Face to Face with Alex Face
22 July 2017
Chosen along with Cart’1 among the first to be invited to the Tao Festival in order to create the visual setting for the festivities, the Thai graffiti artist Patcharapol Tangruen – alias Alex Face – has by now become famous throughout the world for his Mardi character.
FROM BANGKOK TO PHUKET, FROM BAN KRUT TO KOH TAO, MARDI, A CHILDLIKE CHARACTER with a wry look, invites himself a bit everywhere in the kingdom, squatting with ease in prestigious buildings like the BACC (Bangkok Art and Culture Center) or on the walls of abandoned buildings deep in the countryside. In his bright colors and rabbit costume, he invites one to re ect on the world in which we live. But, beyond the disenchantment, the artist’s works remain bearers of hope.
During the course of his studies in the department of fine arts of the King Mongktut University Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Alex discovered street art almost by chance. “One day, in the library, I came across a book that dealt with American graffiti. That was a revelation, and I said to myself that I absolutely had to try it. I had some friends who were doing hip-hop, skateboarding…”
Thus began an urban and artistic exploration: “I bought two cans of spray paint, one red and one white, and then I started painting on my car. First I just wrote my name, then I became aware that I could quickly do something grand, and without knowing if it was good or bad, I felt happy. I then started to paint my own face, hence my artist name: Alex Face.”
Constantly seeking new spots to paint, always meeting new people, Alex had the feeling he was doing something really special: “since then, I never stopped painting, on the walls but also on canvas. I studied art and I love to produce, it doesn’t matter what the material or the medium is. Currently, I only paint this child, Mardi, using different techniques…”
Where did precisely this Mardi character come from?
Upon the birth of my daughter, finding myself face to face with this baby made me reflect on the future, on her future. I was a young father, without money, without a real job, and I was restless. In my hometown, Chachoengsao, there were only rice paddies and farms when I was young. Over 20 years this town has changed tremendously, and now one sees mostly factories. I have the impression that in the future we will live more and more enclosed between walls, that the earth will disappear in favor of concrete. The population is growing and there will be less and less food. The face of my character seems to be angry and restless, not happy. I want people to think about this future and what the world will look like for future generations.
Now, I’m a little less restless. My daughter is seven years old, she is growing up, and I tell myself that everything will go well for her.
Do you know what Mardi means in French?
Yes, sometimes people ask me if my daughter was born on a Tuesday. In fact, she was born on a Monday. In Thai, Mardi means “to come with good things”. In the beginning, I didn’t have a name for my character and people often asked me to nd one for him. I said to myself, “why not give him the same name as my daughter since there is a connection between them?” Now, I am not sure that to keep the same name is a good idea. She is growing up and I don’t want her to be confused. She knows that I was inspired by her to create this character, but it is not her. I think she understands and sees the difference.
How do you choose the places to paint?
I love dirty, abandoned walls. Sometimes I go for a walk and I tell myself that this is a good spot. I want people to be able to see what I do. For the new year, I was on the Chiang Mai side and there was a school on the mountain which already had some painting on it, so I asked if I could paint as well. I always try to have spray paint cans with me wherever I go. There’s nothing more frustrating than finding a nice place and not having my materials. It’s more a feeling of perception. Some projects really excite me, I can change and improve some places, some neighborhoods. There are many oating markets in Thailand, but with the increase in the number of shopping centers people don’t go there that much anymore. If I can attract visitors with my works, that will have an impact for the sellers in the market.
When the organizers of the Tao Festival invited me, I immediately accepted. I had never been to Koh Tao before and I thought it would be a good place for me because many people visit the island, it makes my artworks visible. During the three days of the festival, I realized 4 or 5 graffitis and I painted on some garbage bin also, a way to raise awareness of ecology (a constant concern for the Tao Festival, Ed.).
In the beginning, it was not always easy. Ten years ago, people didn’t really know street art, they looked at us as young rebels who were a bit crazy who degraded the city. More than once, I have had to collect my spray paint cans quickly and clear out. Sometimes people ask me to paint, and they bring food and drink. That enables me to discover a neighborhood, to understand the daily life of the people who live there. Today street art is more accepted not only in Thailand but throughout the world.
In Phuket, you had to remove one of your works…
The city of Phuket had invited me to make several frescoes in the heart of the Old-Town. I found the project interesting because the people who visit Phuket come more for the beaches than to visit the old city. To cover my works up wasn’t a problem for me. Street art is by its nature ephemeral, and the buzz that was created on social networks was positive, people became interested in the city and this temporary aspect of street art. Everything that is painted might disappear one day, nothing is permanent. The rain, the sun, or new buildings could erase the art.