I saw this mural by Toronto-based artist "Mr. Hydde" while walking around the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, and it was one of my favorite works that I saw that day, so I posted a picture of it on Instagram, which led to some interaction with the artist himself, which led to this interview! Scroll down to learn more about Mr. Hydde.
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Artsology: I see from your website and your various social media accounts that you always refer to yourself as "Mr. Hydde."" Is there a particular reason why you don’t provide your real name, or at least your first name?
Mr Hydde: Well a number of years ago I showed under my given name. I met a number of Graffiti and Street artists who almost always use a pseudonym, which got me thinking ... what is more important, me or the art work? I found that by putting my work under a pseudonym I was able to worry less about "my image" as an artist. The art became something a little bit separate from "me." Of course my work is created by "me," but the step-back that another name allows cuts down on my ego and lets it exist as something independent.
Artsology: You mention having a "traditional art education," including a BFA from Queens University in Kingston and an MFA from Concordia University in Montreal ... was the style of your work in school drastically different from the work you do now?
Mr Hydde: Yes and no. My work has always been colorful but there have been times in my life where I painted or drew in a much more naturalistic or realistic manner. I trained and majored in printmaking for my BFA and my MFA degrees. I started experimenting with some of the elements of my present style in 1997 during my Masters but dropped it due to some very negative reactions. It took me many years to develop the confidence to take it up again.
Artsology: You mention on your website that "the loving call of Low Brow and Street Art ruined [you] forever." Can you share anything about your early interest in this type of work and what attracted you to it?
Mr. Hydde: Behind Your Back, 2014
Mr Hydde: I was attracted to the works of Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Jean-Michael Basquiat during my BFA years, which I feel are the roots of my Low Brow and Street Art interests. I have always been drawn to comics and alternative comic art like the work of Robert Crumb. The Alternative Zine scene was regaining popularity in the early 90's as I finished my art education. None of these artists fit easily into the academic world, and in fact one of my professors openly referred to art by Basquiat and Haring as crap.
I was always a little ashamed of my interest in bright, cartoon-influenced work. It didn't sit easily in academic circles in those days. Academic art was all idea. The physical work was an afterthought. It was looked down upon to see the image as the point, especially at Concordia University. There were people decorating cakes and using spirographs on canvas in my MFA painting department. The matriarch of the painting department, Irene F. Whittome, had given up painting in the traditional sense. There was an Open Media department, but honestly anyone in the painting or open media department could have been exchanged. Painting was dead, too bad, so sad ... anyone painting was doing "bad" art, by their definition. My time in the MFA program there was difficult. Toward the end of my MFA I found the art of the COBRA art movement and the work of Jean Dubuffet. Those two influences validated my work and gave me hope that there might be a place for the art I felt compelled to make.
Mr Hydde: As to why I was attracted to it, I guess it was the intense immediate focus on the moment. My greatest attraction to it was that it was anti-academic, or it seemed that way to me. It seemed like the perfect middle finger to "idea over product," which filled the halls of academia. Art was more about the artist statement than the finished piece. I was disgusted by work which seemed to have little to offer me beyond thick, wordy artist statements parked beside the comments book at the door of every art exhibition I walked through. I don't mean that the work was all bad ... it was just often toned down and seemed to dare you to say "this Emperor has no clothes."
There didn't seem to be a whole lot of acceptable flavours of art in school. Painting was dead, so nothing meaningful was going on in painting. Only an idiot would like painting. I loved to paint. My work was often referred to as "therapy" with a condescending syrupy smile by students and faculty. As long as I was making images it was hard to be taken seriously. It took me a long time to find my voice again after graduate school.
Low Brow and Street Art was all about letting the image evolve and responding to the process. You could fall into the moment and let the work take you someplace. I always found that too much control in my work killed something important. I like “finding” or being “lead” through my work. I think of the whole process like a good Jazz riff. You start somewhere specific and let your understanding of the moment take you somewhere. Jazz is always beautiful, and each performance is unique to a moment and performance. I think of my work like that.
Mr. Hydde: Munkey, 2014
Artsology: How do you define "Low Brow" art? Any examples of specific artists or works that are favorites of yours? Who are some of your favorite street artists?
Mr Hydde: Low Brow is just art that is easily understood in a pop cultural context. The work is often graphic or intense in subject matter. I use the term Low Brow but honestly I just enjoy work that has a clear "voice" that I haven't seen before. "Rockin' Jelly Bean" was my first favorite from days in Tokyo but I often just enjoy an image when I find it. I don't think too much about who the artist is or where it came from.
Artsology: I see a long and active exhibition history with galleries in the Toronto area, your hometown. How did you find and/or get the opportunity to paint a wall in Bushwick?
Mr Hydde: One night very late I got a message on Instagram. Would I ever like to go to NY and paint a mural? I thought it was for a small time art collective or something. I had always wanted to do murals but didn’t quite know how to go about it. I was intrigued by the proposition so I said yes. It was after that that I figured out how big and connected the Bushwick Collective was.
Mr Hydde: It was insane. I said yes not knowing what I was getting into and I ended up painting with one of the most famous Collectives in North America. It took a while to sort the whole thing out but it happened and I had the time of my life! The core administration of the Bushwick Collective is overworked by full of cool guys. They are very down to earth and willing to help. They gave me an opportunity and really helped my art career!
Artsology: Does the Bushwick Collective make a commitment as to how long your mural will be up on that wall before they turn the space over to someone else?
Mr Hydde: The streets of Bushwick are like a gallery. It doesn’t matter how famous the artist is, the work is eventually covered over. Most work is covered in a year, June to June. Some work makes it to 2 years. Everyday your work is up is a gift.
Artsology: Has the exposure that comes with having a significant mural in NYC opened any new doors for you, career-wise?
Mr Hydde: Yes and no. I am accepted as a mural artist now. I didn’t have much to my name before then but I am considered and messaged for mural opportunities, whenever the opportunities come along. I think maybe it has conferred a degree of respect for my work. It seems to have speeded up my whole career.
I am offered bigger opportunities, it doesn’t mean I get them all the time but I am impressed with the quality of the opportunities people are offering me lately. I still strike out more than I hit home runs. I would say I get 9 polite “no thank you” responses for every 10 things I try to go for.
Artsology: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
Learn more about Mr. Hydde and see more of his art on his website: mrhydde.com.