Interview with the New York based artist duo HowNosmBorn in Spain, German in heritage, residing in New York, painted in over 70 countries (thats right 70! it’s not a typo), Graffiti artists, Fine artists, Commercial artists and brothers (identical twins in fact). Sounds complicated right? Well it’s not if your HOW and NOSM. Or as their mum calls them, Raoul and Davide Perré. The twins don’t just make art, they live it. And with the drive and motivation to do it better, they also now live from it. Since the 90’s HOW and NOSM started their ascent up the artistic life path. Starting with the classic tagging and train writing graffiti artist path, transforming to commercial art and ever morphing into fine art and everything in between. Nothing the brothers have ever done was done in halves. How can they, there is two of them.
Every aerosol tool known to graffiti artists has at some point passed through these two sets of hands. No wonder they look like veterans up a scissor lift with a ton of Montana GOLD or Montana BLACK cans. But it is in an ironic twist that these well travelled and very well informed creative boundary pushers have chosen to reduce their color palette to primarily red, black and white, and the tonal variations possible in between (e.g. greys and pinks). In a recent project in Paris, the duo painted a phenomenal mural covering one side of a whole apartment block. The work titled “Sun Daze” was curated by Galerie Itinerrance and proudly supported by Montana Cans. During the many days How and Nosm where at it painting this impressive monster, we were lucky enough for them to take some time out and share some of their thoughts and philosophies with us.
Montana Cans: Your backgrounds are of the most well rounded a graffiti artist or fine artist could ask for. Your involvement in graffiti alone has led you to tick just about every box a writer(s) could want to tick. But how do you view yourselves? Is there words or a preference of descriptive words that you would use to describe yourselves to those not in the know?
HOWNOSM: (Laugh), I don’t know, we don’t see ourselves better than other graffiti artists or artists, we just have done maybe a little bit more than others, and we have been painting for almost thirty years now, so it speaks for itself that we have a lot of body of work but, I mean, that’s just what we do, that’s just one part of who we are, it doesn’t make us just writers you know, I don’t know it’s… I know what you are talking about, back in the days we painted the trains and then we started to do walls and legal walls and big productions and then we started to do our art and the transition of what we were doing from the streets into canvas so… But we’re not the only ones, there is a lot of people who do that, I don’t know. Maybe we stand out because our style is very original and unique and, you know, and we are twins. But I don’t know how I would to describe myself (laugh) in that case, I never told about it you know what I mean? I like what I do, I’m glad that I can live of what I’m doing and what I love and I never take it for granted you know.
Montana Cans: We as keen observers have followed the development of your work for many years. Your achievements aboveground and underground have been prolific and inspiring. Do you still get to dabble in all disciplines of your graffiti heritage? Or has your international exposure meant your anonymity has become difficult? Do you even still have the itch to do something under the radar or is it “been there done that” for you?
HOWNOSM: No, not really, I mean we’ve done our first year of illegal graffiti all over the world and we’ve been in many places like maybe like seventy countries, before many other people we were doing graffiti there, before there was Montana spray cans there so we got our itch out of the system really. I mean yeah, it’s always nice when we came over here, we were riding in the subway and we see graffiti on the Paris subway, of course, we love that and we look at it, we take some pictures of it but we almost forty four years old now and have kids and we’re focusing on our work.
Montana Cans: We understand the move to use only Black, White and Red (and tones thereof), was born out of necessity while travelling through South American countries. But what was the catalyst to stay within this color spectrum and was it a conscious decision? For example, was there a day when you said “OK, let’s now only use these three colors and any we create from mixing them”? Or was it a gradual process?
HOWNOSM: I guess we were doing it for so long in south America and specially these three that at some point people recognized so fast our style and the kind of palette that we decided to stick with it so people can still keep recognizing the work we paint, and after a while we just added like different shades of paint and greys to it and now a little bit more like purple ich into it. It’s still the same type of colors, it’s developing slowly but it’s still the same.
Montana Cans: For anyone that looks closely, there are a lot of individual symbols, icons and re-occurring images in your artworks. Are these design decisions, or is there a dialogue happening within each painting, or with the works as a series?
HOWNOSM: I mean our work always as certain messages and we use different imageries to bring their messages over to the public. And obviously there is some imagery that would be used just out of decorative purposes. I mean, we use the bottle for example as, you know, as a reference to message in the bottle so it’s a scenery, let’s say like a couple arguing each other that we could put it in the bottle as a message in the bottle, and hearts or for example re-occurring arrows, and keys, all kinds of different images that not always have to have a specific purpose you know.
Montana Cans: Do you prefer to create one-off work like walls, canvases that can be reproduced like prints, or digitally created works?
HOWNOSM: Most of the work we do is drawn out on paper first so the fine art line work is sketch on paper and usually transferred onto the canvas or onto a templet that is over a building for example, so we know how to size the mural. But usually everything is handmade you know, some computer work when it comes to laying out big buildings so we know where the colors go and where looking for to save time. Yeah the most of it is free hand and we take a picture of it and layered out of photoshop if we wanna use a certain canvas or sketch on a mural, it’s mainly how we do stuff, by drawing it by hand (laugh).
Montana Cans: Your ability to move from large to small and all scales in between is astonishing. While standing here looking at this massive project in Paris, did you get nervous or was it just another day in the office for you both?
HOWNOSM: It’s just another day out of the office! Yeah, we don’t get nervous, we just make sure that we are well rested the days before, because it’s very physical you know, it’s not like it’s a small wall, you have to crank it out, you have to paint not only like four, five hours a day, because then it takes forever and then, you get more tired of it. So, we usually knock of ten hours a day you know. Plus you have to also look at the weather condition you know, if it’s windy or if it’s gonna rain a lot, you can’t be out there it’s too dangerous, it’s too slippery, so on this particular wall we saw that it was gonna start raining Wednesday, so we tried to finished by Tuesday (laugh).
Montana Cans: What has been the most challenging artwork to make to-date both physically or psychologically?
HOWNOSM: Physically it’s always the large buildings, like the really big buildings obviously, because it takes a bunch of days and the sun hits you and you have to wear the mask and the life line around you, it’s a lot of physical work. Mentally, I don’t know (laugh) it is what we do, we draw and stuff, it’s a mentally… it’s not a psychological issue or a burden, it’s not challenging, not really. No it’s not challenging, it’s not like we’ve never done it, we have been doing it for so long so we have our routine and we stick to the routine and just get the job done you know. I mean, it might be sometimes stressful but I don’t know if it’s psychologically challenging or something (laugh).
Montana Cans: By the looks of your gallery work, it appears as if you are as comfortable with indoor artmaking as outdoor art making. Do your ideas for studio/gallery work stem from the same origins as your outdoor work? Do you try or want to separate them in any way or is it all the same visual conversation?
HOWNOSM: We can use stuff from the studio to do outdoors and stuff we do outdoors we bring back to the studio. You pick up ideas and learn from certain mistakes like doing a wall or doing something in the studio you know. You applied it on both so.
Montana Cans: Is there any artist or art makers that inspire you guys a lot? Does art from streets inspire you or is gallery work more engaging for you as viewers?
HOWNOSM: There are great artists out there in general, regardless of backgrounds you know, artist graffiti or street art or fine art or anything you know. We have tones of books in the studio from all kind of genres of art you know. I guess that people’s achievements and work effects inspire us you know, when somebody does a lot of great projects you know, it’s like something to you know, just try for, do that too you know. There are too many artists out there to just pick one by now you know. If you look too much at other artists your work will change and starts looking like other people stuff so you don’t want that. It’s not inspiring anymore, it’s gonna influence you (laugh).
I mean our work always as certain messages and we use different imageries to bring their messages over to the public.HOWNOSM
Montana Cans: We assume your move to NYC in 1999 and your work with the TATS crew must have been a massive step for your careers. But was it a big change for your life quality? Your origins from Spain, Germany and all the countries you have travelled to must have given you a sense of what it means to live somewhere else. What makes living in New York enjoyable for you?
HOWNOSM: TATS crew definitely helped us a lot when we moved to New York, one, they gave us work so we could actually support ourselves. We have done tons of tons of projects with them hundreds of videos, I don’t know how many videos, but like ten fifteen videos for like superstar, musicians, we’ve done nationwide campaigns. So as far as the job was, it was very multifaced and we’ve done quite a lot of that, but at some point it was just too much of the same work and it became less about what our art was looking like but it was more about what the agencies or the people that hired us wanted us to do you know. And at some point, it was just pretty much paint by numbers, paint this and copy that and it just really started to neglect our own art you know. Like we didn’t develop you know or didn’t work on our development as individual artists. But never the less, it was a great experience and we’re still with the TATS crew and they’re still our family and we’re still bullshit (laugh). Even without painting New York is a great city you know, there is a lot of culture. I mean there is great art you know, and many people. I mean New York is still… We still like it, it has changed a lot, it has lost a lot of its greediness and maybe grime. That most people probably don’t like, but I kinda like it, it kinda gave New York it’s unique touch. Now it’s all become in a little bit too uniform you know, all the neighborhoods are starting to look the same and ugly building arises and stuff like that but I mean you can see that in any country really, like I’m sure here in Paris they do the same thing you know. But never the less, we like the attitude there, we like the food, our families are there, we’re still happy there. Are we planning to stay there forever? I can’t really answer that question. For now, we’re happy there.
Montana Cans: What has been your favourite place to paint? Which has been the worst?
HOWNOSM: The worst? (Laugh) There’s no favorite, there is too many favorites. The worst is when we don’t get to paint, or when people who invite you just don’t have the stuff together and are totally unprofessional and of course I can’t do my job and that’s looks bad on me so… It’s not only a waste of time but also a waste of my money and their money you know. But a favorite place, I don’t know. We like coming to Paris, we like doing projects here, we have lots of friends… I don’t know, it’s hard to say really, we’ve been to a lot of places and have met a lot of great people you know. It’s hard to really pick one place.
Montana Cans: Which artwork that you have made are you the most content with?
HOWNOSM: We did a cool project in Berlin, we had our artwork in an entire subway station, like inside/outside, including some trains, with all our artwork, and that was pretty cool. We’ve done a big DC3 plane in Arizona, it’s in a museum there, it’s a very big plane that we’ve made. It’s kinda cool because you see your artwork projected differently than just on a flat surface you know, like on a canvas or on a wall, and I had to paint the bottom of the plane, the wings, and different angles. But those are just some examples really (laugh).
Montana Cans: Most people would be aware that you guys are identical twins and you have probably had every question about this thrown at you already. But outside of working together, do you pursue solo work? Do you still do any pieces separately? If yes, how does this feel not working as a unit together?
HOWNOSM: We don’t ever do pieces alone (laugh).
Montana Cans: Is it true that you have a love of muscle cars? If this is the case, did this passion arise while living in the USA or was it already in your blood? Are both of you passionate about this or one more than the other?
HOWNOSM: We both have a classic car and at the same time we have met this guy who owns a garage and works on old cars and restores classic cars so he told us how to change motors and fix interiors, everything so… Now we have nice looking classic cars. We don’t get to drive them too often anymore because we’re always busy, but. I mean we did a job for him and he had a few cars for sale and we got into talking about classic cars and became very close friends, we’re still friends and it just was natural that we got into it, I don’t think we had it in our blood but I mean who doesn’t like classic cars? We just had the opportunity to work on them and learn about them and fix them for, well saving a lot of money because our friend has a garage and he has all the tools that we can use. Otherwise you have to pay someone to do it all for you. Maybe that also made it easy for us to say yeah let’s get into this.
Montana Cans: Which cars do it for you the most?
HOWNOSM: My own fucking cars (laugh). Yeah, my car is the best and the faster, what kind of question is that? That’s the all point of buying a muscle car no? They have the most muscles in it. I do like a nice-looking Lamborghini but it’s not my dream to have that like I don’t think it’s as sexy as a cool American muscle car you know, it has a proper soft to it, it’s just totally different.
Photographies by HOWNOSM & Galerie itinerrance