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Loving Street Art – Interviewing André Saraiva

Love might not be the first thing you think of when you think of Graffiti. During the early rise of graffiti culture in Europe, street art was defined by an explosive use of color, brash designs, and an almost anarchic-sense of anti-conformity. André decided to come at it from a different angle, subsequently turning the world of street art on its head.

Mr. André Saraiva’s “Love Graffiti” stands out for its use of soft pinks and baby blues, making it charming where so much street art is intimidating. There is an intentional sense of intimacy to André’s work, as found on countless walls and street signs. Instead of tagging train tracks with his name, André’s love tags are commissioned by loved ones and painted close to where they live, so they’re greeted by a happy piece of art every time they leave the house. André leaves a little touch of magic wherever he goes, slowly making our world a slightly more romantic and loving place.

Chris de Boer: Could you tell us how you first became interested in graffiti?

André Saraiva: In the mid-80s, when I was about 13 years old, I started to see these mysterious names on the walls of Paris. Very quickly, I felt that street art was an amazing form of expression and a beautiful game played within the city. In those early years, I started to scribble in abandoned yards to perfect my style and my drawing. 

Could you tell us about your first piece of graffiti art ever?

My mom often says that from a very young age, in preschool in Sweden, I used to always draw on the walls. 

From the get-go, your personal style and fondness of pastel colors clashed heavily with the powerful colors and loud bubble letter graffiti of the 80’s, what inspired your style and why do you think it stands out the way it does?

The 80s were the beginning of graffiti culture in Europe. As Europeans, we were creating our own language. Of course, some were inspired by the mega graffiti scene in NY. But I think we all tried to invent our own language and alphabet. I always thought that we, as Europeans, we should develop our own language and expression of individuality. I used the technique and the top rules of graffiti to create my own world, Mr. A, and the joyful color of pink, which most of the graffiti artists didn’t want to use.

You are well-known for your use of color. How do you think about color?

Painting in the streets was always about bringing a smile to people’s faces. So, it came from my smiley character, Mr. A. But it also came from using joyful and happy colors. Again, pink has always been my favorite.

Let’s talk about Mr. A for a minute? How did you create this character and why have you stuck with him for all of these years?

By the end of the 80s, everybody in the graffiti scene was using letters. So, I thought that the use of a drawing would have the same impact as a letter or as a tagged name, but even more inviting. Everyone could understand a character, one with a round head and a big smile, as a universal language. Mr. A then became my alter ego and my best friend, and best friends never leave you.

How has Mr. A changed and evolved since you first painted him?

Mr. A is a bit like Dorian Gray – he never ages. 

When you started out as an artist, graffiti was considered a counterculture bordering on vandalism, how do you feel the public’s perception of graffiti has changed over the years?

Graffiti now is part of our world. Most of the adults today grew up with graffiti as part of their urban surroundings and decor of their everyday life. I think people understand now that it is a free art. But I still think graffiti is not vandalism, but a beautiful crime. So I of course believe that it is a language that many people can understand and appreciate. 

You’ve grown from a renegade artist to a recognized icon in the world of graffiti, how has your rise to fame changed your art?

I still keep the same energy in my art. I never needed the approval or recognition of the people to make my art. I’m just happy that some people understand it, but it never changed why and how I do it. 

You initially gained a following with your street art, but you’ve now worked with several major brands and collaborations. Are you enjoying yourself?

Graffiti has always been about putting your drawing and your name on as many places as possible. Putting it on different objects is part of graffiti. It’s all about spreading your name. Collaboration is a big part of my work, I see it as pop art and as a way to make art and make it even more accessible. 

OnePlus is one of many brands you’ve partnered with over the years, what are some of the key differences between working with a brand and producing your art independently?

I like to work with brands that offer freedom of creation. OnePlus gave me a lot of freedom and it’s always fun when collaborations bring me new challenges. This time we made the cover for the phone case, where the drawing was 360 degrees as well as on the screen, so that was very exciting. 

You seem to be traveling constantly. Where do you feel most at home?

Anywhere I have my daughter, friends, or my team with me. I feel at home where I have people that I love around me. It could be Paris, NY, LA, Tokyo. 

Mr. A is a famously happy character, and your work often touches on themes of love and happiness. Why are these themes so important to you, and what drives you to keep going back to them? 

I think our world is driven by love. We all deserve happiness. Those are the values that make me wake up every day, and that I believe in. Spread love.

Your art has appeared on walls and street signs, t-shirts and phone cases, are there any places or products you still want to decorate with your art?

It’s always fun to see my art on objects. There are many that I haven’t done that I’d be excited to do such as a vacuum, tea pot, or an airplane. 

You have painted countless Mr. A’s across the world, do you adapt your art to the location you’re in?

The core of Mr. A stays the same, but I always adapt a bit to the architecture and of course the vibe of the city. Mr. A embraces culture.

What city or location do you remember most fondly as an artist?

Paris has been one of the most important places to create for me, but NY is also a very inspiring playground, and LA.

How long do you see yourself doing this?

I always thought there would be an age where I would quit, but as I grow older I see it as part of my life and that’s what keeps me alive.

What are common mistakes beginning graffiti artists make, and what should they do instead?

The good thing with graffiti is that we are a mistake. That’s what makes it so special. 

Street art is extremely public. What kind of role can public art play in a community or location?

Bring communities together. Bring creatives together so that people will never feel alone and so that we the people have a voice.

Are there any pieces you created that you now regret painting?

Never regret – that’s part of graffiti.

As an entrepreneur, as well as an artist, how do you balance your two passions?

They come from the same energy and I don’t really make a difference between my art and my hotels and restaurants. They all are creative processes, they just come to life in different forms and mediums.

As an established Night Club owner, do you try to instill your artistic style into your establishments?

My nightclubs and my art are very closely related. Making a drawing, painting, or mural comes from the same inspiration as creating a nightclub and bringing people together. They are all about crafting experiences around the idea of love.

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