MEAR ONE (Kalen Ockerman, b. 1971, Santa Cruz, CA) is a contemporary American artist based in Los Angeles. MEAR ONE began his career in 1986 as a graffiti artist living in Los Angeles. MEAR ONE has been labeled as “The Michelangelo of Graffiti” and “The Salvador Dali of Hip-Hop.” He is considered by many to be Los Angeles’ most prolific graffiti artist because of the way he revolutionized graffiti with his fine-art realism, breaking out of traditional 2D letter forms, and using perspective to develop complex characters with dynamic backgrounds in epic scale. By the early 1990’s, he had established a large fan base through his notorious work on the streets, underground hip-hop album covers featuring his iconic imagery, and his involvement in pioneering early street wear clothing and graffiti culture. In 1993, MEAR was the first graffiti artists from Los Angeles to travel to Tokyo and paint graffiti in front of a live public audience. In the mid 90’s, hip hop imagery and cultural icons in his work were replaced with a deeper, more introspective conversation based around a politically disillusioned reality that he felt hip-hop had ceased to address. At this point he began his transition from street graffiti to canvas paintings, and began his first body of acrylic and airbrushed paintings.
MEAR ONE’s work is inspired by ancient technology, science, philosophy, mythology and mysticism, along with political and cultural revolution, and notions of the apocalypse. MEAR creates his own mythology from pop culture icons and important historic persons that have shaped our structured reality. He uses art as a tool to express his feelings of frustration with what he feels is a broken system. MEAR uses visual language to provide a critical viewpoint that exposes the history of corruption in America and the world at large. The diversity in his work often depicts an experience of transcendence in sharp contrast with depictions of the horrors of humanity, war, and oppression. His current body of work can be described as a series of allegorical oil paintings that draw upon history, mythology, political theory, conspiracy theory, modern myths, and current events. Stylistically he has been described as “urban psychedelic surreal,” and is perhaps best known for his climactic battle scenes taking place under broad expansive cityscapes with billowing cumulous clouds.
Visit MEAR ONE’s website at: www.mearone.com
On Thursday, August 5th, we were delighted to be invited to the opening reception of an exhibit, Mear One and Friends, held in a terrific warehouse space at Art Share Los Angeles. Art Share Los Angeles is a community based arts learning center in the heart of the designated Arts District of Los Angeles.
Below we would like to share our interview with Street Artist, Mear One. MEAR is an acronym for Manifest Energy and Radiate and as you will glean from the interview – he has very definite opinions and absolutely does radiate excitement and energy. The warehouse gallery was packed which is the reason we didn’t play the interview on The Other Art Talk.
RC: Where are you from? Are you from LA?
MO: I’m an Angelino
RC: Do you have a formal art background
MO: No, I’m a street artist. My mother was a painter. I was raised by her. I was involved in the Barnsdall Art Park at like 6 years old and the USC Science Center – by the time I was in junior high school I was over school.
RC: So she was a painter . . . ?
MO: She was a fine artist. She painted her dreams – (mandala) – she was a hippie from the ‘60’s. She wasn’t fine art trained so she didn’t impose those constraints on me either. She allowed me to experience and explore my own artistic depth throughout the city on my own adventures that turned into my life. I was —– it literally became my life.
RC: Are there people commissioning you right now?
MO: I used to get more commissions than I do now. Now people are buying my work. And when I get commissions those people usually ask me me to come out to do murals on their property – on buildings and such.
RC: Was that hard for you at first, as a street artist who would select his wall to say, okay, there’s a dichotomy here.
MO: No, no. Not at all. I’ve been the type of artist that keeps pace with what’s now – what’s contemporary and now – which reflects a change – and I kind of allow that to inspire my subject matter that I work with – and in turn I think that whatever it is that I’m talking about is so connected to what’s going on – that I haven’t had this issue of working up other people’s ideas – I’m kind of persuasive and manipulative and there are people working with my ideas because as an artist I think the art revolution is about the artist individualizing himself – from the Catholic Church or whatever institution you’re trying to comment on.
RC: Speaking of revolution, as an Angelino, what do you feel what’s happened in Los Angeles – and the arts district – what do you feel about that?
MO: I love it. You know I love it. Growing up here I grew up in a ghost town. I remember when downtown was boarded up windows and you know homeless people. I mean we still have homeless people and that’s actually one of our cruxes we have to deal with but the development of art and culture and investing in these neighborhoods and bringing them up to participate in artistic endeavors is bloomingly wonderful and I think we need to deal with our homeless – deal with the shortcomings and the downside of everything but I’m generally happy to see Los Angeles elevate and bringing such great quality art – being at a stage for me to represent myself on it (something lucky).
RC: We’re so lucky that you’re doing that.
MO: Oh yea yea.
WW: We were really impressed just by looking at some of your work that you really strongly convey a message.
MO: All of this is trying to educate people.
WW: How much do you see as your role of an artist to be also an educator?
MO: Well, you know, education to me personally, growing up in Los Angeles, was really bad. I grew up in the busing era – when you got bussed to school – I was a latchkey kid – I got bussed around – I come from a single family – my mother – and you know – they whole thing is kind of a nightmare unfolding and I think that embracing education and knowing the importance of an artist – subject matter – and having value and ways to it as opposed to being cute and just looking at the couch? And whether you subscribe to the institutional educational system or you self educate yourself, one way or another I would like to see more communication, more intellectual stimulation you know hand in hand with aesthetic beauty as opposed to one or the other – which I’m so used to. They don’t fuse together lately very well and I don’t know why – I think because it’s so apathetic and things come so easy to us – we don’t try hard – and if I can get with spitting in a napkin and selling it I’d rather do that than spending six months on a canvas and working my ass off. You know.
RC: Is your mother so proud of you?
MO: Yea, my mother passed away and I knew my mother was the most proud of me. I am totally a blossoming bud from my mother’s orchard. Without her there would be no me – and I say that more than in just genetic terms. You know.
RC: What area of LA did you grow up in?
MO: I grew up in Hollywood – right off Hollywood and Highland. Right in the hood of the funk of the ‘70’s. And it’s amazing to see Hollywood transform into the Disneyland of sterileness it’s become now. And it’s amazing to see the ghost town downtown evolve into the thriving art business it is. I mean L.A. is a f—-king changing complicated thing out here. It’s very exciting. This is the art capital of the pituitary gland of humanity.
RC: In fact we’ve had other people articulate it not as beautifully but they – say the same thing. Do you by any chance feel a responsibility to teach? You’re here at Art Share and Art Share has really done so much for at risk youth in the arts – encourage them. Do you feel a responsibility to pass your knowledge on and teach others?
MO: Yea – totally I mean I kinda consider myself the Olympic triathlon worldwide dog paddler – I’ve been dog paddling but when I find periods of my life I reach islands and things are calm seas it’s one of the greatest things I enjoy is doing workshops for kids and when I take a breather and actually share my energy with them and bleed into them the type of energy they want – it’s really hard – I’d like to see some more programs that would facilitate and help us artists to help the youth because it seems that a lot of times to help the youth because it seems that a lot of times to help the youth is such a huge sacrifice on us artists – and we love it. I mean there is nothing more fulfilling to sit with a bunch of bright eyed children and tell them your thoughts on art and have them laugh – join in – learn something – or just think differently. That is a great benefit of being an artist. One of the downsides of it is that no one will pay you to do that. And meanwhile the artist has to pay to do everything. It’s very hard. I think that education is stagnate in a lot of ways – it’s boring – and it really needs people like us to come out and have some fun with the kids and enlighten and inspire and push further. We need some of the philanthropists of Los Angeles to back us up so we can do that. So that we can take the little kids from the hood and raise them to become men and women like we have become. We’ve come from the same disadvantages and it was programs like Barnsdall when I was a kid and the USC Science Center that let me go there for free that have given me basically the chance and contributed to the person I am now.
RC: Thank you so much for talking to us.