Interview with Klara Debeljak - Fors Media

Interview with Klara Debeljak

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Klara Debeljak. I have been living in Prague for 4 years where I am trying to finish bachelor program in Liberal Arts and Humanities. My main passion though is visual arts. In the last five years, I have been dealing a lot with graffiti and street art, which is what I am most interested in. In the future, I would like to work as an animator and muralist so to put that in motion I am currently making a portfolio and applying for animation schools. Also what I am very interested in is doing more large scale murals. Hopefully, the future also holds more of that for me. I am very interested in alternative systems of governance as well. Since we are in such a chaotic dystopian time globally, I try to educate myself as much as possible in this direction, what are certain alternative options that would accommodate humanity and earths needs better than the system we have in place at the moment. Many times I also connect the subject matter of my art with these ideas.

When did you start being interested in arts? Did you have any prior education or did you self-study?

As I said, I have been interested in visual production for my whole entire life. I  went to art high school in Slovenia. It was a general high school, but with many more extra subjects: drawing, printmaking, some art theory. Then I started studying Liberal Arts and Humanities at Charles University, specializing in psychology. At times I consider this a mistake. Because I was interested in vast amount of knowledge, of existing in this world and understanding it to a deeper degree, but it distanced me from certain institutional organs of art production. Art has always been part of my life though and I was counting on it always being part of my life in the future as well.

Now I manage to balance in a way where most of the things that I intellectually deal with are reflected in my artistic practices and are intrinsically tied together. So at this point, I am actually satisfied with my decision not to study arts and all of these elements of my life are becoming more and more interwoven.

When and how did you first start doing graffiti?

In Slovenia, most people that I was surrounded with were dealing with arts in some way or another, so my friend’s boyfriend was a graffiti dude, part of Slovenian crew called 1107. He was mentoring a graffiti camp and invited us there where young people from Italy, Bulgaria, France and other different places had come to take part in this hip-hop camp. That is where we first started doing graffiti. And that is how I started. It became a hobby. Recently I had a good friend who was extremely instrumental in my development and discovery of new ideas in the sphere of street art. I also spent a short time working for a street art news magazine which was quite enlightening regarding the inner mechanics of the institutional global street art scene.

Once you had a problem with a police officer. Can you tell us that story?

Well, I came to Prague. I was young and excited about this new found hobby. So at some point, I was quite drunk walking around the city with spray cans in my bag. And I was drawing shitty, inebriated sketches in the city-center which in retrospect is the stupidest thing that I could have done. We were walking down the street with my friend after we had finished and two cop cars blocked our way in front of us from different directions. Very dramatic! They made me empty my bag and checked my hands for paint. At that time, I did not speak Czech at all, so it was very stressful. They put us both into the cop car with handcuffs and took us to the station. It was basically 14 hours at different police stations getting processed. And not speaking the language under these super bright lights, at points being handcuffed to a bench or radiator, because they were moving us around to different places. They took my shoe laces. When I asked “why are you taking my shoe laces?”, they pantomimed a man hanging himself and making “khhhh”… So, it was really scary. It was the third month of my life in Prague. They took my fingerprints. And they let me go about 14 hours later. I also had to pay a fine which was around a 1000 euros.

What is the line between vandalism and graffiti? Or art?

Where you draw the line between art, graffiti, street art and in some perspectives of vandalism is a difficult question. These days there are many different lines to be drawn by actual graffiti-artists what with some of these forms of self-expression being sucked into the institutional context of galleries and commissioned murals. So it is really up to a subjective perspective. I have met multiple people who are like “yes, I do graffiti, but I am not into street art”. It is difficult to define these things, because they fluctuate over time. Now street art or graffiti, whatever you wanna call it, is becoming more popular and more mainstream and developing parallely with certain aspects of conceptual art. Commissioned murals would be street art and would not count as graffiti for many of the die-hard graffiti crews. So as this form is becoming more acknowledged as an art form or more popular, its definitions are also changing and expanding. And the way people – artists and muralists choose to approach these changes really depend on their subjective views and their motivation for doing it in the first place. So it is quite a difficult question. Should wall painting be in galleries? Should street artists be in galleries? Should graffiti artist be in galleries? Definitely we are past the times of graffiti – in its more developed form – being considered as vandalism by the general public.

Speaking of galleries, do you make profit from your artistic skills?

In the past, I have sold work and made money. And also done commissioned things, like album covers. When I was working more in painting and doing collages, I did sell sometimes. But these days, I am not making any money. So, when I have an exhibition, I get paid for like materials and that is all. But that is not the professional way. Normally, people who exhibit in proper galleries get paid for it. Right now, I consider myself to be really at the beginning of my career. So I am just happy to get opportunities. I am not thinking of it right now as a money making thing. But definitely in the future, I think I would like to try to make more money of it. I think it is possibly all depends how you present yourself and how good you are and in what situations you happen to find yourself. But at the moment and probably for the next years, I would say I will probably not making much money from it and I do not care because for me it is just investing for future.

What are the stylistic features of your art?

I have a precise color palette that I use which is mostly earthy, blues, greens and browns. I am now more into red and purple. I normally prefer muted colors. And these days I am using red as sort of cherry on top. Regarding the subject matter, I have been recently expanding to different matters and though I still present tangible things or figures they veer toward abstraction. Based on my fascination with humanity and the things I study, I used to draw and paint people all the time while now I more present concepts or narratives.  

What does inspire you?

When I am reading, there are many times, certain sentences or scenes that are described or an issue that is described in a specific way that I find really intriguing and I always write down which I might later base a piece on. I am really inspired by certain people’s physical attributes. The way they hold themselves or talk or hold their hands or the shape of their fingers or nose, the way their upper lip casts a shadow on the lower lip. Many of the sketches that I have later made into graffiti pieces or prints are people that I am surrounded with. Some of my friends, but not all of them, physically inspire me. And not even because they are beautiful or something. It does not have to do with beauty. It has to do with a specific elongation of limbs. I like super tall, slim people, super long fingers and irregular facial features.

Are there gender boundaries in this subculture?

Generally, there is a gender gap, though it is definitely closing now. I do not have percentage though. I have been meeting more and more female graffiti artists. I identify as a feminist. I believe that at least we – women in the first-world, in generally privileged upbringing, have the power to really do whatever we want. It depends on how you represent yourself, how you perceive yourself. Of course, there is still a pay gap. Of course, I believe in the power of the patriarchy historically and in contemporary society, though i do believe it is shifting. I think in this scene where we are growing up – I do not know how its is in Azerbaijan – at least in Slovenia and Europe, as a woman you have much of the same opportunities as men do. I think how to be a true feminist, is not to go on angry meetings necessarily, or to spray paint uterus on walls, but to represent yourself as a strong independent woman who takes what you want through hard work and self-representation. Living life without giving any emphasis on differences between men and women and not taking yourself to be a victim or weak, you may function as an independent woman with equal rights yet not abandoning the secret energy of womanhood.  There is some strange essential power in being a female. If you are able to process that and draw on it it can be extremely powerful. I feel I am in control of myself and if someone says something to me or behaves to me in a certain way that I do not like, I have the power to say that I do not like it. I do not feel my body is a battlefield, since I do not let it be. That comes from individual but also communal strength that one can draw on as a belittled or even abused woman, from the knowledge of being part of a large and strong section of the population, a section of history and intrinsically a huge section of nature. I do not think self-victimization among first-world-born woman is the way forward. I think less emphasis on gender differences, not more emphasis on gender differences, is where we should be going. In countries that are not so economically privileged, the story is definitely different. There is a power of patriarchy all over the world, absolutely, but, as I said, in my experience in first world countries the way to battle it in is less emphasis on the differences, rather than more emphasis. Women being strong and setting their own standards for how they wanna be treated and not talking about it constantly. But living these standards actually.

Besides Slovenia and Czech Republic, where else have you done graffiti? What are your next destinations?

I have done some in San-Francisco and LA. I have done some in Berlin, Denmark and Croatia. But these all were smaller pieces. And in Morocco also. I hope to function more in the Moroccon scene in the future, because I really liked the country and community spirit that I encountered there among the people. From now, I am going to try apply for different festivals all over the world. And try to travel and do as much graffiti as possible. In a more institutional context as well. Because of course, on my own ground, I can do it secretly in the corners. I would like to work on much bigger dimensions in the future which I think is most probably possible through residencies and festivals. So my first destination is definitely Morocco. Then I hope to work in Barcelona.

What would you like to say to Fors readers?

Do not abandon hope. Be optimistic. More or less you can achieve anything you want if you keep on trying. Realise that people are very open and you can get in touch with anyone you want to. Realise that most people are just as curious about you as you are about them. Many things that you could not imagine are in your reach. Especially, soon in the close future, the world is going through intense changes. It is time to grab your life in your own hands and act upon your passion and ideas. Just like the founders of Fors Magazine.