(Side note: 𝗧𝗛𝗜𝗦 𝗜𝗦 𝗡𝗢𝗧 𝗚𝗥𝗔𝗙𝗙𝗜𝗧𝗜)
Interviewed by Lucy A.Edwards on behalf of the Moniker Foundation
Mural by Nuno Viegas in his hometown - Quarteira, Faro, Portugal
Nuno, welcome! Normally, I'd say something along the lines of "welcome to the family" here but, let's be honest, you've long been part of the Moniker tribe, so it's even more of an honour to now have you on board the good ship Moniker Editions - so without further ado, let's set sail!
You are known world-wide as 'Nuno Viegas' but another familiar name attributed to you is 'Metis' - is there any story behind this name? And do you still use it today?
Metis is my "legal" tag. I've been writing as Metis1 (MetisONE) since around 2002, 3 years after I started my journey within the graffiti scene. By then, together with my crew Policromia, we were already looking into developing pieces and taking them beyond the traditional graff scene. Metis came as a more extensive tag, 5 letters, which would allow me to work a more
complex style. Before this I only rolled with a 3 letters tag which was a more quick and effective tag for illegal actions. At that time it was just trendy to follow that model - 3 letter tag for illegal/ 5 letter tag for legal pieces. When I came up with MetisONE, Metis is simply a combination of letters I really liked aesthetically, the 1 (ONE) at the end stood for me being the first one to use this tag. I did my research at the time and didn't find anyone painting with this tag and, to this day, I've still never seen another writer painting Metis... the world is immense and there are millions of writers out there... so I'm guessing someone, somewhere has used this letter combo by now - it's just I've never seen it myself. There is no meaning to it, I only found its meaning a few years later on a google search. Amongst different meanings and connections it has, one that stood out for me is a mix between indigenous and Euro-American ancestry. Mixed race... Suits well as graffiti basically has no race attached to it. The graff nation is worldwide for all human beings. Great coincidence as no distinctions between races or gender is something I always stood for.
You're the Founder of the art collective Policromia Crew - tell us a little bit more about what the crew gets up to and why you founded it in the first place?
I co-founded Policromia with my brother Élsio Menau - we brought together a bunch of kids who had a more progressive vision in common. We all loved graffiti in its essence so in the beginning Policromia had its illegal phase, but eventually was accepted into Wall of Fame productions. We used to meet up to draw and plan, set up a wall mock-up and then spend days working on one, big wall, mainly in abandoned places, away from trouble and with no risks of having the production compromised. We were heavily influenced by vanguard writers like Seen, CanTwo, Daim, Gemeos, Seak, MaClaim Crew, and Loomit - amongst many others who were already taking graffiti to a whole other level. Nowadays, Policromia is a Cultural Association, a small local institution that is focused in visual arts and still has some input on the local graffiti scene - especially by managing the legal walls in town.
Every bio I read on you says that you started your "artistic journey through graffiti in 1999" - which, if my maths is correct (eek!) , would've made you 14? Can you tell us of your memories of 14-year-old Nuno and what made him get into graffiti in the first place?
Ah so many good memories for sure! Such a different world of what we are experiencing today. By then I was just a normal teenager from a small city in the south of Portugal, who was heavily influenced by my friends, what they do, what they wear, their attitude, all these small things had an impact on me. At 14 years old, I was into BMX riding, I was always cool with the fact that I was not the best racer, for me it was just about having fun riding BMX with my friends - these were the friends who introduced me to graffiti! With them I had my first graff crews and so I want to say a super big "THANK YOU GUYS!" to them.
It was the switch point to the digital era. It's crazy but we were at the end of the 90´s and graffiti was only just booming in Portugal, while in America it already had over 20 years of history! That is basically the delay we were in compared with the rest of the developed countries and that is also something for which I'm grateful for in a way. It is bad that compared to most European countries Portugal was quite behind in time when it came to social evolution to a certain extent. But that gave me the opportunity to witness and be part of the early days of the graffiti scene in the south of Portugal. In Lisbon, graffiti had already at least a decade of history, this proves just how slow trends were moving back then. 10 years to go from Lisbon to Quarteira (270km) and stand ground! Incredible if you compare with nowadays where trends globalize in a matter of weeks if not days! In 1999, the first ever Portuguese graffiti magazine dropped, which gave us access to graffiti content outside of our very small circles - this was very scarce and the internet wasn't a big thing yet... Fascinating days and experiences!
Were there any artists that influenced you at the very beginning of your career?
In the very beginning the biggest influences were the graffiti writers around ourselves. We were influencing each other. For me personally there was this crew - USK - from my hometown who was made of older guys and one of them was JAM. He had recently moved from nearby Lisbon to Quarteira and brought with him a much more mature style compared with everyone in my city. Then there was KLAS and BAMBY who were writers from other cities nearby who had a very strong game already and who were connected with crews from the capital. And then there was SUBWORLD Magazine, that first Portuguese graff magazine that we looked at the same way Christians look at the Bible.
WIP Wall for Nu Art Festival in Stavanger - Norway
And are there any that do now?
For sure! So many! It's impossible to name all of them. Some remain from my early days, like Akut from the MaClaim Crew for example. And some new artists joined the list as I got the chance to see their work. Nowadays you open Instagram and if you do some digging you will become a fan of a new artist everyday! There are a lot of artists with super fresh works coming up all the time. It's awesome to witness this happening.
Do you think your move to The Netherlands affected your painting style? Tell us a little more about this and the changes it had to your life and artistic outlook
Definitely! When I moved to Rotterdam in the end of 2014 I was fresh out of University and my artistic production was focused on installation art, video art and photography. The only paint in my life at this time was spray paint and my painting skills were down graffiti styles, lettering. No figurative painting, no characters, just letters since 1999. During my art studies I always sucked at drawing (still do), and never really dived into painting.
I could never imagine that moving to Rotterdam would reveal such a huge life change. I always recall a conversation with my dad before my departure (damn I get touched writing this...). He asked me what my plan was with moving to Rotterdam and I said "I don't know, but it will be alright!"
2018: Viegas and Tymon de Laat Wall Collaboration for UpFest Street Art Festival in Bristol, UK
My first months in the Netherlands I was open to follow one of 3 routes photography, video or ideally art. I got in touch with everyone I could find who was connected to one of these areas. I got only a few replies but not much ¨juice¨ from them until I bumped into Tymon de Laat - the one person who really stood up and said ¨Ok I´m going to help you¨. Tymon is originally from Delft but has been established in Rotterdam since his teenage days. He took me to his studio as his intern. Tymon is a painter and painting were the main exercises as an intern there. Very quickly I realised there was something in me I didn't know about, I had a hidden skill in which I believe I was blocking the whole time by the fact that I suck at drawing and hence assuming that I couldn't paint. The graffiti subject quickly came up to the equation and all of a sudden (really! it was all of a sudden) I had a great recipe in hand. Within less than 2 years I´m booming, doing nice shows, working with museums... Basically I stopped betting in the lottery, I got my big shot already and I don't want to abuse on the Universe´s good will. Rotterdam was all about growth, amazing opportunities, amazing people, just amazing overall! It will forever have a huge special place in my heart!
A lot of your works beautifully depict a shirt mask - whats the reason for this?
I would say it is the main character in my paintings. As I said before I keep evoking elements from the graff scene and the shirt mask is probably the main one. The Shirt Mask represents every graffiti writer, usually an anonymous person for most of the world and known only by the ones within the scene. And even within the scene all we know about each other amongst writers, most of the times is their tags/aliases, no matter how up you got to. We don't know if that writer from Spain is white or black. We don't know if this writer from Denmark is a boy or a girl. We don't know if this writer from Russia is a Christian or a Muslim. If she is straight, if he is gay, he, she, ze... There is no distinction. The Shirt Mask is all of them together, the main entity in the graffiti writing scene, the writer. With no strings attached.
In a time where the definition of graffiti tends to get blurred and mixed with street art - how do you keep your work and approach relevant to both?
One of the artists I look up to is René Magritte. And when he paints a smoking pipe and writes below ¨ceci n´est pas une pipe¨ (This is not a pipe) I take that as a reference to explain my approach to graffiti on my paintings. I always carry with me the sentence ¨This Is Not Graffiti¨. I talk about it in my paintings, I constantly evoque elements from the graffiti scene in my work. This comes as a personal statement against the blurred line between graffiti and street art, Mural painting, urban contemporary and/or whatever new genres we are developing nowadays. I'm quite an open minded guy and I don't like labels overall. But for scientific and historical purposes I believe it is very important to label stuff. To have an organised shelf with the correct information. If we don't do this things will remain blurred, history will be written wrong and last but not least we will be disrespectful towards the ones who carry the flag. I have massive respect for the graffiti writing culture and with my work I constantly pay it a tribute. I understand street art has roots embedded in the graff scene but it is a whole different thing nowadays. We should just be proud of this great movement we are part of and come up with our own flag, start writing our own history right without compromising anyone else´s history.
Speaking of your work, let's introduce your amazing design for the Moniker Editions programme - you, very kindly, sent us three to choose from (yes, reader, we are that lucky!) - 'The Glove' was your preference, as it was ours - but it'd be interesting to know why this was the one at the top of your list?
This image came up as I was preparing for my solo show last year. It was the one that triggered the whole show. The shows name was "Straight Outta Wall" hence the name of
the piece being ¨Glove x Hardcore Fat Cap SOW¨. I painted this one as a commission before the show and the original now belongs to Semor, a great writer from Germany. The fat cap was his choice as it is one of his favourite caps. ``Straight Outta Wall¨ is an obvious reference to ``Straight Outta Compton¨ and it points out to the fact of me as an artist coming up from painting walls. Again a reference to the graff scene and a also parallel between graffiti and rap music, two elements that have been riding along for many years and who are very important to me and my practice.
And the charity you've chosen to support with the donation of 15% of the edition sales?
IRA is an animal rescue association who acts all over Portugal. They are like an independent SWAT team for animal rescuing, without any type of governmental support. They respond to peoples reports about animals who are kept in bad conditions - they rescue the animals and keep them until they find a new owner or family suitable to be able to adopt them as pets. Its not only about dogs or cats... if an animal is need, these guys will be there!
Assuming you have your own personal art collection, do you remember the first piece of art/print/sculpture you bought for yourself?
My own collection is a recent thing. I could only afford to buy art since a few years. I would say my art collection started with Giancarlo from Graffiti Prints offering me prints by the time we started working together. The first time I actually bought something as a collector it was a KAWS piece. And it was kind of a disastrous process. I managed to buy the 3 variants of the ¨Holidays in Japan¨ toy on release. On the releasing website where I bought it, the only available currency was some Asian Currency I didn't knew. So as the piece name was holidays in Japan I Assumed it was Japanese Currency. So I looked up the value in eur and it came out strangely cheap. Would cost me about 60eur. ¨AWESOME! I CAN AFFORD THIS¨. So I bought it to find out a couple of days later that the currency was from Hong Kong so I lacked a zero in my calculations and 600eur gone from my bank account. Plus 130eur import tax... Anyway I´m still very happy with owning these pieces!
Do you still have it?
Any artwork that entered my collection, never left. I only sell/trade my own works. If I buy something it is because I love it and I will keep it.
Following on from that, tell us about one of your favourite pieces and why it holds that place in your heart
Its always hard to pick a favourite... But at the moment it is probably the collab piece I did with Snik. I own one of the original paintings out of 5 variants we made on canvas. It holds a lot of great vibes to it. From the wall we painted together in Berlin, to those days in Berlin hanging out together with the rest of the pack. Great memories!
To finish up, tell us what 2022 holds for Nuno Viegas - any upcoming exhibits, murals?
There is quite a lot on my agenda for this year... Fingers crossed I will manage all of it without a burn out haha. There are a couple of group shows in France. First one in March, Paris. Second one in Bordeaux. Both are part of the ¨One Root One Artist¨ project which brings a great lineup of artists together working on paintings and sculptures over the same medium, Teka Wood. I will also have a solo show with Underdogs Gallery in Lisbon which will open in September. This show will have a lot of new pieces and I still need to produce most of them. This show will take up most of my time for this year. Regardless of the covid restrictions being lift up I´ll probably spend most of my year confined in the studio working for this show. On top of this I have quite a massive waiting list for commissions on which I really need to work on. There are people on the line for more than 3 years and I need to deliver works to these patient collectors who i´am very grateful for being there throughout all these years. Besides the studio work there are a few festivals lined up which I won't name them as I don't want to jinx it! Since covid everything that means travelling has been very hard to make happen... So for the moment I´ll only take them for granted when I´m out there hitting them walls. Let's just hope it all goes through!