Vamp (UHU, ATM & CLP) has been active for over 20 years. He is known for his funky letters and strong usage of colours. His pieces can be seen mostly in Finland and Belgium but he has travelled around most of Europe. We had a chance to meet him a while ago and ask some questions. He made us an exclusive selection of over 30 pieces painted in last 3 years. Check him out!
1. Let’s start with a classic question: how did you start doing graffiti?
It all started around 1995 when my friend wanted to show me something he had under an old shipping container in my neighborhood. It was a spray can that he had stolen from an elementary school art teacher. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to use it and what to write with it. The graffiti scene was completely unknown to me at that time. After scratching my head and wondering for a few minutes next to the container I decided to write my old Commodore 64’s password with block letters and a shaky hand style. I was a real toy. About a year later I decided to do my first piece. Before making the piece I thought that after doing it I would retire because I would have achieved everything there’s to achieve in this game. So did I quit after the first piece? I think you know the answer. After the first piece I was hooked. For the first years I was mostly bombing in my neighborhood. Then I started to bomb all-city, then I started to take pieces and trains more seriously and eventually I started to travel in foreign countries.
2. Let’s talk about your style… do you think you have a personal style? How did you reach it?
I think I have a strong personal style but it’s just simple and classic New York style graffiti with my own twist. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel. My style is a sum of many things. I feel that each place I have lived in has influenced me in one way or another. Also the circle of friends and the things that I have seen have affected me.
3. When are you satisfied with your piece?
The piece needs to be fresh, funky and smooth like a mango, hahah. But seriously speaking, it’s all about the outlines. Finishing a nice panel in the daytime satisfies me the most because it’s possible to get a nice picture immediately and the night is still young so you can still hang out with friends and have a few beers. My ideal piece is something that stands out from the surface. You can never go wrong with a colorful piece and a character on a commuter train. A throw-up with a black fill-in and white outlines on a shop shutter or on a truck can be a killer too.
4. Panels, hall of fame, street bombing… what satisfies you the most?
I like them all and there are pros and cons on all of them. A train is the nicest target and pieces always look good on a train but the actions require planning and preparations. Painting hall of fames is a nice way to spend an afternoon with good friends but it doesn’t give me much satisfaction or excitement. You have a lot of time to try new ideas but sometimes it feels like wasting paint when the piece can be crossed the next day. Of course a train can also be buffed quickly but at least you give the buffers grief. Street bombing is really fun to do but also quite risky especially after few beers.
5. How is the life of a writer where you live?
For the last several years I have split my time between living in Finland and Belgium. I guess the life in Finland is more unknown for many. The winter is really long but when the spring finally comes people try to really take advantage of the short warm period. Unfortunately this summer 2015 has been really cold, maybe the worst summer that I can recall. I often hear Finnish people complain how styles were better back in the days. Sure, the wild, crazy and spontaneous classic Finnish style is almost gone but if you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it. There are still a lot of good writers in Finland and a lot crazy things are happening even if you don’t see them online.
6. Do you make art in different forms outside of the graffiti world?
No, not really. But I like modern art especially when it’s original and not just graffiti on canvas. These bland murals and custom made graffiti canvases that are made to fit the colors of the furniture are mostly corny and watering down the provocative in-your-face attitude of graffiti. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to make money off commission works but it’s important to keep some kind of artistic integrity. I would rather not paint at all than take orders or instructions from someone. This is just my opinion and I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. Feel free to disagree with me. To go back to the art subject, sometimes I go to vernissages but mostly for the free booze, hahah. I’m actually a big fan of Victor Horta and art nouveau style. Sometimes I try to use it as an inspiration for shapes and connections for my pieces.
7. What does graffiti give to your life? What does it take from it?
It gave me a way to channel my creativity and it helps me to escape the rat race and 9 to 5 work life. This hobby offers a chance to meet foreign people and find places that you don’t find in travel books. I have been able to visit places that I would have never visited without graffiti. On the other hand it takes a lot of time, energy and money. It’s all worth it though.
8. What keeps you still writing?
Actually sometimes I wonder why the hell am I still doing this. Especially when grown up men are full of themselves and take graffiti damn too seriously. Sometimes I feel like the whole scene is full of small children fighting in a sandbox and instead of taking it to the streets these keyboard gangsters are taking it to the social networking websites. However, I don’t always feel this negative. When I meet an old friend, we paint and have the best time of our lives, I remember again why I love this. It’s difficult to let go when you have painted over 20 years, you have met the most of your friends through graffiti and painting is one of the only things that make you happy.
9. Any crazy adventures you want to share with us?
I could tell you but then I would have to kill you, hahah. But seriously the craziest stories are usually from the countryside. Villages are really quiet places in the nighttime on weekdays but when something happens you are in a deep shit. I remember some nights that I have spent running waist deep in the snow in a forest in the middle of the night at a temperature between -20 and -25 degrees. Then trying to find a road and hitchhike to the nearest town. Same time you need to keep low profile if the cops are looking for you because in those small village towns the cops take everything really seriously. After experiences like that you start to really think why are you still doing this at this age. A few times I have been almost hit by a train but that’s another story and shall be told another time. Lately I have tried to stay out of trouble.
10. New generations, Instagram, blogs, Internet and all that. What you think of them? Some people hate Internet, some love to share their productions and some just don’t give a shit. Do you have any opinion about it?
There are positive and negative aspects of them. I’m not going to lie: I like to see my stuff around and pictures that someone has taken of my pieces in daytime because I don’t have much time to do spotting. I’m not publishing my stuff on social media like Instagram or anything like that though. It’s pretty funny to hear some writers complaining when their pieces end up on the web. It also sounds stupid to my ear when some writers paint public places but after taking a photo they cross their own piece so no one would see it. Of course getting fame shouldn’t be the main reason why you paint but you should admit that this hobby is quite egoistic by its nature and one of the fundamental things is to get up and to be seen. Just don’t be a hypocrite. The Internet has made it possible to connect and interact with friends from other cities and countries. You can follow what’s happening in all over the world and almost in real time. There are even some online maps that help you to plan and check out places you’ve never been before. On the other hand there is too much talking, childish graff politics and snitching on the web. The excitement of discovering new things has dried up because everything is only a few clicks away. It also gets a bit boring that you see the same photos and videos everywhere on blogs. Sometimes I feel overloaded. Pictures were much more exclusive back in the days. Great magazines and books are still being published but I guess people don’t buy them as much as before which is a shame. The new generation has stepped in and they want all information right away. You can’t stop the evolution so it’s better to just adapt to the modern time than complain. I’m actually quite excited to see what the future brings.