Mike Okay

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Mike Okay

Mike Okay

Tell us a little about yourself. It’s interesting to know your way from street art to studio and gallery practice.

I grew up during the 1980s in the GDR, in a planned city called Halle-Neustadt which was dominated by the geometric forms of the prefabricated buildings. My image of this part of town, in which I’ve spent my whole childhood, is shaped by countless concrete blocks, blooming flower beds, full clotheslines and colourful playgrounds. This is where I met my friends and now KLUB7 members Christian August aka Kid Crash, Diskorobot and Dani Daphne while spraying graffiti in the mid 1990s. In 1998, at the hall of fame, we founded our graffiti crew KLUB7.

Doing graffiti I realised at some point that the spray can didn’t satisfy me as my only tool and I started using many different materials for my wall paintings. With me starting my studies at Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design in Halle in the early 2000s and the emerging street art movement, my painting style evolved more and more and with it a certain clarity which is the basis for my works and their themes. The street art scene made it possible for me to try a growing spectrum of themes and materials which allowed me to move away from the strict rules of graffiti and find a new passion in street art. Even back then I used to hang out in Berlin a lot with KLUB7. We played the streets with our artworks which led to a rising interest in our collective and by 2005 we were a permanent fixture in the street art scene of Berlin. From then on we as KLUB7 took part in many street art exhibitions in Berlin, Germany and abroad and continued to develop our typical group style. This year KLUB7 celebrates its 20th birthday. It is very special to be able to realise projects together for such a long time and feel this strong backing of our friendship. KLUB7 for me is a family and a very important place to experiment, one where I always get new impulses from the other five members. We still realise large wall projects in the public sphere, organise exhibitions and travel to find inspiration in other cities and countries. At the same time I also need the space and time to deeply engage with my very own history and identity. I very much like working alone in the studio in Halle, relishing the tranquillity.


We would like to know more about your style. is it possible to say that this is a continuation of street work or is it completely different messages?

The influence of the street is a constant companion in my works. My interest in the public sphere began when I was a child in the GDR. I noticed the many statues made of stone or bronze I always tried to climb up on, strewn across the pavements and the lawns. I also really liked the plethora of fountains with their pretty ornaments and forms and the patterns on the facade of the prefabricated buildings. But also the impressive, large-size wall mosaics by José Renau in my neighbourhood made me wonder. After the fall of the Berlin Wall I started to notice the first graffiti in my city. They fascinated me and made me want to engage with this intriguing public space. Therefore you could say that I’ve been fascinated by the “street” my whole life.

My career as a graffiti and street art artist not only significantly shaped my style and my penchant for quick and spontaneous approaches but also my perceptiveness in an urban environment. I like it brash and unrefined. I like the untrained hand, the imperfect in the presentation, errors and mistakes. Seriousness, correctness and perfectionism I find less interesting. My works have been dominated for a few years now by mementos and memories of my childhood and youth. More and more I ask myself questions about my own identity

– detached from KLUB7 -, about the influence of my surroundings, the societal and familial upheavals and most of all the question about my own roots which strongly connect me with Halle-Neustadt and fragments of memories of the 80s and 90s.

My works often resemble a messy children’s room. A happy chaos prevails. It is a childish anarchy that doesn’t hurt but makes you smile and invites you to allow the absurd.

The link to my childhood comes up frequently and had been pervading my creative phases for a few years, which also influences my choice of colour.

What inspires you the most in your work?

In my works I focus on nostalgic moments and quotes from the childhood and youth of my generation. Through this I feel homesick and have a delicate interest in things from my past. I collect toys for example, some if which I brought from my own children’s room. Every once in a while those toys become models for my works.

I also try to transport this carefree attitude towards life I had when I was a child and want to keep now that I’m an adult. This is a wide, open field from which I can reap almost indefinitely. In constantly digging for memories and contemporary witnesses, for the feelings of free and easy and light-hearted nonchalance, I repeatedly strike fragments of memories and interesting everyday situations which in turn start wonderful associative chains within me. I love to observe my surroundings. While doing so I sometimes notice bizarre scenarios and comical turns of phrases which I takes notes of and later use them as sketches for ideas. I also get a lot of inspiration from the public sphere: for example, a house owner wants to paint over a graffiti but his batch of paint doesn’t quite match the original and this creates a new, slightly different surface which silhouettes the graffiti underneath. There are some houses whose facade looks like a camouflage pattern because of that. Here the unending resolve of those homeowners inadvertently becomes an impulse for my own works. The homeowners unintentionally become artists themselves. This is similar to children’s drawings, they are detached from the artistic thought and, for me, radiate a certain anarchy and imagination which I try to act out in my own works and always sense in the “random” art of the urban environment. The city is full of interesting scenarios that just want to be discovered, for example the way construction workers set down their different materials. Those workers subconsciously create wonderful compositions of materials, casually and entirely by chance. These compositions often make me smile and wake the wondering child in me. They make me want to engage with and add to those serendipitous installations. You can look at some of those funny street inspirations at instagram.com/none_art_ .

Tell us about your studio, what kind of place and how long have you been working there?

My studio is in Halle, near the train station. It is one of the two KLUB7 studios that we moved into in 2016. On that old factory site are some studios from painters and sculptors. There are rehearsal rooms, an upholsterer and a junk shop which I frequently visit to discover new things. The building is completely nonrenovated and nostalgic. My studio is on the fourth floor, the attic. It is pretty cosy because on one side there are sloping roofs and old  wooden beams. On the 110 sqm with a ceiling height of 3,50 m I have enough space to work on large canvasses. There is an open kitchen, a couple of desks and a fireplace with a bunk bed in case it gets late in the evenings. I like this space a lot. Up here you are by yourself. That is magical and romantic.

What does your normal working day in the studio look like? what kind of music do you listen to? Does it matter which music to listen for you in creating new works?

After I drive my daughter to school I head straight for the studio. I like to be the first on site. At 7.30 in the morning it is a still place. From the windows in the sloped roofs I hear the city awakening and watch the sun slowly rise above the rooftops. I turn on some music, have a coffee and slowly start into the morning. Usually there is a canvas on which I continue to work. Most days I and the other KLUB7 members hold a Skype conference at around 10 o’clock in which we talk about the latest projects and bring ourselves up to speed. For years this has been our daily ritual because our collective is based in two cities, Berlin and Halle. This way we can stay in touch and exchange views without having to be in the same place. I continue to paint, tinker and work into the afternoon, have some more coffee. During the winter I walk to the basement to get firewood to keep the oven running, in the summer I watch the hustle and bustle in the courtyard from the window. Music is playing pretty much nonstop. It is either Spotify or cultural radio. I love music. Folk, blues, rock, rap, classical, electronic, you name it. For every month I create a folder on Spotify and fill it with interesting songs and thus produce my personal soundtrack of the month. What music I listen to when I work doesn’t really matter but sometimes I need a bit more feeling of security in my studio… that’s when I listen to my favourite band, Tocotronic, whose songs I’ve been listening to for almost 20 years.

Do you ruminate about work and concept before it’s created? Do you attach great importance to sketching in your work?

When I work a certain feeling is of importance. It’s this carefree feeling that lets me immerse myself undistracted in a time gone by or in a certain scenario. While I like approaching it spontaneously and intuitively, experimenting wildly, I also like to work a blurry idea of composition into something much more detailed, into a scenario. The first steps can be very abstract and experimental and then later begin to form an increasingly pictorial space. And even if those early experimental steps aren’t completely visible in the end, they do help me keep this carefree attitude and feeling through the whole process and continue to inspire me. At times it resembles the story with the house owner and his painting over the graffiti, the continued painting over something helps me to create new planes and structures which in turn allows me to go the next step. When it comes to installations I often work in a liberated mode, I let things happen like a child who lives in the moment and doesn’t think about the next step or the consequences. I look at old materials and let the language of its form and surface guide me along.

Tell us a little about your latest exhibition. what kind of work was it and what feedback did you get?

In my latest exhibition I showed works on canvasses which were created with the help of a scholarship from the Art Foundation of the State of Saxony-Anhalt and the Kloster Bergeschen Foundation. With regards to content I examined my childhood during the 80s in the GDR and my youth during the 90s in the reunified Germany. This topic has been the recurring theme in my works for years. Due to the scholarship I had finally enough time to engage with the topic in a more meaningful way and over a longer period of time.

As I have already mentioned, the examination of my own history plays a crucial role for me. I have a very personal interest in the things of my past because they summon a wide variety of memories. My works, which were predominantly painted in acrylic, are collections of memories from my childhood and youth, diary-like records, of phrases from children songs and memories shaped by media, toys, everyday items and bizarre figures. Furthermore, the materials, spray can, air brush, pencil, marker pen, ink and pen, reinforce  a childish, spontaneous and authentic perception and reproduction. The titles, like all elements of the paintings, are keys or emotional trigger for memory. Though they often lose their original context through the process of abstraction and a new interplay on the canvas, they change just like memory and open up a whole new story. Topics and themes like these lead to an impulse in people which triggers their very own film of memories in their head and become a brilliant associative chain by talking about those thoughts alone. It is inspiring to talk to people and share memories and experiences with each other.

Thoughts that you would like to share with readers.

There is so much to discover out there, if you are observant and use your senses. I’m referring to all the intriguing details in the urban environment, the collages of the sounds of the city and the tales, everyday stories and memories of their inhabitants. This is also an opportunity to slow down and take a deep breath.

Many thanks for your attention.

Hugs and kisses.


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