Atom One is a name that stands for over 30 years of quality graffiti innovation. His roots stemming from the German city of Dortmund, he is now one of the most respected graffiti writers on the globe. With an unstoppable work ethic, his continual commitment to graffiti style writing has made him a reference point for multiple generations of graffiti writers. To celebrate the legendary status of the 20th Montana-Cans Artist Series can, it seemed only fitting to feature a legendary writer that is active both behind the scenes and in the scene. With his choice of the Montana BLACK Atom’s MEGABLAST color, Atom has paid homage to his favorite variation of his favorite color, orange.
Interview with Graffiti Writer ATOM ONE
MC- Your graffiti name is known all over the world, your style of graffiti is a reference point for writers of all ages, and you have been heavily active for over 3 generations. Does the fire still burn in you as strongly as when you began?
ATOM- Yes, of course, the fire is still burning as it did at the beginning.
MC- Graffiti has splintered into many diverse sub-disciplines. What are your feelings toward writers who have turned to focus on fine art and gallery work, and do you still relate to the older writers who focus purely on graffiti style writing?
ATOM- Things are different now compared to 30 years ago. Some of us have different needs. Now there are obligations, children, you have to earn money, and the time is no longer there to go completely nuts as it was 30 years ago. Or better yet, at the beginning of your career. Time management is the keyword, and everything depends on that. Time management is not my strength otherwise I would be doing more.
MC- You have had many periods in your work where particular styles came to the fore. Do you have a favorite or any favorite phases in your style that you can reflect on?
ATOM- One poignant period for me was when the Berlin writers regularly came to visit Dortmund, and I saw that you can make your style a lot more attractive and with a lot more power with very few visual resources. For me when I saw this, I sat down and set myself the goal of taking the typical Dortmund blockbuster style that I was doing to a new level and dealing a little more with letter combinations or to put it more accurately, the combination of the letters. I no longer went out to just paint 5-6 pieces every day and that was that, rather, I wanted to do achieve one impressive piece and invest a little more effort to get a better result. This was such a milestone for me between 1994 and 1998.
MC- You have been an active graffiti writer for the greater part of your life and have seen many changes in graffiti culture. (E.G., the internet and social media, the commercialization of graffiti, the many publications made, etc.) Are there any specific topics within graffiti writing culture now that you feel strongly about?
ATOM- Yes of course. I belong to the old guard and have certain ideas and values that I have come to appreciate and love over the years. Nevertheless, I do not judge when people progress and develop their ideas and expressive forms further, to reflect the art they make and the mediums they use. I have no problem with that, the one belongs to the other, and is also justified and should be continued in my opinion. The only thing I pass judgment on a little is the time people spend on social media. This is time that is not being used to be creative or to reflect on the art you bring to the outside world. That’s why you don’t see posts from me every day or every week, but only when I feel like it.
MC- Were there any turning points in your life or graffiti writing career that have affected you more than others?
ATOM- My turning point was when I was 16 years old. This is when my father said to me: “you have to take care of yourself now”. He no longer felt like being held accountable all the time for the trouble I was getting myself into. I left home and stood on my own two feet for the first time. From that point on, graffiti was what I was best at and the only thing I had to earn money. I am grateful to my father for those words to this day.
MC- As a lot of writers see style writing as a never-ending quest for perfection, are you happy with the work you are creating right now?
ATOM- I just try to stay true to myself and not lose sight of the goal I set myself at the beginning of my career, which was to paint graffiti for as long as I could and to become as famous with it as possible.
Graffiti has taken on an uncontrollable dynamic of its own over the years and it goes in all directions. These directions are all associated, be it street art, graffiti on canvas for the gallery exhibitions, straight style writing, tagging, the throw-up movement, etc… All these things fall under the heading GRAFFITI.
It used to be a handful of people in a city, or in a country, on a continent. Today it is a complete movement that I helped spread to all areas of social life including fashion, music events packaging, advertising, or social media. Graffiti is simply a formative art form, or rather the formative form of art of the last 50 years that simply must be recognized. I am happy and grateful to be a part of it and to give something back, be it my pictures or my work developing spray cans that are fun to use.
I am still looking for perfection in my style which I will probably never find in my lifetime as there is no such thing. Or as the beat producers would say, “looking for the perfect beat”. There isn´t one, everything is a learning process that everyone should go through, not giving up after going backward while learning the style process. It always gets better and so style is not timeless, but always variable, ever-changing, sometimes more complicated, other times less complicated or reduced. Sometimes even completely exaggerated. And that is what style lives from, ever dependent on the mood you are in.
MC- Your elaborate and prolific wholecar works often pop up on social media and mystify the audience. Are you that guy that needs an extra 10 minutes when everyone else is finished? Or are you the one who is emptying scraps on another panel while you wait for the others to finish?
ATOM- Haha, no, I’m definitely not the guy you need to wait an extra 10 minutes for. Usually, I am the one who finishes first when there is a time limit of 1.5 to 2 hours. Particularly if this is discussed beforehand, you need to stick to it.
I am probably more experienced and can reach my potential in exactly 2 hours, so it may look more complicated than others. But it is just that I know what I can do in 2 hours, keeping it safe, and not over exaggerating it.
MC- You have successfully managed to consistently paint in all disciplines of graffiti all over the globe. Whether it be the streets, walls, or trains. What was the most rewarding action/project that you have managed to paint until now?
ATOM- I think the first wholecar I ever painted was the most significant event or the most outstanding action I did. From that day on, it was like I was obsessed. All I wanted to do thereafter was to paint big, beautiful, colorful wholecars. I hope that I just have enough opportunity and time on this planet to be able to do that a little more.
MC- What is it that inspired the color MEGABLAST when it was being developed?
ATOM- Orange has always been my favorite color and that’s why it was clear to me when I got the opportunity to make my own color, it would be some form of orange.
Montana gave me the opportunity to make ATOM´s Napalm orange back in the days, but for strategic reasons, the Writer Team line was then discontinued. This resulted in ATOM´s MEGABLAST Orange.
MEGABLAST because this orange covers extremely well.
MC- Imagine that for whatever reason, you have concluded that you must stop writing graffiti forever. If you can have one last painting session that is guaranteed to work out. Where would it be and on what?
ATOM- Yes, I’ve been contemplating this topic for quite a while, and at some point, I won’t be able to paint graffiti anymore. You never know if you will stay healthy, your bones will get tired, or you just don’t feel like it anymore, which I can’t imagine at this point and I’m almost 50. But the last action will definitely be a beautiful colorful Wholecar and I would be most happy about it if it was on an old steel train wagon. That was the first train I painted, so it would be a fitting ending.
MC- What’s your favorite Montana BLACK can and cap combination?
ATOM- The best Montana cans cap combo for me is Montana BLACK black with a NYC fat cap for the outlines, or any Montana BLACK line can with Gold/Black fat cap to fill in. Absolutely the best!
MC- When in Italy, how many cups of coffee do you drink per day?
ATOM- Good question, when I’m in Italy, my Italian colleagues always laugh because I drink too much coffee. I only drink cappuccino and Italians only drink cappuccino in the morning with breakfast. But that’s not enough for me, I drink cappuccino all day. There is always one or the other shake of the head from the Italian boys. Or as they say, “Latze, is not possible cappuccino now, only in the morning”