Interview with a Mobstr – Pulling One Over on the London Buff
Over the past couple of weeks the feeds of my various (read: all) social media outlets have been awash with clickbait headlines like “An Artist Trolls London Into Painting a Wall Over and Over”, “Watch: Graffiti artist’s cheeky year-long battle with council over red wall” and my personal favorite “A Graffiti Artist Posted His Year-Long Battle With A Clean-Up Crew And It’s Hilarious’ (Yo buffers, someone form ‘Clean-Up Crew’).”
As it turned out, the person behind this work was well known London artist Mobstr – whose phrases have been decorating the capital for quite some time now. With the confrontational nature of graffiti wrapped up with the invitation of street art, his work provides a refreshingly honest perspective on the conversation of the ownership of public space, and occupies a perfect middle ground between the antagonistic nature of a graffiti born background and the intellectual musings of street-art.
We caught up with him to chat innovation, influence and viral reception.
Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit as to how you got started?
I’m some guy who works under the alias MOBSTR. If we were to go back to the very beginning I did my first work on the streets when I was 11 years old. I found a book of sticky labels, started writing quotes, thoughts and tags on them and sticking them up around place. I didn’t really do any other street work for a few years after that , until a friend showed me the efficiency of spray paint
. I became instantly addicted and that was that.
Do you find your primary influences have changed since the beginning?
It’s hard to say. I found that a lot of imagery in the world of street art was becoming a bit “same old,” and the recycling of ideas bored me. I stopped paying much attention to what other people were doing within the scene. The most inspiring thing I saw recently was the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A. That blew my mind. I obsessed over that for a long time.
11 years old is pretty young to start, what exactly do you think it was that first drew you to putting things up on the street?
That was a long time ago and so my memory is a little hazy , but I think I liked the idea of people discovering little musings hidden within their environment.
Did you try your hand at more ‘traditional’ letter based graffiti before you found your way to where you are now? If so, what made you progress from it?
Not so much. It’s something I do now and again, a bit like a hobby .
I agree that constantly taking reference from a culture you’re a part of can become a bit circular, the work ends up stale. What exactly did you find interesting about Alexander Mcqueen? Do you think it’s had a direct influence on your work? Do you find there’s a general theme for your influences? Or something that you’re constantly looking to explore within your work that they feed in to?
The Alexander McQueen exhibition fascinated me for many reasons. It wasn’t an exhibition about fashion; the work transcended beyond that. The work was so fluid, free, rebellious and expressive, yet at the same time was precise and conformed on some level. Writing about it cannot do it justice, it needs to be experienced. They recreated a box that was used in one of his shows and the ceiling inspired the square divisions seen in this piece :
I can’t say for sure where I draw my influences from. I think creative ideas are a melting pot of all the stimuli around you, be it the thoughts inspired by a book you’ve read or the pattern left by a bit of spilt coffee.
With this idea of discovering hidden musings in mind – your work seems like it wants to provoke conversation between the reader and artist, it’s like you view the urban environment as an open space in which there is a lot of room to play – a breaking down of barriers in how passers by interact with the world around them. Is this something you are keen on doing? It seems especially true for the celebrated ‘Red’ piece.
Yes, I think that is true. I like the idea of discovering something new and unexpected in your environment. It’s exciting to come across something novel that doesn’t belong. I think it’s important to question things and shake up the mundane. We hold a lot of respect for our visual environment, which is important however it’s a very small demographic that has any say in how it is shaped. I think that is one of the things I like most about street art – anyone can have a go.
Speaking of that, how have you found the reaction to that piece of work?
It seems to have been well received. Nice.
The fluidity you speak of in regards to Alexander McQueen seems to encompass a lot of your work, with various designs being used depending on the occasion. Do you practice any other kind of art outside of the stuff you put on the street? As in canvases, illustration etc.
I get my biggest kick out of painting on things I’m not supposed to , but I do enjoy the indoor varieties. Currently I am experimenting with painting onto screen print mesh, mounted on mirror and back –
lit with LED ’s. It produces a nice effect but also enables hidden messages to be painted on the reserve only viewable in the reflection in the mirror.
Given the way your art transgresses between mediums, what would you make of the distinction between Street Art and graffiti?
I think it would be fair to say that most freehand typography based street work would be classified as graffiti , especially when done without permission. I feel that the distinction comes from the attitude and intent behind the work. Graffiti focuses on getting your name up and marking your presence. It doesn’t take the general audience into consideration and is mainly only appreciated by other graffiti artists. Street art wants to change its environment , to provoke a certain emotion or reaction. It feeds off the response of others and although by definition it can be counted as vandalism, it isn’t on the same level as graffiti. I appreciate both forms.
Speaking of the fluidity and conversation inherent in your work, is there a wider fascination with the way people work? Have you learned anything specific about your audience from your time on the street?
I tend to interact very little with “my audience”. I imagine some people don’t mind the work I do and others take life too seriously. That said, I understand both sides, I really do. Maybe I just don’t care or maybe it’s that I see so much corruption in the way humans function I think to myself, “Why not?”. Without people there would be no laws – just reality. Laws are ever changing hypothetical propositions to allow us to function a little easier. As such I obey them with an air of jest.
To me it looks like a lot of your work is based on a gut reaction to the location, with the phrases fitting perfectly – could you tell us a little about your process?
A lot of work goes into scouting locations. Sometimes the perfect spot is due to the direction of traffic flow, other times it is because it is opposite an art shop.
Laws are ever changing hypothetical propositions to allow us to function a little easier. As such I obey them with an air of jest.
Within the graffiti / street art community, is there any distinct influences you can cite?
I used to be really up to date with new work and artists active in the scene but I am not so much anymore.
a lot of your work plays on the technological progressions in social activity (such as instagram) etc, would you mind talking about your opinions on this?
It’s a strange concept being so connected to everyone. There is a theory that our technological advancements have accelerated to a much faster extent than the evolution of human behaviour. As such, it could be seen we are inherently best suited to living in small trusted communities. However, the technology we have created allows us to live in densely packed cities where the majority of people you see day to day are strangers. Social media could be seen as the next advancement of this. This is not to say I am against any of it; I thrive off the chaos of London life. I see the benefits of social media but it’s on a personal level I don’t find much joy in it. . I signed up recently to Instagram and I am still unsure about it. I pay it very little attention – it’s a bit like an unwanted child.
From what you are saying, your work is humorous and opportunistic, existing in-between the distinct worlds of graffiti and street art – taking influence from anything at any moment in time, intent on using language in its own way to create something new. Are there any other areas of creativity that you would like to explore? that haven’t managed to find their way in to your work yet?
I have a book of ideas I want to try out but simply not enough time or money to execute them. As such , I tend to stick to the simple but high impact approach.
What seems to be coming through is an element of feeling estranged from the general public, you mention a sort of widespread ‘corruption’ in the way people act, which is a pretty strong term – is this something you could expand on a little bit more?
One example that springs to mind is the bailing out of banks in 2008. The Government steps in to loan the banks a tremendous amount of money to help them sort their shit out. The next thing you hear is of the ludicrous bonuses still being dealt out to the banks’ staff despite still losing money and being majority state owned. Fuck that shit. I know two wrongs don’t make a right but when you are presented with that sort of damage, it makes the “damage” of painting a few things on a wall insignificant. At least with the latter it has the opportunity to bring a smile to more than one greedy face. The world is continuously producing such examples and it breeds the attitude “fuck it, do what you want”. I’d never fuck the individual over and painting on things I’m not supposed to is the only crime I commit. Maybe I’m using all of this as an excuse , but it does make you wonder, “ does it really matter? ” Don’t get me started on public advertising haha….
Are there any shout outs / mentions etc you’d like to give or anything you’d like to promote?
A big up to yourself. Thanks for the interview.
You can catch more of his work HERE