Interview: Chemis

Chemis is a street artist  from Kazakhstan, living in the Czech Republic. He started painting at the age of 16. His works are known around the world. Always on the move, discovering new territories, experimenting with his spray can, making friends. He cooperated with organizations to promote human rights, as it was an important part of his ten-year history as an artist. 
I recently had the opportunity to send Chemis a few questions, and this is what he had to say:

ChemisCould you tell us a little about yourself, where you´re from and how did you get started in the urban art scene?
Hi! I am originally from Kazakhstan, but I’ve been Living and studying in Czech Republic. I started painting at the age of 16, I was involved in the Hip Hop culture and tried out few elements, but I mainly saw magazines with few pages of graffiti and tried my first bombing. And colors got under my skin since then.

Do you have a formal education?
I studied economics of tourism in high school and in college with bachelor degree. And after deciding to take art classes I realized that I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do, and what to paint.
Chita, RussiaCould you describe the development process of your artwork?

I started with classic three letters, chromes, tags, stencils, stickers, just the usual night stuff. I realized I want to try everything and in a complicated form and mainly have some bigger meaning. But at night you got no time for this, so I moved to doing legal walls. The first characters and 3D pieces were a disaster, but it was a challenge to improve and that’s what kept me going.

Prague 2014How do you go about creating your art piece? How do you choose a wall/environment?
Generally I look for wall with a shape which begins and ends, preferably big and with some architecture or structure that I can use in the mural. When I go to my projects, I like to choose the wall myself, sometimes I feel like, this is the wall I want to paint. I like a wall with some history and story to tell to inspire me. When I get idea, I have to transform it to visual form. I´m really bad with sketches, I don´t like doing them, but I always need one. Mostly I got everything, composition and colors in my mind all the time.

How much does your art affect or influence your everyday life and are there any role models or artists who inspired you?
It’s a part of my life, so it affects everything I do. In these days I got always something to work on, so there is no day I don´t think about painting. I don´t have role models really, but we can say I like the precision German painters, their sense for detail and professional look. In the early years, I took inspiration from artists to try if I can do the same with cans, but when I saw them using stencils to manage details, I was disappointed and from then I don´t have much expectation. It´s hard to make my jaw drop.
Helsingborg , SwedenHas your style developed throughout the years?

I’m sure it has. As I look back now, I can see I focused on harder and bigger things, that I forgot to all the simple things like tags and bombs, as rock minded writers would says – it sucks and I know it. But nobody is perfect in everything and I´m trying neither. I just want to reach what and how I want to paint each mural. there is still space to develop and there will always be. I would say, its hard to recognize my style on first look, as I´m not stuck in one specific style, I love to experiment and so you hardly find two similar murals. It´s good that I´m not getting boring, but on other hand it might be confusing for others.

Bandit QueenWhat are your thoughts on the way the internet is influencing the artworld?
Internet made everything easy. It´s easy to find art, artist, see what´s going on, contact people and publish your work worldwide. This would never happen without internet. It also made more people involved in this movement and it´s growing really fast. It´s more about the social media now and the presentation via videos and photos. I´m doing the same to follow this trend.

Which countries have you visited to paint so far and where did you like it best?
I’ve been in most European countries and each has something to offer and I like all of them more or less. In the last year I’ve travel to places I’ve never thought I’d go to, from New York straight to the middle of Siberia. In a war zone of Israel and Ukraine. Being on the road made me realize that no matter where you go, you’ve got family members of this culture and they are always willing to help.
Copenhagen 2011Have you painted in the USA? If so, how was your experience like?

It was fantastic, thanks to Museum of Public Art who invited me to Baton Rouge in Louisiana and paint there few times, I am very grateful for that. I was in the right place and at the right time. Also, I got the honor to paint the main wall on Graffiti hall of fame in Harlem/NY, which was a dream come true. I met really good people and made great friends and was painting with true graffiti legends. Unfortunately, I was one of the last artists who painted in 5pointz. There is still places I would like to see and spend more time, like the West Coast and Florida for Art Basel for example.

RhinoWhat are your views on racism, injustice and human rights?
I´m color blind, I see people as good or bad. In this world where people get mixed, they travel and migrate with they culture and religion. This is getting to be a possible problem and soil for xenophobia thoughts. Multicultural world is the goal of art as well It’s one of main topic in my work. I use graffiti to show my opinion generally or on specific cases. I came out with a project few years ago and named it “Write for freedom – graffiti tour for human rights” in cooperation with Amnesty international, I traveled around the Europe and painted murals that show those problems to the public in a different way they used to.

Is there a message in your art?
My art isn’t empty, and the message is more important that my name for me!
Street art is still considered vandalism, how is it for you to go out and paint in the street? Did you ever have any problems with the law?
I had no problem with anybody painting in the street so long as they have a brain and a conscience. It is part of it and to understand roots, you just have to feel it as well. I had problems with law few times. But it´s only made me stronger. I´m not painting illegal, I don´t have this need anymore. Maybe from time to time 😉

Israel, 2013What have been your most challenging and rewarding piece of work this far?
I´m sure one of most challenging pieces were in my hometown where I painted two 5 level buildings using scaffold and the thing is I have fear of heights, so each level I went up I beat my fear. That wasn’t easy but I´m glad I made it and now I´m able to do big walls.

What do you do when you are not creating art? What are your hobbies?
I really love to travel. Going by car to places I’ve never been and camp anywhere I want. It´s my freedom. I like spending time with family. In my free time I hang out with my friends, playing billiard and for sport, I like snowboarding. I would like to learn Spanish and work out little bit.
Museum of Public Art, Baton RougeWhat’s next for you? What shows or projects do you have planned?

Well, I want to start editing my new video from adventures of last year. I´m going back to Israel this October and thinking about countries I can go after, you know, where it is warm and where I can be creative. I want to paint the world, that´s my plan.

SphynxAny words of advice for aspiring new artists?
Work hard, be patient, respect others and choose your own way. It´s your fight mainly with yourself, because being an artist it´s not an easy way of life.

Thank you Chemis for your time and wish you luck on your future endeavors.



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