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Interview: Jaz & Pastel – Graffitimundo

Interview: Jaz & Pastel

Filled as Blog, Interviews, New Art

After a collective absence of close to 6 months, Argentine muralists Jaz and Pastel are back in Buenos Aires and have collaborated to paint two amazing new walls in Barracas.

Located under a bridge next to the Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, the walls depict a procession of characters, half man/half beast, by Jaz, juxtaposed against a floral background by Pastel. Jaz takes influences from Latin American traditions and combines them with local cultures and animals to create often violent scenes. Pastel contextualises his work through the use of local flora and fauna and sets this against a deeper understanding of the site, resulting in a delicate and muted representation of an area.

Jaz and Pastel say they have created a “micro-environment” of Barracas underneath the bridge. We caught up with them in their shared studio in Villa Crespo to find out more about the wall itself and the experience of working together.

Graffitimundo (GM) – When was the last time you painted together?

Pastel (P) – The first and last time?

Jaz (J) –  We’ve painted together before, but the last time was in 2011. It’s not there anymore, it was in Saavedra. It was two of my guys facing each other, Pastel did a geometric, architectural drawing in the middle. It was good, simple. Really nice. It was for a video, but I never saw it. For a TV program on the city channel or something…

GM – When did you decide to paint this wall?

J – Just recently. When I got back from my trip. Before I got back, Pol Corona had asked me if I wanted to paint the wall, and had sent me a photo. When I went to see it, the first week I got back, I thought it was huge and that I didn’t have much time, and he [Pastel] was still abroad, so I asked him if he wanted to paint it with me when he got back.

Pastel (P) – So I changed my flight and came straight home!

GM – How did you decide what you were going to paint?

J – Pastel had just been painting in Barcelona with Alexis Diaz from Puerto Rico, and Alexis ran out of time and couldn’t finish, so Pastel started to paint all around Alexis’ piece and I saw the photo and thought “Wow, it’d be cool to do it like that”, the same vibe, like between the two of us we would do a giant pattern of figures and Pastel’s flowers.

GM – This wall seems different to most collaborations. The work isn’t as separated as it usually is. That was intentional?

Both – Yeah, definitely.

GM – How did you collaborate in terms of themes or styles on the wall?

J – We went to the wall and we just said, ok, let’s do this like this, that like that…

P – I mean, each of us already knows how the other one works really well, so in two words we had it, it was really easy… So we said, we’d do the guys running and the plants of the area, and that was it really.

J – I went by myself one day and marked out my part on one side…

P – Then I went and did my part….

GM – You guys are good friends. Do you like painting together?

J – Not really…(laughs)

P – Not anymore, not after painting this wall…(laughing). For me, I suppose, Franco is older than me and he’s been painting for longer. Having shared this studio for a while, you learn a lot from the other person, so sharing the wall is exactly the same, it’s like an extension of our studio.

J – It’s weird cos at the moment, none of us are used to painting together. We each do our own work and…

GM – Why is that?

J – Because we’ve become bourgeois (laughs)… No, because every artist does his own thing and is very independent in his work. So we’ve stopped collaborating as much. Everyone’s work has its own weight and it can be difficult to to relate your work to someone else’s. And also because we’re constantly moving around, I’m here, he’s there… With Pastel I knew that it wouldn’t be very hard to collaborate.

P – It’s also a question of scale. It can be complicated to share a wall that big, especially if you’re not going to use the traditional language of “graffiti”, where each artist has his own part of the wall. The way we wanted to do these walls was to do both of them together to produce one single work.

GM – So do you prefer to work this way, or more independently?

J – I always like working alone. But sometimes there’s an incentive to collaborate because you like the other person’s work, because you’re interested to see how it turns out or because of friendship. I remember that about the graffiti scene, that everyone painted everything together. But now I’m a bit older, and I prefer to work alone.

GM – So did you have permission to paint the wall?

J – It’s a commission by Sullair, the lift company. They run community programs in Barracas, and organise different projects – this is one of them. They didn’t give us any instructions. They paid us, but we were totally free to paint what we wanted.

P – The crazy thing is that even though we were free to paint what we wanted, the walls don’t belong to the actual factory, it’s a public space. They didn’t have permission to paint there…

J – The reality is that if you’re going to do something with permission, especially in that neighbourhood where it really needs it, you’ll lose three months waiting for the official go ahead, so they opt for just going ahead with things anyway.

GM – So you guys have a good relationship with Sullair?

Both – Yeah, yeah.

J – Yeah, the best. Really good. For a company, they’re really great about getting things done. It’s big, so they have the facilities. They’re all about giving back to the community. They fix things, they cut the grass, loads of stuff. It’s really impressive what they do down there.

GM – Jaz, are you still working with gasoline and tar?

J – No. It’s been a while since I’ve used “weird” materials. Most of the big walls I’ve done internationally have been in regular, latex paint because most have them have been commissioned, or at festivals where it’s more about pure muralism. They don’t want an ephemeral work, they want something that will last. I try to use those [weird] materials when it’s a piece I’m doing for myself, or a smaller project.

P – Painting in a festival with those types of materials is kind of contradictory as well, using really basic materials when you have the luxury of painting with whatever you want.

GM – Pastel, do you always just paint with latex?

P – I use latex, and a lot of ink as well. For the details, because it has a different texture, a different consistency and fluidity.

GM – You have both been painting huge walls around the world recently. Has that had an influence on what you painted here?

J – Well in comparison to the walls we’ve done abroad, this is really small. It’s very long, but it’s easy. It’s covered, it’s protects you from the rain and the sun, it’s not an awkward wall.

P – It has a very human proportion as well, it’s not that high. But ok, if you turned it on its side, it would be a 9 story building. So that’s big. But we’re used to working at this scale. You get to work closer to the wall, it’s much more dynamic, you’re close to the materials…

GM – Jaz, you recently started working with collage. Has that influenced this wall in any way?

J – Not really on those walls, more on what I’m doing inside, for my gallery work. Eventually I’d love to do it in the streets, but to do it in the streets you’d need a totally different method of working that I’ve never done. I’ve never tried using paper in the streets, so I don’t know how to start. I’d have to start with something small, easy, straightforward, closeby…I wanted to use paper on the wall in Barracas, but because of the size and texture of the wall, it’s very porous, it would never last. It would last for a month, tops. Also using paper in the streets would be connected to that idea of using ephemeral materials, and as it’s a commission…

GM – Pastel, there is always some deeper context to your work – historical, geographical etc. Is there an element of that in these walls in Barracas?

P – Yeah. Generally I try to create a relationship with the context, the environment – the history, the geography, the people, the society, nature, the flora and fauna…also to create a feeling of the identity of the area and a sense of belonging for the mural. Usually that translates into using wild vegetation, small plants and representing that on the wall. It could appear just as a pattern, something decorative, but behind it there is a search for the identity of that particular place.

GM – So did you pick flowers from around the bridge in Barracas?

P – Yeah, I always pick flowers and plants from the bottom of the wall, but here there was loads of vegetation above the bridge near the train tracks, so I took about 4 or 5 plants from there and made a composition from those.

GM – So have you used any of the arrowheads that normally appear in your work?

P – No, there are none here. I use the arrows as a study of the history of Argentina, in particular where my family is from in Misiones, to start to use the events that happened in the area as an exploration of identity. But they have a stronger and more permanent significance, more violent from a certain point of view, harder, that tells another part of the story, a harder side of life, about war, symbolising defence.

GM – Jaz, your figures on this wall have black, faceless animal heads. Is there anything behind these?

J – It’s the same thing as always, to not give them an identity, but at the same time giving them one. For this mural in particular it was more about a herd of animals, but unrecognisable. They’re flat…it’s obviously an animal, but the identity is revealed in other details – the tattoos, clothes, the shoes – all of that is directly from the neighbourhood. I obviously can’t replicate all these things exactly, I don’t know what they mean to those people, but it’s a reference. A tattoo is a mark of belonging, it’s tribal. The identity is shown through those things, the local iconography, but the heads are to strip away the personality, the faces of the people. That’s what they ask me, “Why do they have animal heads?”, that’s where the biggest fear is, “But who are they…??”

P – They’re anonymous

J – Exactly, they’re anonymous, but at the same time they’re not.

GM – What types of animals are they?

J – All kinds. On the first wall, I chose the animals myself, but while I was doing it I had the idea to ask people which animals they wanted. So for the second wall they’ll be animals that people suggested to me…”I want a bear, I want a dog…”. So that, and names of the people down there. All the tattoos, all the clothes, they have names of people from the neighbourhood on them. That’s how they assimilate the mural and make it theirs, and they feel like they’re part of the wall. But at the same time there is none of them in it. So I tried to look for that, to represent the area via these mechanisms, so that they claim the wall as their own. That was the crazy thing, we were there every day, painting, but if we weren’t there to paint, we wouldn’t have stuck around for 10 minutes, no way. It’s a pretty hardcore neighbourhood. But they took us in, they looked after us, they talked to us, they told us their stories, and in that way, you become involved in the situation. And you realise the variety of societies that exist in the same city, you access it in a another way, even with all your huge differences.

P – Another crazy thing is that, beyond both of us working with themes of identity in our art, down there you really became part of that society for a time, which goes beyond the wall. There is a recognition there at the end of it, that you know how things are in that neighbourhood. It’s really dodgy…

J – Yeah, really heavy. The police are there all the time, people are drunk..

P – But at the same time, they’ll offer you something to drink, ask you if you’re hungry, they’ll bring you anything you need…

J – Or they’ll tell you about their brother, their cousin, they’ll show you their scars from prison, tell you why they were in jail…there are situations where you’re like “Whaaaaat???” but at the same time they’re really interesting. Normally you’re not exposed to that.

P – One day when we were painting a guy came up and said “Do you know how many people have wanted to come and mess with you, and we’ve said “Don’t go near the guys who are painting?””

J – They were looking out for us, and for all the people that came down to film, to take photos…keeping us safe cos “They are helping us”

P – “They’re painting for us…”

J – And for someone who’s middle class, who’s an artist, that went to university, to be able to see the way that other people live in places like that, it makes you think, you know? I mean, we’re painting a mural, we’re not changing their lives, but at least it creates a dialogue. I thought it was really fun actually.

P – But if you think about it from another point of view, in this neighbourhood (Villa Crespo), if you see someone, a cartonero or something, he probably has a similar feeling being here as we did being there, but inverted, you know? The individual against the masses. And unfortunately in middle-class or upper middle-class neighbourhoods, the difference between the individual and the unity creates marginalisation.

GM – Pastel, recently in Spain you used the colour palette of the area to inform your pieces. Is there anything here behind the colour that you used?

P – Not here. Jaz had more to do with the colours in this one…

J – In the neighbourhood, there are two football clubs, Barracas Central and Deportivo de Barracas. One has a white and blue jersey and the other white and red. That just started as an idea, it changed as we went along, we started with those colours but expanded to a larger palette. Actually, across the Riachuelo, there’s Independiente and Racing, that use the same colours, so the neighbourhood is really influenced by those teams. Half the people down there are part of the Independiente barra brava and the other half of the Racing barra brava. So they started to notice certain things about the colours…so sometimes that was a bit tricky, how we got around using them…but that was how it started anyway.

GM – So do you think you’ll paint together again?

Both – No, never (laughing)

J – No, I don’t know, I’m leaving again soon and I don’t know when I’ll be back…

P – One day, when we’re old…

J – Or maybe in another country…

Sorcha O’Higgins