Asking Martin Whatson how, he replies it’s quite simple: I sketch, enlarge, cut, get a flight, paint. He’s one of the most valued stencil artists worldwide and he’s been working for over 15 years. His priority? His 2 little kids. Meet Martin Whatson, born 1984, nordic superhero.
Oslo, early 2000s. After graduating in Art and Graphic Design, was your idea of becoming an international artist already crystal clear in your mind?
«Not really. To be honest, during Westerdals School of Communication my ambition was to become a graphic designer and street art was just a passion for me, an hobby. Graffiti came natural to me after I had been drawing, sketching and photographing things for a while. I remember that, after a long period of tags and quick pieces with the marker, I wanted to try to make a legal wall to test my ability with the spray can. So I went with my then-girlfriend abs my writer friend Tare, a Norwegian guy with a lot of experience in the scene. The result, honestly, was real s**t, but I realized how funny and inspirational this world could be.»
Nordic countries are famous for their zero tolerance towards graffiti. Did this affect your career?
«Positive, the whole scene suffers a lot because of this politics that sentences firmly our art in public places. In my case I did every sort of thing: both legal and spontaneous walls, from characters to lettering. Furthermore I consider the use of stencil another step in my natural artistic evolution. One day a friend showed me some works from Banksy that he owned. I spent some time on the internet to read up, Instagram didn’t exist yet and the pictures were uploaded on Flickr. I decided that it was time to experiment this technique myself, I was fascinated by the idea of sending a message to people.»
During the years, you developed your unique style: a greyscale stencil and lot of colors.
«Right. I was inspired by Banksy’s political work at the beginning of my stencil days. For a long time I used a greyscale on different levels of the stencil for the subject, witha solid background color. As years went by, I elaborated this technique to break the rigid and graphic look of the stencil and at the same time to take back the elements of the graffiti culture that I loved and used for a long time. You can find a message in every artwork; I think it’s important that people can individually explain it, everyone in a personal way.»
’The cycle’for Outdoor Festival in Rome. A whole room with the never ending battle between the writer who got buffed and keep starting over again. Is this a true story of street art?
«Yes and no. You can understand it both as the battle between legal street art and graffiti, and the painter who, doing his job, goes against someone who’s trying to leave his own mark on society. There have always been and there will always be people who have to clean and those who intentionally cross out artworks. There’s nothing new in this. I am very fascinated by the everyday changes in our urban environment, caused by both man interference and the natural progressive aging and decay.»
‘Behind the curtain’ is instead one of your most iconic artwork, in Wynwood. I did see it also reproduced on a shop in Cartagena de Indias. How do you feel about this?
«This image has been used countless times, very often a straight up copy, like the case of your picture. Do you believe me if I say that the guy in the image it’s really me, with my striped hoodie? It’s a stencil made out of a picture of myself and I think it’s very funny that people don’t waste time to modify or create a similar concept. They simply use the same picture, therefore I’m in a lot of advertisements without knowing. I always try to have them removed if they have a commercial purpose, going after big companies that should know laws and copyrights.»
Now, for once, I’d love to talk about logistics. Let’s say you’re invited to paint in a festival and you decide you want to show two new works, what happens at this point?
«Well, the process is quite simple. More or less is…:
Once I find the right dimensions I usually need 1 or 2 weeks to cut the layers and 1 or 2 days to paint it on wall.»
So, you basically get your stuff ready at home and carry it with you?
«It depends on the location I’m painting and the size of the stencils, normally yes.
For my convenience I used my cross country skiing bag to transport the material, then I discovered that I can just board it as ski equipment.» [laughs]
Full-time artist, full-time dad. How’s that possible?
«Actually it’s quite easy: when they’re at the kindergarten or when they sleep I start working. When they’re with me, they automatically become my priority. Growing two healthy kids, trying to make them become, one day, two responsible adults is one of the biggest achievements in life. As well as, professionally, it is making a living out of my art.»
Since years you’re always the last one to board on a flight, isn’t it?
«You know, competition is hard with grannies or annoying latecomers! [laughs] My reason is that, after so many flights, I hate queuing to get on the plane, sitting and waiting for the last person to come on board. Problem solved boarding last. Yeah, this is kind of a project in the last few years…»