Mar & The Fire Flowers

Words: Florian Obkircher

The Los Angeles native gained local fame by hiding supermodels in shades of gray. His new thing is drawing mysterious shapes so passionately that his hands occasionally turn into claws.

The Red Bulletin: How did street art catch your attention in the first place?

Mar: When I was growing up we would go down to Venice with our skateboards. Everything there is painted—the walls, the ground, the tables, even palm trees. You just saw this huge mess of cool colors, but you didn’t know what it meant.

What do you mean?

Back then I wondered, why would you write anything on a wall? The first time I ever got it was when I saw a mural that simply said ‘‘RISK.” [The artist] RISK painted this thing and it just said his name. Because that’s why you do it, it’s the sense of risk. That alone makes it fun. You’re not supposed to do it and it’s risky. But if you get away with it you have this great high from it.

Was that when you found your calling as a street artist?

I don’t like to confuse street art with graffiti because I think graffiti guys put a lot more on the line. I like to keep the two worlds separate. Graffiti still keeps my attention. Because that shit is still really illegal. I can’t have respect for all these kids running around sticking up paper because the crime is so low and they act like it’s something so big.

How do you see your role?

Right now I’m doing a lot of murals that people commission me to paint. I don’t call that street art. It’s art that’s in the street, because street art is stuff that’s done in the moment, real quick. It’s different when you can sit there and make anything happen you want.

Your dad’s a photographer. Did that have an impact on you as an artist?

Absolutely. I probably heard the words “fill the frame” 5,000 times in my life. I loved to assist him when I was young. My dad would ask me, ‘‘Do you want to come to work today with me and meet Michael Jordan?” Or ‘‘Do you want to skateboard with Tony Hawk?” As a kid it was really cool because it opened up my eyes to the idea that you can do what you want to do if you’re good at it.

Do you remember your first steps?

There’s a lot of “buff men” in the city. When they buff something, that means they paint over graffiti. If you look in back of the buff man’s truck he’s got 40 different tubs of paint, because they can’t decide on the colors to paint stuff. So there’d be like 14 different shades of gray on a wall to take out the graffiti. The graffiti probably looked 20 times better than 14 different blobs of gray. That started to piss me off and I was like, OK, I’ll take different grays and draw women out of them. I’d draw supermodels like Gisele Bündchen on walls, and they were just in shades of gray. They were not meant to stand out. But that was kind of nice, because it was supposed to blend in. It was supposed to make you go like, oh, there are beautiful things in this ugly city, especially in this gray paint we all hate.

Your current art is more abstract, informed by your signature patterns that look a bit like hearts or leaves.

It’s nothing really. It’s not supposed to be something. One of my buddies called it “fire flowers,” which I like.

Are you bored with iconic images?

Pop art is so easy to look at. It just doesn’t feel challenging enough. If you put Wile E. Coyote on something, we all feel some way. But either if you like or dislike him, you have some recognition of what that character is. I want to pick something you have no idea what it is and then make you have feelings for that.

“I want to pick something you have no idea what it is and then make you have feelings for that.”

Do you have a clear vision in mind when you start drawing?

I just have an idea of the color scheme. The bigger the shapes are, the calmer it is. If there’s 500 of them in one painting it feels a lot more aggressive and chaotic. I use that tension. You can’t see what it is, but you get this feeling from it.

Must be quite a physical thing to paint a huge mural with hundreds of shapes.

Yeah, my hand turns into a claw sometimes. For the bigger murals I have my buddy come in and help me. I do all the outlines, write numbers in the shapes, and then hand them all the cans. It’s like painting by numbers. If I do it all by myself I have to go slow. Some days I have to stop because I can barely move my fingers anymore. I’m not a huge fan of spray paint either. It’s terrible for you and it smells so bad. But it works so well covering things largely and quickly.

Tell me about the cooler you designed for the Red Bull Curates project?

It’s monochromatic gray shapes. On each side there is one floating red cloud of shapes, which symbolizes the stuff that really matters in life.

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July 2014 The Red Bulletin

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