DISINI Discovers – Felipe Pantone
Felipe’s work is like a visual sledgehammer. His paintings and murals seem to warp and morph the spaces that they’ve taken over; palettes of stark black and white are thrown into disarray by almost 3D-renderings of a shock of colours, bringing to mind a TV that’s lost its transmission. At once overwhelming and hypnotic, Felipe's work can be found in all corners of the globe, and his style is one that is instantly recognisable. The Argentinian-Spanish artist much prefers to let his work speak for itself, and his modus operandi is to channel the times that we live in: fast-paced and ever-changing; here today, and gone tomorrow. He shares more about why a year in art school was the worst year in his life; the novel he’d love to write; and why you’ll never find his face on the internet.
1/ You mentioned you started doing graffiti when you were 12 years old—what drew you to graffiti in the first place?
I grew up in a town with a lot of graffiti. I like to draw, so when I saw that some other people could draw whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted, I felt like doing something.
4/ What do you hope that people will think when they see your art?
My work doesn't have a message. Rather, I try to raise questions or propose themes. I always try to use elements that only respond to the 21st century, so someone from a hundred years ago would see my work and have no clue what the f*ck is going on. I use very dynamic compositions so with all that, I'm trying to raise questions about the digital age and what’s happening. When my mum sees my work, she's a little bit overwhelmed, like, “This is too messy; there are too many things!” But when a millennial or kid sees my work, he's like, “This is nothing, give me more!” If it feels overwhelming, hopefully that means that the digital age is too much for you.
2/ Was that part of the appeal for you, to do something different?
Yeah, well, you’re young, and you have the ability to express yourself that way. I didn't have any reason not to draw on peoples’ property, other than the police chasing you. I’ve had quite a few incidents with the police, but not a lot. I’ve always been very lucky; I've done some illegal stuff but I’m not a crazy vandal so I’m not too worried.
3/ You’ve mentioned that previously when you were doing graffiti, you never thought that you were doing art. Where do you think your work is now?
I think that graffiti is not specifically art; rather, it's a game. When it started in the United States, it was basically like Monopoly: I want to write my name in this neighbourhood, in that city, all over another city, and in my country and the world. It’s basically a game of conquering places and you’re fighting against other players. Obviously art is something different, but at some point they connect. In my work I still have that graffiti mindset— that I really want my work to be everywhere in the world, which is why I travel a lot too. I think graffiti responds really well to what’s happening nowadays; it’s a very contemporary game.
5/ Can you tell us about your artwork here for DISINI? How did you create it?
This is a continuation of my body of work. I adapt my compositions to each specific building, and with this piece I tried to make the beams disappear and played with the pipes as well. I actually didn’t design anything until I came here. When you’re painting outside, it’s not like a square canvas. I'd stare at the wall for a minute, and try to figure out what the best form is. That's what I usually do unless they force me to design something prior. I always tell curators or organisers not to do that, because I deliver my work better if I’m able to go there and figure everything out. This piece for DISINI was very site-specific and I’m happy.
8/ Do they understand your art better now?
Yes, they put in some effort now. (laughs)
I flew them to a couple of art shows and openings.
11/ You mentioned that you took two days to do this piece here for DISINI, and five days for the towers in Mexico— that’s really speedy work.
I think the importance of graffiti, and why it’s so connected to the times that we’re living in, is because it really responds to the speed of our lives. With Mexican Muralism, for example, it would take three years to paint a mural. But now it would take three days, which is insane. How is that even possible? One of the reasons is technology— spray cans, boom lifts and all that. Most street artists came from graffiti backgrounds, and we used to paint with a couple of policemen following us. We had to be fast, so we developed techniques that allowed us to paint a lot of murals in a very short time. I think this also has a lot to do with Zygmunt Bauman and the Liquid Modernity theory. Jobs and relationships slip through your fingers; you buy furniture from IKEA and clothes from ZARA, and they break, so next year you buy more. Anyone can have a blog and write information; you don't even have to read newspapers anymore. Everything’s too fast and it changes all the time. I think graffiti makes a lot of sense within this theory. If this mural is done in two days, next year they’ll probably paint something over my work, which sucks, but I don’t care, because I’ll make another one next year.
14/ Is there any advice you'd give to an aspiring artist?
To be curious about what’s going on, and within what you see or whatever you do, carefully select and make notes of what you really love, as much as you possibly can. Do stuff and discriminate everything you're not until you find who you are. I think that’s the goal. In order to be an artist, you have to be very honest. There’s no point in copying to be successful. Be unique, be yourself. With everything that’s new, you empathise with it because it’s unique, which is why you want to buy it or see more of it.
16/ What kind of music do you want to create?
I’d like to create—(laughs) I’m getting deep in my fictional music—some electronic and probably a little bit downtempo, experimental kind of music.
17/ And what kind of novel do you think you would write?
Probably some sort of essay, or like an autobiography, with a little bit of fiction. I’d like to make some points to say something, like an essay would, about myself and the way I see things, but within a narrative kind of story. (laughs) I already have all the ideas.
6/ How was the shift like: from being a graffiti artist to exhibiting at museums, and being asked to do murals all around the world?
I started doing graffiti when I was very little, and when I was 18, I went to university and studied fine arts. That was one of the worst years of my life. It was horrible; I had a really bad experience. They taught me techniques that I didn’t need, and forced me to do oil painting and all kinds of stuff that I wasn’t, and still not, interested in. But at the same time I had a couple of lecturers who taught me what art really was, and that was interesting. I was basically a graffiti writer, and I realised, by studying art history, what it meant to be an artist. I never had any art training in my family, but studying helped me to get this vision. It was a very natural transition. I guess I just started trying to find myself.
7/ What did your parents think of you deciding to become an artist?
As a kid I was doing graffiti for years without telling my parents, hiding my cans everywhere. When it was time for me to go to university, I told them that I want to study art. They were like, “What the f*ck is that for? Do something useful.” But I said, “No, I really want to do this.” And they were like, “Okay, I don't get it, but do whatever you want to do. As long as you don't ask for money, it’s fine.” So even though I was studying, I did spray paintingbased jobs, like painting a logo or pizzeria. I always supported myself, and they were always happy about that. Now I'm doing okay, so they’re really happy for me.
9/ You’ve done a lot of work in many cities and countries—was there a project or a piece that was extra memorable for you?
I have good memories about all the places. Recently, though, I was in Monterrey, Mexico and I worked on two gigantic, 15-storey towers. You can see it from a lot of iconic places in the city; it was really remarkable. I also had great tacos for lunch after that.
10/ We're not sure if you're aware but graffiti is actually illegal in Singapore. What are your thoughts on that?
This is the most graffiti-clean place I’ve been to on Earth, I think. I've yet to see any ‘wild’ graffiti. It looks better, you know, with no graffiti. (laughs) No, I'm kidding. I mean graffiti has good and bad parts. Obviously it can be very messy, but at the same time, right now, the ArtScience Museum is exhibiting this street art show, and street art isn't possible without graffiti. A city full of graffiti like New York, versus a city like Singapore that’s clean—I couldn't tell which one’s better. I think it’s completely valid, and perfectly fine, but at the same time New York probably exports more artists than Singapore, until maybe recently.
12/ Why do you choose not to show your identity to the world?
Simply because I think that my identity is really irrelevant. I produce so much visual content every week, an average of three or four paintings or murals, and I get to choose every single pixel of those images. That’s really me. Whereas, with my face, I didn’t choose any of this—it’s like a piece of a flesh that was given to me. So what I do is way more who I am than ‘me’. It really annoys me when you Google an artist's name, and sometimes all you see is their face, maybe because they’re really pretty. I really don't care about the way I look so that’s why I try to keep it this way.
13/ Who or what inspires you?
Everything inspires me. In terms of shape and form, probably the kinetic art movement and optical art movement from the ’60’s. I tried to get from them this sense of dynamism, which I think was important in the ’60’s, but nowadays dynamism is the leitmotif of the 21st century. I use elements from this very century that would not make sense at all 50 years ago. In terms of concept I get inspired by living life itself, and by being a true son of my times: to travel constantly, to get involved with and communicate with people.
15/ Is there something you wish you had more time to be doing?
I would love to make music, and to write essays; potentially a novel. I listen to music all day, and when I read, I have ideas and I make a lot of notes about possible themes. But I don't have time, really, and I probably will never have time. I’d love to have two more lives, and dedicate one to music and one to writing—that would be amazing. Honestly, in this life, I’m way too interested in doing what I'm doing.
18/ Is there something that people don't know about you?
I do my own haircuts with masking tape. (laughs) I’m kidding.