|Exclusive Interview:: How&Nosm
When coming to the Bronx, what were some of the major cultural differences between your old lives and new? What are the lasting effects in the graffiti you have done from this experience?
Well, we did not start a new life so much; we just adjusted our German lifestyle to speed of New York City. Germany runs at a much slower pace than NY, but we quickly learned there are many advantages to the NY speedâ€”you are forced to become more productive and in turn get more work done. With that also comes the heavy emphasis on capitalism though, which is a huge part of American Society. People in the States are taught from a young age that making tons of money will make you happy. As Europeans, I think we enjoy the little things around us more, regardless of what material things we haveâ€”which perhaps has to do with the security provided by Europes social security and health care systems. Everybody is taken care of, no matter who you are or where you from, which lifts a heavy burden and enables you to live a more relaxed life.
But keeping with a theme of capitalism, the main lasting effect of living in New York and doing graffiti here has been getting sucked into a steady stream of money from painting commercial jobs. Making money is important and fine with us, but it is in no way fulfilling. Painting for money feels like it puts our creativity on hold, along with the possibility to grow and evolve the style in our work. In a way, the recession has been an unlikely savior for us. The commercial work has slowed down a bit, and it's great to have the time to dedicate ourselves to our own artâ€”and bask in the freedom of not being obligated to create art for anyone else. Do not get us wrong though, we have benefited a lot from doing business with graffiti, and although slick companies have jerked us a time or two, we've learned a lot through those experiences. Initially, what we loved most about New York and doing our work here was that there were endless opportunities to put our work out in the streets.
Back in Germany, you do not see as many murals spread around town like in NYC. But unfortunately those were the good old days and due to the Graffiti crack down the city has made it much harder to get permissions for wall space. Painting all over the city we got to see our work come alive, surrounded by people and stores and different backgrounds. We did not have that in Germany. Over there you mainly paint in legal hall of fames, where the city allows anybody to paint. And as you can imagine, painting the same walls over and over again gets very boringâ€”not to mention your work ever burns very long.
New York has also changed the way we collaborate with other artists. We used to paint with many different artists back in Europeâ€”that is how we would exchange tricks and techniques, and influence each other. That seems to be problematic and not work as well for us in NYC, so we stick to each other and our crew, and otherwise usually only paint with out of towners.
In your travels, do you feel the environment and people you meet influence what you paint?
Environment and people on our travels definitely influence what we are going to paint. We also often take the architectural shapes of buildings in consideration. The size and shape of the wall on a building is a blueprint for what might go well and fit best for a mural. Depending also on what social and economic state the walls neighborhood is in, we might pick an uplifting and positive theme to beautify the block, or we might go the other route and decide to paint something more provocative to raise awareness about certain issues in society. It is rather rare that any passers-by have a direct influence on our artwork, but sometimes we are asked to put random things like a local soccer team into our murals, and if we feel like it, we might add it. But using foresight to add things like the local gang name or peoples names is much more common for us, and often help the walls last longer because the people on the block see themselves as part of the mural when their name is up there.
How did you start writing graffiti and what kept you going?
While living in a little town near Duesseldorf, Germany we got introduced to Graffiti in 1989 by older friends. We were skateboarding at that time, and all the skaters had a tag, so it was natural for us to also pick up a pen or spray can and do the same thing. We had no clue about the whole movement and its history, to us it was just some kind of writing skaters were doingâ€¦ two years later, when a teenage friend showed us Spray Can Art and we finally understood the bigger picture. We were totally fascinated and started to go out at night and try our hand with stolen paint. We enjoyed the whole routine of organizing the paint, scouting out the next spot to bomb, the sketching, and all the other great things that illegal graffiti has to offer.
Once we got hooked on the graffiti drug we wanted to catch fame and get better as fast as possible, so we had to practice and paint a lot, and the urge to do the perfect piece is what's made us continue and stick with graffiti for so long. Besides that, we always strive for the new and try to constantly develop our style, pieces, and characters. We also have the advantage of being twins and obviously spending a lot of time together. If one of us is not feeling motivated enough to go out and paint, the other one will be the driving force for that day and eventually make the lazy one get off his ass. We balance each other out pretty well.
Since you have been around the world painting....have you had any funny, weird, or crazy experiences while doing a production that stick out in your mind?
Honestly, there have to be hundreds of different stories that fit your description from over the years on our travels. Some of those stories seem unbelievable and almost impossible to us now. We recall one weird experience we had when spending a week in Moscow, Russia a few years back in 2006. Having spent a few days in the city doing our thing, we decided to paint an abandoned, half torn down building. When we were finishing our pieces, a Russian marching band passed byâ€”so we walked closer to have a look and take some "tourist" shots. As we approached, we noticed a man lying on the ground face down. We attempted several times to wake him up but quickly realized that his face was flat from his own body weight and had already turned blue. Somewhat shocked by our gruesome discovery, we asked some onlookers to call the police or the responsible authorities. Shortly thereafter the police overlooking the nearby parade arrived but did not seem to care much. They just advised us to keep away from the body and left. None of them bothered to question or ask us for a legal permit. As we looked at the body again, we noticed we had put up a couple of throw-ups right behind him and probably had not seen him earlier because of all the rubble. As morbid as it sounds, this man was the subject of our next "tourist" photos. Realizing how little a human life can be worth makes you appreciated yours much more.
Where do you imagine retiring to?
An artist never retires because art is one of the purposes of life and art is a reflection of life. Retirement for an artist comes with passing away. To stay happy and satisfied we have to keep creating and be able to express our thoughts and emotions with art. So we don't believe that we will ever retire. No matter if we continue to make money off our art or not, we will always continue creating. As for where we are going to be in some years, we can only speculate. It really all depends on what life puts in our paths. Who knows...
None of your pieces ever look the same, where do the inspirations for your letter forms come?
We try to develop each day on both a personal and professional level, these changes are reflected and expressed in our art and lifestyles. Life, as art, evolves constantly. Such developments make things much more interesting and exciting. Freeing ourselves from the stereo types and typical stigmas of the movement is a very important part of our ability to stay innovative. We prefer not to stay stuck with one way of looking at things, because inevitably, constant transformation is a necessity if you are considering staying active for the rest of your life like we are. Since it is the two of us, we inspire each other, influence each other, and exchange and fuse our different ideasâ€”all of which allows us to expand our creative horizons. Our validation of each other permits us to not be afraid of experimenting. Besides, failure does not really exist in our worldâ€”we can gain and learn from any experience, including negative ones. We play around with different types of calligraphy, dimensional lettering, types, and forms. Inspirations for that can be found all around us, or within us.
You seem to make type come alive through colors and 3d shading. If your art could become 3 dimensional and you could touch it, how would it feel? How does this translate in terms of the 3d art you do now?
That is quite an original question for an interview. We never really thought about how the texture of our pieces would feel, nor have we thought about them being 3 dimensional. But giving it a thought now, textures like fur come to mindâ€”like the nice feeling when you pet a furry animal. Or something like a slick paint job on a nice classic car, or the silky smooth skin of a beautiful woman. There are so many possibilities that our minds start wandering and analyzing them all. We have done furniture and sculptures that we painted our way, but we never really gave them any specific texture besides gesso or something similar. Wish we had more hours in a day so we could pursue that idea and produce inspired works as a result.
You both have a healthy balance of letter form and characters. Your productions are always very thorough, what is your philosophy on this balance?
Thanks for the compliment. Constructive criticism and viewers opinions can have influence on how we paint sometimes. Perhaps our experience doing what we've been doing made professionals out of us, so it at least looks like we have a plan and know what we're doing? All jokes aside, when we paint it kind of just all falls into place by itself. We might do sketches for future walls separately and have different approaches in mind, but when it comes to doing a wall our styles always fuse together into one. In the end it looks like we planned out the whole mural down to the last detailâ€”but usually we just had a basic idea and improvised the rest. Most artists we know who have been painting for years work in ways very similar to us. What makes you a professional is being able to improvise and create art straight from your head, as opposed to only being able to do art with the help of a perfectly laid out drawing. Putting a style and a character in a piece is half the battle and making everything work together with the background is another. Having balance takes experience, trial and error, and time spent developing your own eye for how things look right.
Your bio says that you used to paint trains all over the world.... do you still catch a panel every once in a while or is that something you have left completely behind you??
Growing up and getting introduced to graff in the late 80s, it was normal to go out and paint illegallyâ€”also mandatory so you could gain respect. No trains on your resume meant you were not a complete and respected writer back then. The term â€œpainting legallyâ€ was always considered corny and simply did not get the props that rocking some train track, or even better a train, did. We knew that, but did not care about that so muchâ€”we just loved to do trains. We got heavy into the train bomber scene and left many marks on several train systems around the world. To be honest with you, we do not know how many trains we have doneâ€”we lost count. We have traveled to over 60 countries, so we leave it up to you to imagine how many trains we have "modified" over the years.
Painting on trains was and still is the most energetic and guerrilla way to express yourself in graffiti. No other art form has an illegal side to it. As a true writer, you just don not care about any rules in society or of the gallery world. Thinking that way is much easier when you are young and restless, and your mind is free. But getting older, having more responsibilities, and having done our fair share of painting on trains, it is not our main focus anymore. It does not satisfy us as much as it used to years ago. Perhaps we did it so much that we got burnt out on it. But taking a break has brought back some of the excitement we feel when we get a chance to paint a train every once in a while. It is reminiscent of back in the day when we painted just for the hell of it. But at this point in our lives, we do not feel the pressure and the need to paint trains just so we can call ourselves king of the lines. Besides, the laws against graffiti in the US are so severe now that it is the right time to chill outâ€”we would hate to go to jail for something that we do not even consider a crime.
How do you feel on the different views of train painting in the US versus Europe?
To understand the different views and their reasons one has to analyze the past of the US train bombing scene and history, specifically in NYC. For most New York train writers of the 70s and 80s era, the idea was to see your name travel through out all of the Boroughs as much as possible. Once the MTA and the City of New York took away the pleasure of seeing your artwork in traffic, through intense buffing procedures, most writers didn't see any reason to continue painting the subway system. The originality vanished and things just were not the same anymore. But a few select writers from the late 80s and early 90s started to get really active and connected with overseas writers. Especially with Europe. So New Yorkers helped fulfill the dream to paint a MTA subway car of many foreign writers. In exchange they would paint in Europe. As for the foreign â€œtourist", it did not matter that their painted trains would not run much or at all. It was for their own personal pleasure and the possibility of a little glance at the pastâ€”the closest they could ever get to being part of the NY subway movement and contributing to its history.
In the late 90s to now, writers have become even more determined and have managed to paint trains that are actually running in traffic. For them it is mainly the act, and not the importance of style, that attracts them to do that kind of illegal graffiti. As we said before, life as art is in a constant state of changeâ€”and so is the movement and its active members. This kind of dedication inspired the American scene and started the domestic clean train bombing movementâ€”with the younger generation carrying the past into the future. We think in the past the US and Europe have had totally different views on train graffiti. And that is good, and it should be that way, since there's only one original. Besides, Europe wants its own identity and does not want to look like a mere imitation of the originalâ€”so Europe continues on the tradition in its own way. And by doing that they helped the US make painting trains into a worldwide phenomenon, so we hope new generations of both continents share the same views nowadays...
What artist movement has been particularly influential in your development? If you were alive at the time, what would have been your contribution?
As a result of our schools curriculum we were mainly exposed to the classical masters everybody knows. Like Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Picasso, Dali, Magritte and so on. They have been influential, but more in our sub consciousness, because only later in life did their effects on us show in our painting styles and methods. But the movement that really impressed us and had a immense impact was and is Writing.
No matter what perspective someone looks at our painting from now, we will always be writers. The movements influence on us has been so intense that there is not a day where we do not do something related to it. You could say that we are "UNDER THE INFLUENCE". So being writers at heart, we would have definitely been active in the graff scene back in the pioneering days. With the dedication and energy we posses today, we probably would have tried to get a large piece of the pie. But since it is a far fetched, theoretical questionâ€”we have to add that having missed the opportunity to participate in the destruction of the NYC subway system might just be the reason why we are so active today.
Not a lot of people work with a partner, no less a twin brother who is a main collaborator of the work you do. Can you give us a little insight to this process? Can you describe your design approach?
We have both shared 22 years of our careers with each other. So I am sure anyone can easily understand how working as a team (or better said, as one) does not seem so difficult to us. Our unity and bond is really strong and solid. We usually share each others ideas and do not worry who has come up with what. Regardless of who develops an idea, the other can carry on to perfect itâ€”to us it is still very personal and authentic.
It is our intention for the audience not to be able to differentiate which one of us has created a specific piece. But we also make sure that we have our own identities and create pieces that set us apart as individual artists. So for that reason we are both How and Nosm, and HowNosm together. Lately though we have been focusing more on HowNosm. HowNosm embodies an even stronger unity where drawings, paintings, and ideas are all equally shared.
When doing these productions are there aspects you do that set you apart from each other?
Usually each of us does a section of the wall and then we move around and place different artworks on the mural where we think they are necessary. Once done with the main parts we fill in the empty spaces by improvising characters, patterns for the background, and letters, to combine both of our artworks and complete the mural as one. Sometimes Nosm feels like doing the letters and feels like trying out something new and sometimes it is How that wants to do so. Depending on how we feel that particular day we decide who will paint what. Having a great idea or a nice sketch also determines who will do what. But
although we might be using the same colors in a way that compliments each other, we do have different styles of painting. Hows characters are rounder and harmonic and have a lot of swing, while Nosms are
more square and linear with a harder shape. With both styles combined we create a pretty good balance off opposites. May it be good and bad, round and square, it is simply our TAOâ€”like Ying and Yang, the symbol for twins.
When painting, is it a unanimous decision or do you banter back and forth and work out the kinks while you paint?
It depends on the mood, how much time we have the day we are painting, and also on the size. Obviously we can do a lot more details on a big wall and we have to discuss more than when we do a little and quick wall. Mood plays a big factor in any artist's life and it has quite an influence on the outcome of our work. So sometimes one of us has to motivate the other or take the lead in laying out the mural. You can not always be in the right mood, we're all humans with flaws, but that is what we have good friends for. Time plays a factor in the way that it puts pressure on us to make the most out of a little. Those walls are the ones where you will usually see a HowNosm piece accompanied by a character.
We are often very happy with the outcome of those kind of walls because everything is done spontaneously and freely, and like you said, we work out the kinks while painting. It is fun to do that and try to make the wall look as good as possible. We discuss stuff briefly at the wall when we add stuff, but honestly, no wall is ever planned out fully. It is not a smart thing to do anyway in our eyes because something you drew at home will not necessarily look good on the wall. So sometimes we are forced to change and modify it, or even leave it out completely.
Any funny or interesting quirks or personality traits that you and
your brother share?
Both of us joke a lot and everybody that knows us will tell you so. When we get to know someone new we like to really get know who that person is, not just how well he can paint. We can see that. We like to
create murals with people we actually like and get along with. Does not matter how good of an artist you are, if we do not click we would not paint together. So cracking jokes often helps to break the ice. But at the same time some people do not=t have much of a sense of humor and get offended or upset and start showing their real face. Either way it goes that is our intention, finding out what someones really about. We do not beat around the bush, we are honest and will let you know if we do not like you. It is our life and you just ca not get along with everybody. We are also very hard working and determined in everything we do, may it be painting, working on our classic cars, or like nowâ€”giving interviews. We are Virgos.
Your bio also indicates that you have lectured at M.I.T, were you at all intimated at this prestigious school? What exactly were you lecturing about and how did your audience respond?
We actually taught twice at M.I.T. Our first time lecturing was such a success that we were invited for a second time the following year, and we did some painting as well. The lectures at the institute focused on various aspects of the graffiti movement and how it is involved in our lives. We explained the transition from painting illegally to becoming a business and developing into professional artists. But the lectures also touched on social aspects and our influence in different communities throughout the World. We also explained the approach of how law enforcement fights the movement and what we are doing to change the negative perception in the eyes of everyday people. Basically we tried to summarize tons of information to get as many points across as possible to an audience that was barely aware of anything regarding the graph movement. Somewhat of a crash course for students and professors...
Do you remember your most innovative wall you have done? You know the one where you have stepped back and feel you have stepped forward a great deal in your art?
There have been some key experiences like that in the past, for example when creating our first Wildstyle 3d pieces. But we prefer not to recall one specific innovative wall, and instead would say that our current phase and transition is very appealing to us, and we feel that we have grown a lot as artists. We are in a comfortable position at this point in life. It has been about two years now that we have distance ourselves from using many colors and decided to stick to a basic color scheme. White, red, and black preferably. It came about when How, after spending some time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, realized that to leave a bigger and longer lasting impression on the city not only through quality but also quantity, had to find a faster way of painting. Using only a few colors was not only a faster method, but also a way more economically efficient one. Our newly developed one-lined figurative paintings were then accompanied by similar letter forms reminding us of the technique of "one liner" throw-ups. We think it is an interesting challenge to create with such limited tools and there is lot more to be experimented with...
I read when you first started tagging your brother and you were skating. What were your plans for the future and would have thought you would be the influential artists you are today?
Thanks for calling us influential artists. That means we must have at least taken the right path some what. When we were young, skating and tagging and trying to stay out of trouble (which was often kind of hard), we did not think of making a living with our artistic talent. Actually, before any of the painting, we had different aspirations. But our lives took the route they did, and we ended up doing graffiti,
occasionally some jobs, and smoking weed. Painting so much made us bored of school, and smoking hash daily for many years did not help the fact that we couldnâ€™t concentrate on our studies. So we left earlier
than we should have and simply took the risk of trying our luck with graffiti. At the beginning it was hard and money was tight so we had take random shitty jobs to make ends meet. But eventually we were
fortunate enough to be able to make a living off what we had dreamed of. Moving from Germany to the big apple was also a move in our lives that was not planned but it turned out to be a good one. We started working with Tats Cru on commercial jobs and that helped us settle down in NY for good.
You talk of your parents background in art, painting and drawing; did they push you to do this when you were younger?
We might have mentioned my mothers skills of drawing woman like in those fashion magazines but we do not recall mentioning our dead beat father. Neither one pushed us to do anything. Our mom was not really interested in what we were doing, her focus was more on getting drunk and high with her abusive boyfriends. Our father was never around. It just happened that we found a way to keep ourselves busy and away from crime and drugs that surrounded us in our everyday life.
There are a lot of kids that have aspirations of being artists, what advice would you have for them in pursuing this?
Everybody is an artist and nobody can tell you different. If you choose graffiti or art as your career you better be convinced that that is what you want to do in life. You might never see the big money but the satisfaction and happiness you get from doing what you love to do in life is priceless. You also have to draw a lot to develop an original and unique styleâ€”and most importantly you have to believe in yourself.
In helping to educate this coming up generation, can you recommend some movies and books they can look up to be one step ahead of the game
Learn about as many artists as possible, but concentrate on those whose style you like and it will be an easy read. As far as graffiti history, you should read Graffiti Kings by Jack Stewart.
For more information on HowNosm, visit their site;
Flickr:: How and Nosm
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