When recently catching up with Barcelona-based artist Max Ripo I had an uncanny feeling that I’d somehow, somewhere met him before. It wasn’t until a few meetings later that Max told me about his twin who I just happened to meet while he was helping Anthony Lister do a performance at my old Lab 101 Gallery a number of years ago. So déjà vu aside I was privileged for Max to give me a sneak peek at his new work for his upcoming first ever US solo exhibition Signs, Fines & Cheap Wines. We met at a little local spot near Max’s studio to grab a quick bite, then he led me down a small quiet street to a ground floor window-front entrance. Once inside you’ve entered everything that is Max’s domain as he’s spent the past year gutting and renovating a completely empty shopfront space. It’s a loft-style split-level with plenty of light provided from the whitewashed windows. I get a quick tour of the space while trying to focus on all the mod cons and not get distracted by the work in progress sitting on his large desk. He’s put in his own modern kitchen and bathroom, yet kept it very industrial chic by allowing the concrete and stone walls to blend into his urban habitat. With the tour over we move over to his self-built desk unit where a neat stack of white hand-pressed papers lay set to the side. Max starts to pull out each sheet of paper and gently lay them down for viewing. Now you can see Max’s story unfold as he points out the selection of text depicted in each piece. I’m drawn into the works, fixated by his clever use of textures and patterns that cut through and blend into type of all styles. He points to a new technique he’s very happy with and explains how he is achieving the marbelized lettering. I’ve always been a technique geek so I’m totally enthralled with Max’s detailed explanations of his new obsession with the use of one shot. Max then takes a moment to fill me in on the additional work he’ll be making while in San Francisco for his upcoming Signs, Fines & Cheap Wines solo exhibition opening August 9 and run through September 1st at the White Walls Gallery.
You’re originally from New York, but have been living in Barcelona for almost nine years now. What drew you to make Barcelona your current home base?
I had never been to a city where I immediately saw and felt so much art, life and community in the streets. But a lot of people who come to Barcelona think for at least a moment they would want to live here. I did and I just never left.
How did you select “Ripo” as your street identity name? Also where did the “Your Name” tag come from?
My tag comes from a mix of the word “repo” and my last name. When I came up with it I linked the idea of repossessing, taking something back for yourself, with the Do-It-Yourself attitude of making art and living life. “Your Name” is a piss-take on graffiti culture of everyone writing their own names everywhere. It started as a joke when I went to paint some graffiti Hall of Fame spot one day with some friends. Everyone was painting their own names, or their crews’ names, and I didn’t know what to paint. So I called a friend and said “I’m gonna paint Your Name today.” That joke never seems to get old.
You’re primarily known for your large bold Street Art which is a fusion of typography and sarcasm. What made you originally gravitate to using the street as your canvas?
I drew and made art since I was a little child, but started getting into graffiti when I was about 13 years old. At first maybe it was the style of the letters and graphic quality of the lines and color that drew me to it, but I also really appreciated the statement that’s being made by just going out and putting up your own work in the public. Obviously doing that without permission has a lot of rushes involved with it, and that’s a big part of it. But also the act of putting any piece of work in the public eye for anonymous critique or inspection is powerful. That always appealed to me and is something I wanted to be a part of.
Check out a few more sneaky preview shots I managed to snap, and read the full interview with Max after the Jump…
“The quality of life there is what I love most about Barcelona — everyone tends to focus more on enjoying life rather than just making money…”
Your work plays with typography and evokes a vintage 1950’s America flavor, yet its filled with modern social commentary. Have you always had a message to portray though your work, or has this just been a steady progression?
When I was a little kid I used to draw my own comic books in the living room — my artistic message for the world was that I liked to draw. I can still say today that my artistic message is that I like making art.
How does painting on the streets of Barcelona differ from your home town of New York? What changes have you seen take place in the local scene in Barcelona?
Barcelona has changed a lot since I first moved there. In 2005 graffiti wasn’t completely legal, but it was completely tolerated. You could paint walls in the center of the city and never have problems with cops. Because graffiti was so accepted it was a really open scene, a big community. In 2006 that all changed and cops started cracking down a lot more. I moved to the city right at the end of that golden era. It’s definitely different now but there is still an openness in the graffiti community in Barcelona. There is no vandal squad, unlike New York. Curiously enough the traditional letter-based graffiti (especially tags and throw-ups) got a lot better and much more prevalent in the city since the new laws started. This happened as the large murals that artists used to spend time and a lot of paint on all disappeared under the buff. Of course tags and throw-ups are the graffiti that the public and the government like the least, so do you think they would claim a triumph with their regulations?
You showed me a wonderful time-lapse film — do you plan to make more films like this? What draws you to this media?
I don’t have plans to make anymore but it could always happen. I needed to use video for that work because the process was foundational to it. In the video I complete a new painting every day for ten days on the same canvas. Each painting is of a leading news headline from that day, and the following day I paint over the previous work but preserve a section under tape. Every day it seems like there is a new huge crisis, it’s so much for us to take in that at the end of the week we’re left with this mess of information in our heads — bits and pieces of all of the stories, and you can see that mirrored in the finished painting at the end of the video.
Max Ripo’s “10 Days” time-lapse video…
Can you tell me more about where the title of your forthcoming show came from and its inspiration?
The show is called Signs, Fines, & Cheap Wines. ‘Signs’ is just about painting words onto things. Also signing things, aka tags. Fines is what you get if you get caught doing the latter. And cheap wines are a good excuse to get people who don’t care about art to come into a gallery.
Max you showed me these wonderful cast concrete street tiles Panot de Flor (Flower Tile) that you’re planning to use in future works. Can you tell me what drew you to them, and how you plan to use them?
It’s a beautiful and simple graphic object that really represents the city to me. For a lot of people here it’s iconic, an ever-present piece of the city that can too often be ignored but for those who notice it it leaves a strong impression. Using the actual tiles in my work is a way for me to literally put a piece of my city into my paintings. But I’ll be using the tiles in a few different ways for my show in San Francisco.
Your upcoming solo exhibition at the White Walls Gallery in San Francisco must be a big deal for you, as you’ve shown all over the world but not yet had a solo exhibition in your country of birth. What are you mostly excited to do and see when you go back?
To be honest I’m probably happiest that a lot of my old friends and family are going to be able to come out to see this show. Having the show in my country of birth makes it easier for them to come out and visit. Having my first show in the US also means there’s not the same culture gap between the viewers and myself. Although at the same time there still might be some gap since I’ve been living in Barcelona for so long; that city is a big part of who I am now and how my artwork has developed. It’ll also be interesting to see how San Francisco in particular responds to my work considering SF has always shown a strong connection between sign painting and the art world.
Lastly, what do you love best about Barcelona? Can you tell us your all time favorite places to frequent ?
The quality of life there is what I love most about Barcelona — the weather is great, the people are friendly and open, it’s not too expensive, and everyone tends to focus more on enjoying life rather than just making money or working non-stop. That can be a doubled-edged sword, obviously, since it can sometimes make it difficult to get work done. It takes a lot of self-discipline, but I like that for the most part the only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself. My favorite bar where you can find me on most nights is Oviso in Plaza Tripi. A great cheap bar with good food that everyone ends up at at some point. I love the Miro Foundation. And more than anything just walking the streets at night and painting with friends.
Signs, Fines & Cheap Wines new works by Max Rippon (Ripo)
Opens Thursday, August 9th and runs though to September 1st 2012
Contact the WhiteWalls Gallery for preview and sales requests
835 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94109, Phone: (415) 931-1500