It is a letter-writing, a kind of executed graphic bombing, which Kai Imhof creates. A mix of graffiti and graphics. He calls it #Neograffism. The Berlin graffiti artist may be better known to many as his sprayer name RAWS. Since around 2004, the creative artist sprays and paints works on facades and now also on canvases, shoes or even car rims.
Graphic – Graffiti – Minimalism. These are the three core elements of RAWS conceptions. Graphic, because also with acrylic, because structured, with brush from the studio and graphically flat. Graffiti, because with the spray can, the more poached and released from the street. And in a minimalist way, RAWS combines graphics with graffiti and graffiti with graphics in his works, splitting up wavy forms and then reconfiguring them with linear objects. In the end, the name logo RAWS usually stands out clearly or more hidden.
In addition to the self-procured and passion-developed skills that he learned in the Berlin neighborhoods and the Halls of Fame during the day or even at night, the input of a graphic design education in 2012 at the Best-Sabel Design School in Berlin flowed into his perception and countless art-influenced journeys around the world even more. RAWS is constantly developing its style, incorporating the elements that it encounters and inspires in its lifetime. But it is primarily about the style writing, the letters are in the foreground, often hardly in color, but just as often as bright and colorful.
Characters and figures are not to be found in his doings, but clearly curved and elaborate lines and an expanding range of possibilities to design and connect the letters “R” “A” “W” “S”. The limits of the medium are open and Kai Imhof tries curious fresh. He would like to spray a whole car. T-shirts and a skateboard will follow this year.
Since 2017, RAWS has also been seen at graffiti events such as The Haus and Wandelism in Berlin or at the Monumenta in Leipzig. As a graphic designer and graffiti artist, he has not only collaborated with Reebok, but also Nike, Marc Cain, Montana Cans or Über Skateboards. He even contributed graffiti art to Marvel. With the new PS4 Spiderman Game, his works adorn the backgrounds in the virtual world.
On Thursday, May 23, the first solo exhibition #Neograffism by RAWS will begin with a vernissage at 7 pm in the Urban Spree Gallery in Berlin. At Revaler Strasse 99 you will be able to see around 20 pieces of the artist. There are pictures on canvas in sizes between 5cm and 2.20m and RAWS will also directly paint the walls of the gallery with graffiti and design elements. A highlight is certainly the painting of the large facade, which is 8m x 20m in size. The exhibition continues until June 9th and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 12:00 to 19:00.
FROM SCHOOL-WORKSHOP-GRAFFITI TO FAMOUS INTERNATIONAL SPRAYARTISTRY
We talked to RAWS in a Skype interview about the upcoming exhibition, about his development from a street bomber in his teens to an international pro and about the graffiti scene in Berlin. The podcast is in German, but most passages of the conversation are also written down and translated into English below.
Hello Kai, tell me and the audience something about your art and the upcoming exhibition?
Yes, hello, so I am an graffiti artist from Berlin with the stage name RAWS. Originally from classic graffiti, I have been working on developing it for some time now and now have my first major exhibition in the Urban Spree Gallery on Warschauer Strasse in Berlin. There will be a lot of screens. A mix of graphics, graffiti, minimalism and everything that concerns me and what I find exciting.
When did you start, since when are you there?
I do not remember exactly when I started. Of course that was a slow process. I just decided for myself that I started graffiti in 2004 because I sprayed my first real picture on a wall. This is the point that I have set in retrospect. And so originally I had my first contacts with graffiti actually in the fifth grade. Since we had such a young, motivated art teacher, who has just made such a graffiti course with us. Somehow I found that quite exciting. We still painted the letters with brushes, so somehow quite funny. That was the first point, then I had nothing to do with it for a while. So I was a bit on the way as a skater boy. There is also a well-known park in Berlin, Mellow Park means that, I was always there. I was skating then. And then there were some walls where some older boys sprayed graffiti. I saw them and somehow I found that really cool. At some point I got myself a can and then just started saying. That was the beginning of my graffiti career. Then there was also a very well-known book in the scene. That means “Odem – On the run”. Then said Odem then tells about his history and his experiences in the Berlin graffiti scene and so. And when I read that, I was really excited. And then it went out at night. These were my beginnings.
You are still painting on walls, but you also paint on canvas, so pictures and other objects, so rims or a shoe.
So that with the shoe, that was really such a custom thing, such a one-time thing, because I’m relatively good with Reebok and I just felt like giving away a shoe and then painted it somehow. But basically it’s just exciting for me to try my stuff on different media. Not just like in the past, so only on the wall, but also on the canvas, on shoes or rims. I would also like to paint a car. I just think it’s exciting to play with different media.
Your style is very colorful, so you always have beautiful, bright and strong colors. It’s a letter-writing, a running, graphic bombing could be said. But you do not have characters or something like that?
No, not really. Somehow I never got busy with that. So for me, the letters were always the most important anyway, so in the past only the letters without colors. So the style, so to speak, and how to shape the letters and what kind of connections you create somehow. That was always exciting. And then to get the energy to deal with faces and et cetera, that just was not me. I just stuck to the letters.
You also travel a lot and paint during your travels.
Yeah, well, I have to say, most of the trips I’ve been doing lately have been made only through art. So maybe I would not have done that otherwise, because most of the time there were some events and events that invited one then. And of course, such an invitation is welcome. So Indonesia was my big highlight so far. So it’s just awesome to get to know people through art and have the opportunity to travel around the world. This is of course really great, so it’s really fun.
So there are different works of yours in places around the globe.
You could say that. I do not know if they are still there or already painted over. But at least I’ve traveled to a few countries and left something behind.
Do you stand alone at the exhibition #Neograffism or are there others with you? Or are there still events around, so performance or concerts?
No, so that’s really a solo show of mine now. Also the first. And yes, there will be a vernissage on May 23rd. Then there will be a bit of a party. There will be drinks, there will be music. And then it’s really a classic gallery exhibition. The gallery is always open from Tuesday to Sunday between 12 and 19 o’clock. Of course, you can come by anytime and see the art. That’s like a classic exhibition.
You said something about your beginnings earlier, but there was still a long way to go to the artist you are now. Tell me something about it. From school graffiti to international sprayartist.
Oh yes, that sounds great. Yes, so in the early days of adolescence, of course, you went out at night and experienced a few adventures there. I’ve never been the type who likes the thrill so much. And somehow there was such a thing, two times trouble with the police. Then I decided for myself, no, watch out, I’d rather try the creative track and really do more with the letters than with the action. So I really paint beautiful pictures for myself, paint colorful pictures and get better first and foremost. And starting in 2007, I got started really in Hall of Fames, so the places where you can spray. There I really ran like this two or three times a week and painted pictures and developed myself further. I really got to know a lot of people. That’s how the trips came. And from 2012 I started training as a graphic designer and that has really shaped me again. Alone, if you go so synonymous to the art history. So Bauhaus and something. I thought that was super exciting too. Then I tried with this graphic training to apply these influences to my graffiti. So I finally came to the style that I am currently driving. This mix of graphics, minimalism and graffiti. This is my rough development now. It was not planned that way for me either, so I thought it would fit that and not that at some point I want to earn my money with it and I’m going to focus everything on it. Somehow I slipped in there and maybe got a request, something like “Can you paint my electricity house?” Or something. Those were the beginnings. And somehow that’s how it gradually developed. So it was by no means such a forced “I want to earn my money now!” But I’m so slippery and of course I’m super satisfied in the meantime, because I do not have to do everything anymore. I do not have to paint flowers anymore on power houses. I can really paint my style and it’s in demand. This is somehow the hottest job in the world for me. So yes, somehow I made the hobby a job.
It was then no longer enough to paint works for a short time and then run away quickly, so the more complex things, you need more time and peace.
Of course, everyone sees it differently. There are enough people, and I have a lot of respect for them, who are still doing these night actions after 20 or even 30 years. They interpret that differently. No idea if that’s the way to say it. In any case, they have a different approach, but of course it is worth the same or perhaps more exciting than mine. That is always the question that I ask myself. How is graffiti defined? Graffiti belongs exclusively on the street and has to be illegal or graffiti works in a gallery too. So that’s super exciting for me and I also find all movements within the graffiti exciting. I can totally celebrate that when a sprayed freight train drives past me. I find super cool.
Sure, that’s all part of it. But there are certain limitations, ie temporal and logistic or even alone at a certain size at Murals. But there has been a lot of development, there are more and more officially made works in the cities.
Yes, a lot has happened. You can see, too, so the advertising also uses graffiti a lot. What you can then see again zwiegespalten. But at least graffiti or even this street art culture has totally arrived in society. And if you chat with the 65-year-old grandma these days, it’s not always “yes, these are the greasers”, but sometimes you hear “oh yes, these are the beautiful, colorful pictures” or something. There’s a lot going on, definitely.
What spots can you recommend in Berlin, including those where you can see works by you. Also tell me something about other sprayers you paint with and from your crew.
So basically one can say that Berlin has far too few legal places to spray. That has always been a problem I found. Otherwise, there are many of these murals scattered throughout the city that you can see. If you want to see something from me, then you can go out to Marzahn. There are two stations. About my buddy Stan, whom maybe some of the sprayers know, we painted three stations at that time. That was Merower Alle, Poelchaucher Strasse and the third one does not strike me now, but they are all three in a row. There we have transformed the complete stations with abstract things. We had invited several artists, including TRUN from Russia was there. You also know him in the scene. INSANE51 was there, who now also brings a mega career to the starting line. You can also just sit around watching Instagram, check out my friends too. Stan just, so Mister STAN NATS on Instagram. SKENAR gives it, I travel a lot with it. Then still RIOT and my whole crew, so SBB. The Super Bad Boys. A lot happens in Berlin. DEJOE is definitely known, also a legendary DJ. Yes, a lot goes on in Berlin. Also just illegal. It is one of the capitals of Europe in terms of graffiti. A lot happens with us.
The problem with too few free paint places you have almost in all cities. If nothing else is there, then you only have the possibility to make it illegal. Here you could do a lot with more freedom.
So at least for the guys who want to spray legally. So you can give them the opportunity, that’s the point. Those who want to spray illegally, which is about the action and the hot spots, there are still so many legal walls put, that will not change. But at least you can give the kids, the desire to legally spend the whole day at the Hall, the opportunity. That would be important. Especially in such a city as Berlin, which defines itself also about art and street art, there is still a bit of a pity and there is a lot of catching up to do.
How did that go with the railroad station project? Did you approach the city and presented a concept?
Well, let me tell you, with normal walls that are now in the streetscape, it’s like trying to get at the homeowner or the city, or just ring the bell and then show what you’ve done and hope that the one who is open to it. It was really a classic job at these stations. So the train came to the company of my buddy Stan and said, yes, we want to have the stations redesigned. Then there is also a very classic mission in the sense of “We pay you, paint something for us”. There is something like that.
There is already such a certain respect when painting over works of others. How is that going with you?
I’ll tell you in this Hall of Fames, so it can be you drive there in the morning at 10 o’clock, paint your picture until 16 o’clock and at 16:10 o’clock the next one stands and waits, that he will paint over it can paint and his picture. So that’s super extreme, simply because there are so few places. But in principle there is already such a law in the streetscape, yes. So you do not have something better or something better known. There are also quite legendary graffiti in the cityscape, which are somehow 25 years old or something. And of course, in the very rare cases, they are painted over and, if so, there are often really annoyances from the scene. So there is already a certain code of honor.
Therefore, it is often so important to document such works nicely, because in the end, the photo is often the only thing left of it.
So the photo is just super important, just for us legal painters. Yes, it is often the only thing you can do with it, because they are overpainted extremely fast. But that is just the transience, which is somehow exciting. And now just with social media, so you paint a picture on a wall, which is then seen on the wall of ten people, because it is painted over and then you upload it to Instagram or wherever and there and then there are 30,000 People. So the possibilities of social media are great for me. There are certainly also people who find the totally stupid.
It’s just an easy way that anyone can use, so a free tool. You just have to spend some time and it does not cost, that’s quite handy.
Yes, exactly, so why not use this tool. Just the graffiti scene, which has noticed so gradually and also. You can really find every sprayer on Instagram. So even the hardcore sprayers, who are doing trains and illegal bombings, are now also on Instagram. And yes, why not. The graffiti was always about to be seen by many and somehow about this becoming known. So why not use the tool in addition, of course, is cool.
Very exciting, what you do. This is the exhibition, but with a look at the year, are there any other projects or exhibitions planned?
Yes, there will be a few smaller group exhibitions. Otherwise, come back in June, I’ll do something with a skateboard company. There’s another skateboard coming out. I also want to do a little bit of stuffy stuff now, so put my style on clothes. First I want to bring out a sweatshirt. In the summer is also a bit traveled, let’s see, maybe to Belgium or something. Yes, it always depends on something, often spontaneously. And hopefully it will be just as exciting a year as the last one.
Artist: KAI IMHOF – RAWS
Urban Spree: https://www.urbanspree.com/de/event/raws-neograffism
Curator: Urban Spree Galerie
Adress: Revaler Straße 99, 10245 Berlin
Phone: +49 (0) 30 / 74 07 85 97
Artist Collection: https://vagabundler.com/germany/streetart-map-berlin/urban-spree-gallery