Interview with Motelseven: Graffiti Artist in South AfricaJuxtapoz // Sunday, 27 Jun 2010
Helen Soteriou: Can you tell us about your background?
Motelseven: I am a female graffiti artist from South Africa. My mother is Norwegian and my father British, so although I feel a bit African, my heart is in Europe too. I currently have my base in Oslo, Norway. I travel as much as I can to paint, as well as working on exhibitions.
Does art run in the family?
Since I was a child I have always been exposed to art and music. My whole family is very creative, and even when I was very young I knew I was probably going to become an artist of some sort. It was either that or a detective.
How did you come up with your tag name 'Motelseven'?
I was watching a movie and a motel popped up, I liked the letters and it stuck. The seven is just a number I put on the end to make it more personal.
After high school you came third in South Africa in fine art and received a scholarship to attend the University of Cape Town Michaelis Faculty of Fine Arts. How did your time at university shape your ideas. Do you think formal training is important?
I only spent one year at university and hated every minute of it. I don't think I learnt any value there, except that I did not want to study art. I think because I already had my goals for the future, and I knew even back then where I wanted to go with my life, it was a waste of time. However, of course formal training is important, I would love to go back to studying something more specific, as opposed to such a broad spectrum that is art. I think when I got an essay to write about the wonderment of museums, I realized I was just not cut out for being a conceptual artist. They really pushed this at the university. I studied two years of 3D animation and I wouldn't mind furthering this line of studying.
At only 23 you have travelled all over the world and have been lucky enough to be part of a wide variety of shows. Do you have a stand-out moment?
I have been so lucky, and I think a lot of it has been where I have my priorities. I know what I want to do, and it is all about patience and dedication. A few stand-out moments...my first solo show in Cape Town was a really amazing time, I was only 21 years old, but if I was to really choose a moment, it would be selling my first painting in a very posh gallery. That is still one of the happiest moments, it was like suddenly I looked at my future a different way, I put my animation on hold, and started painting full time.
Have any other graffiti artists given you any peals of wisdom that you can share with us?
I can't so much think of something a graffiti artist has said, but I really admire the way Rime approaches graffiti. He has taught me to be patient with my art, and to keep looking at my graffiti in different perspectives. If you get too bogged down with a certain style or way of painting, you stop growing as an artist. He is always experimenting, and he is one of the most dedicated writers I know. He is living proof that even when you become famous you are still able to have a level head and be as passionate about graffiti as you were say 10 years ago.
Who or what inspires you?
How would you explain your style?
I think I have two very different styles. My graffiti is fun and colourful, usually quite simple. My fine art has more shading and texture, and of course detail. I don't think they are anything alike, but I think you would somehow be able to tell it is me.
You also attended UCAA (animation school of Cape Town), is this where you developed your love of incorporating happy characters into your work?
I have always had a love for cartoons and animation, so it was for many years that I was drawing characters. I remember when I first started out painting graffiti I used to do the most awful grumpy characters, something that a lot of toys [editors note: toy references an inexperienced graffiti writer] do when they start out. Trying to make your characters look moody and hip hop, but they just end up looking stupid. I think a lot of my influence is from Balrog, who I have known for many years. He has taught me the invaluable lesson of laughter and humour. I am a real geek for Pixar and Walt Disney movies, especially movies like the Sword in the Stone and the Aristocats. I think this period in Disney animations was so emotive and the characters so exaggerated, it is easy to just make up a character, but to give it movement and a personality is a lot more of a challenge.
Are you able to work full-time as an artist?
With me nothing is ever straightforward. I have some months that I am able to live off it, and some months I am eating two minute noodles. I don't have a steady income, which is how I was brought up, my mom always said you can do whatever you want, as long as you are never in debt. I have tried to live by this. I don't buy expensive iPods or bikes or stupid things you probably don't need. I put most of my money towards travel and paint, and because of this, I am able to live a somewhat comfortable if sometimes challenging life.
Are there any benefits and drawbacks to being a young female graffiti artist?
I think the only benefit I can really see is that you get noticed in a different way to guys. You are a token. I try not to think too much about being a girl in graffiti, and I don't think my graffiti friends treat me differently. However I have had incidents where I have been treated like a toy or an idiot, and I know it is because I am a female. So often I will meet a writer and if he doesn't know what I paint he will talk to me like I am some dumbass girl painting stencils everywhere. I don't care so much what people think anymore, I have a passion for what i do, and that is that.
What is the best part of being an artist?
I can wake up whenever I want.
The Banksy vs Robbo controversy has bought tagging back into the spotlight. Do you think this is a breakthrough for all the graffiti artists working out there without recognition?
To be honest, I think the whole thing is a bit embarrassing. I absolutely despise stencils with a passion, and I am not a fan of old school heads trying to get back into it for the wrong reasons. I just think the whole thing stinks.
What does the future hold for Motelseven. Can you share any of your future plans with us?
I have a dream of where I want to be in a few years time, but it involves a boy I haven't met yet. So before I can even think about that, I have to think about the more immediate future. It involves lots of travelling, and another show at the end of the year in Oslo. Even more immediate is a trip to Roskilde to paint at the festival next week. I am sometimes a bit jealous of someone that has structure in their lives, but then I think they must wake up every day, eat a bowl of muesli and go sit in an office somewhere. Even the thought of it makes me depressed. My future is a complete mystery, and I like it this way...