PEZ & Chicadania Interview

PEZ & Chicadania were in town (Amsterdam) to work on a wonderful mural. Vroom & Varossieau Gallery visited them on location to ask them about the mural, their collaborative works around the world, and their future plans. It was great to see the duo work together in real time and to get some insights. Enjoy the interview with PEZ & Chicadania!

Hi PEZ & Chicadania! What brings you to Amsterdam?

PEZ: We are working on this mural in Amsterdam Noord. There was an open call for artists to do a wall in Amsterdam Noord that needs to fit together with the name of the street, which is "Tjalkstraat". So the idea was that every artist proposed an idea that uses a tjalk (boat) in the mural. And then between the final five artists they picked Chicadania and me as the duo to do the wall.We sent in two proposals, and based on that they picked us. And in the street right next to this one another artist, Tim Rodermans, is working on another mural that also includes the use of a boat.

The tjalks on our mural are portrayed as realistic boats, since my works are always rooted in realism. We wanted to incorporate the children of this neighborhood and make them fit together with the theme of the mural. This is why we made the portraits of the kids in sailor costumes; they are playing the part of being a sailor. The kids you see are a Venezualan boy and a Ukrainian girl. The boy moved here a little while ago and is very happy to be here, he loves Amsterdam. On the mural you can see the Ukrainian girl look out over the sea all the way back to Ukraine, where she would like to go back to in the future.

The central theme of the mural should be the tjalk, and we stuck to this. But, instead of putting the tjalk in the sea as you would expect, we decided to put the tjalk in the clouds to make it a little more fantastical.

It's like a sea, but in the air.

Chicadania, your background is in sculpture, how was it to transform your signature style onto a larger format like murals?

Chicadania: It came naturally to me. I have been painting my whole life, since I was a little kid. I have always been painting realism and portraits. I started making sculptures because I liked to work with a third dimension. Murals came very natural to me, as it is still realism but just on a different medium and with only two dimensions. In order to make the appearance of depth you introduce colors. I think it is something that is inside of you. If you can do one medium, you can translate it onto another. Sculpture will always be my favorite medium, but when you are constantly working in the studio you feel the need to go and speak with people and share your expression. When you work in the streets you have the interaction with the people who want to know about you and your work, you get to share the experience of creation together. And after a mural is finished people immediately get to see it, enjoy it, and take pictures. The experiences of both practices are very different and each is wonderful in its own way.

The both of you live in Colombia. Is your work here rather studio focused or street focused?

PEZ: We do both. We sometimes work together in the studio, sometimes we paint together in the street, and sometimes we work separately when Chicadania or I have different projects going on. We try to find as many projects to work on together as possible, but sometimes we do work separately. Whenever a commissioner prefers realism, they ask Chicadania. Whenever they prefer to have something with characters, they ask me. Usually when either of us prepares for a new show or exhibition we work together in the studio which we share.

What do you think makes your artistic styles work so well together?

PEZ: At the beginning it was quite a challenge to mix our styles together because they are so vastly different, but it was a challenge I really wanted to take on. It means a lot to me to mix our works, because we are a couple, we are a family, and working together adds another layer to my work. Two heads together are better than one. Together we can show how to mix cartoons and realism and explore both worlds, and create a new one at the same time that looks wonderful.

Chicadania: His characters, style, and colors together with my own style create a beautiful composition. Since the first wall we have been creating murals in which both our styles can cohabitate. And on top of that, we often create works that include our kids. In those works I take the portraits and paint their faces, which we then paint on the mural. This is very special because they are both our kids, and the process is very emotional. It is nice to look together which pictures of the kids we like the best.

Your (PEZ) works always carry a thick layer of positivity. Do you prefer to put your works in places that could use some positivity, or do you like it when the environment is already in line with that emotion?

PEZ: My goal has always been to uplift people and their surroundings. This is the goal when I paint in Amsterdam, this is the goal when I paint in Colombia, this is the goal when I paint in Spain. But I think in a country like this (Netherlands) it's more important to be a positive addition to the surroundings, because the weather gets really bad and more somber. And when this does happen, my characters are there smiling at you in full color, no matter the weather. It acts as a light in darker days. The same goes for Chicadania's work. Her characters are always smiling too.

Your murals can be found all over the world. Which location is the most special/dearest to you?

PEZ: The most special location we worked in was Moscow. We were invited to a street art festival in Moscow to do a mural. A big one. 60 meters high, covering 18 floors. This was a huge challenge as it was so large, but it is our best work. And it's amazing to say that we have a portrait of our kid in the middle of Moscow on a 60 meter high building. Quite different from having a small framed picture at home.

You both have your own signature recurring characters/themes. For Chicadania those are the masks and for PEZ those are the fish. Where did these both come from and how have they evolved over time?

Chicadania: For some years I did bodypainting and facepainting for kids. The first mural I did was a facepainting of the Red Riding Hood, where the facepaint showed a wolf with the clothes of the character. This came across as a bit aggressive, and I wanted to go for something more beautiful and positive, because the people are going to look at it every day. So then I did another wolf, but made it a cute one that we made on this four-year-old boy. Then I re-painted the first mural with this new one, and I loved it. Instead of this "Halloween" style painting, the new one gave a positive vibe to the environment, which is something I always want to do. 

I do the masks because it comes with a full process. First, you paint their faces. Then, they become the character that the facepaint portrays, they feel like they ARE the character. So they play around, which makes the portraits expressions of a completely pure emotion. Kids cannot act, so this is the most natural and beautiful result. That is why I do the masks, the whole process is very meaningful to me.

PEZ: When I started painting graffiti, everyone had a tag, everyone had their letters. I decided to make a character out of my letters "PEZ" in order to be different, to have my own identity. I was paying homage to the people who were spraying graffiti before me, but I wanted to add my own signature to the cultural movement of graffiti. A character is alive. When you paint just three letters, it is not alive. A character can jump, smile, and a lot of other things. It was important for me to do something fresh, something positive that brings joy to the people who see it. It was also important to me that my character had an identity so that people can recognize it instantly after seeing it once. This is the most important thing within street art, to have an identity. My signature smile is always there no matter the character. It can be a lion, a giraffe, or anything else, you can still recognize it. I always return to the fish, because this is where it started, although the fish has evolved throughout the years (growing legs, holding spray cans). And after so many years, my own work has become my biggest inspiration for new works.

Any plans coming up for the near future?

PEZ: Chicadania currently has an art residence in Barcelona. We have a group show coming up in Germany. We are always going to Art Basel in Miami to paint murals. In January 2023 we are going to a festival in Mexico. Maybe in November there will be another festival in Mexico. Right now we will go back to Leon, Spain to paint at a hip-hop festival during the last days of July.  will have a show coming up in Mallorca. Currently, I have an exhibition in Barcelona in Montana Gallery

It was great to see Pez & Chicadania work live on the mural and to have a good conversation together. If you are in Amsterdam, go check out the fresh mural in the Tjalkstraat in Noord, it's looking great! Make sure to follow both PEZ and Chicadania on Instagram to stay up-to-date with their activities.