Da Mental Vaporz | Interview

We had the great opportunity to talk to French street-art collective Da Mental Vaporz, after their recent show at BC Gallery in Berlin (more info). Find out more about “The Wall” and the crew in an exclusive interview for The re:art.

Your recent exhibition, “The Wall”, at BC Gallery, was an opportunity for you to work together, in a bigger formula, for a major common project, since 2012. How was your experience in Berlin?

Our trip to Berlin was intense. Germany and specially Berlin hold a very particular spot in Europe’s Graffiti history and landscape, so we really wanted to do something special for the occasion, to pay the city its due.

Nick Bargezi, who runs BC Gallery, has wanted to bring us together in Berlin for a long time and he really went out of this way for us to work in the most ideal conditions. It’s his dedication, as well as Suben Management and Colors help, that helped us put together the best murals, installation and show we could.

Da Mental Vaporz, Berlin - BC Gallery

Photo © Phillipp Barth

The exhibition was complex, with both individual and collaborative works – illustration, painting, installation and several street pieces around the city, including your large mural next to the S-Bahn station Warschauerstraße. Can you offer us some insights regarding the concept of the exhibition as a whole? We would also like to find out more about the big mural – did you plan it on the spot?

The name of the show came from the picture BC Gallery sent us of the building they had found by Warschauerstraße station for the mural. It was so big and impressive, its surface so neat and flawless, that we all kind of held our breath behind our computer screens when we discovered it. That’s when we decided to call the show ‘The Wall’. The fact that it would take place in Berlin was even more fitting, the city being famous for the rise and fall of another, more sinister wall.

Da Mental Vaporz in Berlin

Photo © Phillipp Barth

From there, we thought that it could be interesting to work around the famous ‘Checkpoint Charley’ for our installation, though we didn’t want to do something too political or historical. It’s not our place to talk about these subjects too bluntly, our families never had to suffer from that part of the cold war. We wanted to stay poetic and a bit childish. When you’re a foreigner, the first thing that strikes you in Berlin is that the whole city is bombed so we started imagining a checkpoint charley covered with Graffiti, like the rest of the city. Finally, since the real checkpoint has become a touristic landmark, we thought it would be interesting to have the background of the installation look like a postcard, allowing the public to take pictures of themselves in the middle of it.

Da Mental Vaporz's reinterpretation of the Checkpoint Charlie

Da Mental Vaporz’s reinterpretation of the Checkpoint Charlie / © BC Gallery

For the mural, things went a bit differently. Initially, Brusk and Bom.k had worked on a really elaborate sketch where everyone knew what to do… until Blo, who lives in Berlin, went to see the spot the day before our arrival. When he found out that the wall was right along the train tracks, he convinced us to throw away those initial intricate ideas to do a huge DMV Block Letters, each one of us taking care of a letter or elements in between them. He was convinced that that of style would have the most impact in that location. We all started sketching again once we landed in Berlin. It really felt like writing our names on the train tracks when we were kids, only much bigger.

As a collective, you are defined by a variety of styles, each very sophisticated, while each member has his own independent approach, themes and motifs. What would you say is the core element that offers unity and coherence in this impressive mix and what are the symbols or themes that you usually work on together?

This is gonna sound corny but beyond style, technique and themes, the core element that brings us together is pure friendship. We all love spending time together creating stuff. Just like any other crew, we are all inspired by what the other members do. It’s a sort of healthy competition. Everyone in the Da Mental Vaporz has set the bar so high for himself that we all want to give it our best when we are brought together. Shutting down our egos, working as a team and always thinking about the general composition rather than just our style is the key of combining our love for letters, dripping tags, throw-ups, hyper-realistic monsters, sick flesh, dislocated dolls, optical illusions, futuristic abstraction, twisted children illustrations, chaotic installations and so on…

BC Gallery

The Wall - BC Gallery

Photos © Phillipp Barth

We saw a lot of works where, for example, you set up to create a figurative mural, and each member takes a piece of this figure and leaves his unique mark, and the result is simply amazing. When doing so, do you plan the structure – who paints what – or does it come naturally?

Though I’m not a musician, I think we function like a Jazz Band. It’s always a mix between planed out things and pure improvisation. Someone in the band starts playing a theme and the rest of us jam on top of it. When we set out to work on a project, whether it is a mural, a canvas or an installation, any one can come up with an initial idea that will inspire all the other ones to do something else on top of that first.

The Wall - BC Gallery

The Wall - BC Gallery

Photos © Phillipp Barth

What do you like most about graffiti and street art? What are your thoughts regarding commissioned works? What makes them different – the feeling, the experience?

Graffiti is part of our artistic DNA. It is what drew us to art in the first place, the grid through which we still see things today. For those of us that are self-thought, it’s the only art school we ever attended. Our love for the medium, its tools and its culture is something that we all share.

As for commissioned works, there’s nothing wrong with them, as long as you’ve fully experienced the other side of graffiti. To keep things interesting, the idea is that what you lose in adrenaline and raw energy has got to be replaced by size and ambition. It’s all about creative control. Spending 80 hours painting what you want on a building along the train tracks that only U-Bahn commuters will see has nothing to do with doing the same thing illegally at night with 12 spraycans… but the satisfaction you get when looking at the result the next day isn’t that different in the end. If you’re doing exactly what you love, on a much bigger scale than usual, what is not to like?

The Wall - BC Gallery

Photo © Phillipp Barth

What changed in the group, in the past years? Do you miss anything? What were your best moments as a collective?

A lot of things changed. We’ve moved to different cities or countries, some of us became parents, others dropped their jobs to dedicate their lives to this art thing… Sometimes I miss when it was easier for all of us to chill together or when all it took to do something were 6 cans in a backpack and a sandwich. As for our best moments, I can’t speak collectively. Individually however, my best moment with them was showing this baby (view video below) to the crew during the Galore festival in 2012, after secretly working on it for a year and a half.

Where are you heading to? When and where will we have the chance to see your next murals and works? What about your individual plans?

Who knows? It’s hard to find people as bold as Nick Bargezi from BC Gallery and as patient as Max from Suben…

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View more photos from “The Wall” exhibition

Find out more about Da Mental Vaporz on Tumblr and Facebook.

Keep in touch with BC Gallery on their website and Facebook page.

Thank you to BC Gallery and DMV for the interview, and finally adding this impressive mural, that we love so much, painted in France, 2011, as part of the Crimes of Minds event.

DMV crew