The birthplace of the punk group, Eskorbuto among others, Euskadi has always been famous for being the part of Spain where its inhabitants take their lives to the limit. And it’s there, where everyone knows who Alive is; an impulsive writer that life took its toll on. Alive’s daily struggle has led him to gradually regain some mobility and his desire to get better is an example for all of us to follow. So, dedicating an interview to him was a score we finally had to settle.
When did Alive begin to paint and within what context?
I started in 1995, mostly just to have a good time with my friends because back then there were no ideals or any sort of movement that we were painting for. There was already people painting though very few, but there was, and when I saw that new stuff it hit me so hard that I had to be a part of it.
I began painting with a friend, and we were both working on a drawing for three months! In the end we made something different to what we’d planned but it was still so great to have a nice time. Then eventually it became a competition in itself.
Did that occur when Kapi went to Algorta?
Well, Kapi, Moockie, and Musa painted before… and they were a part of what made me pay attention to graffiti. We started painting and the techniques weren’t that great until a kid started selling paint in his father’s shoeshop.
From then onwards did more people start painting?
Actually, we were all the same group of people. But since that kid started selling paint, the legendary MTN Classic cans made some writers who had painted but were painting very little, resurrect, and they began to paint more. So, being the few of us that we were, it seemed like there were more of us.
All of this happened in the Getxo neighborhood of Algorta right? Not in Bilbao so much?
Of course, I started at 15 years old and back then you generally did stuff in Getxo. We were in the outskirts of Bilbao.
Why did you decide to write graffiti?
Actually, it wasn’t a decision. A friend and I used to walk by a Sportive Club. in Guecho, the one in Romo, and it was something that called our attention. We just sat there looking at it as if we had nothing better to do. After seeing it so much one day we decided to get down to work and we went to his house to sketch and everything.
Where did you get paint from before the Escape shop opened?
At Anton Pharmacy. And it wasn’t exactly because it was the best place, Felton hadn’t even made it there yet. It was Spraycolor, a really watery paint. And painting with it was a struggle. But even then, the best thing about it was the satisfaction of having had a good time even though the result didn’t turn out that well.
But it kept getting better, right?
Yes, when Montana Colors arrived it was like a new world had opened up. The first color I bought was Caribbean Blue in a Classic can. I remember it because I did a tag on the front door of my house, and it was the only one I did in my town.
“Leaving Bilbao was like traveling to another continent.“
What is the thing you like most about graffiti?
Well, what I like the most, or what I liked, seeing as though I’m not linked to the graffiti world anymore, was meeting up with people. Talking about battles and the good vibes, although I was quite particular about painting.
Also, it was nice because you’d go to another city and they would tell you about what had happened there. Leaving Bilbao was like traveling to another continent.
Have you travelled much?
No. I went to Barcelona a lot and made a lot of friends there, among them was a girl called Musa.
I really liked the way the people at Bunker Store treated you, which back then was Barcelona’s graffiti shop. I say the way they treated me, because usually I ordered via mail and they would give me a bunch of zines. Thanks to them I got to know much about the graffiti world; they gave me the tool to find out what was happening in other places.
And from Bilbao?
Hahahah, there’s not much quality here…
Have you belonged to any crews?
Yes, I was in a crew called H49.
What did it stand for?
It was a policeman’s badge number. One day, that policeman came over and seized my paint and told me, “Go down to the town police station and ask for the cans. So, I went down the next day and they didn’t want to give them to me. The girl in the office asked me who had taken them away from me, so I gave her the description. She said, “Wait, I think I know who it is”, and spoke over the phone, “listen, H49, someone’s come here to ask you to return some cans…”. So the name was engraved in my head. Obviously they didn’t give me the cans back. But that same night, with the people I usually met with to paint (Bite, Joker, Fluor…), we went all over Algorta and covered it with H49 so that when they did their rounds the next day, they’d see it everywhere. So that’s how it came about.
Later on, while doing a painting trip to Vitoria, Bite stopped for gas and we coincidentally saw H49 in his car. I told him to roll down his window and started yelling, “H49, ASSHOLE!! SON OF A BITCH!!!”
Just that day painting in Vitoria, we decided to start a crew and the name that we thought up was H49.
Beyond what we can see, how has Alive changed?
I’ve never been a bad person (I don’t say that, other people do), but most of all, seeing as I’ve had a second chance, I’m more human. I’m content with little. And before I wasn’t like that.
I’ve learned to appreciate people. And also to be appreciated and for it to be reciprocal. I’ve had a lot of time to think. Before I always acted on impulse. That’s the biggest difference.
What are you reasons for painting and to keep moving forward?
Above all, because the people who paint call me up to go painting. If I didn’t have anyone to go out with I’d stay at home. People who are dedicated to painting canvases have lost their motivation to go out and paint in the street.
Where does the name Alive come from?
It’s a Pearl Jam song title. In the beginning I didn’t write Alive, I wrote Machine. I wanted to change it and make it more official. At first I tried out all the possibilities, (letters, characters, backgrounds, colors…) until 97, when I focused on what really motivates me: letters.
“There came a time when people were looking at my graffiti because of the phrases that I wrote.“
Have you had other names?
One summer, I got tired of doing the same thing and started to write, Ali-B, in a simpler way, bubble.
In the Alice pieces I tried to beat myself by doing the outlines straighter every time and aiming for perfection. Though in the beginning I just painted to have a good time, the time came when it became a competition, especially against myself.
And the phrases?
On each piece I’d write a phrase. Normally they were phrases directed towards my friends, and only those who were close to me would know their meaning. There came a time when people were looking at my graffiti because of the phrases that I wrote.
If you could have three wishes, what would they be?
Well, that there were less wars because lately things are looking dark, and for people to be more humble. That people would be more human.
“You must remember that in one second your life can change. Who would have thought that Alive would wind up in a wheel chair? But hey, here I am, with a smile on my face.“
And for yourself?
Well, a lot more money because I’m broke.
Last but not least, could you give us some advice that life has taught you?
You must remember that in one second your life can change. Who would have thought that Alive would wind up in a wheel chair? But hey, here I am, with a smile on my face.
Looking back at all the suffering in the beginning, now it feels like everything is starting to get better and life is smiling back at me. But above all, I’m happy to have a perfect mental state and be here living reality.
Photo credits: Tamara López Seoane