We caught up with Mau Mau, the globetrotting street artist that has left no continent untagged, ahead of his largely anticipated show in London. His distinctive style, often containing a message, has gained him superior credentials and has seen his work become globally recognised by his peers as well as seeing it sell in high street galleries.
There is an interesting story behind how you got your name. Tell us a little bit about that…
In the early nineties I was travelling around Africa. I spent some time in Ghana and stayed with the Twelve Tribes. When they said my name (Mark) it sounded like "Mau". Over the course of my stay with them it became Mau Mau. When I got back to England I had a DJ gig and the promoter wanted to know my DJ name. I said Mark. He said I couldn't use that, so I told him Mau Mau, and…
You have recently had two sell-out shows in Tokyo, how was it over there?
Crazy! Totally different to anything I'd experienced in Europe or America. They like the cartoony stuff - my character images like Bling Reaper and the Mau Foxes are really popular out there. The Japanese are super enthusiastic. At one of the shows I met some people and, not really understanding the gist, agreed to having my work used for a set. Few days later, a car arrived and took me to the set of a Japanese TV soap. They'd reproduced my artwork – and huge - all over the street set! There are some downsides though. Can feel a bit like the star of a freak show walking round Tokyo with my dreads. Nuff photo opps I have been the focus of!
Your upcoming London show Pigs Might Fly is open to the public from the 4th May. How's the preparation going?
Hectic! All good though! I've been painting (hard!) the past few months in preparation and got a small crew working on behind the scenes stuff down at my studio in Devon. From the start I wanted to do something a little bit different, make the show a bit quirkier than just putting some pictures up on the walls. I can't give anything away at this moment… you'll just have to come and check it out!
Will there be originals/limited edition pieces that the public can buy?
There is going to be a print called 3 Monkeys, which is being released for the opening. I've also got a limited edition of brass piggy banks. In the show, there's going to be about 30 new works, ranging from big canvases to small editions and series, and a bit of mixed medium stuff. There's also a show poster.
A lot of your work contains an underlying meaning referring to many political and environmental issues. Where does your passion for this subject matter stem from?
I used to surf a lot when I was younger and the shit (literally) I used to see in the water opened my eyes to the fact that the environment was a dumping ground. I suppose it was the Criminal Justice Act in the mid nineties that really focused me on wanting to do something political. That draconian legislation jumped all over the free parties and festivals which were such a vibrant expression of underground and alternative culture.
The thing with all of this is it's really difficult to voice protest as an individual and get yourself heard. Too easy to say, 'oh well, nothing I can do about it'. So it was that frustration that I put into my art. Stick your message in a bit of artwork on a t-shirt or a large wall and at least you're getting it out there.
Animation can be added as another string to your bow after having worked videos for people such as Dizzee Rascal, Roots Manuva, Herbalizer, Skitz, Rodney P and Estelle. Is animation a medium you intend to revisit one day?
Yeah, I'd love to. Just need a bit more time!
With experience setting up your Sewerside clothing label back in the 90s, you are no stranger to the fashion world. You currently provide designs for the environmentally friendly fashion outfit THTC. How did this collaboration come about?
I have a lot of respect for THTC who have been at the forefront of hemp clothing. They've got the right ethics. All my artwork really stems back to the t-shirt designs I did with Sewerside, so it's great to keep up the tradition through THTC!
Words: Eddy Mac
Be sure to go and check out 'Pigs Might Fly' running from Friday 4th May to Sunday 13th May at the Westbank Gallery, London.
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