Graffiti, social conscience, and commercial jobs are not always compatible. However, sometimes maintaining this difficult balance is not only possible, but necessary. This artist/writer from Chile, Nessie, is one of the few living examples of this. Enjoy; this is a person with their head really screwed on right.
Pictures: Courtesy of Saile
For people outside of the South American continent who might not know of you, could you give us a small introduction about you and your first steps into graffiti.
My name is Saile; I call myself Iván. I’ve been painting graffiti for 16 years. I started when I was 12 years old, through my brother who was already painting in the 94-95 (they were all about 18 or 19 years old). Thanks to that, I got to know the oldest graffiti scene which was already really good. They were already established and I had the good luck to be involved in such a strong scene and get to know graffiti practically from the start.
Orate painted from the end of the ’80s/start of the ’90s, along with Nelson ‘Cekis’ from the DVE crew. Cekis had travelled during that time and got to know other scenes; he was a great influence for me, and the reason for my dedication to drawing characters and personalities. Then came the Gemeos in ’87. Seeing them also helped me define my path towards where I wanted to go. I already drew a bit when I was small, mainly caricatures of what I saw on TV, and once I discovered graffiti, I found a means to adapt these drawings and transplant them on walls. I loved wandering around streets and seeing these drawings on random walls and other surfaces.
Aside from the privileged few who had the opportunity to travel and get to know other cultures, and then return to their home countries with their experiences; how did graffiti get to Chile?
In ’97 there was already a store which had paint, Montana Colors being one of them, as well as magazines and videos, and a little community was kind of created around that. Another important point was the Mapocho Station, which was a meeting place for the hip hop scene in general, which was really direct and personal, because internet had still not arrived there. We all got together there and decided where we would go to paint; “Let’s head to the north part today”, and we’d head there with the guys from that part. In that way, we got to know people from different sectors. Foreign people would also go there to get to know the culture a little bit better.
So, Santiago, the capital, was the main centre of graffiti in Chile?
It was the first place where graffiti was seen, first place for the stores, and where the culture began to really get strong. Now, Valparaíso is also making a name for itself. It’s a more cultural city, with a more bohemian atmosphere, and lots of people go there, especially young people. It’s a bit like Barcelona in its infrastructure, small streets, and old buildings.
That was where you started the ‘Graffiti Porteño’ project, through which some of the followers of Montana World probably know you.
That was the official launch of 94 in Chile. Along with the Ministry of Culture, we did an exposition in the Valparaiso Council of Culture, and a big mural. From then on, the city was filled with party, youth, carnivals, and art in general. You could paint all over the place and there wasn’t as much repression of graffiti as there is now which, with the change of government, has lowered the intensity of the cultural diffusion a bit. All of those recreational activities have been disappearing slowly. It’s a bit like what’s happening in Barcelona now. With more repression and, therefore, less time to do work, bombing and throw-ups are more common, and murals are less common. Now all of the murals have been covered up, and only tags can be seen.
Can you describe for us the big mural which you did with Hes and Inti?
It’s a natural cycle, with a tree as the oldest character, the Goddess of water and lava, and lettering which Hes did, similar to that of the Mayan culture. All of it is supposed to represent the prophesy of the world ending in 2012. It’s all done with spray and plastic paint. They’re three separate ideas mixed together. It took 3 weeks to do.
Was it the first time you used Montana 94? How was it to use?
Its high quality was the main thing I noticed, and its coverage. I tried it just before with a bunch of other brands when I painted a brick wall that was really damaged, and you really noticed the difference.
Your generation was perhaps the pioneer generation for establishing professional ties with institutions and businesses with graffiti.
I think the doors were opened by the generation before us, but now graffiti is more fashionable and is being considered for design purposes more and more. I also think that the period we’re in now helps, where graffiti is seen as artistic expression in modern art, which makes more people interested in the culture.
How is that relationship with brands?
There are some long-term grant projects, with government institutions, where they restrict the money a bit more, and then there are other more commercial jobs and short-term concrete projects. You can also work via agencies, which is how it is with my work with Adidas. They look to me as a personality of national graffiti, so every time there’s an event, they look to me and my group. Now I work directly with Adidas.
You said that you used to draw, even when you were small. Is there anything that you did then that you still do now in your work?
Bombing, and the lettering are the essence of it, it’s what I learned when I was small and which I don’t want to ever stop doing. I think that graffiti is on the street; bombing, tagging, the trains, they’re all what makes it graffiti. That’s what graffiti is to me. What I do now when I work with brands is something to assert myself in the system. I wouldn’t like to have to work in an office in front of a computer.
You pick up new things every day. In the beginning, my technique was very basic and the characters were what established my style; as time went on, I evolved with it. It’s hard to maintain something from the beginning; even those characters have changed as I strove to do something different to what everyone else was doing. This has made me search for new things every year. Maybe I have maintained a style of character more similar to comics, playing with the commercial side in comparison to what I do on the streets which is a bit more crazy.
Your current characters are known for their geometrical lines and forms…
For a while, I really searched for the symmetry and geometry in forms. I found what I was looking for, and applied it to the characters.
And how did you reach this style?
I learned it through experiences, traveling, things unrelated to graffiti which I saw and which crossed my path in life. I like art in general, I don’t like to just box myself into one scene. All cultures can help us to improve as people.
Of the things you’ve seen, what most caught your attention at the beginning and now?
At first, the technique and style. Now I’ve realised that graffiti is beginning to try to communicate political and cultural themes. It’s what I try to do now; communicate messages, instead of getting wrapped up in ego.
And when you’re doing a shared mural with other people which is more about the lettering?
In that kind of situation I can’t really communicate anything, so I work on the harmony, the different combination of colors. When it’s a big mural, you can communicate all kinds of things, you’re not just limited to creating one idea. I also like it technically because you can work in greater detail and introduce lots of elements. In the centre of Santiago and the surrounding areas, it’s not too hard to paint big murals without permission.
How do you organize yourselves in the crew when it’s time to paint?
We all work individually, because we each have different sponsors, but the group support is always better. Together, we tend towards larger productions. Right now, Stgo Under Crew is made up of Fisek, Ches, Inti, Sidelab, La Robot de Madera, El 78 as photographer, and me.
We all have very different styles. We met each other when we were younger, ‘cos we’re all from the same southern part of the city, and we soon came to realise that we could be a strong team because of that. With time we became more and more confident and when we took on large murals, each one of us knew that the other one was going to do a good job without having to make it happen. It all came together really well.
If you’re consistently good, people notice, and this feeds the graffiti scene.
How have you viewed the introduction of different paint brands since the beginning of graffiti?
At the start, there were national brands. With the paint not being very good and without much coverage, it made you have to work your technique. You are more conscious of the fact that they’re more watered-down paints while you’re doing the design.
Without internet and very few magazines, each of us had a very different style which developed independently and personally, maybe into a more ‘South American’ style. At that time, you could get some photocopies in black and white of magazines, so you couldn’t even tell what colors they were using.
When we didn’t have the colors that we needed, we’d take a can from a national brand and a can from an international brand like Montana Colors, and mix them both with a Bic pen. We’d always mix the paint one day before painting.
So, could you say that back then it was 50% ingenuity and 50% creativity? And now, maybe it’s more like 100% creativity?
Maybe creativity has been lost a bit with the arrival of the internet, good paint, and a lot of style influence from abroad which younger artists have been using as a reference.
So, the complicated thing now is being original?
Before, you couldn’t look too far out of your own backyard. There was more creativity and each person had to reach their own style. Now, it’s easier to find information.
We’re now starting up with new distribution in Chile. When was the first time you heard talk of Montana Colors?
The first time I heard about the brand was around ’97/’98, in the first stores in Santiago. With new distribution, it’ll now be able to get directly to the graffiti scene.
What do you look for from a paint brand?
That it’s made for graffiti and not just for sales. That’s what differentiates the brands.
This video which we recently made in Barcelona was to launch the Montana in Chile with STGO UNDER crew. How was the experience?
It was great! From a young age, you’d always see the Montana brand, and the chance to work with the brand was like a dream come true. Feeling supported by the brand, and feeling recognition from Barcelona feels great, because it means we’re going things well.
The fact, as well, that the brand is Spanish and that we share the same language brings us all closer too, no?
It’s like being right at home. You can create better relations that way, and it’s all more fluid.
Does the fact that you’re South American comes across in your creations?
I think so. The South American style is kind of more happy, more fun… maybe because of the color, of the mix of colors, the South American ‘sabrosura’ (tastiness), the folklore, etc…
Mixing art with graffiti made it evolve from the classic style into thousands of different styles.
What’s your opinion of the styles of other countries which surround Chile?
Brazil is great because of the quantity of people it has, as well as the different styles you find there. Argentina is best for the train scene, and amount of train lines it has. Maybe there’s not so many murals, but there’s a great scene for graffiti bombing. All of the countries now are good in their own way, even smaller countries with less people, like Peru, Venezuela, and Columbia. But mainly Argentina, Brazil, and Chile are noteworthy.
Do you think of yourself more as a graffiti writer or a graffiti artist?
Both, I think. I divide my time between both, and I try to differentiate between them. I don’t want to stop being a writer, because I don’t want to lose the respect of the writers, and I’ll always be a writer until I can do it no longer. I see being an artist as an opportunity, a way of life. Four years ago, I chose it as a path in life, and I am dedicated to that professionally. Since I was small, I knew that it was what I wanted to do, and dedicate myself to that knowledge.