3-D shapes, letters and learning curves: interview with Nerf

Nerf is one of the most distinctive and talented graffiti artists in Argentina – best known for his amazing 3-D shapes and eye-catching designs. Originally from Seoul in South Korea, Nerf moved to Buenos Aires in 1987 and it’s been a remarkable road for him both as a person and artist.

nerf interview street artist buenos aires BA street art graffiti buenosairesstreetart.comNerf: appetite to learn – at Street Arte BA 2011 with Grupo We.  (photo © Victoria Daeli/BA Street Art)

“Like many other immigrants I came here as a nine-year-old,” said Nerf. “I had to adapt to life in another country and it was totally different in every way from how the people go out at night, the seasons, the food. The language is another thing entirely and I was fortunate when I was young to learn it quickly and learn what Argentina is all about.” And Nerf explained how he first felt drawn to art as a seven-year-old. “My father was a Korean language teacher, nobody in our family is particularly artistic,” he  reveals. “When we were living in Korea my father had an apartment with two floors and he let the first floor out to a painter who used it as a studio. When I was little I would be in the garden and spend hours watching him paint. My interest in painting and drawing started from there.”

nerf interview street artist buenos aires buenosairesstreetart.comShaping up: graffiti with Fisek (2011) (photo © BA Street Art)

Nerf first took up graffiti in 1999 under the wing of Rasta and Shonis, two of Argentina’s first graffiti writers. “I started to paint graffiti really late when I was 19 or 20  but I had the good fortune to meet people who were very active and they helped me,” recalls Nerf. “I learnt everything from Rasta and Shonis. Rasta taught me how to paint, about the shape, the colours, the technique, the style and much, much more. Rasta and Shonis also introduced me to lots of people and brought me into the world of graffiti.”

Nerf buenos aires street art buenosairesstreetart.comGraffiti by Shonis, Jaz, Ghost, Bera, Dier and Repo (2005) (photo © BA Street Art)

Nerf painted his first cubes in the street in 2001 in Caballito and how it happened is a strange story. “Before I started to paint in 3-D, I used to draw all the time, mostly ‘wildstyle’ lettering and traditional old school graffiti,” says Nerf. “But then when I went up to a wall to paint it, I ended up painting a cube. I don´t know why it happened but it happened to me a lot. On the other hand I didn’t paint letters so much before because I was painting with guys who were at a level that was really advanced.”

artista nerf entrevista cubos buenos aires buenosairesstreetart.com BA Street Art ToursNerf: “I ended up painting a cube”  (photo © BA Street Art)

Nerf is very humble and also incredibly modest when talking about his obvious talents. He is also extremely knowledgeable and respectful about the history of graffiti and the origins of the cubist style with which he has become so synonymous. “It’s a style that lots of people have painted,” reveals Nerf. “A lot of people have tried it and painted it. Delta (from the U.S.A.) was one of the first and I saw other artists also painting cubism in magazines in 1998 and 1999. When I started to paint I was looking for the most basic way to paint so I painted a cube.”

nerf artista callejero entrevista graffiti buenos aires BA Street Art Tours buenosairesstreetart.comNerf painting in 3-D – “It just happens naturally” (photo © BA Street Art)

To most people there is nothing basic about painting in three dimensions. Another matter entirely is doing it freehand, to scale and in perspective but that’s something that comes naturally to Nerf and something he can’t explain. “I don’t know why I like painting cubes,” he says. “I don’t know how to tell you why I like them so much. When I do them, it just happens naturally, I don’t know how.”

nerf dano marea graffiti buenos aires buenosairesstreetart.com BA Street Art ToursCube master: with Dano and Marea, Street Arte BA 2010 –  (photo © BA Street Art)

There is also an obvious pleasure and a buzz that Nerf gets from painting and the attention to detail and professionalism in his work is there for all to see. “Simply when I look at graffiti I like the form that it has and I like seeing the finished artwork,” says Nerf. “When you look at the piece, it hits you ‘pow!’ and has a force that makes you feel something inside. It’s the visual impact it has, it’s a sensation for the colours, the form and in many ways that is what I like about painting graffiti.”

Nerf graffiti artist interview buenos aires street art tour buenosairesstreetart.comVisual impact (photo © BA Street Art)

Nerf has participated in a number of urban art projects in Buenos Aires to help regenerate public spaces like Patio Santa Fe (above) but he is at his happiest when painting with his friends like Dano, Shonis and Isag. “I prefer painting with my friends because that is what graffiti is about.. It’s great to spend time together sharing knowledge and ideas with people.”

buenos aires graffiti tour nerf interview street art tour BA buenosairesstreetart.comAmong friends: with Dano, Shonis and Isag (photo © BA Street Art)

Traditional graffiti of course has its roots with the bombing trains and box cars in the U.S.A. in the Seventies and Eighties. And Nerf was part of a similar scene in Buenos Aires a decade or so ago but now he says that’s history. “There was a time when I was painting everywhere and groups of guys were walking from Caballito to Microcentro tagging all the way,” revealed Nerf. “It was fun but I gave it up a while ago because I have a job and I have responsibilities.”

Mhak (Japón) y Nerf and Jaz street artists interview buenos aires graffiti tour buenosairesstreetart.comJackass TV: with Mhak (Japan) and Jaz (photo © BA Street Art)

He added: “If you get yourself in trouble it can affect your work and you need your job to put food on the table.” Nerf, 33, has matured. “It’s inevitable. I love my work. I spend half my salary on paint and I live to paint and I’m fortunate to be able to do that.”

graffiti tour meys lynk nerf street artist buenos aries interview buenosaairesstreetart.comNerf with the Smurfs: with Teko (2008) (photo © BA Street Art)

One area Nerf has been focusing on in his artwork recently is that of traditional graffiti writing. The art of letter writing is sometimes misunderstood when talking about street art and for Nerf, who is always striving to improve as a graffiti artist, it presents one of his toughest challenges. “I was at a stage where I said to myself I am going to start to paint letters,” said Nerf. “This year I have painted more than 60 pieces. It’s crazy that I am painting over other works but it’s a constant search to find out new things.”

nerf graffiti street artist buenos aires street art tour murales buenosairesstreeetart.comFirst class: letter writing with Fater (2008) (photo © BA Street Art)

He added: “I have always liked graffiti letters. What I like most is the old school lettering and the earliest ones but I can’t do them. It just doesn’t work. There are people who say to me: ‘what do you mean it doesn’t look right?’ But painting letters well is not easy, you have to know about the shape, the lines, it’s really difficult. ‘Nerf you have changed your style’, they tell me. It’s not changing my style, it’s enhancing my style and if you want to move forward you can’t carry on doing the same things all the time.”

puan subte street art buenos aires cabe nerf BA graffiti tour buenos airesGoing underground: with Cabe plus Shonis, Dano and Teko in Puan subte (photo © BA Street Art)

Anyone concerned they might not see any more of Nerf’s fantastic isometric shapes needn’t worry. “At the moment I like doing letters and throw-ups, the important thing is that I’m learning,” he says. “One day I said I wanted to know how to paint in 3-D and I wanted to be able to paint letters. When I think I can do it pretty well that will be great but you can never do everything really well, you always have to keep working and trying new things.”

dame ice cabe nerf buenos aires graffiti tour buenosairesstreetart.comDon’t stop: with Ice, Dame, Dano, Xtree, Cabe and Caos (2010) (photo © BA Street Art)

Nerf added: “When people call me for work, they nearly always want me to paint cubes. I’m not going to stop painting cubes.”

nerf graffiti artist buenos aires graffiti tour street art argentina buenosairesstreeetart.com3-D waterfalls: Nerf’s most recent project in Palermo (photo © BA Street Art)

Check out more of Nerf’s incredible designs at www.flickr.com/photos/nerfff

All photos © Buenos Aires Street Art

Buenos Aires Street Art and Graffiti – BA Street Art