An Interview with Spanish graffiti artist LAIA
The Spanish artist LAIA has played her part in the graffiti history of her hometown Barcelona and her adopted city Valencia. As a self-motivated active graffiti writer, artist, and designer, she has managed to turn her street-based passion into a daily routine that keeps her fed, content, and on the move. After the success of her Montana BLACK Artist Edition can release, we wanted to know more about the person behind the bright colors and happy letters. But also find out why there is a complete lack of bubbles in her pieces. Coming from a dynamic graffiti city like Barcelona, what shaped who she is now, where does she see herself and graffiti in 2022, and what is it like being LAIA anyway? We decided to go to the source and see if LAIA could help us with some answers to these, and other questions. Read on for “I am still LAIA – An interview with Spanish Graffiti artist LAIA”.
I am still LAIA
An Interview with Spanish graffiti artist LAIA
Montana Cans – Tell us a little about where LAIA is at right now.
LAIA – At the moment I find myself living between Valencia and Barcelona, which was my hometown. Two years ago I decided to move to Valencia in search of peace and calm to be able to work while listening to the birds. This was impossible in Barcelona. There, I lived in the center of the city and worked in the city center. So, I never really left the “stress zone”. I needed the calm that Valencia has to offer, which is a big city but at the same time a lot more peaceful. Now I miss Barcelona. It’s a strange love/hate thing. When I need movement, hustle, and bustle, I go to Barcelona. And for the rest, I stay in Valencia.
MC – If you had to choose one of the two cities permanently, which would it be?
LAIA – If I had to stay permanently in one of them, I would stay in Barcelona.
MC – Where does graffiti fit into your life at the moment? Are you a graffiti writer doing other things to survive, are you a designer with a graffiti habit, or is it completely different for you? What drives you to get up and get going each day?
LAIA – Right now graffiti fits everywhere in my life. It’s my hobby, my passion, and it’s also my job, I don’t work exclusively just painting, but I do work doing 100% graffiti-related things. Designs for brands, collaborations, murals, and whatever comes my way. Every day is a new adventure, and every project is different. I also have a small online store. I can say that I have become a workaholic now that I like what I do, and that is an incredible motivation to get up every day and continue doing what I like the most. When I started painting, I would never have thought that this could be happening, it’s wonderful.
MC – You grew up in Barcelona, a destination for many graffiti practitioners with some edgy characteristics. Are there any things you do now that you can attribute to having grown up there?
LAIA – Yes, I think that Barcelona has always had a very avant-garde style thanks to being located “at the gates of Europe”. As well as receiving thousands of graffiti writer guests from all over the world.
I’ve been doing almost the same since I started painting, I like to keep it that way. I’ve always used the same types of forms and elements, and all this comes from those golden times in the city. A time when every day when we woke up, there were new pieces done by people from all over the globe. They brought with them their different styles and new lots of new information. All of that was an inspiration to me.
MC – Do you have a favorite local graffiti hero?
LAIA – In my opinion, there are no heroes in graffiti, only crazy people who are capable of doing anything. To me, heroes are people who help the world to be a much better place, this is not the case if you are just a graffiti writer. If you save puppies in bad conditions, heal them, take care of them, love them and look for a happy family, you are a hero to me. But if you paint 20 trains in one night jumping 30 walls that were all 50 meters high, you are either crazy, courageous, or both.
MC – How does Barcelona vary from other Spanish or even European cities in your experience?
LAIA – Barcelona has the sea, mountains, good weather, great architecture, history, diversity, and a thousand things to visit and do. It’s a cool city with new things happening every day. The people are generally open-minded and each area is different. Everybody has plans all the time and as for graffiti, it’s a crazy city. It’s kind of like some kind of amusement park for graffiti writers. However, this is not so good for you if you are a local like us. Outsiders often paint things in an “easy” manner which makes spots hot and is sometimes stressful if you arrive after them. But I love it. I know it’s an amazing city, and for that reason, everyone wants to visit!
MC – We can imagine that you have been asked many questions about being a female writer in a male-dominated game. And possibly having those questions asked by males. What’s your position on this? What questions do you think are important that female writers should be asked?
LAIA – It’s strange. Sometimes I think I don’t want to answer questions about “the woman in graffiti” because in this way we will never have equality. I want to be treated as if I am a writer, regardless of whether I am male or female. My answer has always been something along the lines of, “to paint you need to use your hands, both women and men have those”.
But other times I feel it is necessary to explain to the world the reality of how this works if you are a female writer and what many women have had to go through. For example, many people believe that everything is much easier and that there are more opportunities if you are female. But mostly, it is the opposite. It is an extensive issue.
On the other hand, I like to talk about these kinds of things because they are necessary. But there are also women writers giving bad examples within the graffiti community and taking advantage of their female figures. Something that embarrasses the others that are trying to be taken seriously without consideration of gender. I think now is the time to work very hard on this, for all parties.
MC – Are there any female writers of note that were particularly inspiring or influential to you?
LAIA – Some female writers have inspired me a lot. It has not been because of their painting technique, their letters, or their colors, but by their strength, their desire, their impetus, and their trajectory. A good example of one of these writers is MUSA. I am more inspired by people and their personalities than what they paint. Because sometimes I like what they create, and sometimes I don’t. But they all inspire me equally.
MC – Your artwork often seems light-hearted, colorful, spontaneous, and with a feeling of positivity. Is this an accurate interpretation or do act take it very seriously with lots of preparation and forethought for each piece?
LAIA – There is no preparation, it’s freestyle. It is how it comes out of my head. I like cheerful colors and positive elements. I live surrounded by them: vintage toys, comics (Hanna-Barbera, Disney, etc.), and all kinds of cheerful freaks. So my brain already thinks in this direction when I go to paint. Normally when I prepare sketches, in the end, I always end up doing other things. I think my head is made to enjoy the act of painting, let it flow freely, and in terms of graffiti, it does not accept much preparation in advance.
MC – Which comics would we find on your bookshelf?
LAIA – You would find many old Hanna-barbera or Disney comics and books from the 70s and 80s for example. That kind of drawing fascinates me.
MC – Your pieces carry a lot of traditional graffiti elements like illustrative drips, bubbles, stars, and fat highlights. What elements do you like using the most and why?
LAIA – I like to use a thousand things and at the same time my pieces look “simple.” Sometimes it is difficult to know when I have to stop adding things. I love using fat highlights. I love everything that shines a lot. The drops too. They make me see my pieces as if they were something sweet and edible like cake or ice cream. Something that you will never see me doing is a classic bubble background!
MC – Wait a minute… Did you just say you wouldn’t do a cloud/bubble background? This is interesting. Why is that? These are fundamentals of graffiti, like arrows, shadows, and outlines.
LAIA – I know, but I prefer to paint backgrounds that look like slime, bricks, stars, or whatever. I don’t know why but I don’t like the classic bubble background with big bubbles, small bubbles, and millions of bubbles of all sizes mixed. I think it reminds me of the kind of elements you use in your first pieces. Don’t get me wrong, I have full respect for those who do bubbles! Especially if they do them well. But they are not for me.
MC – How did the design for the Montana BLACK Artist Edition can come about, and is there a back story to why it is as it is?
LAIA – Yes, I always thought that if one day I was going to design a spray can, everyone would believe I would do it with a thousand beautiful and fun colors. I wanted to break that mold. Simplicity is sometimes better! I eventually decided to design it with some very traditional graffiti elements, such as the Throw-Up. I combined that with my “quiet” approach when I paint murals. For this, I chose the combination of two colors that to me represent classic in the street graffiti. Those colors were black and yellow. I did not want to fall into the typical stigma of “Oh, she is a girl and does beautiful things that look feminine” (how horrible). I paint graffiti, all types, and in all its modalities. So I made a mix.
MC – And what made you choose the color Yellow over another variation of the color yellow?
LAIA – As I said, sometimes simplicity is better! Why choose a variant of yellow when you can have the king of yellows?
MC – What was your favorite Montana BLACK Artist Edition can previous to your own?
LAIA – I don’t have a distinct favorite can because there are many that I like. Especially those where the design incorporates the bare metal of the can and the color is very metallic. I love those! I consider that they are all incredible, so I cannot say some names and forget others that also deserve it.
MC – You seem to have a healthy thirst for travel. In your opinion, are you running to something, or running away from something? What comes first, the destination, or the reason to go there?
LAIA – Traveling is my Number 1 passion! Well actually traveling and painting, so when the two things come together it is incredible. My parents have always loved to travel, so I started traveling when I was very young. They always took me with them everywhere they went in the world. It is like collecting, I need to collect memories of places that I have visited and after visiting one place, I need another, and another, and another.
I also believe that it is a very healthy way to escape the monotony of day-to-day problems. And as a bonus, when I travel I feel that I enrich my head and my person with new experiences, cultures, smells, flavors, history, etc. It is super enriching, no matter destiny. It only matters to move my ass to the other side! I do not plan to leave this earth until I have traveled over all of it!
MC – Of all the commercial projects you have worked on that are graffiti based or related to graffiti, what were the best and the worse?
LAIA – I don’t know how to explain exactly which is the worst or best. Many people valuable the best because of the amount of money or fame they have gained. Or the jobs which made them the most famous within the game. For me, the best jobs are those where I have learned the most and was treated the best as a person. Even if I was painting a freebie for example. Sometimes the best jobs are the worst ones. And the worst the best.
I value the human treatment and interaction behind each project and I have participated in other so-called incredible projects in which I was left feeling empty inside when they were over. There were other projects with very little to no budget that I would do again even now.
All images by the artist LAIA
MC – Where do you see the commercialization of graffiti going? Do you think the artists are in control of their destinies or is business steering public art of this type in the direction they want it to go?
LAIA – Well, I think the world is going a little crazy with this. I think businesses are running too much without knowing what they are doing. For example, they have managed to call anything “graffiti” now. There are too many “Graffiti” festivals where the artists are muralists who have never touched a spray can, and none of them say “Hey! We are muralists, not graffiti writers”, because it suits them. So it’s a cycle that doesn’t end and it is expanding. This often leaves the graffiti writer in a bad place because the world has now “learned” that graffiti is also a huge face painted on a building with brushes. So why hire a writer to draw some letters?
In general, I think it’s great that everyone does what they want with their work, I’m not one of those writers who thinks that when you sell your work “you’re no longer real”. I don’t care, I sell my work and I’m doing projects, so I’m marketing the work and myself. But I’m never going to go away from my initial values and the great respect I have for all of this that the writers like myself call graffiti.
I think you can have control of your work, it’s just about accepting or rejecting the right things. Even though businesses and institutions are directing this where they want.
MC – What is your favorite Montana Cap and can combination and why?
LAIA – I always paint with Black and I only use two Caps. The medium fat for filling, details, background, etc. And the standard cap on the can for outlines and highlights. Nothing more. When I started there was very little variety, and I got used to it. I grew up like this. I don’t need more.