Meeting the German Train Writing Legend
Decades on, JEPSY’s semi-wild styles continue to captivate, a testament to his enduring influence from the golden era of German train graffiti. It’s this legacy that makes JEPSY the ideal choice for Montana Cans’ ICONIC Series. In this unique collaboration, JEPSY’s essence is encapsulated, offering a glimpse into the world of a graffiti legend. Montana Cans, synonymous with paint quality made in Germany, proudly collaborates with JEPSY, celebrating the art form that transformed urban landscapes worldwide. Recently, we had the privilege of speaking with JEPSY at the Montana Store Frankfurt, where he was painting a fresh JEPSY style. Enjoy the following conversation!
We met JEPSY painting a fresh style at the Montana Store Frankfurt!
M: Hey, Jepsy, it’s a pleasure to meet you! What are you up to?
J: Wait, what? Haha, thank you, likewise! As you see, I am picking up some supplies for an upcoming exhibition and have to finish this piece here. Let’s grab a coffee; I got a couple of minutes to talk if you want.
M: Yeah, I had to look twice if it was actually you. Since time is limited, let’s jump right into it. How do you feel about releasing your personal edition of the Iconic series in 2023 after so many years in the game, and is there a reason behind your choice of color?
J: Yes and no – where to start? To provide some context: The choice of colors was and still is always very important to me. What shades should I fade into the fill-ins if I opt for a light or dark-colored outline? There must be some balance in the mix to make certain elements pop. I do not have a favorite color, as I mostly combine them. Moderation and placement are essential, and I can work with anything. So, a single color itself is not too important but rather what you do with it. When I had the chance to work on my own can, which is an absolute dream project, I tried to take a step back. After so many years of writing, I tried to tell a story instead of singling out my favorite shade of, let’s say, greens.
M: Sounds interesting. Could you expand on that?
J: Sure. Look at the final design of the can. It shows one of my favorite pieces on one of my favorite canvases. Specifically, I called it the love train, a train model named Karlsruher Kopf, to be exact. The can commemorates one of my best pieces and represents the German steel train era. Practically, to fit the design, the roof must be grey to be authentic. Apart from that, that grey covers really well, a quality that should not be overlooked. Overall, the concept is a playful approach to showing my heritage and having fun with it.
M: That’s an interesting point of view.
J: When it comes to painting on trains, there are always aspects you have to work with. How much time do you have, how is the light, what is the color of the train? The combination of these factors always created a challenge I liked. But I always tried to plan and anticipate the circumstances. Specific color schemes work better on a red surface than on a silver surface. I wanted to implement this angle into the project. External factors always determine the outcome to some degree when you paint trains.
Hence, the shape of the can determined the color I could have chosen. It’s the same principle as how a train’s parking spot in a yard influences how much time I had. The writers can relate.
M: So, you still approach life like a train writer?
J: Painting trains was a unique phase in my life – all the stress, the adrenaline, the effort. I was out at odd hours in weird areas, checking out spots, preparing actions, and documenting them afterward. I wanted to evoke the feeling of a perfectly parked train in a gloomy yard somewhere in a rural area- pure romanticism for train writers.
M: How would you compare colors from back in the day with modern spray paint?
J: I feel you would like to hear that the colors in the 1990s were all bad, like that typical watery yellow with almost no coverage. The truth is, I have always been fanatic about researching my supplies, so even back then, there were very decent shades with almost comparable covering quality to today’s paint. And I do not even mean the infamous Heat Red. Let’s put it this way: it was just different back in the day.
M: Since you started the topic, what else was different then?
J: Well, we always prepared our missions well. We knew all the schedules and all the ins and outs of the spots. But one thing that was very uncommon for us back then was to paint with the help of lookouts. We were on top of things; we knew we had at least 45 minutes between drivers coming and cleaners leaving wherever we went. I had a perfect spot with a usual timeframe of two to three hours. And obviously, the trains are a lot more charming! I am not a fan of futuristic-looking plastic models. From today’s perspective, it might sound funny, but back then, even the classic steel trains were almost too modern for my taste. The New York Subway will forever be my benchmark in judging a train’s beauty.
M: Relatable! Speaking of New York…
J: Not only did the trains have to have the New York vibe, but the style needed to ooze a particular aesthetic in my taste. This has never changed. A style must fit onto the train and not just be wall piece painted onto another surface, right?
M: That makes sense! By the way, who was your biggest inspiration in New York? A wild guess: Is it Seen?
J: Haha, you got me! If you want me to drop some additional names, I am a big fan of Skeme and Dez. Also, Shame 125 has to be mentioned. Of course, I have seen Subway Art and Style Wars, but our most significant influence back then was a private stash of pictures I received through a friend in Munich, where I went with Zebster. Somehow, someone had met Henry Chalfant, who showed them some of his unpublished work. My friend back then was smart enough to take analog pictures of Chalfants` folders, which he copied and distributed. I vividly remember the freshest pieces ever by Kenn and Cem, which, to my knowledge, have never been in any of the influential publications later on.
M: Wow, I’ve never heard of that! It sounds super dope. Speaking of photographs, what value does documenting your work have for you?
J: Documentation is the most essential element of the game directly after the painting. I always tried to take pictures with a decent SLR camera my dad gave me. Of course, back then, it was all analog. During painting, I felt a lot of pressure, which somehow resolved in comic relief when I saw my train approaching the platform the following day. That feeling is hard to beat, and I must admit that I secretly miss it. Also, I took lots of footage with a Mini Dv camera that somehow sadly got lost over the years. But that’s part of the game, you lose some material, and pieces get buffed, but my memories remain. Also, projects like this are nice to revive that old spirit.
M: Since we briefly touched upon the topic, do you have a favorite train type next to the classic New York subway?
J: Steeltrains! But honestly, I can never decide between the mint and the silver model. Let’s say it’s a draw for me.
M: That is in fact, a tough decision. Speaking of icons, how do you feel about being part of the Iconic Series when you look at the other names in that lineup? Self-awareness is a tricky subject within graffiti culture sometimes.
J: You might have a point! Frankly, I am still amazed that people like my work. It might sound cheesy, but I never painted for somebody else, and the only competition I ever faced was the one with myself. I paint what I feel like. But it fills my heart with joy when there is positive feedback.
M: One last question: if you hear a train approaching, do you still care to look?
J: Of course! Old habits never change. I will always appreciate fresh graffiti. Moses and Rage took it to the next level for sure.
M: Thank you! It has been an absolute honor to work with you!
J: Thank you. I am more than grateful for this opportunity!
Last but not least, we have a small public service announcement: if you are around Deurne in the Netherlands these days, check out Jepsy´s upcoming exhibition at Unframed Gallery. This is a rare occasion, since he has never showcased his work yet!
Dirty Grey by JEPSY – always on top and always authentic – available only while stock lasts. MONTANA-CANS – Highest quality made in Germany.
Inveriew by Flight Mode, Store Photography by © MontanaCans / Alexander Krziwanie; Trains @JEPSY; Action Yard Shots by André Sasse