Interview with STOM500 for ‘Cortez’ | Exhibition on view January 8 – January 29 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present STOM500 latest solo exhibition, ‘Cortez.’ The show, aptly titled after the famous shoe model Forest Gump wore during his run across the country, pays tribute to different states within the US. 

Stom500, who is based in France, wanted to travel throughout the country, despite finding it increasingly complicated due to the COVID health crisis. Determined to safely find inspiration, he planned a road trip designed to take him through as many states as possible. Drawing inspiration from this trip, Stom500 created ‘Cortez.’ With 8 pieces representing 8 different states, this exhibition plays with the notion of living together. 

Our interview with STOM500 dives deeper into the inspiration and development of this latest body of work, along with insight into his passion for murals, plus a few wise words for artists young and seasoned

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

This exhibition is called “CORTEZ” and pays homage to the United States through its different states.
This name is actually the shoe model that Forrest Gump wore while running across the country. At a time when traveling to and from the United States is very complicated, I wanted to travel a little, while living in France. For that I only had books, internet, podcasts and some movies. My vision of the country is only made from things I haven’t seen in real life and yet I had the impression to travel while doing all my research. The themes are always around animals, culture and history. The more I explored, the more I fell in love with this multi-faceted country and I can’t wait to get back there for this exhibition!

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

This is a very hard question to answer because I had to choose 8 states out of the 50 states in the country. I explored more than 20 states while researching sketches, only selecting the ones that inspired me enough to come up with a real track. Once chosen it was very pleasant to paint them. So I would say that the hardest part was making that selection! I knew I wanted to paint New York City and California, which have so many strong symbols but can also seem a bit cliché. It was quite hard, on these two paintings, to sort out the good ideas from the bad ones and so these are the two that took me the most time to think about. I work on all my ideas with the precious help of my wife who simply told me to realize them last and it was great advice! ^^

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working on a new body of work? 

For this exhibition, it was really a funny gymnastics. I need to have a rhythm to my week to be effective in my paintings. I start painting early around 7 am and finish around 6 pm every day. I start my reflection on the weekend often on Saturday morning to be able to exchange with my wife during breakfast, a very precious and important moment. I then have the whole weekend to flesh out our exchanges and I make my sketch on Sunday evening very quickly when I am relaxed. I think that it is there that I am effective because I am rested and my ideas are clearer. Then comes the realization part where I work early, simply because I can’t sleep once the painting is in progress.

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands you use? 

I work mainly with paints that I buy from a manufacturer in Strasbourg, the city where I live. Then I make my own mixtures to make shades that I use throughout the exhibition. This allows me to create unity throughout the series. I then work a lot with the brand of paint Molotow. It allows me to have a certain rendering with very bright colors like the yellows that I use regularly to give light. It is extremely important for me to have quality in my paints as well as in my material. I invest a lot in all this to give the best of myself and never stop progressing. In my toolbox, there are also craftsmen who are experts in their field and I value the relationship I have with my printers and collaborators! 

How do you like to unwind outside of the studio? 

If I’m not painting in my studio, I’m painting a wall! The essence of my work comes from graffiti. So when I’m not painting with brushes, I go back to spray paint! 
My 2nd passion is food! I love to cook and gather some friends around a good vegetal meal. Most of my time is then spent visiting museums, tours, and cultural mops of all kinds to continue to educate myself and come back to the studio with new ideas!

Do you have a process for sourcing and/or keeping track of your inspiration? 

It’s the little things in everyday life that inspire me the most! My phone is filled with a wide variety of pictures from very simple illustrations to very technical paintings. I love the contrast of being able to paint something simple but with a lot of effect! Going to museums or just walking around town is a real source of inspiration.

In parallel to my work as an artist, I am the artistic director of an urban art festival that brings together about twenty artists from all over the world to create walls in unusual places for the past three years. The meetings, exchanges and sometimes collaboration are also a real source of inspiration for me! I attach a lot of importance to these exchanges which are very enriching as much on the content as on the form. 

Most artists express themselves creatively as a child, but there is a moment when a shift occurs from just being creatively inclined to being more artistically minded – do you know when that moment was for you?

Personally, I feel like I’ve kept some of my childhood soul. It’s just the toys that have grown up! I paint much bigger walls and play with pods instead of miniature trucks. And basically graffiti is the opposite of what our parents told us to do. Don’t write on the walls they said! 30 years later it has become my reason to live and what makes them proud! My work has matured and I ask myself more questions about environmental and societal issues but it is still the child in me who is in charge!

Where have you traveled to either work on a mural or showcase your work in a gallery space? Do you have a favorite destination/wall and why? 

From Kosovo to Portugal and from graffiti jams to the big mural festival I love to travel! It doesn’t matter what the destination is! But it’s definitely the trip to Washington for the POW WOW festival that will stick with me the most. I remember arriving in the city, looking for the small wall I had seen in pictures and realizing that it was 4X bigger in reality. It was quite a challenge and of course I loved it! It was definitely one of the best festivals I’ve ever been to and I’d love to do it again here!

What words of wisdom would you share with your past self when you were just starting to show your work/ create murals? Is there anything in your artistic journey that you wish you may have done differently? 

When I started painting 10 years ago I met some really great people in graffiti. I feel more like a muralist today because I do huge murals but it’s important for me to know how to do a Throw Up and I still enjoy going to paint a train at night. But I also see my elders who sometimes have fixed ideas like it was better before. I think you have to live with the times and keep doing it with passion and energy! This is the real basis of our culture. 
After, at 34 years old, I am almost 20 years older than the kids who are starting today! So finally the old one is maybe me today! It’s important to listen to what the new generations have to say to move the movement forward.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

My biggest challenge was to paint a 34m high wall. That’s the biggest one yet! In general, I have done more murals and more paintings in my studio than in other years. It was a very rich and complete year because to feel good I need to paint outside as well as inside.

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

My proudest accomplishment to date is a series of postcards that I found in a store in Belgium during a trip. Most of these cards are almost 100 years old and all come from the USA. I made original paintings on each of them, paying homage to the states from which these cards originated and to the travelers who were passing through. Bringing them back to their country of origin continues the travel process and feeds the theme of my exhibition. A century or so later the maps are coming back to the US, a nice return to the sender in my opinion.  

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022?

I’ve been painting animals for years but I realize that I don’t know them all that well in the end. I haven’t met them all, so in 2022 and for the next few years I would really like to get closer to them to understand them better, to observe their gestures and their way of life in community.  

Interview with STOM500 for ‘Infrared’

Thinkspace is proud to debut ‘Infrared‘ from STOM500 self-taught virtuoso from a small village in the Swiss municipality of Basel.

STOM500 defines himself with humor as a veritable “Swiss Army Knife.” He uses a variety of mediums from spray, brushes, acrylic and styles on large murals or small canvases. A predilection for animal themes which, under the varnish of pleasure, carry a relevant message, often humanistic or ecological.

In anticipation of ‘Infrared‘, our interview with STOM500 discusses bees, finding out he won #otterthinkspacecontent, and going from Artist to Artistic Director.

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work and ‘Infrared’?

For the last couple of years, I have worked with light in my composition. The bees are like a kind of spot and they create some spectacular lights which are often colored. For this mini solo show, I wanted to create some works only with this same colored light. Also, I think the red is an interesting color choice because it creates something energetic and cozy too.

Also for me, it’s another highlight to show and make the focus on my bees. They are always the smallest part of my work but currently the most important because they give all the flow and the atmosphere.

Do you have a pre-studio ritual that helps you tap into a creative flow?

I love to come really early in the morning in my studio to work. My days always start with some minutes to watch some funny videos or just stupid things I can find in books or on the internet. So I love to start with some silly things in my head.

My inspiration comes from the cartoon, the illustration, and a lot of little objects found during my travels. I love to draw in my sketchbook on the train or in the plane.

 I think it’s the moment when I’m the calmest and free in my mind. But I only sketch the general movement, nothing really clear. Currently, my compositions are only finished within the last phase based on my mood in that very moment.

What is your most and least favorite part of the creative process?

At least I love to arrive at this moment with my sketchbook and to mix all my ideas together and to start a new story on my wall or on my canvas. It’s like a compilation of all the good or just simple moments that I’ve put into my sketchbook so it’s like a memory of a lot of different moments and energy.

What was the most challenging piece in this show, and why?

I think the most challenging piece was the first one because it informed the rest of the exhibition. So the first was the one with the orchestra mouse and the bird. I made the sketch during the lockdown, and really wanted to paint it for a canvas. But no idea about the colors, and just this impression there should be a skull in the drum. So after some reflection, I had this memory of such cool metal concert that I went to some months ago and really intense red colors. I wanted to find this kind of atmosphere for this canvas. I tried to work with the same colors for all the canvas in this series. So yes, the first one is always the most challenging piece!

Based on what I could gather from Instagram, it looks like you were a part of the development and coordination of a mural festival Color Urban Art. First, a mural festival isn’t something easy to undertake, and a mural festival during a global pandemic – next level. What was the most rewarding part of the experience? And what is a lesson you learned in the process?

Yes, during some weeks in the year I switched out my hat of Artist to Artistic Director of a festival. It’s a mural festival and an indoor festival where 17 artists paint their wall to make an exhibition XXL. This year was a little bit more special with the consideration of COVID in the preparation of the festival. It was really hard to do all the necessary prep-work beforehand because a lot of people didn’t know if it was possible to come or not.

But, finally, I was really sure that the festival could be realized! I think it’s important for the artists to meet us, and this year a lot of things were canceled. So happy to have created an artist residency and of course it’s important to find the solution to make some cultural energy in the city.

It’s so important for artist to work and travel and meet other cultures and other people. Also I think it’s important for me to share my passion with others. We learn a lot of things in these kinds of meeting.

Your work heavily features various animals; do the animals hold symbolic meaning that informs their selection, or are they more conduits for the composition and final expression?

I try to make a symbol with animals, but it’s my personal symbol because they often represent someone. An animal that I love to draw is the cat but unfortunately, I’m allergic to this animal so it’s a strange opposition. Of course the bees are the most symbolic animal in my work. They represent, first, my great father who was a beekeeper and of course the ecologic symbol of this animal. Without bees, there is no life according to Einstein’s theory. That’s certainly why they are featured so frequently within my works.

When I think about the composition of my work I try to work with the difference/opposition of them. For me, it’s a kind of ode to “living together” but without the representation of humans.

What elements in other artists’ work draw you in and excites you?

I’m really a fan of olds painters like Vermeer and at the same time some cartoon or Kawaii drawings. I currently mix these two universes together to create something simple but with techniques of painting.

What was the timeline like from finding out about the #otterthinkspacecontent to submitting your entry?

Haha ! I remember that I had just finished a canvas I’d started during the lockdown. When I finish a painting I don’t keep it for a long time in the space that I work, so I’ll prepare the next canvas but not neccessarily get started on it immediately. After 2 minutes on Instagram and seeing the post of Otter Thinkspace contest I went to work on that canvas. I’ve never won a contest, so when I made the decision to take part, it was in the mindset of taking on a challenge during the strange time with Covid, but never with the expecation or intention to win!  And also the contest was cool, with a cat, and its Thinkspace… it was easy to find the motivation!

Do you remember what you were doing before you found out you had won?

Well yes with the jetlag I was sleeping. The first time I win something and it’s announced, which is so cool, I’m in bed, it’s 3 am… Haha! It was very weird! But I told myself it had to happen like that or it wasn’t funny… I didn’t even wake up my wife who was sleeping! Haha! But it was great news!

If your body of work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and name of your pint?

Oh! Hum… eggs / brown sugar / vanilla sugar / mascarpone / spoon cookies / black coffee /cocoa. All the ingredients to do a perfect “tiramistom” ice cream.

I just try to paint some positive things that make you laugh, smile. My wife explained to me the recipe for tiramisu, which is a dessert to lift people’s spirits, hence the translation that pulls up. So it’s a good dessert to represent my work and wink at her!