Q+Art: Artist Man One is Changing the Art World, One Spray Can at a Time
Wander around LA long enough and you’re bound to stumble across Latino artist Man One’s rainbow-hued murals. Wielding his spray can like a weapon for good, the first-generation American creates striking, large-scale works that lure viewers in with their bright candy colors. His subjects, which range from masked luchadores to slinking creatures with bulging body parts, seem to burst from the two-dimensional surface on which they’re painted. On a technical level, Man One’s work blurs the line between stylized graffiti and traditionally painted murals.
With his foot in both edgy spray-painted art and classical painting, Man One has made it his mission to encourage more mainstream acceptance of graffiti. In 2002 he founded LA’s Crewest Gallery, a space that works to legitimize the art form and give graffiti artists a place to showcase their work. The entrepreneurial painter also uses his talents to further arts education among underprivileged LA youth.
On this particular aspect of his work, Man One remarks, “Never taking ‘no’ for an answer is part of my mantra, and I enjoy passing on that message to other, less advantaged kids and young people around the world.” In his artist statement he continues, “I am a firm believer that art saves lives and can change the world, one brushstroke or spray can at a time.”
In Today’s Q+Art Interview…
Man One discusses painting on the Berlin wall, what lights a fire under his ass, and why sleeping in is the ultimate form of self-care for busy artists.
What one book belongs on every artist’s shelf?
Man One: Your earliest sketchbook. It’s always good to remind yourself how far you’ve come.
If you could have dinner with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
MO: I would love to pick the brain of David Alfaro Siqueiros, not just for his incredible murals and art, but for his political beliefs as well. He was an artist who truly lived his conviction, and it would be interesting to get his take on the current global political climate and how to integrate myself into it.
What are you trying to express with your art?
MO: All I’m trying to express is my true self, which just happens to be the easiest and hardest thing for a human to do. It’s a lifelong journey that most of us will never achieve but all artists should strive for. All great works of art are windows into the soul of the creator. It’s a great goal to try and allow the viewer in.
Do you prefer New York- or Chicago-style pizza?
MO: Definitely Chicago-style but only in Chicago; otherwise what’s the point?
Would you work for free in exchange for exposure?
MO: No one should “work” for exposure. If it’s work, that implies that there is an exchange of goods for services. Exposure is a byproduct of that exchange. You should get paid in one way or another AND benefit from the exposure that was created. #NoPayNoArt
What person has most influenced your work?
MO: I would have to say it’s my beautiful wife Laura who I’ve been married to for 26 years now and known since I began my graffiti career in high school. She’s always given me freedom to be myself, supported all my career choices, even supported us financially when I first launched my art business. Plus she gave me three beautiful kids that are the biggest motivator you can ever have. Nothing lights a fire under your ass like being a parent!
What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
MO: Sleeping! I love to sleep as long as humanly possible every day, since most of the time I’m pulling all-nighters and working very long hours. I look at sleep as self care, better than yoga.
What do you consider your greatest artistic achievement?
MO: Being able to make a living and a career out of my passion is my greatest achievement. Without being self-employed I would have never been able to travel the world and do things like paint on the Berlin Wall, share my art with students in Japan, or travel to Panama working with the ambassador and U.S. State Department.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
MO: Doubt kills the warrior.
Is a formal arts education worth the money?
MO: It depends how much money we’re talking about, but if you graduate having a mortgage payment to pay for but no house to live in, then maybe the answer is no.
What is one thing you would like to change about the art world?
MO: White privilege.
Would you rather be a historically significant or commercially successful artist?
MO: I don’t understand why you have to pick one over the other? I prefer to be both. Too many artists fall for this starving artist paradigm.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist.
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