Spaik (pronounced Spike) is a gifted Mexican street artist who paints the humble Mexican campesino, farmers and peasants who work the land in the bright, traditional patterns and fabrics of their homeland. His art illuminates their tough lives, fusing fantastical elements with a vibrant colour palette to honour indigenous rural Mexicans and sow the seeds of a new Mexican street art aesthetic.
This interview took place with Spaik in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where our interviews editor, James Buxton travelled to catch up with Spaik. Big thanks to Cuen, his missus and Redsun Selassie.
Mescal with a Slice of Orange
Spaik was the first word in my mind when I start to paint graffiti, it was an obligation to remain anonymous because of the police and graffiti is illegal. It was easy to write those letters for me. I like the sound of the word.
I started painting murals maybe 5 years ago, but I started to paint graffiti in 1999. In the last 5 years, just murals. I don’t feel that I am an artist. In Mexico when you say artist, people think of TV comics. People see stupid comics in commercials and other TV shows and people say “artist” because for the Mexican people if you appear on TV you are an artist. The concept of the artist for most of the people is if you are famous. I prefer that I am just a creative person; I don’t like it when people tell me you are an artist. Sometimes I use this terminology, but it’s not mine. But when I come to other countries, I understand this terminology.
I started painting when I was 14 years old. I was born in Tlaxcala, where I started to paint graffiti when I was 14, I just wrote my name in my state. When I was 17 I started to travel around Mexico and paint, I met a lot of friends around the world. I met some connections who helped me to travel to South America. Later, I had the opportunity to study Cinematography in Morelia in Michoacan. I had another opportunity to travel to South America and paint here. I participated in a lot of festivals around Mexico and worked with the government in a lot of important places.
I’ve only studied Cinematography, Cinematography is like paint, photography, architecture, music, it’s the fusion of art. When I started to paint, I started by myself.
A Happier World
There are a lot of meanings behind my art, it depends about the context of the piece but in general I paint a lot of colours because I want to have a happier world, a better place to live. I think that colours make everything more joyful. But it depends on the situation.
I’m influenced by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena, who’s brother invented colour television, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Hayao Miyazaki, Os Gemeos, Junior DNC, Joker DNC, Picasso. The harmonies in the colours, the forms, the structure, the equilibrium, the message, composition, they are my masters.
I paint Mexican people, that is my reality, I live there, I couldn’t paint anything else, because that is what I live, when I paint these characters I feel it is an honour about these people. I feel that Mexican graffiti could have its own personality, and identity and I am trying to establish the difference between Mexican graffiti from European because I want to establish the Mexican style. I try to combine elements to represent Latin America, because Latin America is very similar to the Mexican identity. I paint these pieces because this is what people identify with, because that is what they are living with too, when I paint the walls, I try and get a specific message to the people, so that people can understand the message. I try to make a universal message at least for all Latin people.
I have connections in all of Mexico and some places in South America. Cix is a good friend and a very good artist. Saner is a friend, Gota, from Oaxaca is a very good artist. In Costa Rica, Mush is a very good artist. Chuck, Anck & Vital from Columbia, 44 Flavours from Germany and Dash from France. (Apologies if I forgot anyone.)
I think my paintings are joyful and cheerful, I try to use these colours to make a smile from the people, it’s the principle objective. I think that it can be subversive but I’m always looking for a smile back. I just want to make people smile.
5 years ago the cops, instead of arresting me they were like a security for me, taking care of me, not always but in most of the cases. The still take care for me. They prefer that I paint with permission; they take care of the mural. If I don’t paint without permission sometimes they erase it. I did a recent mural (see below) and they removed it because the girl is a Zapatista. They are like paramilitary guerrillas. Talking about the Zapatista can be dangerous in Mexico but I have empathy for them. I don’t know exactly what the movement wants but I agree with the fight of the people, looking for freedom, for a new way of life, even if that is not legitimate, they are trying to have a better life, I agree with that, for equality. I support the people.
I’ve painted in all of Mexico, my experience is very good because I’ve made a lot of friends and learned interesting ways of thinking and techniques. Columbia, El Salvador, Guatemala. In Guatemala I was invited to the Hip Hop revolution in 2011 and in Colombia for the first Biennale for muralism and public art in 2012. At the Guatemala festival, it’s a festival for Hip Hop and Street art and in Colombia it was for just murals and street art and they have a different vision. At the first Biennale for muralism I learned a lot, because it’s an exclusive festival for painters, while the other festival is for Hip Hop culture.
I want to still keep living through my art, because in the moment I can just survive but I am not living. I’m having trouble exhibiting in galleries, but the feeling I have is that anybody can say, who has the talent and who hasn’t, that’s why I don’t like to be in galleries too much, because many people can say they are a critic. I am looking to create a whole identity with all the Latin American people, that grows and rises and becomes really strong. To unify all the Latin American artists and to lead us there, I try. Obviously there is a lot of work to do.
Greetings from San Miguel!