Hey Smates, let’s start from your technique, in several of your pieces the water literally explodes from the wall. Could you reveal something about how you’re able to achieve your outcome, I mean, which do you think is the main key of your “water” technique?
I don’t really have one way of painting water. And I must say that I have done enough water murals, so I’m going in a different direction for the moment. But I’ve always tried to study the watercolors very well, as well as the lightining.
I really love your most recent murals, I think you’ve found a perfect balance in the composition between your impressive technique and the power of the image itself. Would you give a brief walk through this specific workflow?
Well, I think I finally found a good general concept, that I really like, to create a lot of designs for big walls in the future. In the past I approached each wall and concept as a stand alone kind a thing. I mean when I saw the wall I started thinking about what I would paint on that wall. And everytime it could be something completely different. Now I have a lot of ideas that fit together, I’m trying to create some kind of a dream/surreal-world where I play with the dimensions, surrounding etc. Norway, Canada and China are my first tree walls with my new ‘concept/approach’. And as you can see, it is more of a series. They are all 3 different but also similar. And I already have a couple of designs in my head (or I even already made them for projects that got cancelled) for future walls.
Listening to our readers’ reaction, your Mechelen Muurt piece is highly attractive, how did it come the idea for this wall and what did you find during the whole creative process?
That wall is still form my ‘underwater’ fase… I started with the underwater theme because it creates a dimension/space on the wall. Instead of just painting animals/characters/.. on the wall I tried to make them a part of the wall. The first time I did it was with a great white shark under a bridge in Brussels. That’s still my best underwaterconcept. And it got a lot of attention so I continued in that direction. I did more or less the same in Mechelen (Smates hometown) for Mechelen Muurt. I used a picture of Karen Dillabough that I found online and changed the setting a little bit so it would fit nicely on the wall.
All of your outdoor production is pretty big and sprawling at times. Talk for a moment to someone who’d like to do the same stuff, and tell him what’s the hardest part of your large scale murals.
The first time you paint a big wall is definitely the hardest part. Working on a really big scale is something totally different than smaller walls. First you have to get used at working with a lift. It’s not that complicated but it takes some time to understand how to use it in the best and fastest way possible. But as I said that’s not really difficult. Getting the proportions correct on the wall was something that I found hard in the beginning. I often used a grid, one time (in Moscow) they projected the design on the wall and at the Day One Festival (I painted a great white coming out of the wall and diver swimming underneath him) I just started whithout a grid or anything. That is something I’ve never done again. Not really the best way to do it. I really got stressed and had to go down A LOT to check it from a distance.  Now I use a different kind of grid. It’s a technique I learned from Telmomiel one year ago. You just fill the wall with a lot of shapes (it doesn’t matter what you paint), once that’s finished you take a picture of the wall and in Photoshop you place your design over the wall. That way you have a lot of points of reference to put your design pretty correct on the wall. A genius technique that I use all the time.
If you go back on memory what do you remember about your beginnings, what was the expressive urgency that made you want to begin?
I did some graffiti when I was at school but not for really long. I think 4 years or something and than stopped. I don’t remember why. When I finished school I started working as graphic desinger and when to an academy (evening school) because I wanted to learn how to paint. I have always been drawing since I was a little boy. My dream was drawing comic books. But also working for Disney, becoming a magician and I also wanted to be Willem Tell. But that was just because I was really into crossbows when I was little.  At the academy where I followed painting lessons (acrylic on canvas), I learned how to use colors and how to construct a painting. But I didn’t really liked the medium. Somewhere around that time or later, it’s hard to remember, I met a guy, Peter Serruys, at a party and he knew that I’ve done some graffiti. So he started to show pictures of his pieces on his phone and they were way better than my work. I was really impressed and he wanted to paint together. So I started again with spray paint thanks to him. In the beginnen 3D letter pieces. Nothing special but I really liked the new spray paint. When I did graffiti when I was in school it was sparvar, spray color and pretty limited colors. Nowadays you have a lot more colors and cans that spray softer. A little bit later I started with characters/faces etc and I applied the techniques I have learned in the painting classes. That’s when I really got hooked. I learned a lot and my work got better and better technically. In Belgium when you work you get ‘holiday money’. And I used all my holiday money to buy spray paint and whenever I had time I went painting. There are a lot of legal zones in Belgium so I have spend a lot of time there. In the beginning my main focus was on the technique. Trying to improve my way of painting, learning a lot of people I that I met when I was painting. I also met Steve Locatelli, one of Belgium’s finest, and we became friends. And now I’m doing it almost 4 years full-time as a job. The best job in the world.
And what about now, what pushes you through your art, what’s the engine power of your motivation?
It’s just all the time on my mind. I have ideas/images in my head that I really want to paint. With each wall I paint I still learn a lot. My focus is on the idea the concept.
Do you keep some of your old pieces? What is your relationship with your earlier works, would you like to erase them or are you comfortable with them?
I have pictures of all of my pieces. Or most of them anways. And I don’t really have a problem with my old work. In the beginning I copied other artists a little bit to much. That is something that I now really see very clearly. So when I see those painting I think “Damn shit Bart that’s really alomst the same as..”. But I think it’s normal when you start. You look up to people and what they do and before you know you’re doing almost the same thing. But I have also learned a lot that way.
Your work is certainly very meticulous, do you listen to music while preparing your artworks? What’s currently on your playlist?
Yes I do. And I listen to music all the time when I’m painting. I can’t create or paint without music. Even now, I’m listening to a dj set of Mattmosphere. I listen mostly to deep electronic music, house, minimal… and mostly dj sets. Some names (dj’s and producers) I’m listening at: Uschi & Hans, Mimi Love, Thugfucker, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Jozif, Tom Trago, Just Emma, Recondite, Seth Troxler, Lindstrom, Patlac, Hunter/Game, Karmon, …
These days in the office turns a trick, tell me what will you do, or what would you like to do, in 5 months, 5 years, 10 years.
I have never been somebody who has his future planned out in his head. For the moment I feel extremly lucky. Beeing able to live of my passion, paint walls in a lot of different countries, meeting talented nice other artists… I’m enjoying it for 200%. I’ve been a graphic desinger for 13 years. 13 years from monday to friday and from 8h30 till 17h30. Everyday I think about it. And it makes my so happy that I’m independent now and don’t have to get up so early anymore. I will paint till I die. Canvasses, murals, .. we’ll see what the future brings.
Quick reply. Something you’ve always wanted to do, but have yet to.
Make a series of canvasses for an expostion in a gallery. I don’t have the time for the moment. But that’s on my mind.
Something you would like to see in this world before dying.
A great white shark
One overrated and one underrated thing in our daily life.
Jesus what a question… Well, the importance of good food is often underrated. And overrated… uhmm, really don’t know.
What’s next for you? What shows or projects do you have planned?
For the moment I’m working on a big commission in Brussels (150m2) and when that’s finished I have a lot of maybes. Projects that aren’t confirmed yet for 100%. I hope to take some time off for a holiday because it has already been a pretty busy year so far. But if they invite me at a cool festival in a nice county I won’t say no.