Journal: Tony Sjöman: Thumbnail

Where are you from and where do you reside?

I’m born and grown up in Sweden but I’m Finnish by Heritage. I live in Brooklyn, New York.

What necessities do you require when making your art (radio, specific paintbrushes)?

I have two setups, one for my studio works and one for my murals. I like to keep things simple. The main tools I use are basically the brush and the spray can.

What do you see as the main differences between your murals and the works you complete in the studio?

The size and scale is different. I like to go big with my murals, but when it comes to style there are no major differences. It's important for me to keep my work cohesive regardless of scale or what tools I use.

Describe a typical day in the studio for you.

Lots of coffee, non-stop music, a quick nap at some point during the day and a lot of hard work.

What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?

That’s a good question. The working process is pretty effortless but no matter how much routine or experience I've gained throughout the years there are no shortcuts. Pouring your heart and soul into every single piece can be a very difficult and time consuming process, but having struggled through the process and gotten to the point where it feels right is great.

Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?

Absolutely, every single piece I do is partly by chance. I constantly try to challenge myself by never taking the easy or the most obvious way. I always do the opposite to what I initially find as the next logical step in my work. If I get too comfortable it’s a warning and means it’s time to go the opposite route to what I was planning. Same thing with murals, if I'm working with a difficult wall and a tight deadline, I usually pick the most complicated rough sketch and ask myself if it’s doable? If the answer is no it means I'll do it.

We love the way you sketch directly onto pictures of spaces to plan your murals - how long have you been working this way? Do you always have preparatory drawings?

Being self taught, I'm used to doing things my own way, and I'm very used to problem solving and making things work. I always ask myself "what do we have here and how do I make it work?" I started sketching directly onto photos of spaces and walls after I moved to New York. Since I don’t use projectors, stencils, tape etc. sketching onto pictures is a way for me to get the proportions right. I don’t always make sketches though, lately I’ve leaned towards working more site specific to see where it takes me, especially if I have a lot of time, which is not always the case. It’s amazing how many ideas you can get only by spending some time on site. Small drawings/sketches also don't always do justice to the wall and can limit you from taking advantage of the full potential of the wall. I love playing with architectural details such as windows, corners angles etc.

How important is spontaneity in your art?

Very important. My work may look very controlled and planned, but the process behind it is pretty spontaneous. I keep my sketches rough and super loose and I never use colors in my sketches. When it comes to colors I always map them out super quick without thinking too much. Once I get into the zone everything goes pretty much by instinct.

How do you choose your materials?

Coming from a Graffiti background the spray can is a natural choice. For my studio work I like to experiment with different materials.

Are there any new materials you’re experimenting with? Any you would like to try in the future?

The spray can is probably the most versatile tool out there and impossible to beat when it comes to covering large areas fast. I love oil paintings since they're the opposite of fast, and I'm looking into experimenting with oil in the future.

I always do the opposite to what I initially find as the next logical step in my work. If I get too comfortable it’s a warning and means it’s time to go the opposite route to what I was planning.

Tony Sjöman

How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?

I rarely reflect on the past, but I guess it has evolved from painting letters to something much more personal. I deconstructed my letters into something more abstract and found my work to be a good way to deal with personal stuff. I'm also learning more about myself through my work. I think I'll do more studio work than murals in the future.

Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a classically trained guitarist and I have played in bands most of my life. I used to work in the studio and do murals during the day and play show with my band at nights.

Are you formally trained? Did you go to art school? Who trained you? Did you have a mentor?

I’ve never gone to art school. I chose to go to music school and I still think as a musician when I paint. It may sound odd but it makes perfect sense to me. Never really had a mentor, but my stepdad, who is a house painter, has taught me so much. I could never have imagined that the things I learned from him a kid would be something that I could apply to doing large scale murals in New York 20 years later.

I rarely reflect on the past, but I guess it has evolved from painting letters to something much more personal. I deconstructed my letters into something more abstract.

Tony Sjöman

Have you ever collaborated, or would you?

I collaborate a lot on my murals, but never with my studio work. Doing murals is more of a social thing and it's all about having a good time, while working in the studio is more personal. When it comes to other artists, I really like the old school pioneers, like Futura2000 and Dondi, to name a few.

When did you begin your current practice?

I wrote my first tag at age nine and everything since has felt like a continuation from that.

Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?

Yes, I was riding the tram with my mom and saw this vibrant graffiti piece appear on the side of a factory building along the tracks.

Tell us more about that - did you ever go back? Do you know who made the mural?

The piece was up for a long time. This was before they started buffing walls, early 1984, I think. It was three letters in in vibrant colors with cloud-like bubbles on both sides and it said QSL, one of the very first graffiti crews in my old home town of Gothenburg, Sweden. Nobody really knew what those three letters stood for. I’m still curious about it today.

You’ve mentioned that your Scandinavian upbringing has influenced the direction of your artistic process - can you talk more about that?

I think the Scandinavian aesthetic, - the simple, clean and minimalistic, has influenced my work.

What was the reason for taking on the name Rubin 415?

I never planned to keep that name. It used to be my old tag name when I was doing graffiti, but I kind of kept it as an homage to my graffiti background. 415 is the ZIP code for the housing project in Sweden where I grew up. It’s a classic graffiti thing to have the first three letter from your zip code after your name to show where you’re coming from.

How often do people assume you’re from San Francisco?

It happens all the time. I like San Fransisco. I‘ve been there but never painted there.

Do you see your works as unique or as part of a series?

Both, it’s important for me that every piece work individually, but I usually create my work as a series.

How do your surroundings direct your approach to your work? Do you find that environment relates to your work?, orDo you find that your location strongly influences the direction of your work? Where do you feel you create your strongest work?

Coming from a graffiti background I spent so many years doing something that was born and created here in NYC. When I moved here I started looking back to not only my own background and where I’m from but also to who I am. I find the hectic and sometimes very chaotic environment of this city very calming. I have no problems focusing and painting all day on a busy street. I love moving between large scale murals and the studio where I’m allowed to take my time and create work I know is going to last.

What’s next for you?

I will have my first book coming out next spring and I’m really looking forward to that. It will be a contemporary book focusing on my recent work. I also have two solo shows and several mural projects planned for next year.

What’s one of your favorite objects you own? What’s the story?

I don’t own that many things, I spend most of my money on paint and supplies. I like my guitar and my vinyls.

Are you influenced by any author or non-visual artist? Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?

Music. Nina Simone in particular has been a big influence after I moved to New York permanently in 2010. I also listen a lot to diy minimal synth music from the late 70’s early 80’s like DEUX, Das Ding and of course Kraftwerk. I like Siouxsie and the Banshees.