Roma is something of a legend in the world of graffiti & street art, even more so in his neighbourhood of Ballester.
He was one of the first artists to begin experimenting with graffiti in the 90s, but like many artists of his generation, he chose to push beyond letter-based graffiti and spray paint and explore different styles, techniques and materials.
Melissa Foss interviewed Roma about his unique style and his changing relationship with his art and the streets.
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gm: How do you you plan your murals? Do you sketch out what you’re going to paint, or do you prefer to improvise?
ROMA: Personally, I love painting freestyle and that applies on a number of levels. It makes painting letters really fun, drawings tend to be faster and the attitude in front of the wall is totally spontaneous, plus the context is a major influence throughout.
Even with large murals that involve more dedication and care, freestyle is still really fun and unlike with letters, the mural making process usually ends up being more introspective for me. It steers me towards a more internal search, where feelings and thought come into play a lot more in the process; the soul, and the true essence of “I”.
This is really important aspect of painting for me, I end up falling in love with the composition and process itself and don’t become overly fixated on the final result. This is what drives me to look deeper inside myself. I generally only use sketches for jobs and when I need a clear plan for what I want to do.
gm: What type of materials do you work with?
ROMA: Aerosol is my primary tool. From the very beginning it was aerosol that got me out painting in the streets. It’s magic – tracing, filling in, blending, all of it.
Beyond that, I love experimenting with other mediums. Watercolours are great, as are materials like asphalt paint, latex, oils… I’ve even used car grease, tea, urine and bull blood.
We started using materials other than spray paint after the economic crisis in Argentina in 2001 – a crisis that still defines how a large part of society lives. Spray paint was and still is expensive and we live in an underdeveloped country where it’s difficult to find quality materials that aren’t toxic. Today there are brands who import spray paint, but they don’t really support local artists.
gm: What other artistic projects have you been involved in?
ROMA: Different jobs and projects come about as a result of painting. It’s not difficult for me to come up with different aesthetic solutions. I love working on other types of project, like photography and cinema amongst others others.
I recently started making shelves for a major women’s clothing line. They had a new store opening and wanted a theme based around “the sea”… So I prepared some designs for furniture for the shop, along with painted units to fit within the space. I was in charge of the ideas, designs and painting and an excellent team of carpenters headed by my cousin took care of the construction of the pieces.
Right now I’m working in a bike park where I’m creating signage and design of the area as well as securing sponsors, among other things. It’s set across 3 hectares of land and is a lot of fun.
gm: How does your process change when you’re painting an object, a canvas or an urban wall?
ROMA: I love painting objects. Each one has its own character and each piece of furniture has an impact on its surroundings. Objects can end up taking on a life of their own and their presence can be really powerful.
Canvases have a really mental and spiritual hold on me and I’m grateful to each one, as well being grateful for the fact that they physically endure over time. On canvas I bare my soul. Obviously the process is totally different; I can paint a canvas whilst naked, drinking mate and listening to Bill Evans in my house, whereas you can’t really paint urban walls quite as casually. Walls are full of love and hate, and the street reflects what we are and what we want.
gm: Nobody likes labels, but do you consider yourself to be a graffiti artist or muralist?
ROMA: I’m a graffiti artist from head to toe, without a doubt! I was born a graffiti artist, and thats always going to be my background. I was lucky to be one of the first 30 local artists to be painting trains back in 1996, at 13 years old, when there was no internet and there were no magazines. We had to make do with the graffiti we saw in the backgrounds of Beastie Boys videos. Painting was all I could think about; trains, rooftops & tags, the crews, hardcore music, punk, rap and the energy of the street.
I know that increasingly my pieces don’t really fit neatly into the category of “graffiti”, but that’s where they come from. Sometimes I get criticised by writers who think we need to stay true to the old school styles, but I’m a person who favours change.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll end up creating sculptures and painting will just be a memory of something from another time, like how it is today with painting trains. There’s been a clear evolution in my work, both artistically and in terms of the materials I use. It’s only natural for things to change over time.
Experimenting with different materials and mediums has helped us be more objective about what we’re looking to achieve artistically. In the 90’s there were letters, then came characters, realism, fileteado porteño, backgrounds and then the abstract pieces we’re creating today. Sometimes I wonder what will come next.
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Images are taken from Roma’s Flickr – www.flickr.com/rojoroma