Late in 2016, Rone held his solo show ‘Empty’ in Melbourne’s old Lyric Theatre, the last event to be shown there prior to demolition. Between finishing the show and returning the keys, Rone invited a select few into the space to collaborate and beautify the theatre a little more prior to the wrecking ball.
One of these artists, Mayonaize, internationally renowned tattooist and calligraffiti extraordinaire painted and documented a mandala filling the entire floor space. He documented this entire process through both film and photography. Damo went down to Everfresh Studios to chat with Mayo about this project.
Damo: Could we initially start by you introducing yourself and talk a little bit about you background and your artistic practice?
Mayo: I am known as ‘Mayo’ or ‘Mayonaize, my backgrounds are in both graffiti and tattooing. I am basing everything these days off of more calligraphic approach and trying to push that lettering thing as far as I can. At the same time I am trying to not to pigeon hole myself, but it doesn’t seem to be working. It could be a bad thing… I’m not sure.
Damo: Why Mayo or Mayonaize?
Mayo: I was desperate for a new graffiti word. I used to write any words – words that had meanings or connotations I didn’t necessarily want to be tied to later on down the track. When I thought about it I realised that I didn’t want to get stuck with some word like ‘snake’ or something. I feel that some people have got words that don’t suit them. I watched the film ‘Style Wars’ and Duster said, ‘Graffiti, it’s like a game, it’s like here are your letters go do something with it.’ It really stuck with me. I came across the word Mayo thought I’d try make something out of it. It just turned out that ‘mayo’ was a funny word to use in graffiti, I kind of liked the word and the sound of it. Then I did an exhibition and this was how I was going to stop the cops from catching me, I was like ‘I will just call myself ‘Mayonnaise’.
So then it just turned into ‘Mayonnaise’. Instagram came along and I used ‘Z’, because ‘Mayonnaise’ wasn’t available. I kind of keep Mayonaize for the legal stuff I do and ‘Naise’ for keeping them them off my scent (laughs).
Damo: Why did you choose to focus on tattooing and calligraffiti?
Mayo: I used to be a skater and I got tattooed a lot. As soon as I got my first tattoo, I said ‘Fuck – I want to be a tattooist!’ I was just hell-bent on becoming a tattooist and dedicated so much time to that, until I started to really feel the pressure from it. Tattooing is quite a high pressure job, you got a lot of demanding things on you, new drawings, making needles, keeping appointments, blah, blah.
I needed an outlet, something artistic in nature, like tattooing, but without the pressure. I saw ‘Style Wars’ and was instantly inspired. I just went out and did shit everywhere until I moved to London and became really focussed on my tattooing again.
When I moved back to Melbourne I met some dudes from ID and got an art studio with them. Those guys were just painting flat out and we went nuts; track sides, bombings. I started off doing characters, portraits and tattoo illustrations and then I was like ‘I need to do pieces’, so I went back a step to pieces. Then I was like, ‘Damn! I need to do throwies’. I felt like I had pieces and throwies down, then I watched this video and there was this dude, I think he writes Deen not Seen, and he goes “You’re never a dope writer until you got a dope tag”. I was just like, I thought I was a dope writer, I want to be a dope writer. So I sort of got obsessed with tagging, and it just ended up being all I was doing. Now I guess I have just refined it, back to the bare bones.
I am just refining and resolving different styles and I am just trying to make sure that everything I do is more or less an unconscious effort, that it is all motor function and randomness. I like embracing randomness but still controlling it – not cooking it, keeping structure and form through my lettering.
Damo: I understand you moved here from Wellington, New Zealand. Why Melbourne?
Mayo: It’s just close!! Actually I’ll be honest – one of my best mates Chris Wood was a pro skateboarder and he came over here for a couple of months. It was on my 21st birthday and he was heading back to Melbourne – he was like “come to Melbourne, move to Melbourne it’s fucking awesome.” I really wanted to be a tattooist and was getting blocked, like no one was helping me out in New Zealand, I was like fuck it, I’ll go over there and see what happens. So I did – I had to paint houses for a year but after that I got an apprenticeship in tattooing, and here we are.
Damo: Here we are and now you are tattooing out of Oculus Tattoo in Thornbury?
Mayo: Yes, it’s a brand new studio – full of young and hungry artists, lots of talent. I’m really excited to be a part of it.
Damo: Cool, so the reason that we are here. The piece in the Lyric Theatre completed after ‘Empty’. What was the inspiration behind doing that piece?
Mayo: Rone is just an inspiring dude you know, supportive. He showed me the space he had secured for the show and I just said ‘I want to paint that floor.’ Within ten minutes of talking to him about it he had basically helped me formulate a really simple and strategic plan of how I was going to execute it. He had a couple of days after the show, I think it was three or four days, where I could just get in there and do it. I just figured out what I wanted to do with my pattern and kept it simple and then just fucking did it without really thinking about it!
Damo: You chose to document this piece with photos, video etc. Why this piece in particular?
Mayo: Because it was massive, the space was so beautiful and to have the opportunity to be able to paint that space was amazing. It was a controlled environment with black walls in the room facing the Rone background and just the building itself was amazing, I wanted to do it justice.
I didn’t feel the pressure until I first put my brush to the floor, then I was like ‘better not fuck this up!’ But once I got started I forgot about that – I knew what I was going to do and I knew people were going to be interested in it. Good opportunity to have a nice video too.
Damo: Can you maybe explain how you do something that big, when you can’t really even see it?
Mayo: Just practice and process. You do it on a small level so you know how it works. You do a circle here and a circle here – there are certain things, rules that you need to adhere to in order for it to work. Figure those out on a small scale and it is just a matter of enlarging it. You have to have belief that it will work, have confidence in it and know that it will look good at the end. Sometimes you doubt it after two lines of writing and you’re like ‘this is shit’ but you have to finish it and hope you were wrong!
Damo: Something a few people have asked me is what does it say?
Mayo: I can’t remember exactly. It’s a big roll call of the location, people involved, crews, some sayings. As long as it’s a word, and as long as I am not choosing the letters which go next that’s alright. For something like that, it is just an aesthetic thing.
Damo: Cool, so obviously that was collaboration with Rone to a degree?
Mayo: Indirectly, yes. It was his space and he invited me to paint in it. We quite often paint together – same location but different spots. The work complements each other so nicely, it ends up as a collaboration anyway, whether we actually painted two completely different walls or whatever.
Damo: Why is it important for you to collaborate with people?
Mayo: Collaborating is important, it’s kind of what got me into it in the first place – like the art version of golfing…you pack a bag and go hang out with your mates, do something together! I like collaborating because it brings something new to your work that you can’t provide yourself and in turn you can do that for another artist. It’s a great way to learn new techniques, tricks of the trade so to speak. I think that is is all part of a graffiti writer’s mentality too – to go out painting with someone else.
Damo: If you could collaborate with anyone who would you choose?
Mayo: Fuck it, I don’t care… Anyone! I guess like all the lettering dudes, Chaz would be the guy if I could paint with anyone, but if it was just like a character or whatever, I don’t know. As long as they’re cool and I like their stuff. I don’t like collaborating with strangers really – it is a way good to get to know someone, painting a wall with them, but if I’m doing a collaborative piece, actually overlapping, then I like to already know them.
Damo: You are considered a master across tattooing, graffiti and contemporary art. What do you want to be remembered for?
Mayo: I guess, I just want to be remembered for being one step ahead… and always doing what I want.
Damo: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Mayo: Something that springs to mind is just the whole misconception of tagging. That’s always something I want to talk about and it’s because it is the bones of graffiti. People always say they hate tagging, it is essentially saying they hate graffiti pieces too, because those tags are the bones, the essence of the graffiti base. Without tags it wouldn’t exist.
An analogy I use with people: I just say so you hate tags so much, you hate babies too? They always freak out they are like, what no I don’t hate babies! Then why you do hate tags – they are baby graffiti!
I like to talk to people about it and try to open their mind on it. Obviously the illegal nature of it gets peoples back up, but also because it alienates them – they can’t read it, so they don’t like it. I guess because tagging is done somewhere people don’t want it, they see it as disrespectful.