If the apogee of the graffiti artform is the hijacking of commercially numb public space to question, provoke and elevate the viewer into a higher state of reflective consciousness then Mear One is spraying up the cutting edge. Unifying the psychedelic truth of inner space and the multi dimensional journey of the soul with a piercing lament for the geo political genocide of the human spirit, his work shatters the barricades of daily reality and forces engagement with the archetypal issues we face both as individuals and a society. His spirit floods forth in paint, colour and sublime abstraction, questioning our existence, subverting our comfort zones and relentlessly driving the consciousness of the street into bitter realisation, the anger of activism and the transcendental exhalation of true unity within our collective consciousness. LSD caught up with the man himself for a quick trip
Could you please tell us a little about your background and your journey into art
I got my start as a graffiti artist in Los Angeles in the late 80’s doing vandalism, learning how to evolve my art through the graffiti form and practising and competing as an artist out here in America. Being a graffiti artist means that you have a lot of competition and it really provokes you to go places with your art that no school can ever reach or to pull unexpected bits of information out so that you can get the attention, make the noise or get the big bang that all graffiti artists are looking for. I think we all start out in graffiti looking for a major impact to get some recognition because we’re coming from the hood, coming from the streets and we’re coming from a place of poverty and coming from a place where you don’t really have a chance. In the mid nineties I evolved into a different head space after witnessing the LA riots and after going through years of gang violence in LA, being endlessly in and out of jail, dealing with getting beat up and watching the courts financially wrench the hell out of you and take all your money all the time. I think it caused my mind to metamorphosise into a new state where I started to look at the world very differently. I was raised by an intensely liberal hippy mother who was a deeply radical thinker in her own right and whose ideas and training went into me and started to emerge at this point in my life. I was waking up to what was really screwed up with the world and what was really going on, relentless oppression and this whole capitalism, money matrix that’s running the planet, and realised that as far as graffiti art went… It was great to put up my name and my crew’s, but I wanted to dive artistically into a far deeper message and I think that some of my first canvases began to reflect that. My message was revolution – don’t believe the hype, wake yourself up to the complicated world around you and take some accountability. I guess my art has now evolved into more of a story telling language machine that communicates ideas that we’re not always talking about but need to be discussed, and what I’m doing now is working on a lot of pieces that are either social commentary or politically charged and have some essence of the spirit in them that lifts us out of the mockery that we find ourselves in.
Speaking of spirituality, a lot of your work references eastern spirituality and there’s a lot of third eye’s in there. Can you give us a bit of insight into that?
Absolutely. A lot of my work also references western traditions, I’m very much into philosophy, psychology and theology – I find all these ism’s incredibly fascinating… Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Judaism whatever it may be. Religions and sciences enthral me. I’ve actually come up with a term called “ismology” – ism and ology fused together and that is effectively the type of work that I do. I incorporate a lot of fantastic ideas that come from philosophy and spiritual beliefs that are a huge influence to me and I feel that to express these philosophical or spiritual ideas is the most rewarding act I can take on as an artist, because when you are painting these things they actually realise themselves in your life and start to resonate within everything you do. It actually becomes in a strange sense, healing as an artist to paint this way because it’s the association you’re hanging out with. If you’re hanging out with your art all the time and your art is talking a lot of negative shit it’s gonna affect your head space but if you’re hanging out with your art and you’re really pouring some heavy work into philosophies and spiritual ideas that thousands of people have invested thousands of years into, suddenly you have a very powerful generating energy and reality manifested around yourself and I think that that’s probably what people recognise in my art. My overriding passion within this art form is to tell stories and to speak to people directly about whatever is hanging me up in the moment or whatever I feel is hanging the world up – quite often it’s both me and the world, all of us being held up by something and you know my biggest joy is to try to articulate that hold up. What’s blocking our lives? What’s fucking with us? And I want to illustrate that for people so that they can get a firm grasp around at least the conversation, at least inspire them to start talking about their lives and the world that they live in and the way that it’s politically or spiritually growing or diminishing around them.
Well that’s an interesting question! Should life be purely functional or should we enjoy it and get something better out of life than we put into it? I don’t know. I think that there is something spiritual and powerfully moving just in colour alone; purely in form and shape. But I do think that one has to have an understanding of something higher than themselves and something greater than their own ego just to be able to use colour in its higher form because we can use colour to match the couch and we can use form to shape the environment, but at the end of the day a lot of form, shape and colour around us just falls to the background. It has no voice, it has no entity to it at all and my goal is to try to invest as much of that entity, of that voice into my work as possible. You know I don’t think that everyone needs to dig deep into their soul and express their spiritual or philosophical spectrum to do good art but I do think that art should communicate and it should communicate something that’s worth communicating.
Has DMT or any other transcendental psychedelic had any impact on your work?
Big time. I would say that as a graffiti artist, my first time taking mushrooms changed my life dramatically. My mother was a hippy from the 60’s who lived up in San Francisco in the heart of it all, undergoing many of these experiences and it truly made her a different woman, a different human in my eyes and when I got the opportunity to take it I was really excited because I knew it was going to do something positive for me. It opened my eyes to things that people are just getting hip to now, like our connection to the earth, our connection to the environment and literally looking at science break itself down and a universal language form right before your eyes. Watching blades of grass open up to the sunlight and seeing photosynthesis taking place as plants express gaseous crystals into the atmosphere which capture water molecules turn them into gas vapours and clouds. Watching this process is something that everyone should do. Everybody should take a psychedelic induced trip in their lives at least once to open their minds up to the beauty of the organic universe…. A lot of people are like “what’s it like to be an artist, how do you paint these beautiful things, how do you express yourself?” and I always just tell people like if you want to feel like what it is to be an artist really go take some LSD, go smoke some DMT, go eat some mushrooms because the ultimate goal as far as I’m concerned is to be able to reach those places in the mind and be able to express them.
Is that one of the influences that opened you up from the vandalism to a wider message in your art?
Yeah. I had already opened up to a lot of this stuff but I was kind of on the fence – wanting to maintain my street credibility and my Hip Hop shit and all this BS that I was trying to live up to, when suddenly this experience slammed things into perspective for me. It made me reflect on the kind of egotistical, competitive, macho, aggressive energy that I was plugging into and enjoying so much. I mean it really was a great joy throwing bricks through windows and setting buildings on fire and getting beat up or beating someone up – this destructive shit was a lot of fun at that point in my life you know vandalising a wall and running down the street high fiving your homies and ditching cops trying to catch you and getting away with it I mean there’s nothing that exciting except the introduction to psychedelic journeys. They were so far beyond getting chased by the cops in LA or getting away with some expensive shit in your pants that no one saw you steal from a store. You just want to be the little mischievous character inside your soul somewhere, you want to go fuck shit up and cause some trouble and suddenly you’re stripped butt naked in front of the universe. It’s like you’re completely strung up on some universal barbed wire fence for the universe to open it’s biggest aperture and take a fucking x-ray look at you. There’s just nothing else that can be said for that – you come back into this reality and realise that so much of your fascinations and shit that you’ve been investing your time into is just worthless and that there’s so much of a greater, more wonderful, more meaningful life right here right now in this moment, and it’s so easy to plug into, you just open your heart and your mind to it.
Well I’m sure the world fucking knew the moment he got elected and a big Oh Shit! flew across the world!! But I yes I think that for the first time that sheer blatant disregard begged the question ‘who’s running the store?’ It was the first time I’ve witnessed the country saying “well what the fuck, who’s driving the vehicle? You know who’s running the boat?” That was the first one I got. The second one I got was “He’s not really that evil is he?’. And then the third one I got was “Oh that was the fall of the western empire?” A lot of people in the US run around and act like everything is ok but I think deep down inside we’re terrified. I think we’re terrified because Bush was just fucking blatant with what he was doing and I wouldn’t even blame him as much as I would blame his cabinet – he was just along for the ride.
Cheney and Rumsfeld have had a nefarious history and a full blown knowledge of what they were doing. They were never in the dark. You know Bush seemed to be in the dark the whole time, he didn’t really know what the fuck was going on, he was having a good old time but now that we have Obama, I personally don’t think that anything is better. I think Obama is a fucking piece of shit lying mother fucker. Just because we want to believe we had a revolution, we want to believe the first black president is this major change, we want to believe this shit is real but it doesn’t make a difference man. I mean they’ve got us all in check mate out here so and we just need to stop playing the game cos we’re not going to win this stupid fucking game, we need to throw the pieces off the fucking table and say there is no table, fuck this. But America is nowhere near its rock bottom either. People talk about America hitting rock bottom and now we’re on the way back up….. Bullshit. Nobody had to really tighten up their belt around here – it’s all a big lie, a sham and it’s all continuing and it’s all illusionary. We might as well all be on psychedelic drugs at this point – I mean it’s all one big hallucination anyway, so we’d be better off taking psychedelic drugs because maybe then we might be able to make some sense of all this
It’s funny you mention the fall of the western empire. Has imperialism itself changed that now people are voluntarily giving up their identity to MTV, to Levi’s, to Coca Cola, to this intangible dream.
Yes absolutely, you nailed it. I think that globally we are witnessing the new war. I mean we’ve been at war it seems with China for a while and no one notices. It’s a trade war and it’s also a who trades with who war and it seems like we’ve lost already because we’re broke on a global scale, no one wants our money. And yeah I think that the scientists and philosophers of this country who worked so hard for so long to protect the idea of western capitalism, the republic and ‘democracy’ have packaged it with marketing and advertisement so fucking well that they’ve made imperialism almost invisible. Everybody is taking high doses of this American toxic dream and they are falling asleep within it. I always say that the American dream is real only for those that are sleeping. It’s a toxic serum, it’s fucking Snickers bars, it’s Cadbury chocolate’s running the world, fucking Chevy and Ford and Nike and none of these mother fuckers are even in the USA anymore. They are all off shore they are all in another country so really, in a strange sense there’s a shadow government running America, it’s not even America that’s running the world or losing it’s grip on the world – it’s this shadow government which consists of the banking industries and the higher echelons of corporate corporations that exist off the coast of Miami or on some island somehwere. It’s insane that we all believe in something that’s completely fabricated, that’s completely false and empty. There is actually no American system left. I mean everything is black operations now as far as security goes in our cities and our country now, it’s all privately owned. We have private owned security firms that are running surveillance on our cities and while that information gets processed through the city, it ends up in the private sector’s hands – with businesses that are no longer necessarily owned by Americans, but owned off shore by a multi national cabal. What the fuck is really going on here? We thought it was big whitey fucking us all and suddenly we find out that there is a multinational shadow government in operation that consists of the IMF and the World Bank and all these people running around trying to preserve land in other people’s countries and prevent their natives from using the land, prevent governments from using their own land. This is the international, multinational IMF, bankers, fraudulent fiends running around in control.
It’s amazing to see this go down and best way I can share this information with people is to paint it which gives someone enough breath and enough space to back up and think. They don’t feel intimidated and they don’t feel like someone’s shouting a philosophy down their throat, an opinion, they feel that an idea is being expressed and it’s their duty to administer, to view, digest, take it all in and have a relationship with that piece for a moment. They move on, but later that night when they are taking their clothes off or taking their shower, getting into bed or waking up the next morning, if that piece sticks in their mind and continues a dialogue inside someone’s mind for weeks down the line I’m really pleased, I’m really happy because to me that is the greatest power of art, is to change and to facilitate change within people to the point that when it’s done so artfully that they are not even aware that it’s being done and that’s what’s being done to us. I consider that 9/11 was the biggest art installation we have ever seen on the planet. It was a very evil, nefarious, painful one, mindless destructive, no point behind it but it was art. It was pre thought out and it was brought into realisation by witnessing it. Art to me can go either way and the powerful message of art really comes through when it doesn’t destroy anything except for the way you see – it helps to build new ideas and it doesn’t hurt you in any way.
Are you optimistic that despite the more sophisticated methods of control, more and more people are coming alive?
Not at all. I don’t believe in optimism I believe in realism, I think that optimism is “deer in the headlights syndrome” – you can be optimistic until a car comes and takes you out. I think that the idea that we are going to overcome, that we are going to reach a point in reality where we say here is change is fundamentally flawed. Change takes place every moment and I don’t think that there’s going to come a point in our human history where we all wake up and get along. I don’t think that that is what being human is about but I’m a realist and I know that for me there will come a point where change doesn’t occur until you no longer need it to occur. So I think that whatever we’re going through right now will work itself out slowly but I doubt that we will ever see masses of people form a utopian planet where everything gets perfect and we all wake up and we can hug each other and we can say what a nightmare we been sleeping through but we’re all awake now. I think that we’re more complex than that and I think that part of our reality is based on the teeter tottering from destruction to creation and we exist somewhere in the middle. We need to balance it though because right now for the last hundred years it’s been extreme on one end and it’s definitely leaning further and further towards that one end right now. I feel like either we will experience change through a natural process or the earth will cover us in mud, and we will be just another civilisation wthat got buried.
In your work there’s a lot of apocalyptic imagery, is that a reflection of how you view the world currently or is that a prophecy of what is going to happen if we don’t wake up and start doing something about it?
That’s how I see the world currently. I feel like we are riding with blinders on so I want you to take the blinders off. Everything I paint happens… it maybe doesn’t happen in one painting all at once but you look around the world and you put about 5 or 6 different extreme events together in one day; it’s my painting. A lot of people wonder if I’m negative, am I having a good time painting hell reaping its course through our reality, but the hellacious visions that I paint are mainly geared towards those in society that are completely unaware that that shit is taking place. It’s designed to shock them in the hope that they’ll see their real life as something similar. My more higher thinking spirit work and soul work ends up speaking to people that are already aware of it, that do find optimism and joy and beauty in it and they are already in that head space. I’m catering to both sides but what I’m trying to do is bring them to the middle.
You’ve done a lot of album covers Was it Are the record covers you do just some band that want a cool painting that you’ve already done or was it an active engagement with the music?
Well it varies, most of the Celestial records that I did and the Hives work that I did and the work that I did with Freestyle Fellowship and Tre of the Pharcyde was honestly some higher level work. I’ve never really been one just to get hired by a record company or a movie company and marketing doesn’t work well with me because I think that they are the devil’s Most of my album covers that I worked on I was trying to work with the music, explain the story, listen to the words, what’s the message of this music, how can I illustrate this message. Sometimes it wouldn’t be that complex it would be that a musician came to my house and said “oh my God this is the piece that will be my album cover” and it would work out that way. There’s no rhyme or reason to that to tell you the truth and you know I’m not like the average artist who graduates from art school and has this very regimented business minded way of approaching everything where there’s a serum to my madness or something. My method comes from the heart and the way I take on a job is to listen to the music, drive around and listen to the music and paint my other work listening to the music and it’ll come to me, I’ll get a feel for it and what the message what are they trying to get at where’s this coming from and how can I illustrate that.
What does the street as a medium of expression and social connection mean to you?
It means exposure to the world. It means the public, it means society, social normality and the middle class. I have a incredibly wide reach when I hit the streets and my work and my message can hit a lot of people. There’s a lot of traffic going on, my mural becomes a form of entertainment or it becomes a bright spot in everyone’s moment of drag. They’re in traffic and you know there’s a mural so I try to play off of the streets and I let the streets be my game of ping pong, we’re playing tennis with each other or you know shooting hoops, you know I shoot one, the street shoots one, I shoot one, the street shoots one and we try to see how this communication is working out.
Well I don’t think that there is much separation between the two especially when you become awakened. The container that contains the contained is still contained within a greater container and so I think that it’s like saying do you separate the dancer from the dance. I think that waking up to being inside your own container is a big trip on it’s own when you realise that you’re not your body that your body is a vehicle and you realise that you are not necessarily always in your body even though you think you are. But then you realise OK, well I like my soul, in this body, in this world but I’m not only in this world physically or am I? I mean I can ask my friend next to me ‘am I here?’ Yes you’re here. You know if you really want to get brainy and crazy and get into some real deep thinking and think what are we made of? Atoms. What’s an atom? You know it’ a circular shape that we’ve identified under electro microscopes and you look at an atom up close and you realise that I don’t know that something like 98% of it is empty or 99% of an atom is empty and you start to really wonder am I really here then? Or am I just inside, is this all just a projection from inside? So I think that there is a strange relation , a dichotomy between who’s inside and what am I doing here and what is my body doing here? I don’t really separate them. I think that the true awakening takes place when all of these levels come together and you realise in a sense that it’s really your vehicle, your body that it’s the earth’s body, that this body is connected to the earth and that sends a whole bunch of other questions out for circulation like…If I am a soul and I’m operating this body and if this body is not mine it’s the earth’s then who’s soul am I? Is there one soul going on here through all of us, are we separate souls? I start to really get into some deeper ideas on that level where I don’t know those answers yet , those are the questions that really ring true in my mind and my life right now that I want to know the answers to and they cause me to do the art and the thinking that I’m going through .
Just back down to earth quickly… Current projects and stuff
Yeah it looks like I’ll be going out to Art Amsterdam and to Art Basel in Switzerland. So I’ll be travelling out to Europe this spring and I’m really excited by that to tell you the truth.I just wrapped up one of my better shows that I’ve done with em Bryce and Strauss and Carlos Rivera in downtown LA and we just did the LA art show which is kind of like Los Angeles’s Basel. We kind of stole the show down there and really made some noise. Currently, I have a team following me around filming my whole life, my boy Motion who has been following me for several years is working on a bigger film with a team of heads and they are hoping to have it done by October for the Sundance film festival so there’s a lot of stuff going on.
Actually now that you mention the film do you find it therapeutic having to pause and explain something to someone else that you wouldn’t necessarily articulate if you were just out on your own?
I never thought about it being therapeutic but yeah I guess it would be. I kind of see it like a lot of people say “oh that must be fun” and while it is fun, I do see it as an obligation. If I’m going to take everyone’s time and invite them to look at what I’m saying then there is this responsibility to everyone who’s “so what, what are you saying, you know you want the attention, here’s the spotlight, what do you want? “ So I guess I have to. Whenever I’m asked about meaning in a painting, I tend to say ‘here’s the canvas’. But this time I guess it’s more like ‘OK here I am let’s talk about art’. This is what I’m dedicated to this is what I do so lets really get into this and I think that’s the reality of it is that it’s an obligation but it is fun and it is interesting. Sometimes it is like “God can you leave me alone” We’re not really in the reality programme frame of things either we’re in a much more artistic state of how we’re trying to do this one so I don’t know it’s interesting and it’s another one of those things that’s new in my life and it’s working itself out and I’m new to it and so I’m still learning about it.
Has Noam Chomsky been a big influence in your life?
Oh huge, huge influence. His lectures right after 9/11 when he shared his thoughts of what he felt took place were very inspiring and I hold him and Howard Zinn and est in peace Mumia Abu Jamal who’s on death row in very high respect. I even hold Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks up there – I mean these are great spiritual teachers I mean literally Richard Pryor – I love him but Noam Chomsky is one of the American greats. His voice and his dedication to political discourse and his evolution from being a linguist to being a socio-political commentator is beautiful and I have huge respect for him