After the Laughter: The Art of Herakut
Every time you turn around the German based art duo, known as Herakut, is leaving their creative mark in Los Angeles. In addition to their numerous shows over the past few years, Herakut has donated art to the streets in various areas around the city as well as participated in the Berlin Wall Project back in November. But most recently, the street artists joined artistic forces with the circus troupe, Lucent Dossier, for a performance at the legendary Palace Theatre along with yet another exhibition and book signing party appropriately titled 'After the Laughter'.
In the midst of their busy schedule, Hera graciously accepted to have a chat (and some coffee) so I could learn a little more about their creative process, life growing up in Germany and the first time she and Akut painted a wall together.
I was born in Frankfurt which is the bigger city in what use to be West Germany. That's where my family still is. And Akut was born in East Germany. That's why the Berlin Wall Project was such a big deal for us. If the wall was still over there in Germany and serving its purpose, we wouldn't be able to paint together. It's something we really wanted to do when they asked us.
When Akut was in school, his entire family wasn't a communist family but they really didn't care about politics, which was much smarter back then. His older brother had to go through all the stuff and for him to be able to go to the university he actually had to sign himself to the party. A lot of the old socialist structures did have an impact although they weren't aware of it so much. When the wall did come down, his parents wouldn't go to the West because they were scared that it was just a trick. So they thought 'Oh no, They're (government) testing us'.
It's so crazy, but it still has an impact on our generation.
We both studied graphic design. But on a very broad level where we had photography and this, this and this. So a little bit of everything. And trained to be in the advertisement genre at one point. For both of us though, it was very clear that we weren't passionate about selling stuff. I worked for an ad agency at one point and realized this was not the life I wanted to be involved in.
There were so many rules about aesthetics, so that's when I started to get involved with graffiti at night or after school because that was one thing that there were no rules. I discovered graffiti when I was in school. I use to be a tagger when I was younger, but back then I didn't know anyone who actually used spray cans. So I really wasn't involved until I got to school. I would spend every free minute painting walls and there wasn't anyone telling me I couldn't this or couldn't do that. It's kinda like the hobby that you love because it's so different from what you do. Back then no one was talking about street art as being 'hip' and all. It was called graffiti and most of the time it wasn't legal and was just in back alleys.
Akut started spray painting when he was fifteen. But I started very late, when I went to school for graphic design. So that was in the 2000s.
Akut already had such a great reputation when I first met him. He had traveled all over. To think about this boy from East Germany who had all these walls and boundaries around him and wasn't allowed to travel, and then ending up being on planes constantly traveling the world.... It's really cool. I'm so happy that it ended up that way.
The first time we met, I didn't even know his real name. We were at the airport going to a hip- hop and urban culture art festival in Spain. So we met, shook hands, had lunch and then painted a wall together. There was this connection right away. Akut and his crew (McClain) were painting a wall and I was the only other German so I was assigned another wall. But I didn't like the guy painting next to me. So I said to Akut, 'Hey, I like you much better. Can I paint with you?", and he said "Sure". We had such a blast! It was a really huge wall where we were on a scaffold. The Spaniards were really cool hosts. They would keep handing us beer and stuff. We got drunk, laughed and painted. That was in 2004 and it's been like that ever since.
Our work always starts with looking at the wall and thinking we can do something here and use this big space. First, it begins with getting a feel for the space. That's why we don't have anything prepared. We don't go to a wall or space with a thought, it develops right there. Also, planned out thoughts can limit you so much. When we do bigger productions (murals), we get a feel for it, sit down, drink lots of coffee and get a feel for the colors. And then it's talking about, "I think we can do this" and "remember what we talked about yesterday", "remember that line" or "...the song we heard?"
Right now I have this Rolling Stone's line in my head " You only get what you give". I think that line would be a nice one for a mural at some point, but I haven't seen the right wall for it. That's pretty much how it starts (with a line) and then I'm the first one to trace out the skeleton of the piece and Akut thinks about the layout of characters and begins fleshing them out. We have a portable printer that connects to our camera so we can take photos of anything. That's really why we use ourselves in a lot of the pieces. It's not really a narcissistic thing, we're just the only ones around. Although sometimes we do capture photos of a dog, a baby or someone with great eyes who's available.
And that's why we say our work is like a collage. You take a Rolling Stone line, you take a picture of a cute looking girl, and then the space. And most of the time our canvases are being created in the process of something else. We don't like canvases because they're so intimidating. They're so white and perfect already. We usually try to take canvases to a wall with us, kinda scribble on them, get them dirty... you know, sort of involve them... and then at one point we see something on the canvases that's really great and are inspired by. That's why I say it's a collage; my stuff, Akut's stuff, plus whatever else is here.