Reflecting on over three generations of Graffiti Writing
After the release of the CANTWO Icon Series spray can the focus was once again turned on to an artist that has earned his undisputed place in graffiti writing history. As an Oldschool German graffiti writing innovator, CANTWO quickly turned his reputation as a national graffiti writing king into that of an internationally recognized graffiti artist. From his prolific creation of graffiti style writing, graffiti characters, and his iconic CANTWO hand style, to his professional collaborations, design work, apparel designing, and online activities, CANTWO has been at the forefront of so many aspects of contemporary graffiti. Understanding the path that led to CANTWO’s iconic status is a long and intriguing one. The twists and turns in his creative process, the travels, and the global interactions all amounted to the CANTWO we see today. It intrigued us so much so that we decided to spend some time with the artist himself and hear more about the experiences that formed him. Here is what he had to share with us.
An interview with iconic graffiti artists – CANTWO
MONTANA CANS (MC): You were born in Mainz- Germany in 1970 and started writing graffiti in 1983. This means you have spent a large portion of your life doing, or being involved in graffiti. How do you feel about being celebrated as an “ICON” in the Montana Cans ICONIC SERIES?
CANTWO: I feel absolutely honored that Montana puts me in the same category as greats such as FUTURA and MARTHA COOPER.
MC: Do you acknowledge or accept (as most of the graffiti world would confirm), that you have become an “ICON” and a reference point over multiple generations in international graffiti culture? How do you feel about this idea?
CANTWO: It’s always strange when people call me ICON or KING because I never felt that way. I still see myself as a part of a global movement. I’m happy that I have inspired so many other writers around the globe. I was just there at the right time when it all started in Europe. Like so many other kids I was immediately fascinated by the B-Boys and writers we saw on TV. Those were my heroes and icons. But of course, I’m flattered when people see me as their influence or honor me with their “titles”.
MC: Can you tell us a little about the history of your chosen color “Can2 Cotton Candy” for the ICON can, and what your affiliation is with its development?
CANTWO: It was a long process to find the right design and the right color. I’m a perfectionist, and creating a design for the iconic series was a big challenge. Montana and I worked closely together and we made a few test prints. The first attempt was to create a blueish design, as there had already been the “Can2 Blue“ within the Montana Writer Team Colors and the „Can2 Cool Candy“ within the Montana GOLD range. But the test prints did not convince me at all. So I had to start from scratch and a classic white design came to my mind. Coloring the character was no option, so I used white, grey, and black instead. I also wanted to give it a royal touch. And what color is more royal than gold. So I decided to play with some golden elements and I used the cross symbol from the old “Irritant-Danger” sign that used to be on all cans. The final name „Can2 Cotton Candy“ was chosen by my wife.
MC: This touches on your extended involvement with the development of spray paint, and spray paint colors in general over your many years in graffiti culture. Can you give us a little overview of all the different paint types, brands, or colors that you worked with and assisted in the development of?
CANTWO: You are right, this wasn’t my first involvement. I was part of BOMBER’s Art Agency „Oxygen“ in Frankfurt in the mid-nineties. Besides conveying Graffiti artists to clients for commissioned jobs, we ran a mailorder for blackbooks, markers, and cans. Back then we worked with RAL Colors that were available on the market. Soon after that, the idea was born to create our own cans named „Oxygen Colors“. We picked 20 colors from a Pantone color chart that were all mainly pastels.
MC: Your valued, ongoing relationship with Montana Cans has accompanied you through many generations of your graffiti history, and many years of international graffiti culture development. How, and when, did your involvement with Montana Cans originally begin?
CANTWO: It started 21 years ago when some guys from Montana introduced me to their cans for the very first time.
MC: Were there any highlights in this period that stand out for you?
CANTWO: All the touring with the Montana Writer Team between 2000 and 2006. They brought me to Helsinki, New York, Moscow, Dubai, Rome, Milano, Warsaw, Basel, Barcelona, Sao Paulo, Brighton, and Berlin. Every trip felt like a vacation with good friends.
MC: You have been involved in many graffiti groups like the original Montana Writer Team, Stick Up Kids, and United Artists (to name a few). These represent both artistic and commercial aspects of graffiti culture. Was it difficult to maintain this balance of commercialism, free creativity, and integrity? And were there ever any moments when it was a struggle?
CANTWO: The commercial aspect behind a spray can company sponsoring artists was never an issue because we never got any guidelines from Montana. We had absolute artistic freedom when we were planning our walls. So there was no difference between painting with my crewmates from Stick Up Kids or with the Montana Writer Team. We always had a perfect balance between our friendship and teamwork within the crew and Montana. There were never any troubles or struggles.
MC: With all the national and international artists and brands you have collaborated with until now, are there any stand-out, or special experiences, that you reflect on? Was there a “greatest project” amongst them?
CANTWO: I’ve been working with so many companies like Adidas, Bosch, Carhartt, COKE, Chevrolet, Jägermeister, Lufthansa, MTV, Puma, Roche, Toys ’R’ Us, Wrigley`s… just to name a few. The cooperation with ADIDAS, when I created designs for shoes and clothing was probably the best so far. This is because Adidas was and is my favorite sports brand since the 80s. Working with COKE is also worth mentioning. It was a pleasure to work with such a professional team.
MC: During the rise of graffiti culture in the mainstream in Germany around 1995, you were involved in a television interview with fellow writer BOMBER, where you commented on the notion of “selling out” and what that meant to you then, at a time when living off graffiti was not common. How do you feel about this notion now almost 30 years later? Do you manage to live solely from your artwork now?
CANTWO: I think things have changed a little. I always replied with a big smile when people stated „Sell Out“ to me back in the 90s. I already painted for 12 years in 1995 and I was part of the networking process in the mid-eighties that brought Breakdancing, Graffiti, and Hip-Hop forward in Germany. So I never saw myself “selling anything out”. Neither back then, nor today. Nowadays it’s called “commercialization “, but it has the same meaning. When I do a commissioned graffiti job I don’t hurt anybody or take anybody’s place. And it doesn’t hurt the movement either. Only the poor and narrow-minded people envy the success of other people. I make a living with a mix of commissioned jobs and canvases.
MC: How would you describe the process of coming to your style? It is easy to say that it was NY influenced for example, but were there any iconic artists for you that had the greatest impact on you then, which led to the stylistic decisions that you made to enable you to be where you are stylistically now?
CANTWO: It was a slow process. I was changing my artist name all the time. I sketched different letters with different styles all the time. I was just practicing, testing out shapes, colors, 3D’s, and shadows. When I went to Hamburg for the first time in 1987 I used CANTWO as my name to introduce myself. After this point, it was too late to change my name again as the other writers had gotten to know me by this name. SEEN had the most profound influence on my style, obviously due to his feature in Style Wars. I’ve watched this movie at least a hundred times, and every time I saw a SEEN piece on the screen I was impressed by his ability to write his name in so many different styles. Even though he admits that he got a lot of his style from Billy 167. However, he mastered it and made it his own.
MC: Ironically, the term ICON has already played a part in your career path by way of the “CANTWO – ICONS” solo show in Halle 02, 10 years ago in Heidelberg, Germany. In this exhibition, you featured many character-based works that featured some of the iconic artists/people in your life. Do you have a preference for working with characters or letters in your artwork?
CANTWO: It was a great opportunity to showcase my works in Heidelberg. Letters are my main preference, but I love to put characters beside them. Either one of my own distinctive B-Boy characters or another cartoon-based character. They simply fill the walls with life.
MC: In a digital world where visual inspiration is only a click or a scroll away, even if you were to not know or relate to them, do you see any particular graffiti writers as special leaders/icons/role models in graffiti today? If yes, what is it about them, their artwork, or their actions that caught your attention?
CANTWO: I don’t know if they are leaders, but there are so many talented writers out there. One, in particular, is CESER (@ceser87) whose creativity is mind-blowing, but also evergreens like BATES (@greatbates), WANE (@waneonecod), or BIO (@biotatscru) are still on top of the style game. When it comes to trains, MOSES & TAPS (@moses.taps) are probably the most creative ones, SHARK (@shark.tuf) for his fascinating comeback, JESUS (twister_yckb_acm_vets_crew) for his hunger to paint and evolve, and ATOM (@atomoneski) for remaining prolific at a high level since the ’90s. They are absolutely worth mentioning among so many other crazily good artists. There are just too many to name.
MC: If you had the choice to work with any artist you wanted to, on any project worldwide. Who would it be, and what would the project be?
CANTWO: I was blessed to work with Mark Bode a few years ago. Actually, I’m a great fan of Virgil Abloh (@virgilabloh), KONGO (@cyril_kongo) MIKAEL B (@mikaelbrandrup), DEMS (@demsky__), CEY (@ceyadams) and I’m sure that I’ll meet them (again) sooner or later to do any great project, whatever that will be.
MC: You have often been cited as prioritizing your work on walls rather than on canvases. Has the gallery space, creating sellable artworks, or the importance to create studio artwork increased or changed for you?
CANTWO: Working on canvases was a hassle in the beginning. I love the freedom of space so the letters and the artwork can breathe. I painted my first canvas in 1986 and over the last years, I started to enjoy it more and more. Nowadays I arranged myself with limited space and actually, I love the challenge to work on smaller formats.
MC: Do, or did you, have any phases in your career until now where you achieved something extra special or important to you? If yes, when was it, and what was it that stands out as important to you?
CANTWO: Being part of an art agency, creating colors for spray cans, building my own brand, working with big companies, etc….influenced me as an artist and a human being. But in the end, it was always about the people behind the process that I’ve met over the years during these phases. There were only 2-3 people that really changed my life, opened my eyes, and steered me in the right direction.
MC: Your position in the international graffiti movement has often earned you the place on judging panels for graffiti contests and events. How do you feel about the role as judge?
CANTWO: Being a judge is usually a very difficult job, especially when it comes to graffiti. Every participating artist or crew wants to win, and every graffiti artist has his own artistic opinion about style, letters, colors, swing, and arrangements, etc… So you can imagine how difficult it is to award points to these categories.
MC: For those that aren’t aware, what are the origins of the name CANTWO?
CANTWO: I had several names in the beginning, like RATTY FRESH, RASTEY 177, VIVID LEGS just to name a few. In 1986 I came up with the name COOL CANDY. I soon shortened it to CANDY and then to CAN. I added the number 2 because my family and I used to live in a house that was No.2.
MC: What is your favorite Montana Can and cap combination to paint with?
The iconic path of CANTWO doesn’t stop here and we are sure we will be seeing more of what this legendary graffiti artist creates in the days, weeks, months, and years to come. All the while taking his unique style further and deeper into the vaults of future graffiti culture history.
Gallery of CANTWO Pieces over three decades
The interview was held by René van Kan / MONTANA-CANS – Copyright of all photography and artworks by ©CANTWO
To get a piece of the MontanaCans Iconic Series history yourself, visit your local MontanaCans reseller for availability and information while stocks last.
MontanaCans ICONIC SERIES CANTWO / Color: CAN2 COTTON CANDY