From South Africa to London: Interview with Maddy FreshJuxtapoz // Tuesday, 20 Jul 2010
Helen Soteriou: Who is Maddy Fresh / Balrog?
Maddy Fresh: Balrog is a graffiti name I've written for a while now and Maddy Fresh is just the name of my illustration and business side of things.
How did you come-up with these names?
While living in London I saw a poster for a theatre production called 'Balrog' and the font it was written in was amazing, just like this heinous 80's style lettering. I loved it straight away and decided it was a cool name to write. I also like the reference to Street Fighter as I grew up in arcades and am a retro game nerd. Maddy Fresh is just a play on my name Maddin.
Did you go to art school?
I did art my entire school career but I haven't studied it outside of school. The most I've done is a short course learning Adobe software and I once did a 10-week course learning character development for 2D animation with the talented Vincent Woodcock.
How would you describe your style?
I would say I have two styles, one for graffiti and one for illustration. My illustration style is loosely based on 1950s cartoons and I try to keep it very cute and child friendly. On the other hand, my graffiti style is fun but I try to give it an aggressive edge.
You work at extreme ends of the scale - graffiti to cute cartoon characters. Which came first?
Cartoon characters obviously came first - like most 1980s kids cartoons were a big part of my child hood. Writing graffiti came second but kind of as a result from always drawing, whether it be cartoon characters or not I need to draw. Basically I use these two ends of the scale as outlets for my various interests.
Tell me about your illustrations. Where can we see your work? Who are some of your past clients?
I have only been working as an illustrator for about 2 years now and am still learning and growing. I worked for a publishing company for a year, which was a real learning experience, illustrating packaging and book covers which accompanied children's educational toys.
Other than that, I have done some work for friends and various other small companies but nothing huge just yet. I was commissioned by Shelflife (SA street store) to design a shirt for them, which came out really nice. Shelflife is a great store and has helped our scene a lot so I was proud to be apart of it. I have painted graffiti for more clients than I have done illustration work though.
Where do you gain inspiration?
Inspiration for my illustration work mainly comes from my obsession and love for cartoons! I’m a huge fan of most things on Cartoon Network and really enjoy the madness and cuteness from new shows like Chowder and Flapjack. I am also really blown away by UPA animation and really admire their stripped down cartoons but still retaining so much style.
Steve Lambey is also rather inspirational when it comes to character design. As for my graffiti, inspiration can come from anywhere. My crew inspires me to keep up to date and keep on my toes. Being in the UK for 2 years has also been inspiring as the level of graffiti here is by far superior to South Africa.
I also listen to a lot of Crust Punk and Thrash Metal so lately I've been trying to relay that sort of energy and aggression into my pieces.
What has been your greatest artistic achievement to date?
Selling my first canvas in 1997 was quite an experience as I hadn't quite realized it had been sold and I had actually made some money off of doing something I love. Being flown to Zurich for 'Artclash' 2009 art competition was also great and we had a super time. Starting our crew 40HK is also something I'm proud of and proud to be apart of.
As I said I always used to draw when I was younger but eventually got dismayed as no one ever saw my art - it had no audience or outlet. Years later I was skating with my good friend Wealz 130 and he showed me his blackbook and thats when the penny dropped for me - he had an audience for his art and I wanted that too. Spray paint is also a fun medium and I like being able to paint at a decent size. Im also attracted to the style factor graffiti has - handstyles, dubs, blockbusters and burners are all fascinating to see and I never get tired of it.
How often do you travel specifically to graf in different countries? Do you have a favourite city?
To be honest I have only done this once and it was to Zurich for an art competition. Having a South African passport does not help when it comes to traveling. I don't wanna steal your jobs I just wanna paint your city!
Have you received paid work off the back of your graffiti?
Yes quite a few times and it’s always a pleasure. The most memorable job being for a Paramount Pictures movie called Doomsday. I got to paint a whole car and a steam engine, as well as totally destroy an old hospital with tags and dubs. Good fun!
Can you tell me about your crew?
40 Hit Kombo is a crew we started roughly a year and a half ago. Its a close knit crew and we're all good friends who actually do paint with each other. I was against starting a crew where members don't know one another and no one actually paints together, it tends to dilute things and make the crew a bit too loosely organized. 40HK is Motel 7, Jasik, Inkfetish, Gfunk and Toe and I’m proud to be down with them.
Have you ever been caught?
Yeah a couple times when I was younger actually. South African jails are no joke!
Have you seen the general publics attitude to tagging change over the years?
No I think the public will always hate tagging but full scale productions seem to be more tolerated in certain areas. I cant speak for Europe but in South Africa and more specifically the poorer areas - they really seem to like what we do and see it as positive upliftment for their area. Whereas in wealthy areas the same thing would be seen as blatant 'vandalism' which is a pretty tired and misinformed opinion.
Where do you want to be in five years' time?
I really want to do illustration for children's books and am in the process of seeking that out. I have also just learnt the art of screen printing and am starting my own clothing label so I hope to be doing these two things on a more established and full time basis in 5 years, but with plenty of spare time for me to paint walls and draw, haha.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I'd just like to say thanks to my folks for always being so supportive of me. Hello to Play1, Motel7, Fois, Elroy and Mers.
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