MEAR ONE Faces The Music for Jam in the Van

0 Comments 14 April 2016

mear one

Legendary graffiti artist MEAR ONE talks getting started, getting political, and his new mural for the Jam in the Van mobile music studio.

By Daniel Barron


For the past five years, Jam in the Van, “the world’s first solar-powered music discovery vehicle,” has toured the country while showcasing high-voltage emerging and established bands across genres. These 200+ performance recordings have included the likes of The Thermals, Eagles of Death Metal, Diarrhea Planet, Delta Spirit, The Diamond Light, The Janks, IRONTOM, The Peach Kings The Fontaines, SWIMM, and even Yay! LA contributor Lael Neale.

As Jam in the Van tuned up for another ambitious year of road trekking they approached vaunted graffiti artist Kalen Ockerman, better known as MEAR ONE, to infuse their ride with a spirit of space age psychedelia. The end result was an acid-washed display that complemented the mobile music studio’s commitment to highlighting sounds that move people.

As someone at the forefront of the movement for over three decades, MEAR ONE’s name should be familiar to many with at least a passing knowledge of Los Angeles’ graffiti and public art history. He began pioneering the form in the late 80s with his dense, powerful political narratives, a style that has helped bridge the philosophies that characterize guerilla and fine art. Some of his most visible accomplishment to date have included being prominently featured in the Museum of Contemporary Art’s landmark 2011 “Art in the Streets” exhibit, as well as the Pasadena Museum of California Art and the Orlando Museum of Fine Art.

Watch the time-lapse video below and read our conversation with MEAR ONE, in which we discuss the trends in public art, how the culture has changed in thirty years, and how we can make for a better future.



You’ve been a staple of LA guerilla art for such a long time, and you’ve observed as the lines obscure between fine art and street art and publicly-sanctioned murals. What kind of artist do you identify as now?
Well, we’re living in a post-graffiti art age. I’m much more of a studio painter now, but I’m still including my street philosophy into the studio work that I do. I’m in my 40s now, so when I do graffiti I’m much more aware of my role than I was before. I kind of like the idea that I used to vandalize the physical world, but now I’m using my vandalism in positive terms, to vandalize people’s ideologies, to influence and suggest and open themselves up to something really different.


When you say that your street philosophy has now transferred over to your studio work, what do you mean by that?
I think there’s an attitude that comes with tagging and interacting with your peers on the streets. That’s an intense reality we all grew up in, that level of confrontation, feeling that immediate shock of emotion…running from the law, running across the freeway, thinking about the world and why we’re doing this…just trying to wake up to a different future. And it’s not so friendly. There’s validity to those years speaking out and breaking laws, you know? There’s a logic to that. With wisdom and time you begin to apply that to our political reality, to our spiritual reality, to our agreed upon reality, which is constantly argued over from religion and science.
I think the graffiti artist has an interesting take on reality, because we didn’t really subscribe to it in the first place. We didn’t agree to go to school or stand in line. We broke the law and bent the rules and reformed reality fit our cause.


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The ebb and flow of guerilla art’s popularity has been pretty significant over the last five years. What do you think most stimulates that kind of buzz? Innovative new talents? Is it more of a matter of the politics of the time?
I got into graffiti during Reaganomics in the 80, and that’s when I noticed that graffiti had left its mark on our freeways and alleyways and walls. It was everywhere. It EXPLODED in the 80s. There were no parameters, no rules and regulations, really. It was the Wild West.

During the Clinton years, I noticed we all got a lot better and artistic. A lot of us began to work and take on commissions and design fees and take our graffiti- which we never expected to make a living off of- and apply it to our future. And then George W. Bush and September 11th were so hard to mentally wrestle with. That was beyond the experience that we had with Reagonomics. He stole the election, suddenly we were in Iraq. I think it took the generation a little while to realize again, but I remember about midway through Bush’s term people started saying, “Wait a minute, something’s wrong here.”

I started noticing the freeways getting hit again and billboards were getting mobbed. A new generation of taggers were spawning up. So I think the financial stability of our society and also the political temperature are important. Graffiti art was a cultural movement that came from the ghetto, from poverty, from having less and not having access to museums and art galleries. Just reinventing art for ourselves.

We’re kind of in that zone right now. I see a lot of graffiti on the street, bombing is back in, the freeways are mobbed up, and of course our economy is struggling again. We hear that China is collapsing, that there might be a whole global collapse. Whether you are a political scholar or not, this is concerning to anybody. That’s part of the fuel of graffiti art, part of the fuel of gangs, part of the fuel of anyone that gets outside the law. It has been shown to be a lie, a failure to us.


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“Exploring Earlier Futures”


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“Meeting of the Minds”

So you do believe that the form can always become relevant and exciting again?
Well, I think it is! It’s just different now. We have social media in the mix now, and the potential to- god, you could be homeless on the street, scratching your name into a window and make the thing that’s gonna turn you into a millionaire. The potential outcomes that could result from your work now make it interesting.

When I was a kid I got busted for doing graffiti on the freeway. I would go to jail and my mom would come and pick me up that night. Now it’s a whole other story. Your parents have enough money to bail you out. It’s probably not as much of a financial burden on your family. The reality is different, you know? The authorities are trying to control it and lock it down.


Police crackdowns became a pretty big issue for a lot of street artists in the latter half of 2011, after the MOCA had their “Art in the Streets” exhibit. Many artists I know had to hang up their rollers because going bombing meant too much trouble with the law.
Yeah, well, time is a cyclical process. I think we were seeing a bit of that in the early 80s, late 70s. We’re seeing that type of reality smack us in the face again. I imagine you’re going to see a lot more vandalism in the years to come. As this new mess unfolds [chuckles].


Certainly. With such a polarizing election underway how could you NOT say something?
Yeah, yeah. Me, I’ve always been that guy who always calls out the Presidential figures, but mostly the obvious figures. Now I’ve kind of come into this new place where I’m realizing, “Actually, I should be looking at the ideology beyond these political movements and politicians. What’s really fueling it?” Because you argue over these puppets and you end up getting nowhere. I’m trying to call out the real cause of what’s going on here, basically this complacent wealth that is playing the game. The technological world we exist in is a pretty toxic world. And most people are completely oblivious to that. It’s about waking up to the bigger picture, those guys are just fucking placeholders for Big Money. Big Money is completely unconscious now, because their great-grandchildren are going to be suffering from these side effects of whatever it is they’re creating right now.


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“Dawning of a New Age”


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“The Awakening”

What do you believe is the right way to start getting informed and take action? How can we see through the fog of the messages that we’re presented?
Hmm. What is the right way? Well, first things first. Giving a damn about our environment, I think, is really crucial. Class wars and race wars are still the predominant topics that divide us. But they’re part of a much bigger issue, which is the entire world that we live in. Our environment is degrading and race and class struggles will be irrelevant when we don’t have that anymore. We have enough technology to figure out who we are. As indiviudals we ask the important questions, but not as a collective. We’re making a ton of new rules for people who aren’t even born yet. No one wants to be responsible for anything.


Did the folks at Jam in the Van give you much freedom or a concept?
Once I listened to the kind of music they were working with I immediately had an idea. So I decided to go with musicians jamming out with nebulas and galaxies. Music is the biggest inspiration to me, as an artist. When I sit down to paint I need to have some music to really get down with. It just wanted to paint wherever it was that Jimmi Hendrix went [laughs].


"Secret Society"

“Secret Society”

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BTS shots from MEAR ONE’s Jam in the Van mural.


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mear one jam in the van


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View more of MEAR ONE’s art on his website.

Follow MEAR ONE on Twitter and Instagram.

“Like” MEAR ONE on Facebook.

Subscribe to his YouTube channel.

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- who has written 424 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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