For Mark Paul Deren, who goes by MADSTEEZ professionally, street art is all about timing. Like his paints, he’s constantly under pressure. That’s not such a bad thing for a guy whose clients include Nike, Red Bull, Volkswagen, and MCA Records. There is money to be made on the street, especially now that he’s become the pop-culture muralist of the moment, one of the few guys on Earth who can literally spray credibility onto the side of a business.
MADSTEEZ (all caps, all the time) stumbled upon his singular style – big on color, long on detail and references – largely due to an infirmity. He’s almost blind in one eye, capable only of seeing kaleidoscopic swirls of color. The other eye works just fine – the purple, four-eyed ladies he’s best known for attest to that. But what makes the guy impressive is his process, which blurs the line between artistry and athleticism. He works frighteningly fast, more in the manner of a sidewalk caricaturist than the serious professional he is. This takes concentration, but not as much as you might think.
Maxim caught up with MADSTEEZ as he painted a polyptych of Grace Jones on the rolling doors of New York’s restaurant bar, deli, and pizza equipment dealer, an old-school, street-corner operation on the Lower East Side. He chatted away as he worked; a happy guy on his grind.
A video posted by MARK PAUL DEREN (@madsteez) on Oct 10, 2014 at 11:58am PDT
I’m watching you do this and it’s clear that you’ve honed your craft. How did you go from being a wannabe artist to churning through these things?
I kind of have a formula, like background, portrait, there’s a format, a sequence to the way I paint which simplifies it for me so I know how to go from Point A to Point B. I don’t have three months to spend on one painting. It would take longer to take a roller of white and paint the whole wall white like you’re painting your house than to do a mural on the wall.
You’re the only one that notices your mistakes so I kind of like do it to my best ability and not get hung up on a certain area cause that can happen. I just finish and never go back. Once I’m done, I’m done.
You sort of work on the border of the commercial and art worlds. Do you ever have to fight for your vision?
I’m actually working on a hotel project, this hotel in L.A., where the initial concepts were rad and now they’re diluting it to something else that’s not my kind of work. I was working on a bunch of comps last night and I almost just said ‘Hey, you know what guys this isn’t worth it for me anymore.’ I mean obviously it’s a big paycheck but I like to be considered an artist and my name is attached to this. What is the point when it doesn’t feel like my art?
Who else is out there doing this that look at for inspiration or just admire?
There’s Rone. He paints these insanely beautiful women and he’s very elegant in the way that he paints. He inspires me to potentially try and be a little more delicate.
There is this guy Richard Jackson who I had never heard of until recently and he is a fucking genius. He made a giant statue of a dog pissing on the actual art museum. I think that put him on the map. He’s like 70 years old and he was creating art before Basquiat and Warhol and he never really had an art career until now but he’s been making these sculptures that are larger than life like the dog.
Would you consider doing sculpture?
Sculptures one of those things where you just have to be a dickhead like Koons. It’s like, ‘I’m gonna make this balloon dog and it’s gonna cost $100,000 to make and I’m gonna sell it for $2,000,000 and it’s going in Central Park.’
Does money ruin the whole thing or is it just an incentive to work harder?
I have a good friend who sells his paintings for $200,000 and he paints his paintings in five minutes. He has his fucking style and that’s what people want and it’s definitely digressed. Man, he had some crazy show in Beverly Hills a little bit ago and his show was awful and everything was sold out and he did like $8,000,000 in sales and we’re just like, ‘Fuck!’ I mean, I guess I’m jealous cause I can’t do that.
It’s still more personal for you.
I don’t try to put some shit up there that only means something to me or like this obscure thing that no one’s going to get. I like when everyone can enjoy it. I painted this 60-foot T-Rex - or a Weenasaurus Rex - in San Diego and I feel like it literally changed the community.
A photo posted by MARK PAUL DEREN (@madsteez) on Jan 1, 2014 at 12:12pm PST
You did a Shaq piece, which he apparently liked. What was that like?
I mean he literally looked at me and picked me up and then he dropped me. He was so stoked. It was so surreal.
You don’t always have Shaq consulting on your work. When do you know a project is finished?
Once I’m emotionally drained or physically drained, I’m like alright I’m done, I can’t do anymore.
You just drop the mic.
Exactly. Drop the mic.
Photos by instagram.com/madsteez