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February 2009

Quite some issues have been released since the last time AKUT had answered our questions about his much discussed crew MA'CLAIM in 2004. And HERA’s roughly painted characters have brought variety into many issues of our magazine, adding life to our letter-style dominated pages. But who could have known that those two people would one day become one of Germany’s most up-and-coming artist-duo?
Their currently released book “HERAKUT – THE PERFECT MERGE” gave us a reason to ask them how all this happened within the past four years and what we can be expecting from them in the future.

HERA, 27 years of age, born in Frankfurt, is looking back on a straight and classic art education with taking lessons from old weirdo artists, starting from when she was eight. That plus her never-ending years of studying Graphic Design account for her preferences today: she says, she would rather paint in the rain than do work at a desk. Even though that kind of weather might get you sick and makes it hard to foresee the final result of your piece because it keeps washing all pigments off the wall – it is still better than doing some tedious office work.  

AKUT, 31 years, decided to take a ride when the graffiti wave reached his hometown Schmalkalden. Together with CASE, TASSO and RUSK, he formed the MA'CLAIM Crew, which is nowadays worldwide renowned for their photorealistic style in graffiti. AKUT studied Visual Communications at the Bauhaus University in Weimar.

How did you get in touch with graffiti? Was there any moment, an experience, that you would say was the beginning of your career?
Hera: Just as every other girl between her first day of school and teenage-days is busy with writing diary, I scribbled down every minor event that happened in my little life on hundreds of pages. Interesting is, that in one of those diary books you can actually find many sketchy style alphabets. Most of them bubble- and wildstyle. That was because I used to ride a lot of trains around Frankfurt and found inspiration wherever I looked. But the real birth of my graffiti-career was the moment I came to the Schlachthof in Wiesbaden. It was a few days after the Wall Street Meeting in 2001 and I was so overwhelmed, that I thought: This must be the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life! And from this day on I just wanted to paint. So, what I do today, I would sometimes call it a career, but in the end: I just kept painting.
Akut: In 1991 graffiti took a very funny way to reach my hometown. Somehow a graffiti piece accidently appeared on a photo of some guys´ parents who had been to Spain on holiday. The kid had nothing better to do than copy that piece on a wall and make me and half a dozen others catch the fire. Due to our complete lack of knowledge, guidance or even the tiniest link to the real graffiti scene, we had no problems ignoring the fact that graffiti always puts letters first. So our oblivious-selves focused on painting characters. Our approach was to make them look cool to us but also as realistic as possible.
You both have decided for a special way within graffiti. Did you have influences for that, did you get inspired by your surrounding, or was the motivation to be basically different from others? I could imagine that, especially in the beginning, it is pretty difficult to go your own direction.
Hera: Independently from one another, AKUT and I, utilized the tools of graffiti (cans, markers, roller paint, etc) to a full extend. Those techniques we liked became regulars among our sets of working methods. Eventually these sets became symbols of our styles. This all happened very naturally – like: if you find it hard to spray a straight line, then don´t do it! There are so many other ways to use a can. People, who can´t see things as simple as that, sometimes say, what we do looks too artsy to be graffiti. But in the past most of those same people were giving props in terms of can control and how fast we work after they actually saw us paint. Who were they to be separating graffiti from art anyway? Where something begins to be art is way too philosophical for any of us to answer. We just paint, and honestly: out of the few things we know how to do, this is the only one that qualifies for being a profession.

Normally every (graffiti interested) person has a favourite graffiti artist, who do you especially like for any reason?
Hera: The two OS GÊMEOS always were a very desirable example for artists who would, just like illustrators or game-designers, created their own world of imagery and symbolism. They are so hardworking, too. (I like that.) And last but not least, the two of them work so close together, that the viewer is left to recognize them as one. To me that is the ideal of a crew. This intellectual and artistic symbiosis is what we aimed for when we fused our two writers´ names to HERAKUT in 2004.
Likely you, as the artists, are already more experienced in giving interviews, than us, the picture focused magazine, in asking questions. This is definitely a new development within graffiti, right? Is this just a trend or do you think we have to get used to the idea that in the future graffiti and the society will be fed by the same sources?
Hera: The reason why we already gave some interviews is, that we don’t work anonymously. Anonymity is not part of our concept, because we gain a lot of inspiration from sharing thoughts with any kind of people. Therefore we like to see conversation as something rewarding. Looking back, I can say that I was able to develop my own style in a short amount of time, because the years I spent painting at the Schlachthof were like a boot camp. Every one there, even the nicest people, were just reckless with their criticism of your latest piece and would definitely not wait to let you know. I remember BOE (VGRFK) talking about the lack of proportions on those bigger scale characters of mine. That was in 2003. Ever since then I triple-check the big bodies I paint. You see: talking helps, although it might be annoying at first. Just like giving interviews. But they might help other writers to consider a new points of view, or maybe help parents to understand their graffiti contaminated children, or help a magazine to gain some variety to their page layouts, or maybe help artists like us to reflect themselves.
About marrying graffiti to society, though: That has nothing to do with interviews. The bigger part of graffiti will be safe to maintain its subculture status. Even decades from now on it will remain shelter and breeding-place for the strangest creative outgrowths and that´s good. Out of the bunch a hand full of writers will be invited to the “upper world”, the establishment. There they will be put on the spot, given various names (e.g. “street artist”) and be looked upon with strange interest. But we keep up hope and keep talking to everyone, even though only a few will seriously feel what we express in words or images. The majority, no matter if subculture or establishment people, will point their fingers at us saying: “That – that´s the edge. The edge on which my world ends.”
How did you get to know each other? It seems like quite some coincidence that two stylisticly completely different sprayers from Frankfurt and Schmalkalden join, right?

Akut: To your second question – yes, it is strange. To your first – thanks go to Stylefile. Without you guys we wouldn’t have been asked to go to Sevilla, where our ways crossed back in 2004.

What does a typical day in the life of HERA and AKUT look like?
Hera: A HERAKUT-day feels like this: It is eight ours of painting, then doing ten hours of online business stuff, going the distance Frankfurt-Schmalkalden (300 km), feeding yourself something half-way nutritious along with music and coffee and enjoying the fact that not every day is a HERAKUT-day.
Have you made any negative experiences you had to deal with?
Many. With the rise of peoples´ attention came the need for us to be handling our schedules more responsibly. Not having enough time means stress. Stress causes fights.
We are still struggling with that, but it luckily lies in our own hands. The one thing we cannot influence is what happens on the art market. There we can´t do anything but stand by the sidelines and watch our beloved babies get downgraded to objects of speculation. We watch how they get passed around from one art collectors to the other for all the wrong reasons.
If our sole motivation was making money, we wouldn’t care if a collector couldn’t see anything more in these piece than their monetary value. But we do care and it does hurt. We pour our hearts into these paintings. Therefore we want them to go to good homes when they leave us. Just like parents wish for their children.

Highlights? Ever left a bar with BANKSY after having a few too many drinks or so?
The nerd in us allows us to be very pleased with those little things, such as painting on a commission in rainy Norway and discovering that vegetable juice and Gin neutralize each others´ flavors. Completely! Besides stuff like that or watching “Family Guy”, we tend to seek out highlights within the public relations section of our travels. Those creative heads we come across on our trips sometimes belong to really good people. To meet them in one place and again somewhere on the other side of this planet – just by coincidence – is a gift of the time we live in.
Akut: As a small DDR (German Democratic Republic)-boy I would have never imagined to one day be bungee-jumping from the Oakland Bridge while I being invited to New Zealand as jury member of a graffiti contest. Or that me and my friends would one day be opening up a store in Amman, and I would be painting the first graffiti in the capitol of Jordan. Every travel to an unknown place is a highlight to me, and it will always be that way.

It’s no secret that in the art world with rising fame the price on the market also rises. Do you have someone who takes care about you, or do you manage yourselves?
When you have reached a certain point it is contra productive to insist on doing everything by yourself. Also, in order to promote your work professionally at any time, you need a poker face. We both don’t have that. We carry our hearts on our sleeves. It helps to have some bumper to protect our nerves from the buyers and the buyers from us.
What advices would you give writers, who aspire a similar career? To me, this switching from a passion to profession seems quite difficult.
I would like to make clear that there is no “switching from passion to profession”. Because that would mean that there was a separation in-between the two. It is a continuously flowing process with ups and downs. You live and learn.
Hera: They might seem like a couple of lame Hip-Hop phrase, but: stay true – keep it real. I feel we should always reach for the highest level of authenticity. Only what’s true and heartfelt has a chance to last.

Did you have a chance to learn from others? There are not too many writers who made this step before you.
Because it is really a small circle of people, it feels like high school reunion, where you get together to share old and new experiences.

Do you think the popularity of your works relies on the fact that in every production you do, you have at least 50% female (in HERA’s single productions of course 100% female) influence, and not, as seen most of the times within the graffiti scene, female graffiti that has the same aesthetic as male graffiti?
If you reduce a HERAKUT piece to square meters, most of the times the female percentage is much bigger than 50, simply because I do any surface much faster than AKUT and his photorealism. On the other side SMASH137 just told me some time ago, that my tag letters look pretty male to him. So, how would that affect the gender percentage? Don´t know. But I do know that it is of essential importance for any artist – boy or girl – to emancipate himself first and create his own style before he goes about producing within a crew. The crew itself only grows from what each member brings to the table. If you don´t have much to contribute in the first place, you will just end up adapting the other members´ styles and basically be lost. That equally happens to female and male artists. This happens to everyone who compromises himself too soon.

Do you think that you will help more women to dare to take a spray can in hands in the future? That they might have had fear, and felt excluded untill now?
Judging from our Myspace-account it seriously seems like more female than male writers associate with us. But when it comes to feedback-emails, where people say we inspire their own work, it’s counterbalance.

Musicians are often asked whether they have more fun working in the studio or being on stage at a show. How is that with you? Do you prefer to work for yourselves or do you enjoy the attention?
I think the comparison with musicians doesn’t really work, because the bands most of the times just present on stage what they have been rehearsing in studio. At the most, you would have to compare our live-painting sessions with improvisation concerts, because the content of our paintings relies very much to the external influences. This doesn’t mean one thing is better than the other. This just means, when we are working in our studio, we are working under way better controlled circumstances than outside. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but we wouldn´t want to miss out on either one of them.

In April this year your book HERAKUT - THE PERFECT MERGE will be released. Please tell us what lead to and what the readers can expect from it.
We are very happy that, over the past four years, we have been able to reach out to quite a lot of people. Maybe it´s even allowed to say that we have brought one more facet to the graffiti scene. So, in a way, you could see our book as another file within the big archive of graffiti culture.
Hera: Assembling our work in this book, is not all about attempting to enrich the world of graffiti or be an inspiration for someone, but it has one very personal aspect: clearing the screen. To both of us, it feels like we are a minute away from hitting a new episode of our lives, so we need to clean the closet, take out the trash and make sure we are only taking the very best memories along our new trip.

What do you think your future will look like? Any dreams, ideas? Is there something like a plan for life?
AKUT says he would only continue to paint until his career as a musical-star hits of. His preference: “The Lion King”. Myself, I will quit painting when I get married to have more time for gaining weight, have hoards of kids and watch AKUT perform on stage.
Akut: As an alternative plan ... no, to be honest we don’t have any fixed plans, because it’s much nicer to be surprised by possibilities than hunting them down. 

This Interview has been published in

Stylefile #29:
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