A conversation with SKIRL, December 2021
SKIRL has visited us in September 2019 as participant in our artist in residence program and Rekonstrukcija street art festival. During his short stay he was literally painting minimum one wall per day – while doing our best to follow up on this rhythm, everyone in our team got blasted by the creative drive, life philosophy and gentle energy of this nice guy. His paintings of organic curves, resembling something halfway between letters of an ancient civilization manuscripts, mutated shapes of yet unknown print-animals and medieval print graphics, easily get engraved in imagination and perception of a spectator to stay there forever. Unmistakably authentic, somehow familiar but yet very fresh and progressive style of this artist has been spreading over the walls worldwide with amazing speed lately. We took a moment to ask SKIRL few questions about his work, his worldviews and methodologies at the end of 2021. From his favorite sea animal, to the reflections on development of graffiti/street art scene in Austria, SKIRL was generous and kind to give us lots of insights into his personal and professional universes.
Intro, questions and transcript by Vladimir Palibrk
VP: Can you describe one day in the life of SKIRL?
SKIRL: I wake up in the morning, I go to shower and to toilet and brush my teeth, then I go out to the bakery, I take chai tea latte, and then I take a walk in the park for one hour, sometimes max two hours in the Schlosspark Schönbrunn here in Vienna. Then I go back home and then I start working: I have different stuff to do every day, whether it is indoor works, household, painting canvases, paper work, meeting up with the graphic designer to make designs, whatever it is on the list to do, meeting up with clients..i do not work every day but I work a lot in this period and very hard. I eat really good lunch, and in afternoon I resume working or meet with friends. In the evening most active time happens, I go to sleep early again, this is a normal day. I work all day and actually to be honest I enjoy it.
VP: That’s a quite disciplined routine. In your personal perception, time spent painting walls vs time spent doing other things – what would be the proportion, what do you do more?
SKIRL: Other things, of course. Because I paint very fast. It’s everything around, preparations, etc. that takes time. I make also different stuff now at the moment, I work with fashion companies etc, but when it’s just about working on walls or paper i would say its 20% painting and 80% everything around it…
VP: Did you count and write down number of murals you painted so far?
VP: When did you stop counting?
SKIRL: I never counted. Because I started with classic graffiti and I did many pieces, I never took pictures of all of them, it went from the graffiti pieces to the murals in some cross-fading, so even if I wanted to count it’s actually impossible to determine when I actually started to do murals, you know.
VP: I suppose that’s going to be a big headache for art historians one day, it will be very blurry and hard to discover/reconstruct all these things and details they are usually interested in – like who went where/met who/painted what/when/what they did together, how the influence was passed…
SKIRL: Yeah maybe. I guess the digital documentation that artists are doing these days is really going to help art historians in the future.
VP: Yes, or some digital forensic methodologies.
SKIRL: Yes that’s going to be used for sure..
VP: Do you watch movies?
VP: You don’t have a favorite movie since ever?
SKIRL: I like this movie Apocalypto, from George Clooney..
VP: That’s George Clooney? Or.. I thought it was Mel Gibson?
SKIRL: Ah yes man you’re right, Mel Gibson.
VP: Wait maybe that IS George Clooney, but he did some kind of plastic operation and took face of MG for this film..?
SKIRL: As you can tell already I have no idea about movies because I don’t watch any…the only movies I have watched I watched in a plane.
VP: To go back to Apocalypto, can you tell us what exactly in this movie attracts/fascinates you?
SKIRL: The authenticity, and the irony. Because you see this guy from this ancient civilization, and you see him going through really the hardest times of his life, he is very brave and going through really hardcore life lesson, and in the end, when he is achieving all his goals and he is rescuing his wife and his kid and they seem to be “happy ever after”, you see the Spanish conquistadors ship appearing in the background on the horizon. And if you have some historical knowledge then you know these are the last happy days for these people anyway. It’s really crazy, I was crying, laughing, screaming and going crazy on this movie and this is what makes it a really good movie.
VP: How important for you is the environment in which you are living?
SKIRL: Very important. I love to feel safe in the space where i live, where everything is arranged the way I want it to be. I like stuff being organized, I have looots of pot plants, so I sit in my little paradise with my furniture and all my stuff… I’m really into things somehow…i got rid of many things on the way though while preparing to move to Germany, which didn’t happen in the end.
VP: How did that happen?
I am not any more with my long-time partner with whom I was supposed to move there.
VP: Sorry to hear that. How does that affect your work, the things happening on your personal plane?
SKIRL: To be honest, I had some two months period in last year when I didn’t feel like doing anything. I did have lots of archive material so I was still present on the scene and in the galleries with fresh stuff though. Then at some point the work started again because I had some jobs, really big jobs for some hotel where i made thousands of square meters wall space, and it was really strange because I had to really force myself to do it. Customer is very happy but I can totally tell that I did not like this during I did it, that I didn’t enjoy it. It really goes along with my mental health and my feeling about myself, because as soon as I start painting, these thoughts that you normally try to block away or try to overlay with something else like keeping yourself busy and shit, it’s not working any more when you draw, when you suffer the drawing is really suffering, for me.
VP: Recently with my flatmate I watched all Rocky movies, from 1 to 7 – it’s more or less same film, just being repeated scene by scene and shot again in different epoques – but usually you see Rocky at the end of the movie totally in blood, deformed from hits and punches, but he is winning, while hardly standing on his legs – so I said to myself, maybe this is the real face of the victory – you get punched, wasted, mutilated and partially destroyed on the way, it’s not pleasant experience, but the price you pay for being brave pays back sooner or later…you somehow remind me of this Rocky after I hear what you’ve been through recently. Huh, this conversation is going in many directions at the same time. Let’s go back to questions list: who was your childhood hero? Did it change over time?
SKIRL: I really liked Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles…what age in childhood we talk about?
VP: Idk, any time from which you remember strong impression of a hero/idol/fascination with some figure?
SKIRL: I think Michael Jackson.
VP: For what reason?
SKIRL: You know the “Smooth Criminal” video, which is shot in billiard bar, with all these gangsters and hot chicks all dressed up in 1930’s style, I saw this video when I was very young because my mom had it on the video cassette, and I really liked it a lot.
VP: The Al Capone era influence sort of..?
SKIRL: it’s exactly this, I think even came in the same years like Scarface and other big gangster movies of 90’s, I think it’s the same vibes..
VP: That’s a great remark, as none of these movies were a musical/dance film, and this is kind of a queering the genre..
SKIRL: Yes, just using the parameters of the same aesthetics..
VP: do you still appreciate Michael Jackson nowadays?
SKIRL: No, not really. Or maybe a little bit, I am more into early Michael Jackson stuff, when it was still disco and funk…this young Michael Jackson I prefer much more, not the white one.
VP: I guess we could wonder how would it look like if he stayed the same Michael Jackson from that early period.
SKIRL: I think we would only know that if he didn’t have that much money and didn’t become famous, but then we would know it because he would not be famous. /laughter/
VP: Few more trick-questions: if you were an animal, which one would you be and why?
SKIRL: /long breath, pause../ Hm. that’s really a good one.
VP: Or in a broader sense, which animals you appreciate?
SKIRL: I like most animals to be honest, most of them…i just don’t like mosquitos and ticks. I really like seahorses, the swimming cow, the really slow, fat dolphin things, I think the name is MANATEE, they’re cool.
VP: Going back to painting and art – you’ve been on the scene since a while, when you look behind yourself, what can you tell us about the difference between then and now, on any level this could relate to?
SKIRL: You mean for me or what changed in general?
VP: Would be great if you could answer both, thank you 🙂
SKIRL: I think In Vienna the scene really changed. When I started graffiti, hip hop was playing much bigger role in all German-speaking areas, but in Austria the whole hip hop vibes really went down in the last years…we have much more friendly interaction, people from the whole scene know each others, they write more or less friendly messages on Instagram, talk to each other, being in contact, meeting each others on the exhibitions and so on.. That was not the case when I was starting graffiti. People were not very friendly and not really welcoming new people to the scene, and they were not really happy if somebody new would start to paint the walls or go to the legal painting places or stuff like that. Also, with the train graffiti scene, it was really unfriendly and everybody was suspicious and everybody hated each others.. But as the people I started with grew older, and got more influential on the scene, the scene really changed. Also the new generations that came after us were more oriented towards this new way of treating this and seeing the whole thing… Starting graffiti now and being a new graffiti/street artist/or being interested in painting walls nowadays you have much more possibilities and many more friendly people who will answer your questions, personally or online, and would introduce you into this scene. It all moved more towards arts and figurative message stuff, still there is lots of graffiti writers who will do classical graffiti and write the same name with different colors on the wall, but the average of people who do something else on the walls raised, or is much higher than back in the days..
For me personally, it’s completely different from when I started. Now I have position where I can ask people for stuff which would be unheard of ten years ago, and I have lots of possibilities. My friends grew older, things are now maybe more easy to achieve but I am also interested in something else, I do not do the same stuff anymore.. I do not go to the hall of fame anymore.
VP: In your opinion, what influenced this change of mood? Was it the street art that got more recognized, or people changed..?
SKIRL: Yes it’s always same thing with subcultures, with different scenes and hobbies or interests that get young people together – that they have to make a new subculture, that they form out the rules. Because humans want to judge each other, when you do something you want to know if you are the best or the second best, and who is what and who does how much of what, you want to give points for shit… After one generation has set up the rules and played the game by the rules and everybody knows who is the best, who are the kings and who are the losers, then more or less the next generation has to make up new rules, because a new generation always has to find a new identity and they cannot just play the game after the rules of first generation, they have to bring it to a new level. And that’s why it’s just normal that in ten years also graffiti and street art scene is changing. The only consistant in the fucking universe is the change, so I think that plays the biggest role in why everything changed../laughter from both sides/
VP: What would be your recipe for adapting to change?
SKIRL: I don’t know, I am also getting older you know, adapting to change is much more easy when you are young, but when you find your ways to do the stuff and your partial solutions to your problems then it’s getting harder and harder to adapt to change. I just observe the world, and I am really into people, and I also observe what is happening between people and how the world is changing, because it is not changing a lot you know, it is just getting more and more digital. The functions and parameters of things are staying the same, it’s just taking over new roles from new things.. My recipe in adapting to change is I guess don’t stay still and never think you reached the point when you don’t have to change anything any more…You have to stay constantly busy and focused if you want to survive.
VP: Which music plays in your ears while you paint?
SKIRL: I listen to melodic death metal and black metal when I paint, mostly, Scandinavian bands from 1990’s and early 2000’s.
VP: That’s very interesting, I guess nobody would imagine that there is some connection between your work and that context, or you think it is connected, as something obvious?
SKIRL: Most of my titles especially from the walls I did between 2017 and late 2020 are the song titles from death metal tracks. You can google them and find some really really hard and angry death metal music.
VP: Do they know about this, the musicians?
SKIRL: No, they all are not active anymore and some of them are in prison…
VP: For what? Killing their band members?
SKIRL: Yeah stuff like that, killing or raping their band members…those are really serious people, I don’t even want to know if I want to have anything with them, but the music they do is really beautiful.
VP: Following up on this, what would be your top 5 artists to recommend to our audience, in any field?
SKIRL: I have one guy to recommend, he is drawing very very very detailed things, it’s the artist Ben Tolman from USA, then I would recommend music of, Metronomy, Mr Oizo, /as I said I don’t like movies but I did check some of his movies too/, then the Spanish artist I follow on instagram called Ampparito, and Nelio Riga. I also have this guy in instagram.
VP: What would be your advice to a young artist who is at the start of the career at the moment?
SKIRL: Try always to follow your heart, not the working concept that has proven to already work. Don’t do too many different things and wonder why it didn’t work, because if you just put three hours a month into something it’s never going to work. When you really get focused into something, you want to be sure with something when you will spend a lot of time in it, choose it always from the heart and not from the brain. If you choose it from your brain, as a concept that is already proven and working, and then you copy it, you should never wonder why it didn’t work, because it is already old when you start doing it. When you do something from the heart, and something that hasn’t been done or is not just a pure copy of something that you think is potentially successful, you will enjoy it much more and you have a chance to be a pioneer in something. Maybe you will not be successful with that then, but at least you did something that you really loved all the time…and when you are successful with it, it’s the greatest feeling ever.
VP: Did you ever imagine yourself in a role of professor or a coach?
SKIRL: No. I can do talks and that stuff, I give interviews, though.
VP: Can you describe one dream that you remember from minimum 2-5 years ago?
SKIRL: Many of them are nightmares. Most of the time when can I remember my dreams I dream more or less the same thing. I stand somewhere, and to understand the whole dream and the fascination behind it you have to know that I am really into maps and into birdview, so I dream I am standing somewhere and I realize that I can fly. I really cramp my muscles and I start to levitate and I fly away. So I am flying a little bit, and it’s really fun and games and all that, but at some point I realize that I can’t really control it, and I want to land again, but landing always happens too fast and I crash into some shit, and at the moment when I impact, I wake up.
VP: What is your favorite era or ancient civilization/historical period?
SKIRL: That’s really hard one man. Egyptians I guess man. I have extremely big knowledge on ancient civilizations in fact, I like Egyptians. Babilonians too, Maya, Inka, but I think Egyptians are the most badass from their whole visual style and to the whole structure around it. Their graphic and architectural solutions, everything looks fucking cool in ancient Egypt and still looks cool and impressive.
VP: I guess they definitely had very well made interventions on walls, that survived thousands of years /laughter/. So if you had teleport machine you would go to ancient Egypt?
SKIRL: No no surely no, that’s way too dangerous. I would teleport myself to Studio 54 and have a dance with some really good disco music.
VP: The closing question – what can you tell us about the future, what do you see in future?
SKIRL: Nothing, really. I don’t care. I try to have good time and I don’t think about future too much. I go out, I eat good food, I meet nice people, I make few euros, that’s all that counts.
VP: If you could choose, in which country would you like to be the president?
SKIRL: No, I don’t want to be a president. I don’t want to have so many people with different opinions in front of me and me being responsible for everything. I am already overwhelmed by being responsible for myself.
more photos and infos: www.instagram.com/sskirl