Some may think that graffiti writing and all its unwritten rules should be intertwined into a visual code that can only be understood, read, and appreciated by the initiated. Those few who well and truly know their way around a Montana GOLD or a Montana BLACK can and can tell the difference between a New York Fat Cap and a Level 6 cap. By the streets, for the streets… And then there is Max Solca, an innovative Swedish artist that has a humorous way of combining fresh graffiti, with illustration, clarity, and quirky messages for the graffiti writer and the general public all at once. And as for the unwritten rules, he doesn’t play by those either.
Graffiti for everyone
For quite a while we have had our eyes on Solca as his artworks impressed us, made us smirk, or even outright laugh at their clever motifs. Even though at times it is very funny, his work is well-executed and always seems to maintain a healthy dose of graffiti letter style and innovation. Innovations like the use of the phrase “Stay focused” while the piece itself has been painted in a manner that starts in focus, and ends out of focus. Or the black and chrome freight train design that said “Move your ass”. A design that was complimented by two inclusion of an illustrative naked human rear end at each side that holds the letters together as book ends do.
More than just one word at a time
You will never find the name Max Solca in one of his works. For Solca, just like well-branded footwear, it is the visual elements or the integrated phrase that will give him away and remind you of the last time you smiled to yourself at one of his previous pieces. With this turning on its head of the traditional style writing rule to create a name, write it, and then repeat, Solca opens the doors to an audience well beyond the graffiti community. Most of his works are legible to any untrained eye, so it is not just the graffiti, street art, or urban art communities he is engaging with, it’s everyone! From the most innocent grandmother to, a graffiti writer, or the most devilishly cheeky 3-year-old who also can’t help but laugh at the site of a cartoon cat sticking the middle finger up at the viewer while taking a pee.
Turning tradition on its head
Where does he come up with this stuff? And what lit the fire to take his graffiti down this path? It got us curious and thinking. Only the man himself could answer these questions so we decided to ask and see where it takes us. Here is what he had to say.
An interview with Max Solca
Montana Cans- For those of us who did not know of Max Solca before seeing your works on the Montana Cans Blog, in what style did your graffiti start?
Max Solca- It started when I was small, like most kids exploring graffiti for the first time. My friends and I painted along the subway line in Stockholm in the late 90s. There were endless possibilities if you wanted to be seen.
MC- Was it always in a similar vein?
MS- Yeah, my technique got better and the objects got riskier but I kept my interest in the subways in Stockholm.
MC- How did it get to the way it is now?
MS- I felt a bit done after 10 years and at the same time I discovered comics. I realized that a painting could communicate so much more, so I applied to a Comic School and moved to Malmö. I studied there for 2 years and after that, 2 more years in a Graphic course. During that time I developed my expression with spray cans by doing characters with quotes and paintings with biographic content, and ”killed my darlings” to express it as simply and specifically as possible.
MC- You are from Malmö Sweden, a city (and country) with lots of talented graffiti style writers. How is your work received among your peers? And how much consideration do you give the opinions of others?
MS- I am very aware of my place in the Graff scene here in Malmö. I know almost everyone and because of my different appearance, I don’t think I’m in anybody’s way. I see the great tradition of graffiti and I love it. The illegal climate here is relatively relaxed and you can talk your way out of trouble if you’re in the mood.
MC- If we consider some of the unwritten rules of graffiti, like basing your work on the tag, not going over something you can’t burn, a panel is more valuable than a wall, and so on, do any of these play a role in your painting practice? And if so, which rule(s) and why these particular rules?
MS- Those rules are also very much written here in Malmö. And I think you have to respect them. For example, if someone took a risk by painting a wall on the streets, you can’t go over it even if you have permission. You can adapt it to your work or ignore it, but who wants to see legal graff everywhere they go?
MC- Do you see what you do as part of traditional graffiti?
MS- Yeah! I will never let go of it, because I love it, and style-wise, I think it’s the most direct way to appear visually.
MC- Often you incorporate phrases and images in a concept. What comes first, the idea of the image element, or the words and phrases element?
MS- Mostly the idea comes first, then how to do it as clearly as possible. Some paintings don’t need a phrase and some paintings don’t need an image. It’s always fun when the receiver can understand without being too obvious.
MC- Do you have a preference for painting illustrations, characters, or letters?
MS- Yes, very often. I try to do as much research as I need. I also have a sketch every time I go out painting.
MC- When was the last time you were “wowed” by somebody else’s work? Who was it and what is it that inspired you?
MS- That depends on whether it is Letter based or image-based. I like Superspray´s productions because they are playful and very well done, and Imonboy´s graff-related paintings make me laugh. Ernestillm is also totally amazing, although his paintings are too good for me to relate to, style-wise that is.
MC- If you could go to one concert to see your favorite music, what would it be?
MS- Masumi Hara playing ”Just like an Angel” would be overwhelming!
MC- What is your favorite Montana can and cap combination?
MS- I like ”Beast” and its magic coverage although it’s almost fluorescent. But ”Nappies” is probably my favorite. The standard cap (black with a white dot) is amazing because you can make perfect lines with almost no precision. But if I had to choose one, it would be the original black cap with the orange dot on the can. I can do everything I want with it.
Steering graffiti in a new direction
It is clear to say that artists like Max Solca play an important role in steering modern-day graffiti down new paths. Paths that remind us to not take things too seriously and to take our messages to the masses, not just to graffiti writers. However, paths that are as equally driven by the pursuit of the perfect piece(s), or at least very much in line with the knowledge of graffiti aesthetics. And for those that like the old paths of tradition, pure letter forms, and elevation through competition, the undeniable humor in Solca’s work can potentially inspire words of acclaim rather than words driven by the fear of being burned. Regardless of the viewpoint, Max Solca ticks so many of the creative boxes that it is not possible to see his work without noticing it. We look forward to seeing which direction he takes it and which clever takes on the English language he manages to conjure up next. Or any other language for that matter.