Artist interview: MAURICE BLANCO



Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

This week we interviewed our good friend Maurice Blanco, the Art Director behind the bizarre Urban sub-culture lifestyle brand МИШКА (Mishka), best known for “keep watch”, a veiny floating eyeball. Last night was their Decade of Destruction party in NYC, and it was epic – especially all the free swag we got. Having known Maurice since our undergrad days at MICA (03-07), it seems like a perfect fit to find him behind the steering wheel of this loud and iconic brand. His in-your-face personal aesthetic (which includes his bright natural red hair) and understanding of great design shines brightly in all his work. Check out his newest piece, an installation of smashed neon toy guns, at CLAW CLAW’s Tooth & Claw party at The Living Gallery on Saturday, 10/12/13.


SHANON WELTMAN: What is your job at Mishka and how long have you been there?

MAURICE BLANCO: Oh man, so I’ve been at Mishka for almost 2 years. I started as a Senior Designer after interning for 3 months.  After being there for about a year the Art Director announced his resignment.  He’d been there since the inception of the company and needed to move on with his career. Over another 5 month period I was promoted to Art Director. These days I’m in charge of concepts, general design, promotional design, marketing design, oversee the majority of the artwork being put into each line, patterns, exclusive projects, special projects (exclusive projects are mostly in-house whereas special projects are more like collaborations with bands, other companies, artists, so on and so forth).


SW: What hard lessons has NYC taught you?

MB: I think I learned all my hard lessons in college. I had my first real long term jobs, long term relationships.  I was in Baltimore, which I feel like is a much harder city than NYC. Not to say there isn’t crime and hard times in NY, but crime in Baltimore just felt so much more common. It seemed like everyone was getting mugged, as opposed to here I’ve heard of a couple friends getting mugged or harassed here and there.  But violence aside, I feel like there were a lot less jobs in Baltimore too.  Ya know, there weren’t the kind of opportunities that you have here, especially as an artist or creative type. You can get a job doing anything in NY, literally… Whereas in Baltimore to be an artist, unless you’re doing your own work, or going hard with the DIY or high art scenes… you might find some great design job out of a small firm… but it just didn’t have the excitement of a bigger picture.

Back to first experiences, I was watching money, watching where it goes, moving up through upper management… losing jobs, getting new ones… and so I feel like I got a lot of people experience, work experience, and the whole understanding of how to work, building a work ethic.  Which is a big part of what I do in NY. I work as an artist, I don’t create, per say, personal art or gallery art – I like to… but I need the day to day hustle.

NY has been easy so far. It’s home.


SW: Are you still actively tagging in the streets, or have you channeled that into something else?

MB: I drunkenly still write in bathrooms and small areas of the city, but I don’t put in the amount of work that I once did. Whereas, before I had a legitimate job — holding a restaurant job or even retail at Urban Outfitters, I didn’t care about losing those jobs… So, I could be a jackass, get arrested if I was careless, and didn’t really have that commitment to worrying about my responsibilities. I feel like I’ve grown up since then, which I know isn’t an good enough excuse…

It’s funny, I’ve had this conversation with people recently… It’s like, so & so who was huge in NY, oh they were a rich kid from the Upper West Side and didn’t have to worry about it, or people who are professionals that are still very active will only go out on aFriday night and go SO hard, that if they do get arrested they’ll be out by Monday to go back to work.

SW: [Laughs] That’s amazing.

MB: Soooo, I’m busy, I’ve got a job, I’ve got a girlfriend… roommates etc… LIVE a little! [Laughs] I dunno, it’s interesting. I feel like I probably could have pursued mural art in some way and I guess find a way to monetize it (because I wasn’t doing that when I was doing it illegally or even at music festivals — you could paint there for free and get in for free, but it didn’t amount to anything (financial) except exposure and self gratification — it was a hobby… it won’t die.


SW: What song best describes your work ethic?

MB: …Uh, I can’t pinpoint any one song. Instrumentals, kind of heavy, adventure music? Battles, Don Caballero, Hella – ya know, like, that sort of music — I work well with it and it also kind of describes the energy I try to always live up to in a sense.  Another really silly example — and I’m going to be embarrassed saying it, is Limp Bizkit’s “break stuff”. [LAUGHS] Ya know, circa whatever, 2001, 2002. I’d be drawing something or making a piece of art and maybe I’d have a stupid class that I was working outside of my bounds in and I’d be like “RAAHHH, FUCK THIS SHIT!” and paint all over it and fuck it up. It was angsty stupid youth and that song is horrible and that band is also horrible, so it’s horrible to mix that in. I’d rather say I was listening to the Misfits or Nirvana, but unfortunately I was listening to goddamn Fred Durst and Korn at the time.


SW: Who was your first favorite artist ever?

MB: Dali, I guess. Salvador Dali. And maybe Keith Haring, but not consciously. I remember a Keith Haring print being up at a friend’s house and their parents were kinda artsy-fartsy, upper class types and were into the art world because they were hip to it — but not sure how much they were attached to the work… somehow that idea of art as commodity always stayed with me…


SW: Spirit animal?

MB: That’s a good one. Maze Georges. I actually told him this today (coincidence!).  He is my spirit animal.  He’s my co-worker, he’s a 50 year old dad, husband, surfer, biker, skateboarding, mountain boarder, graffiti artist, clothing designer, bag making, sewing, constructivist. I thought he was 28, 29, maybe 30, and he’s 50!  He’s just like a ball of energy, positive attitude, amazing dude, and I hope he knows how much he influences those around him.


SW: Be a hater for a minute. Just go.

MB: Ooh man. Drake sucks. Jay-Z sucks. Actually, I love Jay-Z, but I hate old Jay-Z and people will not agree with that. But, Jay-Z sucked and now Jay-Z is awesome.

The art world is really shitty. I went to art school, I love art. It’s ingrained in me because I was exposed to it at such a young age, both my parents were artists. But the art world, or what people consider this institutionalized whatever American commodity is fucking shit. Fuck that guy …skulls, what’s his name?

SW: Damien Hirst

MB: Damien Hirst. I appreciate some conceptual art to a degree, but if it needs to be explained in more than one sentence – no. Fuck the military. Fuck George Bush. Anything in history that has to do with what led to George Bush. So that’s Nixon, Reagan. Fuck trends, even though I work in an industry that follows trends. It’s interesting to think it’s a company that goes against the trends.

…I listened to a band called Choking Victim, in high school and I was all about it. You could only get their shirts if you went to a show. And the other day at work I was like ‘damn, I’m so nostalgic, I fucking miss that band.’ I still listen to them here and there. I went on the internet and bought 3 of their shirts, from like bootleg punk companies, but that band doesn’t exist anymore. They probably aren’t making any money off these shirts. The internet is great and everything, but it’s interesting to see how easy it is to manufacture, even though, ya know, that’s the course of history. Fuck manufacturing. Fuck the future. Fuck everything that’s ever happened in the world. We should have never advanced past Native Americans and maybe bush people, but we are who we are. Fuck the Universe. Fuck that guy who’s the head of that church that hates on everything that shows up everywhere. Fuck capitalists. Catholics, any kind of mass organized religion. Terrorists. I said the Army.

That’s another thing, I make a lot of clothing that has camou inspiration and camou involved in it. I don’t wear it. I refuse to because I’m anti-military and I don’t support anything that’s the military, so I’m not going to wear something that speaks to it. But camou is kind of cool. Ya know, it was made for blending in and that’s awesome.

Uhh, I’ve got some good ones here, hold on. Fuck Miley Cyrus. Fuck Britney Spears. Katy Perry is cool. Fuck anyone who doesn’t believe in space and aliens and being able to move on from this planet. Fuck cars. Fuck oil. Let’s all listen to Bill Nye, guys. He’s got good things to say.


SW: Advice you’d give your young self?

MB: You’re going to get this in the form what I’ve learned to stop doing, which is what I would tell myself at a young age to ignore. I’ve learned to let go of other people’s opinions. Work better with people. To gauge people on their abilities and not judge them. I’ve learned how to be really, really fair and honest, I think. I work way too hard, but I always party hard as well. So, I’m always trying to balance that and that’s something people are always saying last words on their deathbeds that they worked too hard, or appreciate the time you have with family, friends, etc. I would tell myself to keep doing that.

I should have tried more things at a younger age. I feel like learning them at an older age is hard. Although, teaching my girlfriend how to ride a bike is out of control. It’s like watching a baby dear learn how to walk. I appreciate the things that I do know how to do, but I feel like if I had taken advantage of learning more things at a younger age I would probably be more accepting of them. Not so quick to be fed up with things.