted him to be one of the primary people I met before my project was over. Hours before my flight I received a reply from Blek to give him a call as soon as I landed in Paris. It was in Paris where my desire to become more active and stand out as an artist took off. I met Blek and his amazing family on a Sunday and we chatted the entire day without ever talking about stencils. It felt very comfortable and it was like meeting a friend that you had not seen in a while. He walked me through his stencil cutting and painting process in the last hour I was at his home and then I was off to London a couple of days later. Upon returning to the United States I was extremely motivated to take what I had learned and turn it into my own style. Through the years my stencils technique has developed to what it is today.
One of the major projects that I am really passionate about is creating works on the street that are accessible to people and that they can take home. While we all want that “permanent” street art spot to stay preserved forever, there is something extremely rewarding to know that someone out there searched hard or accidentally found one of your pieces and it is now in their home. Within the street there is a constant unspoken level of communication between physical architecture, street art, and the people who live in these locations. Scratching, ripping, pealing, and throwing away is all a part of this communication and it really demonstrates the “living” quality of street art that many people speak about.
Format: When did you make the jump from throw-ups to canvas pieces?
PaperMonster: As artists we all go through a growing stage that can either be forced due to projects or naturally through trial and error. There is a level of time and commitment that you would love to give to a piece on the street but with the law as it is now it is impossible. Pasting and stickers is a great way to tackle this issue of time but it is also very vulnerable to the elements. Going from walls to canvas is like tackling two different beasts. You have unlimited time that you can put into a canvas but you may get to a point to where you can really do too much and get lost. On the street it becomes more of a physical connection to the wall and you have to adapt to the surface. There can be curves, dips, or chips, which you can either incorporate or work around, yet they all add to the final texture of the piece. In both arenas you can really take away a lot and learn what your mistakes.
Format: Where do you see yourself in the history of stencil art?
PaperMonster: The history and timeline of stencil art is long and we are all very lucky that it had been well documented through photographs and books such as Stencil Graffiti by Tristan Manco, Stencil Pirates by Josh MacPhee, and Stencil Nation by Russell Howze. If you look at the current state of stencil art you can really break it down into categories: photorealistic, political/social message, and cartoonish stencils. I see myself as someone who does not really fit in any one category. My main goal is not just to grow and change as times goes on but to also motivate a newer generation or inspire the current generation of artists to something new. To have an active part in the chronology of stencil art is not just a great honour and dream, but as with anything creative there is also added pressure to not stay static and push what you are doing today further.
Format: Your canvases are very complex. How many layers do they usually have?
PaperMonster: The number of layers always change and I may create something as simple as two layers and get as complex as five or more layers. There have been times where I have built up the canvas up to a third or fourth layer and have had to start all over from the beginning. As long as you let your work develop naturally you always have room for new ideas and concepts. Sometimes what you feel is disgusting and ugly may look amazing to someone else.
Format: Do you feel that having so called ‘street art’ in galleries is making it more accessible or less accessible to its intended audience?
PaperMonster: This is really the “million dollar” question. As artists we are not just a product of what we create but we have risen to the level at which we are simply and only through our audience. The public can either make or break who we are. Through buying our work they fund us to progress and grow to different projects. Our audience moves our name and images across countries to a level that we could never do alone. Blek once told me that work in the street versus a gallery is as simple as having one hundred thousand people see your work in one day versus one hundred people viewing your work in a gallery. In both arenas you are touching people in different ways.
The essence of street art is decay and within a confined gallery space there is preservation. If you look at some major projects by two artist: Swoon and Os Gemeos you can see that when they were provided the space (Deitch Projects) they completely created an installation that was a world onto its own. This could never be done on the streets and it really illustrates the need for spaces where artists can grow and take their work to that next level. As artists we all crave recognition and the gallery space seems to provide a means of instant gratification as opposed to the street where in a matter of seconds your work can de destroyed. The solution, while not an exact science, is to maintain a healthy medium between the street and gallery space. If you accomplish and flourish in both, then the question of accessibility is gone. You maintain an audience as long as you keep people wondering “what is he going to do next?” and that is the ultimate goal…..longevity.
Format: Whatâ€™s in the future for you and your work?
PaperMonster: This past year has been amazing with two large solo shows: the first for DirtyPilot.com and the second for Metropolis Gallery which is currently up and will come down on October 31st. I also have several upcoming group shows including: Vinyl Killer #6, a Stencil Group Show for Art Whino Gallery that I have organized opening November 14th with a huge list of international stencil artists, the 400ml Project Book release/group show, and several more shows and street projects planned for the beginning of 2009. In addition to those events I am incredibly excited about my new skate deck collaboration with 5280 Lasers. You can catch more news and events from PaperMonster.