Q&A: Kristin Farr, the only female muralist at One Festival

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First, our apologies to Kristin Farr. “You guys wrote something cool about One Festival but you wrote there at point ‘a bunch of men.’ Hey, a lady right here,” she tells us on Wednesday at Paprika, a cozy restaurant at the second floor of RCBC, where a press conference of the ongoing One Festival took place.

Kristin Farr is the only lady from the 8-muralists line-up of One Festival, which is ongoing at BGC until Saturday. An editor of Juxtapoz magazine, which pretty much covers graffiti and street art extensively, she tells us a few things about the culture of this thing slowly growing in Metro Manila streets.

Welcome to Manila! What do you think of our humble city?
I like it! Everyone’s really nice. The weather’s not as brutal as I thought it would be. It’s been really fun to meet people and be painting and hear what people have to say about the painting. It seems like a nice city, I haven’t really been outside BGC so I only know what’s here but so far, I like it. It’s my first time.

Okay, because you’re with Juxtapoz and you do street art, I feel like you’re the closest to an expert. Is it still true that street art has to be illegal to be legit? And if it’s commissioned work, then it’s almost like selling out?
I don’t think so, not at all. I don’t know if you want to call it ‘street art.’ I don’t really see myself as a street artist. I’m a painter painting on walls instead of a canvas. A lot of artists I interview also don’t like being called a street artist, but if you really think about it, it’s no different from painting on canvas. It’s just on a wall, in a larger size.

But the belief that it has to be illegal is completely not true anymore. I like to define graffiti as illegal and street art as legal, but not everyone will agree with that. It’s a loose definition. But I think the term ‘selling out’ is dated for sure. It’s a matter of how much you’re compromising your style when you do commercial art. If you’re not comfortable and you allow yourself to be exploited, then that’s selling out.

So what makes it legit them?
If it’s used for advertising, if it’s pretending to be art but it’s really just advertising, then that’s just corporate junk. But if a human painted it, it doesn’t even have to have a message there, but if they put their love in there, I think that’s legit.

Are there any hard rules when it comes to that?
My husband is a graffiti artist and he told me, it’s actually okay for someone to go and paint over someone else’s work, as long as it’s going to make it better. Of course, that’s subjective, but if someone goes over your piece and he did a better job, then okay, right? In street graffiti, there are so many unwritten rules. You can paint over as long as you innovate.

And then, if your work gets buffed by the city, if the city erases it, or paints over it, the right thing for everyone to do is to let you go back and do your thing again. Leave the wall blankc until the artist whose work was painted over could come back and paint again. But those were the rules when graffiti was just starting to get popular in the states, so I don’t know if kids today still follow it.

And then as far as murals are concerned, I don’t know if there are rules but a lot of artists wants to check in with the community to see how they feel.

Like for me, what I’m trying to do here is use the colors from the Philippine flag in my geometric patterns so that the piece will be more meaningful [to you]. I’m trying to do something culturally significant, because I’m a foreigner — why should I get to paint that wall and not someone local?

Is that how you felt when you were invited?
No, not really. I just don’t want other people to feel that way. So I want to do something, like a cross-cultural dialogue. Something significant for the locals so I’m bringing my style but using colors that are important to you.

Tell us more about your work?
I have two main things. One is a pattern but it’s not really a pattern because there’s no system to it— there’s just a lot of geometric shapes in different colors. So that’s what I’m doing here with the Philippine flag colors and variations of it. It’s not looking as obvious though because the red isn’t red enough.

Kristin at work on her Bonifacio Technology Center wall 

I call that the Magic Diamond pattern and that’s geometric color that looks like 3D because the contrasting colors suggest a 3D pattern. The other thing I call Magic Hexagon, it’s a circle with geometric design that’s more organized inside. That’s inspired by my family’s history in folk art. People would paint those circle things for protection so that’s how I feel when I paint them. It’s like a blessing on the space.

So this wall, how did it go?
Three weeks before I left for here, LeBasse Project asked me to come. It’s really short notice so I’m glad my work let me leave. But yes, Bo from LeBasse, he told me what style he wanted but he left the colors to me so I made a sketch digitally, using my own app — I have an art app, it’s called Farrout and it’s free on iOS! Anyway, it’s a sticker app, my paintings are the stickers. So I used the app to make a sketch. I had a photo fo the building, and I used it to add my art into it.

So that mural was pretty much done on your phone.
Yes! I didn’t even know it would come in handy. They asked me to come three weeks before I left and I finished my art two weeks ago.

How big a role does public art have in defining a city?
There’s a lot of layers. In terms of shaping a city’s identity, when you go to a city and you see murals, it shows that the community supports and appreciates art. That’s important. I can’t think of a city that would not want to prove their support for art because art is culture.

And then there’s a layer of starting a dialogue in a community. Where I live in California, there’s a bill to tax soda so kids wont drink it. But it was really hard to understand on the measure for voting. Sometimes, they write the bill confusing so people won’t be able to vote the right away. So someone did a mural explaining what it means when someone votes no so it helped enlighten the community what the bill meant.

Personally, my whole intention is to brighten people’s day. Get them to smile, get them to see something positive. It’s not all concrete. That’s important for me. and also for my ego: they have to think of me everyday when they go to work! ha ha ha but I really just want to brighten someone’s day. Who wouldn’t want to see something lively on the wall? It makes everything more interesting and more alive.

Also I think, when an artist labors on something and puts their heart into it, then that energy stays. And so it can bring some nice positive energy in the area when the mural is because someone has infused good energy and positivity into the area.

What makes for a really good piece of public art?
Something really accessible. Something people can appreciate without having to know who the artist is, or what the background is. Something that doesn’t make people feel isolated. If it leaves you asking a question, that’s okay. I think, art that anyone can appreciate, is good.

Photo: ArtbgcKristin Farr/Instagram 

Coconuts Manila is a media partner for One Festival

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