Studio Visit with MRKA : Graffiti and Branding

“Graffiti and branding are the same thing; One is legal and one is illegal.”

BSA Contributor Rosanna Bach visited MRKA for a studio visit and they talked about the intersections of the street, the Internet, branding, commercialism, and graffiti. Here is what she found:

At 23, New York based Lucas Benarroch (MRKA) is like a lot of artists who started out writing in the streets – in his case the streets of Madrid. Often he collaborates with San Francisco based Nicolas Linares (NKO) and in 2010 they formed a duo called Pillasbros (or Pillas) and they have worked together on projects for “Secret Wars” in Brooklyn and in Wynwood, Miami. MRKA crisscrosses all mediums and medias as an outlet, whether it be his murals, graphic artwork or branding projects allowing his shapes, symbols and ideas to evolve organically.

“Machine Fun” by MRKA for Pillas. Wynwood, Miami. 2012 (photo © MRKA)

I arrive to his apartment/studio on a sunny morning and he opens the door fresh out of bed, but immediately gets into action mode. “I want to show this and this, and what if we take the photo over here? What do you think?”  I laugh. Inside the rather generic “cookie cutter” apartment I find a world of prints, paintings, and stickers…

Rosanna Bach: You work on the majority of your murals with NKO. Can you describe that working relationship?
 I like to work with someone because there are two opinions. There are always two heads thinking about where to put the next shape or where to draw the next hand or tree. Our styles are completely different; He is more into characters and I’m more into texturing and geometries and the balance of the whole — and that’s what creates Pillas. I’m going a little more abstract, Nico keeps me more focused. He’s a serious man and I’m a little more distracted, so it’s a nice conjuncture of two styles. In terms of MRKA I don’t know if it’s a brand or just a lovely percussion instrument. I don’t know what it is yet. For now I’m just doing the projects I think are worth doing like the project for the Wutang Brand or the “Pillas Submarine” I painted with NKO in Miami last summer.

“Pillas Submarine” by Pillas (MRKA & NKO). Wynwood, Miami. 2012 (photo © Victor Alarcon)

Rosanna Bach: What makes a project worth doing?
 You have to think about if you’re motivated for it, if you’ll enjoy it or if it will be a pain. The relationship with the person you do the deal with is very important. I just put a MRKA on the cool shit that I do even if it’s commercial. Doing collaborations with commercial brands doesn’t bother me — That’s how the world works and you’ve got to eat. But you choose which brands you do and don’t want to work with. I mean why not? As long as you keep it personally artistic and you do what you want and not strictly what the brand wants, you’re good.

Rosanna Bach: Tell me, what’s the Maraca (MRKA) about?
 Just like people who have put their logo or their symbol or their icon all over the place — like “BNE” for example — it’s just a way to get attention from people. And then you can do whatever they want with it; in his case he built a water foundation.  The MRKA is used the same way. You see it on a coffee package or on a mural or on the Internet. It’s like a hashtag on Instagram — a way to link all your works. I mean I feel like social media stole tagging from graffiti…. basically it’s branding.

MRKA “His House”. Detail. (photo © Rosanna Bach)

Rosanna Bach: But branding for what exactly?
 Consciously or unconsciously you brand yourself little by little. It’s great when they find out your work is not just little stickers and little tags. It could bring you an exhibition with five screens or a mural in the Bronx. Graffiti and branding are the same thing; One is legal and one is illegal. I’m not sure which is which anymore since everything in this world crosses over these days. I’m mixing it. One guy told me today you have to focus, so I did the opposite. That is what a MRKA is. If you open it you’ll see all the sand inside, those grains are my ideas and my exhibits and the mailboxes I tag and all the things I wish to do. They just move around and shake and suddenly some of them get together to make a bigger noise…and that’s when the joy comes because something is born.

Rosanna Bach: So what would you say your work is about?
 It’s about seeing a final physical product of my idea (He smiles). I love seeing that physical thing after I had a dream or a thought and two days or a couple of months, maybe years later, it’s there. You make your own little world you try new techniques new materials. It’s like having a physical Facebook.

MRKA “His House” (photo © Rosanna Bach)

Rosanna Bach: Street or gallery? Does it matter?
 I don’t think much — just do what you feel like doing that day. Because if you obsess over street or gallery, artist or designer, matte or glossy — you end up doing nothing at all. Don’t think too much, just shake well.

Rosanna Bach: Some use it as a chance to cast an opinion outward into the world.
I don’t do that. Mine is straight art, I just do it in the street. Because it’s pure art. It’s not street art as something profound or subliminal. It s more related to graffiti as here I am and it s related to the fine art here I am but I m not just fucking up your wall I’m doing it here instead of on a canvas and I m going to share it with you. The street is cool because you can go huge and you don’t have to move it. There’s no secondary intention apart from this is what I do I hope you like it call me if you need anything.

Rosanna Bach: It is just as simple as that?
 It comes from inside. It comes from the desire to do things well and just doing in general. It’s a reflection of how I like geometry and balance and branding and graffiti and how I put it all together. It’s about making a shape recognizable. It could be a circle or a square, it could be anything, but it’s how you use it where it can become something good. How high can you get this symbol? – not in the sense of fame but in the sense of how much can it involve? I do all sorts of things within the same realm under this umbrella. My MRKA is as simple as that.

MRKA (photo © Rosanna Bach)

New drawings (in process) by Pillas (NKO + MRKA) (photo © Rosanna Bach)

MRKA. Jack and Queen from Royal Flush Series. (photo © Rosanna Bach)

MRKA (photo © Rosanna Bach)




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