Vroom & Varossieau Gallery sat down with Dutch legend Mick La Rock to talk about her recent activities, including her hanging installation in the Urban Art Biennale and work in the Shapeshifters exhibition in Kunstlinie Almere. The interview offers many great insights about the ways of working of Mick and her views on art and curatorship, so we hope you’ll enjoy reading it as much as we did interviewing!
Hi Mick! First of all, how are you doing and what have you been up to?
Mick: Hi Tim! Thank you I am doing great! The last 12 month have been crazy with many, many projects - just to name a few: 6 museum shows: VERSUS ONE at Urban Nation Project Space in 2021 and VERSUS TWO, that recently opened at the same spot, a scaffold artwork at Museum Van Loon, an expo about the history of Graffiti in Groningen (same title) that I co-curated with Stichting Kladmuur at Groninger Museum and an acquisition of my work by the Groninger Museum, The Shapeshifters show at Kunstlinie Almere where I am showing my first hanging installation and got to see my friend Lady Pink. I just came back from installing my second hanging installation at the Urban Art Biennale at Museum Weltkulturerbe Völklinger Hütte. I painted a bunch of murals of which my favorite abstract was in Düsseldorf last summer, 2021, and my best graffiti piece was at Step In The Arena 2021. At the start of this year, I made a small publication about the early subcultural phenomenon of outline sketching Xerox copies. For the vice mayor of Amsterdam Stadsdeel Zuid I researched the possibilities of having one of the oldest graffiti in the city ‘DDT666’ by Dr.Rat conserved - in collaboration with Dutch Graffiti Library- and at the moment I am preparing a floor artwork at Utrechts Stadsarchief and a mural in Naestved Denmark.
You have been active in the art scene since the age of 13, and have created a varied portfolio ranging from old school graffiti to stylized works with geometrical figures and perfectly fitting color palettes since then. Within this wide-spanning legacy, do you have an artwork that is dearest to you, and why?
Mick: I am not easily satisfied with my work. I have always been sort of insecure and shy about my work, even though I might not give that impression. I actually hardly ever make work in my studio. Maybe 5% of everything I did I am truly happy with.
The artwork that is very dear to me are the works that my parents saved since my childhood: for example a ceramic rhinoceros (age 6) and a drawing of a tree growing in my teenage room (age 16). I like being a bit nostalgic. But the dearest works in my disciplines of graffiti would be the two woman whole car with Pink (1993), the 1st canvas collaboration with Blade (2011). I guess the art work has to age before it becomes dearest to me. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll name different works!
You are part of the Urban Art Biennale in Völklingen with a beautiful turquoise hanging installation. Could you tell us something about the work?
Mick: Thank you for the compliment :).
This work I designed site-specifically for the “silo room” where it is being displayed. It is a composition consisting out of isolated parts of abstract graffiti pieces that I painted on walls during the last decade. The color turquoise I chose because it works so beautifully with the rusty colors of the space. Black and white area conceptual use of the traditional black outlines and white highlights in style writing graffiti. In school and art college I was always told these were no real colors, and I could never agree with that. That’s why I love emphasizing their existence. The old steel factory is just perfect as a setting for urban contemporary art. Much different than a white cube. It reminds me of the abandoned factories where we used to paint as teenagers.
Besides having a grand portfolio of artworks under your name you have also been working as a curator for exhibitions. Do you think your experience as an artist has influenced the way you curate exhibitions (and the other way around)?
Mick: Absolutely. I rolled into being a curator in 2015 when the Amsterdam Museum approached me to guest curate a show about the influence of New York style writing on the Amsterdam graffiti scene. There were no curators who could tell the story. Art History Universities had systematically ignored style writing graffiti as a topic. But being a graffiti artist who grew up with graffiti in the early 80’s, and meeting the NY artists at Groninger Museum and painting with them in New York in the 90’s and 00’s, I could tell the story more or less first hand. Also, I am a fanatic graffiti archivist (graffiti nerd, hahaha) and as an artist I had already worked with several cultural heritage institutions in Amsterdam. They referred to me and then the museum dropped the question with me. I felt like Pippi Langstrupf saying: “I never did this before, so I think I can do it" and had incredible guidance from the senior conservator of the museum. She gave me wings (thanks Annemarie!).
Graffiti is a tough discipline to make a good exhibition about and have it backed by the graffiti community. Graffiti is a ‘for us by us’ thing and not easy to access for a curator/conservator who does not come from graffiti themselves. Being an artist deeply rooted in graffiti, it is much easier to receive the right narrative or the perfect physical objects from other artists and translate this to the general public. But...coming from an artist background, I have bumped into many difficulties that I might not have faced if I had been educated to be an art historian/curator.
Currently, the Shapeshifters exhibition is going on in Almere, to which you contributed another great hanging installation. As someone who has been in the street art world for some decades, would you say the exhibition is a good overview for the people who yet have to become familiar with street art?
Mick: Shapeshifters is a good overview of what has been going on in the urban contemporary scene. I would rather not use the term street art referring to my work, as I do not feel that I am a street artist. The term street art is better known to the general public, but I think urban contemporary art covers the content better.
Yes, is it is amazing to see works that are made 40 years apart from each other and still are just as impactful. From canvasses by the old New York masters Futura, Rammellzee. Dondi and Keith Haring to contemporary works by 80’s European artists like Shoe, Laser 3:14, Egs. Abstract artist like Graphic Surgery and NasePop. Female artists Lady Pink and Elle who rocked murals. Now school like The London Police or Buff Monster. Or very Oldschool by Richard Hamilton and Basquiat. Fun stuff by Street Art Frankey and Kaws and stencil works by Banksy or Kaagman… there is so much to see. Also for kids and unexperienced art viewers it is a fun exhibition. I am very happy to be part of it.