CES53 is a graffiti artist from Rotterdam, active since 1985. CES53 started doing graffiti in 1985 becoming a european Graffiti Pioneer in the early 90s not only because of his unsurpassed creativity but also because he was one of the most active trainbombers of his time, easily keeping up with the renowned New York kings and painting with them. He is especially famous for his one man colour whole cars. After picking up classical oil painting in 1987 he studied at the WDKA art academy in the 90s were he refined his oil and acrylic techniques and started to make impressionistic and expressionistic works, at the same time he also got a taste of conceptual modern art. CES53 is one of the most interesting characters of the european Graffiti Movement, so diverse and always up with new ideas. We sat down with CES to ask him a few questions about how he translates his love for Graffiti, the very beginning, his trip to Berlin back in 1991, Sparvar & Marabu, the Movement, Books, Movies, Kidult, Banksy, the Art World and many more! (ENGLISH/DEUTSCH)
left: CES53 (1985) / right: CES53 (1989)
Going back to the very beginning, how did you originally get into graffiti?
In 1977 I painted my name on an outside door of our house and went proud to my dad to show what I did, he went nuts and punished me for it. In 1983 I started drawing cartoons on poles and electicity boxes using permanent markers.I started doing pieces with spray paint in 1985 after seeing Style Wars.
What´s behind the 53?
The Rotterdam subway system has zones, the code for Rotterdam being 5300.
Todays beginners should still consider Subway Art as kind of a bible what do you think? The old books from New York is a good entry into todays World of Graffiti?
I dont think it is necessary to use it as a bible, I dont believe in bibles in general, they are outdated the day they are printed, plus most bibles prevent progression in other directions then which the bible dictates, not to say it is not a great book, it is an important work about a certain period in the history of graffiti..When I learned how to do graffiti I used everything I thought was cool from all differend sources, I saw street pieces, photos, books, cartoons, documentarys and movies and mixed them all up in my own style,
And you still look at such medias nowadays?
I still do that yes, plus I mix in other influences now like art,tribal art, tattooing ,street art, pre columbian art, in my opinion graffiti shoud evolve, grow, go to different directions,
So in general you think there is no book or media that should be recommended as the main source or something right?
I have seen and read a lot of movies and books about graffiti and dont think one is more important then the other, all the books together give an reasonable idea of what graff is, I say reasonable because books and movies are just a moment in time plus that the makers of those books and movies have their personal prefrences what to put in a certain book or movie.
ZEDZ / CES53 (New York/1992)
In Subway Art and Style wars for example, SEEN is presented as the one and only king of graffiti, and other people who had more influence on how graffiti developed in NYC where not even mentioned once like FUZZ for example, who was a true legendary king, did 5 times as much as SEEN, had as much style in his days and rocked the lines which where most important in contrary to SEEN who only painted the safe 6 line.
So in Europe a writer like SEEN is more famous then all the other NYC writers because of Style wars and Subway art, But in NYC he is just one of the many kings out there, so people complaining about internet kings, should also study the history of graffiti better if they really want to know what went on in those days, since books and movies only highlight a small part of what graff was or is and can give a very twisted impression of a certain time or place, Subway art and Style wars are exellent examples of this princible.All publications give a distorted view of reality and should always be taken with a grain of salt, books, movies and of course the internet, where people can create their own publications and make themselves look like true legends, when in fact they are straight up toys in the real streets.
SIE / DMON (1990)
So what Movie and what book about Graffiti or Street Art do you recommend yourself?
„Graffiti Kings“ I love, the raw old stuff, I also like to watch the totally hardcore Barcelona and Moscow train painting videos on Youtube where they pull emergency breaks to paint, kick in windows of trains and blast cops with fire extinguishers. O yeah I also loved the „Hamburg subway break in“ video from those BK dudes, funny as hell, also writers chased by cops live on video I like to see from my safe chair.
Fire extinguishers..what do you think about KIDULT?
Very entertaining, always fun to watch his videos or actions against the monsterous commerical system, I love people doing funny crazy shit in general, out of the box stuff you know.
In your opinion, what is the major change to 20 years ago? Or was there a change over the years?
Internet was not there back then, so development was slow, today we have the internet so stuff gets seen within 24 hours worldwide, information travels very quik those days. Today we have all those really good brands of spray paint, cheaply available for everyone who wants it, back then you had to steal your cans since good cans where very expensive, a can of Marabu would cost between 13 and 22 deutsche Mark depending on the shop, a can of Auto-k would cost between 15 and 22 deutsche Mark so doing a whole car with bought paint was out of the question for an 18 year old writer, and Marabu for example was not available in a lot of shops, so you had to work hard to get your paint and find out where to get it, even caps you had to rack up. The only thing I really mis are the Marabu spray cans, they are and where the best cans for doing whole cars, nothing could touch that stuff, still nothing can, the best paint ever made, and stealing those cans was like heaven, I loved it. Stealing Marabus was never easy, and since I was a pro thief these days it was a way of keeping competition behind. In Berlin especially the writers had no clue about what the right paint to do trains was back in 1991, most of the writers in Berlin where using Sparvar, which would never ever would have allowed you to do a decent one man whole car in an hour, hour and a half max, like the Marababies did.Sparvar was really good paint before 1987, then they changed the paint formula to the drippy, watery, color changing crap which it is now.Sometimes I would find an old batch of Sparvars somewhere in some shop, you could see the difference by the color label, if they had bold letterings on them it was the good stuff, if it was an computer printed label it was the new shitty paint.
CES53 (1988) / painted with the old SPARVAR´s from 1987 / dark-grey (e.G. in the ‚C‘) painted with the new SPARVAR
Another thing which most people now dont realise was that if you where caught doing heavy damage on train back in the days you would face severe punishment by the law, there have been cases where writers had to pay up to 50.000 DM for just one whole car, to have it buffed.So back then knowing this prevented a lot of writers getting into trainwriting, most of the people who did paint a lot of trains in the 80s and early 90s where considered deperados with nothing to lose, and if you where fucked hard by the cops it could mean that you have to pay for 25 years and do jail time.
You has been very often to Berlin back in the days right, when exactly was this, why and how do you remember your trips germany´s capital apart from the spraypaint?
I remember the S-bahn yards the best to be honest, I was in 1991 for about 3 months in Berlin and loved painting those S-bahns whole cars, I was in Berlin just for that , doing graff, so the routine would be stealing food and paint and go out to do graff, take photos the next morning if it worked out. About 50% of our actions failed, so you gotto take that in account also, a couple of times we where almost busted by the cops painting trains in Berlin back then, it was not as easy as some might believe it was.
You are still in contact with someone from Berlin?
left: Berlin Schoeneweide (1991) / right: JACK ‚Marabu Flavour‘ (Berlin/1991)
How important is the creative part in your opinion? Stylewriting has changed a lot to the Nineties isn´t?
The creative part is the most important to me, I dont paint to claim I did 70.000 pieces.I like to change styles, and every piece is a single project, I do a piece when I feel I have something to say, or have some sort of inspiration or idea. Of course sometimes I just smash some trains with throwies or do a bunch of quik pieces but thats just for the rush of destroying shit, like back in da days
Do you feel like invented or developed something very unique yourself?
Yes I developed certain little things used by others, like jagged outlines, little points sticking true the letters. After that I developed a very personal style in general, easily wreckonizable by a conaisseur.
I like to keep developing my styles of art, never be static that is the day you will lose interest in painting when you „know it all“ or do the same piece over and over again.
So, you ever had the feeling of beeing ripped by somebody or someone who copied your style, figures or anything?
There have been cases that some people copied my style 90% , I think that is a little to much, I dont like leeches taking credit with a stolen style, to me they have a weak personality and I will also avoid them as writers, I like people with their own styles like FUME for example, he always was „anti“ and I liked that right away, a man who stands for his own style, is a strong man, instead of gaining cheap quik bling bling fame, it takes time and balls to develop a personal style, it is important to me to take creative risks, instead of playing it safe, safe styles are the most boring no matter how „well“ they are executed. I like writers with a strong personal style, even if it is not close to my own style in some cases.
In recent years you’ve done a lot of breathtaking pieces all around Europe. For anyone reading this that wants to see some of your work, where should they go?
Berlin, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gent, Milano, Sicily, New York, Mexico City and Cholula I have done some pieces last few years.
As far as graffiti and aerosol art goes, you are widely considered to be one of the pioneers in Europe. In terms of how you rank your own personal achievements in the graffiti movement, is the standard that your artistry has something that you rank towards the top, or are there other things that may be just as important, such as getting up or other aspects?
I consider myself an artist, whatever I am doing, be it graffiti, street art, painting canvas or doing a sculpture, its all art to me, what I like about the graffiti concept is that you can show your art to the public when you choose to do so, not some corrupt gallery owner or museum curator decides but you, that is just great, it gives the artists freedom to publish instead of sucking dick like in the conservative art world. Getting up a lot was something I did when I was young, in the 80s graffiti was mainly about bombing your name everywhere with tags.Today the scene has changed in that aspect also, in 1986 90% of the writers where taggers and 10 % illegal piecers, while right now the scene is made out of so many differed types of graffiti artists there is no unity, and in some cases they even criticise each others work, like trainbombers who diss wildstyle, or legal writers dissing train writers.In my days you practiced at an hall of fame to do better illegal work, and that really works, when I started doing hall of fames regularly my trains became much better, that is the perfect balance.I paint everything, legals, tracksides, street art, trains, freights, vans, planes, stencils , stickers, tagging to keep it all exiting ,if I overdo one thing or an other I get bored pretty quik.
I also like to „correct“ a statement from me from an older interview in Backspin magazine dealing with this subject, In which „I said“ that RIO his 200 silver whole cars where shit, I never put it just like that, I said to the interviewer that Dondi his few superb full color whole cars made more impact on the graffiti community then the 200 minimalistic silver whole cars done by RIO, to point out that quality matters a lot, I would never take anything away from RIO, he is a true beast and brother.
The Graffiti Movement 2012 is often explained as one big unique thing, a young scene that has its roots in New York. Do you still feel like it? A Graffiti Writer and part of the movement?
Yes I feel 100% writer, if you feel you are not part of the real scene you spend to much time on the internet. I paint anything, or whatever I feel like doing at the moment, that the internet changed the scene is something I dont care about, it is like it is, you cant change that. I love the spiderweb of the graffiti artist movement, I have good friends all over the world, sometimes you meet someone and after 3 days you feel like you know each other for years, thats the best, there is some hillarious artists out there.
Well, the Internet can be a great thing, many of todays artists use it to spread their work, almost every important Graffiti artist has website, blog, flickr, Facebook whatever. That makes it easy to spread new works, building a network and beeing recognized in the world wide movement. The internet has changed the movement that´s for sure, in a positive or negative way?
Most of the people promoting their stuff online are legal painters, I do like to see photos online once in while, especially the oldest photos, the newest photos, from all over the world to stay informed of whats going on, having knowledge of the things you practice makes you a more developed artist. The best graffiti experience is still the streets, to really see it with your own eyes, no iPhone can touch that of course.I think that the so called iPhone/Facebook hype is ridiculous and very impersonal anyway.
How do you handle your own footage? Paintings, trains, walls etc. You keep it for further exlusive releases?
Graffiti is big in Holland, nowadays. You have seen the process of this Movement went bigger and bigger, Do you feel like someone who have started the whole thing and do you compare yourself often to the days back then Graffiti in Holland have started?
I am just a piece of a chain, graffiti is a tradition with rules and certain style codes, wich is constantly developing, I learned from the people before me, and will pass stuff over to people after me. I dont think to much about back in the days, some people complain that it was better back then, but I say that everyone who thinks it was all better back then, does not do anything interesting today, you gotto push the boundries always, always fight, otherwise it gets boring and you better stop painting.
Nowadays Berlin or any other city in Europe is full of Paste Ups, Stencils, Rollers. Things that were not in the streets back then you have started. How do you feel about this movement, that is still pretty much claimed to be the new Street Art Movement?
I like the street art posters, stencils and stuff, back in the days you had commercial posters everywhere, they even put them over burners those clowns.My figurative graffiti is considerd street art by people so I am an street artist also.I also have to notice that street art is as old as graffiti itself, in the 80s you saw stickers, stencils, home made posters and stuff on the streets allready so it is not new at all.
left: CES53 Stencil (2011) / right: CES53 ‚McDeath‘ (2011)
What would you do if a stencil artist touch your piece?
I never had that problem, like I said my own stuff balances on the edge between graffiti and street art, and I am known and respected by street artists also.
What´s your opinion on the Banksy / Team Robbo Conflict?
I have no opinion about it , I dont know the details, my first tought was that it is one of those BANKSY publicity stunts, staged all the way like everything he does.
I think BANKSY should do more for the graffiti scene now he has some power in the art world, to let those fake high-end art fools know where he comes from himself, the streets, instead of doing bullshit movies like „Exit true the gift shop“ which make it look very easy to become an paid artist, which will never be the case in real life if you dont have guys like Steve Lazarides covering your back, without Steve BANKSY would still be an average street artist.
CES53 Canvas ‚Comeback Of The Chavin Minded Funny One P.‘ (2007)
You have done some gallery shows in the past and may do in the future, how does it feel to hang your piece of art in a gallery? How do you feel about Graffiti Art in Gallerys and, what makes an Graffiti Artist interesting in the so called Art World?
To me graffiti is art just like all other arts, and it is interesting to have it absorbed by the art world, I like to paint high quality canvasses to keep the art a little more permanent then when only outside, where at its most, something will survive for a couple of years max. The art world itself is pretty diverse, and ranges from over-hyped fake artists like Damien Hirst who are able to sell „art labeled nonsense“ for millions to uneducated millionairs who like to „invest“, to funky little galleries where the real deal is offered for a couple of bucks, where my art is exhibited doesnt really matter as long as I can survive and do my own thing its all good to me. One thing I know for sure that the only ones whos have a deep understanding of what art is, are the artists themselves, no arrogant museum director, gallery owner or art critic knows shit about art if they never got their own hands dirty that is for sure.
LASTPLAK is a great team of artists and at least well known since they founded, as far as we know you left the collective a while ago, why?
Because they did not develop any more, and dont have the kind of drive I have, they only stick to legal stuff, which gets boring pretty quik if you only stick to that.
Today you are part of any Artist Collective?
The „One more time“ art school movement.
Clowns from hell fine arts collective.
Monsters of art museum posse.
Real transit artists gallery branch.
Rolling steel wheel crusader Rembrandt division.
There is a another Graffiti Artist going by the name of CES, from New York. Do you know him and how do you think about 2 great artists going by the same name?
When I adopted the name CES in 1987 for the first time, it was a short for NICES what I used to write before I wrote CES, in 1988 I started writing CES53 without knowing there was someone in NYC writing the same name, in fact the NYC CES was not painting much between 1986 and 1992 so I learned later he existed, if I would have known he was around I probably would have chosen another name since he started writing CES earlier then I did. Yeah I do know him we did a CES CES end to end once, he is a really cool dude, the first thing he said to me when we met was „you repesent „the“ name in the east and I will do the same in the the west what you think about that“, and I replied „that sounds just right bro, lets divide the world in two“
Lets stay New York for one more question. There was this ironic piece you painted lately, a clear message to Seen and Cope2. What is the story behind it? Of course we have a guess and we also have heard the rumours…
I thought of it as cabaret-graff, doing a funny persiflage of the famous whole car by SEEN based on certain information.
What was the response?
One individual was not really pleased with the painting and had a caps lock meltdown, but everybody else basicly thought is was pretty funny, SEEN asked for a high res photo.
Right now, what are you focused on and what are some of the things you’ve been working on?
I am focused on painting in general, so I am always busy doing something.
For anybody reading this that admires you as an artist and may be an up and coming graffiti artist themselves, what advice would you give that person?
Always develop your stuff, always keep pushing the boundries of what is accepted by others. For beginners it is very important to draw a lot, also pratice your can control at hall of fames, especially if you also want to paint illegal, and try to look for your own personal style once you master the very basics of the art, do not stick with textbook graffiti or street art, that is boring as hell. And one other thing, if you go out illegal, learn as much about the law and how the pigs work as possible, never never never ever snitch or rat on your fellows, that is a no go according to me.I had friends who offered themselves to be caught if the pigs where really close to prevent them catching me, when I was on probation or had an investigation going on against me, while they have never been arrested before.That is the right spirit, work toghether when nesaccery.Make the deal with your friends that if one of you gets arrested you all help him pay the fucking bill, that kind of shit. One last thing, do art, graffiti or street art because you love to do it and are really interested in what you do, not to become rich or famous or anything like that, most people who have those motifs will be frustrated at doing art and are never really satisfied, since doing art does not instantly makes you a Brad Pitt. I have no other choice then to do art, I am doomed to be an artist because it is one of the few things I feel at home at, I love playing with spraycans, paint, clay, electric guitars and simply feel bad doing something else.
top left: CES53 (2012) / top right: CES53 (2011) / down left: RSWC (2010) / down right: VISK/CES53 (2009)
Thanks for the interview, anything to add?
Yo FINO if you ever want to do a set of full color 1 man whole cars on a Berlin S-bahn, let me know, I am down. Peace to all artists that keep it real, no matter how big or small you are, you will be the guys that will be the true legends and godfathers one day, not the internet bigmouth posers. Love to my brothers and sisters from the crews, you know who you are.