Martin Whatson is a Norwegian born and based stencil artist. While studying Art and Graphic design at Westerdals School of Communication, Oslo, he discovered stencils and the urban art scene. After following graffiti and its development, he started his own stencil production 10 years ago in the winter of 2004.
Martin has a continuous urge to search for beauty in what is commonly dismissed as ugly, out of style or simply left behind. He looks for inspirations in people, city landscapes, old buildings, graffiti, posters and decaying walls. This interest for decay has helped develop his style, motives and composition and he enjoys creating either unity or conflict between materials, backgrounds, motives and human intervention. His artistic expression started more political, but has developed into a more subtle expression blending graffiti, stencil art and decay together. Inspired by artist like Jose Parlá and Cy Twombly. His abstract graffiti and stencils are a mix of urban scenes showing the development of a walls lifetime. He use grey tones as a basis but add’s vibrant colours to break the monochrome concrete expression and bring a splash of life to his motives. Since his artistic debut in 2004, he has had several solo shows and participated in many group exhibitions, both nationally and in international metropoles like Tokyo, Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles.
Decompoz Magazine (DM): Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and how you came to start a career in art?
Martin Whatson (MW): I’m from Bærum, just outside Oslo, the capital of Norway!
Since the mid 90’s, I’ve been following the local graffiti scene in and around Oslo and spent most school days sketching and drawing!
After discovering stencils in the early 2000’s I decided to give it a try, since then I’ve gone from doing it as a hobby to working full time as a stencil artist. It all happened over a period of a few years. In 2012 I decided to go all in and do art full time!
When people ask me how to make it as an artist, the best advice I have is to take the leap. Go all in and you’ll succeed or you’ll crash, but at least you’ve tried!
DM: For someone who has never seen your art before, how would you describe it, and how do you want people to feel when they see your work ?
MW: At the moment I’m working with a mix of stencils and hand sprayed tags & graffiti. After doing only stencils for a few years I grew tired of that, as soon as you spray the stencil the work is done, so I wanted to do something more hands on. The idea is to show the evolution of an outside wall. Weathered backgrounds, Stencils/Street art, Graffiti and buff.
Contrast has and is still important to my work! Before I worked a lot with contrasts in the message, now I use colours, Black vs. White or Grey vs. colourful!
DM: Is there a difference in the creative process between the outside art vs. the inside art?
MW: For my work it’s not such a big difference. I try to replicate the “street” in my inside works, so painting outside helps me with the process as I really don’t have to replicate anything since the “street” is already there!
DM: Could you describe your creative process? What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
MW: As mentioned I try to replicate the “street” and much of my inspiration comes from the street. I’m using things I see, the evolution of a wall from new, to weathered, to painted, to tagged, to painted over. I find it really interesting that even though a wall is being painted back to its original color, it still has changed, and the work will forever remain under the layers of paint!
It’s also been important to me to introduce graffiti to people that normally would not appreciate it. So I’m trying to open my mind and use anything from Newspapers to advertisement and stuff I find in flea markets.
DM: How long does it usually take to finish a piece?
MW: This varies so much so it’s hard to say. Everything from a few hours to a few weeks!
I put a lot of different processes into a finished painting. From the background, to cutting the stencils and finishing with the graffiti. I also paint several pieces at once, making the most out of time between each layer!
DM: Is the city of Oslo, and more generally Norway an influence on your artistic style? If so how?
MW: I would say my backgrounds are influenced by Oslo. Weathered concrete color is something we have a lot of! Oslo introduced a Zero Tolerance towards graffiti in 2001 which involved everything being painted, quality or not was removed within 24 hours! The end result was badly cleaned walls and more tagging. Tagging would exist anyway, but I believe it put a stop to the artists spending time doing something properly.
DM: As street art is a medium that is also linked to its location, I imagine that a city and its culture also have an impact on a street artist's work. Can you describe the relationship between street art and its location?
MW: For me the location can often enhance the meaning of a piece. I love situated pieces, but one issue with stencils is that they are prepared in the studio, so unless you have the proper measurements, you will have to adjust the stencil to the wall. For me it’s more about giving something back to people. Whether it's one or one thousand people who see my work.
DM: Why the importance of seizing beauty in things that are perceived as ugly or outdated?
MW: It’s important for me to cheer people up with my street work. I’ve always been attracted to rundown buildings, “dirty” areas and industrial areas which have a lot of beautiful details. In Norway most rundown buildings are being demolished to build new apartments or industry, I think this creates a very sterile city and we need the diversity! Imperfection is something that really catches your eye and makes things more interesting! Whenever I paint, I leave or intentionally add these imperfections in the works for people to find!
DM: On your website it is mentioned that your art had more of a political stance at the beginning, what was the message you were trying to convey there, and how did that transition into the art you do today?
MW: Looking back I wanted to highlight what, in my opinion was right and wrong in the world. I think this is a phase most youngsters go through! Now I understand there are so many people out there that have more profound things to say about the problems in the world then I have, so I decided to head towards more abstract messages that are not so important for the final artwork! So the messages are still there, just not as ‘in your face’ as before.
DM: How has your art been received in other cities where it has been exhibited?
MW: Most European and American cities are quite similar, the big difference is when showing in Asia, and especially Japan. People are politely queuing to shake your hand, take a photo and ask questions about the art. They are almost more interested in the person behind the artworks then the artworks in themselves!
Online you have the occasional hater, but I have never had anyone complaining to my face!
DM: Can you tell about some past collaborations?
MW: I’m not really sure where it started, but travelling around the world, doing collaborations with my friends became very natural to me!
Among them I have done collaborative walls and canvases with Mue Bon and Alex Face from Thailand during NuArt in Stavanger and in Bangkok, canvas collaborations with Norwegian artists Dot Dot Dot and HaMa Woods, Japanese artists Roamcouch, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in his studio in Malaysia, walls, canvases and prints with Sandra Chevrier and currently im working on a duo show full of collaborations with SNIK from the UK! The thing all have in common is they were all made with people I known for a long time, met and admired their work! I often get asked to do collaborations with artist I haven’t met or know, and often have to decline because I don’t want to force it!
Expect more in the future!
DM: You painted a butterfly in a kindergarten in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, how important is it for you to do those type of projects? How important is it for you to be involved with the community?
MW: After moving away from the political messages I’ve found that instead of trying to change people’s mind, I can work on doing something directly. Be it projects like the Jordan collaboration with TOMS and NRC or donating works to charity auctions! It’s very hard for anyone to do everything, but everyone can do something!
So I’ve decided to do as much something as I can!
DM: If you had to choose, what would you say is you biggest accomplishment? What are you the most proud of?
MW: My kids is my biggest personal accomplishment! From an artist point of view I am very proud of all the charity projects I’m involved in, and showing my work on the same wall as Edvard Munch showed at in his early career is something that stands out to me!
DM: What is it that you are most grateful for in your career?
MW: I’m very grateful that I am able to help and inspire people around the world. If I can spark an interest for art and creating with one child I am happy! One of my main goals is to keep inspiring and making works for everyone to enjoy!
Also having the possibility to live from my art is great, makes me able to focus on it 100%.
DM: What are your plans for the future? Any projects, publications, festivals or exhibitions that you would like to mention?
MW: I have some big plans for exhibitions, no info on where and exactly what yet, but I have some cool ideas! Also I will do some more festivals and shows in the near future! Hope to get a few walls painted in my hometown of Oslo this summer too! But next up is a duo show with UK artist SNIK at MODUS ART GALLERY in Paris on June 9th.
DM: Where and how can your art be purchased?
MW: Im working with several galleries around the world!
At the moment most work is going to shows or being viewed and sold through the galleries. Blackbook Gallery in Denver, Galleri-A in Oslo, Thinkspace in L.A., Modus art gallery in Paris, through my print publisher Graffitiprints.com and several other galleries around.