I sat down with Melbourne Artist Mayonaize at his Studio - Capital Tattoo, for a beer and a chat about his artistic practises.
Felix: So I guess what did you first do when you got to Melbourne?
Mayo: I was a house painter - I was painting houses and that was it - skating and painting houses. I didn't do graffiti until tattooing, I started tattooing at the end of 2002. I would tattoo 3 days a week and paint 4 days a week. There has always been some sort of relationship with paint even if it was a boring one... Then I tattooed for 2 or 3 years and I watched that Style Wars documentary. Style Wars made everyone want to do graffiti. I was like awesome, that looks like fun and started painting shitty characters on the street.
Felix: So how old were you when you started doing graffiti?
Mayo: I was 22 when I started (tattooing) so maybe I was 24 - 25 when I started graffiti. Everyone thinks you do graffiti and then tattoo, it was different because graffiti is like the opposite of tattooing in a way. I tattoo you on your forearm and you're looking at me and you know I'm doing it, you’re watching me do it and it matters because it's on you forever. Graffiti is kind of the opposite where no one sees you do it. But if you’re doing track-sides you’re only going over other graffiti and it doesn't matter at all, it's insignificant. It’s done at night and it's not done for money it’s pure, you’re just doing it because you want to paint. That’s what I like about it.
"Graffiti is like the art version of golf really.."
Felix: Is that what drew you to graffiti, the purity of it - not having any rules to follow?
Mayo: Yeah and the fact it was an artistic practice, it would help get me better at tattooing. It wasn't like I was going out there playing golf, like golf's fun and shit but it’s not going to help you be a better tattooist. Graffiti is like the art version of golf really, you go and pick 18 spots, pack your bag full of paint and then you go and paint your pieces all over the city. You walk and take your mates, just like you would do when you play golf.
Felix: So you said at the start you did more characters?
Mayo: Yeah cause tattooing is all imagery right, character-based. So I would just do a tattoo rose on the wall, I even did portraits for a while. The details would be photorealistic and then around the edges, I would make it look like spray paint tags. So their hair would be a bunch of wild tags, but their eyes and nose and mouth would be tight and right. You could tell it was Salvador Dali but his moustache would be all wild.
Felix: When did you start doing your really iconic style, have you been always doing that, or is it something that developed?
Mayo: So I started off doing characters which are usually the last part of graffiti, I did it all backward… So I started trying to think about how to work on my tags. I watched another documentary and there’s a writer called DEAN, and he said: “you can’t call yourself a dope writer until you’ve got a dope tag” and that really resonated with me. So I just started like tagging everywhere. I’d take 6 cans out and empty them all with little tags around the city. I then started doing brush lettering because I was trying to mimic the Chicano style from LA… So graffiti influenced my tattooing…then my tattooing influenced my painting.
Felix: So you kind of went forwards, backward and then forwards again?
Mayo: Yeah, so then I could paint and experiment on a wall with something that was exactly the same as what I was doing on their skin. I could further the style, cause if I painted a piece I could still be experimenting with my tattoo style like I could make them relate. So it took a while and all these little things came together, it's never a conscious decision it just happens and then you’re like fuck I’ve got my own style. If you try to make it like “I’m going to do this… I'm going to have this style”, then you're already copying something that you’ve already seen, there’s no authenticity to it which is the important thing to any branding or style. It’s got to be real and authentic…
"It’s good that people recognise it, it still kind of trips me out."
Felix: Definitely, so when they look at it, they’re like that’s Mayo's style, it’s distinguishable across all languages.
Mayo: Yeah it is man, it's good to see. It’s good that people recognise it, it still kind of trips me out. I had a client come in yesterday who I met at the London convention for a minute - and that convention has got so many people at it and the room that I was in was the busiest room it was like a human River... So people have a chance to talk, but they get dragged off after like a minute which is great because then you don't have to talk to people for too long. But he was like I want to get tattooed by you and he lives in South Africa and I met him in London, and he came here yesterday for 2 days in a row and got a full back piece. And he left a super nice Google review and said he has an iconic back piece, and I was like damn, maybe it is a bit iconic.
Felix: So what would you refer to yourself as then?
Mayo: I just say I’m an artist, It hasn't been until the last few years when I've really felt comfortable to say that, cause when I was tattooing I was copying a lot of stuff and it didn't really feel like I was a creator of my own thing you know? Now there’s no other real word for it like… I'm a painter of stuff? I kind of had to end up just saying that I'm an artist. It’s a hard thing to say, like “I’m an Artist” you just feel like a wanker.
Felix: What do you enjoy most in your practice, is it the tattooing, commissions, or canvases? Do you have one thing or do you just love it all?
Mayo: If I had to choose one I would choose canvas because it feels like the most civilised thing. Like I'm not in some hot place sweating it out on a scaffold, which I love - I love that shit because I get to go and travel. But tattooing I've been doing it for nearly 20 years… Like I love tattooing but I could be sitting here in my studio or sitting in Copenhagen it’s the same thing? There’s something about painting canvases in your studio where it’s your own environment, it’s just you and the painting you’re making.
Felix: Is there any specific body part you really like doing with your style?
Mayo: I don't like the actual labour of doing them but I think fingers look really good, like I've kind of carved out my own little niche with them. Not a lot of people used to go all the way across the knuckle because they were scared it was going to drop out and it’s going to need a touch-up. It’s like well just keep coming back for touch-ups until it's black. That’s my mentality behind it, it’ll look good it’s just a matter of how much work you want to put into it. But I love when the ankle meets the foot or the wrist meets the hand it's an interesting place to put a tat.
Felix: Where else would you like to see your work displayed?
Mayo: Trains man, I’d love to paint the Eurostar and have that ripping past you at 180 km an hour.
Felix: What other aspirations would you like to achieve in your career?
Mayo: An end goal would be working in Architecture, I’d love to design actual whole buildings not just paint on them. To work with an architect and figure out some geometric stuff and some shadow play and stuff like that.
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