Above’s latest show, Remix, opened recently in Detroit at Inner State Gallery. In his own words, Above describes his mission in his explorative new pieces:
“The intention for my most recent body of artwork is to explore new directions and re-invent the arrow icon I have been creating for over the past 15 years.
The arrow icon is sharp and constructed of straight lines and angles, void of any curved elements. My intention is to contrast the existing sharp angles of the arrow, with the curved and circular cut lines, achieving a dynamic balance between the two with a new fresh look. Similar to that of a hair stylist making a perm on a head of hair that has always been straight.
To Remix, is to take from an existing foundation, deconstruct it, and rebuild with new insights with a personalized touch. Like a DJ takes a sample of a Mo-town song and remixes it with a hip hop beat, a new feeling and sound is created. My intention to take the straight structure of the arrow and remix it with curvaceous wood cuts, contrasting colours combination, all whilst maintaining the uniformed integrity of a line. My process had an emphasis on inter changing similar pieces of cut wood in an organized, curved composition, I had pre-designed. I chose wood as my medium as it’s a tangible and perfect for this style I wanted to achieve.
Detroit historically and currently encompasses many aspects of the definition of Remix. My first time visiting Detroit was in 2004, and a decade later I’ve noticed a large remix of the city, both positive, and negative. Detroit has style and a raw uncensored energy, there is no doubt about that. To debut this new style of work here in Detroit feels like a perfect fit. Detroit as well as this body of work are both growing and expanding into new dynamic directions.”
Above was also interviewed by 1xRUN.com editor-in-chief Pietro C. Truba during his recent 2 month residency in Detroit at Inner State Gallery.
1xRun: How did the idea come about for Remix?
Above: The idea for this newest body of work of Remix has been something I’ve been developing during the past three years, and more specifically been refining during these past 12 months. I’ve always been attracted to color swapping, symmetry and curved lines. These past 12 months my street works (and indoor brainstorming) has all been about dissecting my arrow icon and remixing it into new abstract shapes, mixing of colors, and usage of curves as much as possible into each piece. More specifically these past 6 months I have really dove into exploring all of these elements and this body of work is the outcome of those long days and longer nights doing research and trying out new techniques.
1xRun: You have been working virtually non-stop the past 3 months here in Detroit, what have you been listening to while you’re working?
Above: Yes, all the team here at 1xRUN/Inner State gallery knows very well that it’s been 14-18 hours a day in the studio. Music has been a very important element in my creative process and even more with Remix. It might sound cliché but I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop and rap remixes. Quite a heavy dose of James Brown, Jay-Z, Bonobo, Nightmares On Wax and Boiler room dj sets. Yeah a lot of Boiler room DJ sets, those keep me going for sure!
1xRun: Each piece in this show was meticulously put together, then disassembled and finally reassembled and remixed, give us an idea of how much time was spent on each piece and the process behind creating these works?
Above: Let me think…where can I even start really? I mean, the process is very lengthy to be honest. I start with designing on my computer the shapes I want to use. This can take 1-3 hours to really lock in the design I want to use.
The hardest part for me was selecting the colorways of each piece. Each piece has some from 8-17 colors in it’s design. I needed to find a balance and harmony with all of these colors. How they can all work in unison together. This process was so fucking hard to accomplish. I would choose a nice teal green and then put it next to a summer orange, but then the summer orange would be next to a chocolate brown that would screw up the harmony. So I’d have to ditch either the brown or the orange…repeat ad nauseum.
Fast forward to the printing process. Each piece has 4-6 different layers screen printed layers on it as well as spray painted stencils and backgrounds. It took me over a month to just get all the wooden panels ready to be cut up and remixed. Remixing the boards took just as long, as I have to individually go through and pick out each piece and re-insert onto either the arrow or the target.
Once the piece is remixed onto the arrow or target, I then nail it down and finally seal it with industrial resin. 15-19 hour days have been necessary to accomplish the goal and body of work I’ve set up for myself.
1xRun: This show deals with a few different icons, tell us a little bit about why these designs were chosen?
Above: It’s very simple. I chose each of these designs as they were all curved. The arrow I’ve been painting for 15+ years is all about precise, straight lines and angles. Remix is about turning that on it’s ‘side’ and approaching it with new eyes and new style. Every single piece in this show has a cut pattern with an abundance of flowing curves. Symmetrical curves and concentric circles re-arrange in different patterns on each piece. I feel it’s a great balance and it looks pleasing to the eye at the same time.
1xRun: Let’s talk about your color palette for Remix, how did you go about choosing the colors for these works?
Above: This was probably the most challenging aspect of this show. It sounds funny but it really is true. Like I mentioned earlier, I have about 8-17 different colors in each piece
This was extremely difficult to select a whole family of colors that worked well together. I would sit and play for hours on 1 piece, swapping 2-3 colors, then adding another and deleting another until I found a great harmony. Many long nights just staring at my computer and color swatches. Too many long nights. I wish sometimes I was color blind. It would of made things super easy.
1xRun: This is your first time working with laser cut wood, tell us a bit about some of the advantages to this process and how you’ve used it with these works?
Above: The advantages of using a laser cutter was that I could achieve the uniformed and consistent cuts I needed in order to make this body of work. If any cut was out of balance or uneven then it would be impossible to remix it into the other works. This is my first time using a laser and I can tell you now, it’s not going to be my last. The cuts are simply mesmerizing with accuracy.
When I was conceptualizing Remix earlier this year, I wanted to have this show be about curves and circles. I’ve done wood works for over 5+ years and my cuts have always been straight cuts and angles. I did research on how to achieve the curved cuts I wanted and it was nearly impossible to achieve these cuts without using a laser cutter.
1xRun: How does this work differ from your last body of work?
Above: Remix encompasses a similar concept, that being swapping out 1 layer, or color for another. My previous solo show ‘JetSet’ in Melbourne had a similar style but instead of using wood I ‘remixed’ paper. For JetSet I would screen print the same image of say Marilyn Monroe in 6-8 different colors onto paper. I would tear each paper and then re-position them together to get 1 final image made up of 6-8 different colors. Remix is similar but more evolved. With the Remix show I did so much pre-design work on the computer I knew just exactly how each piece would turn out. I had married each wooden board with another then made sure the cuts were the same, and the colors all worked out. The design on the computer is exactly how it looks when it’s finished. I feel very accomplished with Remix and how I’ve made a plan of attack and carried it out to completion.
1xRun: What strides do you feel you’ve made with this work?
Above: I feel doing this show It’s allowed me to break out into being more abstract, and colorful. I’ve been gravitated towards moving into dissecting the arrow icon. Breaking it into pieces, and then smaller pieces and becoming more abstract.
This process has allowed me to experiment and learn from ‘mistakes’ I’ve made. What works good, what works better. Essentially since doing this show I’ve got even more ideas for my upcoming solo shows.
1xRun: What is unique about this work compared to your previous works?
Above: In a sentence I’d say the curvaceousness of this show is unique. So many beautiful curves.
1xRun: This is your first solo show in 5 years, why did you choose Detroit?
Above: I first was in Detroit 10 years ago in 2004 hanging my wooden arrow mobiles. Last year in 2013 I spent 3 weeks here and was so attracted to the raw energy here. I noticed that so much had changed in Detroit, for good and bad. It was remixed and remixed again during the 9 years I was away. Inner State Gallery and 1xRun proposed me to do a residency here. I really enjoyed the idea and the fact I could spend more time in this great city. I feel making the debut of Remix in Detroit is a perfect fit as both the city and my works are both going thru dynamic changes and growth.
1xRun: Tell us about the first time that you visited Detroit, when was that and how long did you stay?
Above: I first came to Detroit in 2004. I was doing my USA tour of traveling around the United States hanging wooden arrow mobiles from overhead power lines. I remember vividly the first time hanging arrows in downtown Detroit at night. It was like Gotham city with virtually no street lights, boarded and abandoned buildings everywhere, and the worst road conditions I’ve ever seen. I really enjoyed this rawness. I stayed here in Detroit at that time for about 4 days hanging arrows during the night, then during the day documenting them and exploring the city.
1xRun: What was your impression the first time you visited the city? When was the next time you visited the city?
Above: Left behind. Last year in October 2013 I stayed here and in Canada for a project for 3-weeks.
1xRun: As you wrap up a 3 month residency here what is your impression of the city as you leave Detroit?
Above: I’ve been fortunate to travel the world extensively during my life. I would say that Detroit has this certain charm, underdog, rawness, left behind, but most of all optimistic energy about the city. There is so much transformation going on right now. If I was living in the United States I would choose to live here in Detroit. No questions asked.
1xRun: For the unfamiliar give us a bit of a background on your career, when did you first start creating art?
Above: I was born and raised in California. I started painting on freight trains with my skateboard friends when I was about 16. It got really serious when I was 18. I saved up money working as a dishwasher at a restaurant and I moved to Paris, France. I changed my focus from writing the letters A-B-O-V-E to what is now the Arrow Icon. This was in 2000 and at that time “Street Art” wasn’t even a term or style. It as just a handful of people doing illegal art in the street but with either an icon or a character. Since then I’ve been able to travel the world being invited to paint in over 60 countries around the world. I’ve been fortunate to be living solely from my art since 2008, the same year the financial crisis hit. I’ve been lucky and fortunate to have such great support and wide fan base around the world.
1xRun: How did the name Above come about?
Above: It stems from the mentality and challenge to ‘Rise Above’.
1xRun: Any other monikers you went through before landing on Above?
Above: Yeah, too many and nothing worth talking about, haha.
1xRun: Tell us about the arrow as an icon for you, how did that come about?
Above: It all came about from an experience at the train yard. I had painted a train with my name Above in traditional graffiti letters.
I finished the piece and went home. A few days later that same train happen to be going by as myself and other traffic waited. I noticed my piece from the colors I used but I couldn’t read anything on it. I thought to myself. If me, the person who made this can’t even see, or understand the piece.
1xRun: Who are some of your earliest influences?
Above: Growing up in San Francisco at the time I did was epic to say the least. in the Mid 90’s in San Francisco it was one of (if not the epicenter) of graffiti. The streets were so hot and alive.
So many talented writers that today have transitioned into much more. My major influence was and always has been Barry McGee or Twist. His can control, characters, letters, abstract works, and basically everything he creates was and has been a big inspiration for me. Frank Stella, Bridget Riley, and film maker Wes Anderson.
1xRun: You’re known to have a tireless work ethic, what have some of your personal favorite projects been in the last few years?
Above: I was in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago and I visited an impoverished township. Faith47 and DalEast and I were painting in this rundown township and the local children were in awe of us. They just couldn’t believe a can of paint and person could do what we did. I was equally impressed by these children and their curiosity.
I conceptualized a project called UBUNTU – https://vimeo.com/63267661 – that I could do with them being the main focus and creators. I noticed literally 100’s of car tires all around the area we were painting. The concept was to collect the tires, prime them white and then have each child color the tire in a solid color from the spectrum.
I’d say 97% of these children never held a paintbrush and for them to paint a tire a solid color was a big accomplishment. It gave them all a spark that they can create and make art. Then the concept was to stack up all the tires in a colour spectrum to symbolize the unity of each color. The harmony of how all the colors together can unite and make 1 bigger piece. Symbolic of South Africa’s apartheid, racial segregation, and now it’s unity. The time spent working with the children and seeing their faces light up when painting was priceless. I still remember many of their faces today when I think about the Ubuntu project.
1xRun: On that same note you seem to travel non-stop, what are some of your current favorite cities and why?
Above: This is a question I get frequently. Yes I travel very frequently and live my life to do this. I absolutely love traveling to new cities. I measure success in different ways than most. I’d rather have visited 10 countries instead of having 10 million dollars. The experiences I have during these experiences are what my life is about. Some cities I really enjoyed for various reasons would be in no particular order, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Rio De Janeiro, Mexico City, NYC, Paris, Reykjavik, Bucharest, Istanbul, and Detroit!
1xRun: As this show wraps up what are your plans for the rest of the year and early 2015?
Above: I should say that I’m going to chill out and sleep or something like that. However I’ve got a fire inside having done Remix. There have been so many radical breakthroughs in this process. I have so many new ideas and processes I want to test, explore and dive right into
I’m going to be returning home to London and jump into exploring more.
1xRun: Anything else that you want to touch on that we didn’t address?
Above: Just would like to thank Inner State Gallery, 1xrun, and my assistant Jonny Alexander for all of your support. Without any of your support this would not be possible. I’m most grateful! Cheers!
1xRun: Where else can people find you?
Above: Website – www.goabove.com
Faceboook Fan Page – www.facebook.com/goabove
Instagram – @abovestudio