This article originally appeared on ArtSlant Amsterdam in 2009. See more of Laser 3.14's work here: http://www.laser314.com/
Amsterdam, July 2009: To some, graffiti is considered vandalism; destruction of property, a crime against society. Others believe it to be grassroots creativity; a proletariat method of social and political communication. I personally see it as expression…in every sense of the word. Spray painted murals, stenciled figures, and single word tags controversially declare a belief, a principle of one’s truth. In most cases, this truth remains elusive, not to mention conceptually provocative. Many street artists attempt to embrace these elements; perhaps for the sake of building recognition or to establish a connection with others. I believe that one artist in particular, Laser 3.14, goes beyond this elemental framework, philosophically capturing the very essence of mystery and intrigue.
Laser 3.14, And So The Flowers Screamed, © 2009 Catharina Gerritsen (photo).
Laser 3.14 is an artist, poet, illustrator; absolute visionary. Primarily known for his poetic approach to graffiti, Laser’s concept surpasses predictable inscriptions and produces what many consider literary art. For this Amsterdam native, the city is his canvas. One-liners such as: Salute your woman; Barcode be thy name; Pining for a world that won’t explode; and Today I hired a detective to track me down profoundly grace the streets of Amsterdam, London and many other metropolitan regions. Laser’s poetry appears on what he notes as temporary materials; fences, containers, portal cabins and scaffoldings. His simple yet distinctive technique leaves many enthusiasts to question the reasoning behind his craft. For this and many other reasons, I felt it was necessary to personally speak with Laser 3.14 and discover his truth.
Laser 3.14, The Uncountable Trials of Galileo, © 2009 Catharina Gerritsen (photo)
Athena Newton: Your name, Laser 3.14, what does it signify?
Laser 3.14: I was writing Laser as a tag in the 80’s, and then I just continued with that. It’s just a name that I kinda of kept along the way…
AN: Okay, the 3.14 isn’t birthday related or anything…
L: No. [3.14] actually came later…I also collect records, and I was listening to a band called Public Image Ltd it’s from the guy who was in the Sex Pistols; Johnny Rotten started the band after the Sex Pistols. There is a single called This Is Not a Love Song, but the b side was called Public Image, and I was looking at it and I thought ‘ok, the first letter of Public and the first letter of Image, they say Pi- Pi, that’s actually 3.14, and as a graffiti artist you try always try to create the public image because you’re in a public environment…I felt that it was a cool angle to use a chart…
AN: How long have you been writing graffiti?
L: Ever since I was 10 or 11…I saw all these tags in Amsterdam--at that time graffiti was at its infancy and very tag based.
AN: When were you 10 or 11?
L: In the beginning of the 80’s…
AN: So pretty much when the street art scene, at least in New York, started…
L: Actually in New York it started in the 70’s… [In Amsterdam] it started with the punks and squatters, guys like Hugo Kaagman and Dr Rat at the end of the 70’s but hip hop graffiti really picked up steam in Holland around ‘83, ‘84. I was 10 and rap music was beginning to emerge…also electric boogie--it was still very underground. Because of the environment at that time that I was living in I picked up [graffiti] very early before it became a hype here. Also, I saw all these tags around Amsterdam and I didn’t really know what it was but I really liked the imagery of it, so I just started imitating them whenever I had chalk or a marker, just to copy stuff that I saw. But I was very oblivious to the fact that there was a whole scene around graffiti, until I started seeing the early Hip-Hop video clips and then I was like ‘okay, it is something’ [laughs].
Later on I went to the graphics school in Amsterdam, in ’84. At that school there were a lot of graffiti writers. People that I really admired were suddenly in the same perimeters where I was… That’s when I really started to write graffiti, when I started to attend graphics school. I started to learn the graffiti tags, pieces, the whole jargon.
Laser 3.14, He Cut Out Both His Eyes So He Could Finally See, © 2009 Henry Niemyer (Photo).
AN: What kind of imagery/style were you into?
L: I did everything, I did the block letters, but I also did the Wild Style, bubble letters…at some point I really got into doing characters. My focus was to make the best characters possible.
AN: The graffiti writers you went to school with that you developed a connection with--did they count for sources of inspiration as well?
L: Well, guys like Ego, Dragon, Tarantula…those were the guys whose work I saw on the streets pre-graphic school, then when I went to graphic school I met the kid brother of Harakiri who was a big graffiti writer in those days. The first day I was at school it clicked between us; he started showing me around, showing me how to really write graffiti and really tag well…
AN: Define graffiti.
L: That’s a very difficult question. I can tell you what I love about graffiti…What I love about graffiti is that it’s one of the only few art forms that did not originate from the elite. It’s something that just started with kids on the street, and then it had such a big global impact. That’s what I love about [graffiti]: it grew into this massive, very influential, global phenomenon. I like the idea that it wasn’t about this intellectual guy starting it up. It’s something that really came out from the people.
AN: You have very simple, yet profound messages/one liners tagged from Amsterdam to London. With that said, would you consider yourself more of an artist or a writer?
L: To be honest I always saw myself as an artist, whether it’s a graffiti artist or a poet or as a painter, the creative process is all the same for me. It starts with this creative spark and it doesn’t matter in which way I execute it, whether I do it with a spray can or on a canvas- it’s just this part, this genesis for all these different things that I like… I believe you have two kinds of graffiti artists: you have the ones that really like to vandalize…then you also have these graffiti writers who are really artists… For me both are part of graffiti and have the right to exist.
Laser 3.14, Pining For A World That Won't Explode, © 2009 Henry Niemyer (Photo).
AN: Yeah, those who are more interested in the craft rather than the promotion…
AN: You know, I have a favorite tag of yours…
AN: And I would like to know the significance of it: Your Utopia is My Dystopia.
L: It’s about …it’s about perceiving things different ways actually. Actually, it’s very simple. Let’s just say some very religious people live here; doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian or Muslim or whatever. Some of them perceive the way welive as very sinful; they see [our lives] as a religious dystopia but for free minded people it’s a utopia. It’s weird how people can live in the same space and have these different kind of perceptions of the same space. Not that we all have to always agree with each other: that was the idea behind it.
AN: How do you feel about the hype surrounding graffiti now and days?
L: The thing is with hypes, is that hypes always die down in the end. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because it forces you to get back to the roots. But I really appreciate the idea that you can do your stuff on the street, receive credibility, and make a living with it. At the end of the day, that’s what every artist wants.
AN: On your website, I notice that you don’t have any pictures of yourself. Do you wish to remain elusive? Or is it more about your work coming first, then the image?
L: Yes, that’s actually it. I just want the work to speak for itself and not…I don’t want to stand next to my paintings or my work and have to explain everything. I would like the passerby to make up their own mind about it without me pushing them into a certain direction.
AN: So your image or lack thereof… is that intentional? For instance, street artists such as Banksy wish to remain completely anonymous…
L: Yeah, that’s his thing, but for me I’d rather not. It’s not that big of a deal; it’s not like I’m trying to escape it, but it’s just not my thing. Let the work speak for itself, that’s most important.
AN: Does fame intrigue you?
L: Of course. Any artist would be a liar if they told you that they didn’t want recognition for the work that they do. But then there’s fame of course, and I wouldn’t want to be in the position of Michael Jackson. But I really hope my work does something to people, that people react to what I do…That reaction of emotion for my work, I love that part of it…that kind of feedback is amazing.
AN: What inspired you to publish you book, Laser 3.14: Are You Reading Me?
L: I thought it would be cool to have a collection of my pictures in my book. It would be nice for people to have a collection of my favorite work. I released comics books when I was younger in the early ‘90’s, but this is my first officially published book.
AN: Which poem of yours would you consider your favorite?
L: A short poem, I truly see more with my eyes closed; it's a poem dedicated to Nikola Tesla. It’s a very short poem about being connected…about our connection to the whole universe. At least that’s what I try to convey in a very short poem, that everything is connected, that nothing is lost.
ArtSlant would like to thank Laser 3.14 for his assistance in making this interview possible.
(Image at top: Laser 3.14, Apathy Tears A Hole In The Heart, 2011, Mixed Media, © laser 3.14.)
For more information on Laser 3.14’s poetry, films, and graffiti and photographer Catharina Gerritsen, please visit the following websites:
Catharina Gerritsen - http://knuckleheadsplayground.blogspot.com