Above is probably best known for his epic international art tours, going from city to city, and country to country, leaving a slew of arrows, stencils, and murals in his wake. I got to work closely with him back in about 2003, when we developed and produced a small collection of T-shirts for Digital Gravel featuring his art. At the time he was mostly focused on his arrow murals and stencils, and since then he’s added a lot of messages into his work, along with some huge murals and a lot of conceptual stencil art. If you’ve been paying attention like I have, you’ve probably noticed that he’s kept things pretty low profile over the years. He rarely does interviews and generally chooses not to commodify his work other than the occasional print here and there. Indeed, having worked in the streets for 12 years, his show which opens this evening at White Walls Gallery in San Francisco is his first ever gallery exhibit, and it will feature his work alongside French stencil pioneer Blek le Rat. I managed to talk Above into taking a break from skating outside the gallery during the prep for the show, to answer some of my silly questions.
Where are you today? White walls gallery San Francisco, USA.
What are you working on? Landing this big 180 ollie outside in the street. Tenderloin heads keep getting in my way.
What inspired you to become an active street artist? The streets themselves and the raw energy involved in that.
How long have you been working as Above? 12 years.
Where have your travels taken you so far? New York City, Sao Paulo, Paris, London, Berlin, San Francisco, Mexico City, Lima, Peru, Buenos Aires, Chicago, Barcelona, Lisbon, Helsinki, Warsaw, Milan, Seattle, Los Angeles, Vienna, Oslo, Copenhagen, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Santiago Chile, Panama City, Guatemala, etc…
Initially it seemed like you were on a mission to cover the world with arrows, what’s your main objective these days? Same intensity but different applications, mediums, statements, colors, and assertion.
You’ve been arrested many times in the pursuit of getting your art up, does it ever make you wonder if it’s all worth it? Never! Going to jail for what you believe in is the most rewarding factor. That’s what life is about for me – believing in something and standing up for it, regardless of the law or adversity.
How does it feel to finally bring your artwork into a gallery from the streets? Great. I was dealt a wonderful hand and offer from Blek and WhiteWalls so I’m playing this one.
And there will be special gift packs for the first 150 people who ask for one? Yep, It’s a little token of gratitude for those that come out and check out the works. 150, signed and embossed + goodies inside.
What are some of the themes you’re exploring? Some of the themes I’m exploring are transitioning the outdoor wordplays to indoor tongue in cheek word plays on large wood panels. I love doing collage style pieces with different textures, patterns, and most of all colors. I love sharp lines and hard contrasts and its apparent in many of my wood wordplay pieces. Now that I have a captive indoor audience I can get witty with the wordplays where in the streets sometimes in different countries people don’t understand the joke or point. When I was in Lima, Peru, I painted “KNOW YOUR BLOWS THEN BLOW YOUR NOSE,” commenting on the insane amount of cocaine that is produced and exported in that country. People on the street had no idea what it meant so it got lost in translation. Now, indoor, especially here in America with the English language, I can do a similar piece and people can read between the lines and understand the commentary. Aside from the wordplays I did several in-situ stencils and arrow installations. I’m very happy with the works and look forward to working more on balancing 6-months outdoors doing street works and 6-months inside making indoor works.
Do you plan to do more gallery exhibits? No.
Will you still be traveling the world making public art too? That’s’ a silly question.
Which other artist’s work do you dig? Too many. Lots of great stuff going on now.
What’s next? Going out and landing that frontside 180 ollie in the street.