When I first ventured out onto the streets of Barcelona searching for art there were a number of artists who´s work I would see on my daily walks. There were probably 15-20 artists creating absolute wonders throughout the city. And not just now and again, this was a daily thing, it blew my mind in all honesty.
One of these artists was the American Ru8icon1. He would have been one of the first artists who´s work I came across and had me desperate to find more. Finally, three and a bit years later I have managed to pin him down for a small interview about his career.
Hi Ru8icon how are you? Tell us a little about yourself…
Hey, thanks for inviting us. I sign Ru8icon1, American but almost a decade in Madrid and Barcelona. I had an artistic family and so I grew up with that encouragement and I guess I always saw myself as some kind of artist even before I knew really what that means.
When did you first start spraying on walls?
I had been painting on canvas all through school and after but I always looked at graffiti and street art as that scene was emerging. But I always lived in the country so there was no scene really. Regardless I looked for ways to paint walls and hustled up some commissions in bars and stuff really early on. I didn’t mess around with spray until I moved to Madrid in 08. My first big city really.
What was the original inspiration for grabbing a spray can for the first time?
One day I went to hang out at el Keller at La Tabacalera where I met my future homeis. I had been looking at a lot of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy drawings and I had the idea to paint like inking a comic. So I brought a can of black and white Montana 94 and I did this drawing of a sea captain and it came out really good. Painting is always a blind struggle, but once in awhile everything clicks. So that was my style for like three years. At that time we were painting on big rolls of paper and then wheat pasting around Lavapies and Malasana. Once in a while bigger projects but it was hard to find walls to paint around Madrid at that time. I’ve since switched to full colour acrylic painting but I’ll get back to spray some day. Actually I just inherited a box of cheap hardware store spray paint so soon I’ll go hit the free walls or something and play around.
Do you like to work with a sketch or just freestyle?
I pretty much always work with a sketch or photo. It gives me confidence to get started then maybe I can improvise.
What’s the inspiration behind your work? A never ending list of things right?!
I find out what I’m all about by waiting to see what I do. That is to say I let intuition guide me, which may or not be a ridiculous strategy. It comes from a visual place, I have a vague sense of the effect I want to generate, a balance of strokes and colours and shades that becomes jewel-like with lots of angles and depths that then crystallises at some point into a representation of three-dimensional space. I really need to play around on the canvas to build up what I’m after and it doesn’t work as often as it does. Choice of imagery comes hard to me. Again, certain things feel right others don’t and I have to use a lot of trial and error. Looking back to find a theme I notice that there is often a historic element, in particular referring to the last 500 years when the old world met the new world and race and culture crashed into each other worldwide. The wave is still receding from that high point and ripples throughout everything we see today. It’s a good theme. Inexhaustible.
Is a piece ever finished in your eyes or could you keep going back to touch it up?
I’m never really satisfied, but there quickly comes a time when I want to stop working on a piece piece and start fresh.
Do you prefer legal or illegal painting?
I never had much of a constitution for illegal painting. I like to relax and take my time.
You recently collaborated with Juanjo surace on a wall in Barcelona for Arnau Gallery. How was that as an experience?
It was awesome to work with Juanjo. More than most collaborations we were able to really fuse our styles and realise one vision together. It’s like some third person painted it.
Did you find it easy to work together with Juanjo?
The dude has been painting for years, he’s a teacher and animator, so he knows efficient ways to get things done. We could discuss an area, communicate easily about tones and planes and light effects or whatever and trust each other to realise what we talked about effectively. More him than me probably.
I know so many of you artists have such a great feel and are able to just freestyle and work together but surely for a wall this detailed you came together and mapped out some ideas first?
We totally planned this out, but it all came together easily. I had done a few paintings with a sequence of someone in motion superimposed into one frame. The long low shape of the wall lent itself to a sequence so I found some reference footage I took in Philly. Juanjo has done a lot of work where death is represented as a sort of monstrous but somehow lovable companion. We mashed together the ideas and Juanjo did the heavy lifting of compiling it on the computer. Then we had our sketch.
Do you have a favourite city or place to paint?
I really like that painting is a way to paint in lots of places and gain special access. Mural painting opens doors everywhere and I love that. I will say though that Barcelona is a fantastic place to paint. Great climate and culture, there are free walls to practice on, and the scene is very humble and collaborative and supportive and there is a ton of talent. One of the reasons why the scene stays uncorrupted is also the reason its hard to paint here: there’s never much money.
Do you have any crazy ideas/projects that you’d love to do one day?
This guy Ethos from Sao Paolo and I organised a project last summer with Mural Arts Philadelphia. It was immersion muralism in this rough urban neighbourhood. It was amazing to bring painting back to the neighbourhood and forgotten places and mix it up with the locals. Way more rewarding than trying to paint downtown or catch the wave on Instagram. There are literally billions of people who live in places like that where murals can really mean something. I want to find new projects doing this kind of work worldwide. Other than that I want to buy a bucket truck some day and drive all over painting high spots.
What do you like to do with your non-painting time?
Watch my goldfish.
What’s the ideal soundtrack to a day’s painting?
I usually listen to the news. I know it’s lame but somehow the moderated dialogue soothes my brain. But when I want to kick it up a notch lately I listen to Run the Jewels or the Alabama Shakes or old school hip hop.
If you could have one super power for the day what would you choose?!
The golden touch. But just for a day. I’d goldify a room full of marbles.
What’s next for Ru8icon?
Onward and upward. Keep doing what I’m doing and try to be good to people.