After exactly one year as a TAG Heuer ambassador, American graffiti artist Alec Monopoly is back at Miami Art Week and working harder than ever after painting 300 watch straps and doing an Art Take Over at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Our Swiss editor Sophie Furley caught up with him between events to find out how the year has been.
How has your first year been with TAG Heuer?
Alec Monopoly: It has been an amazing journey, I got to travel all over Asia, I got to go to Switzerland, which I now know very well. I love the culture there, I love working at the factory and I even have my own studio there. How many graffiti artists can say they have an office in Switzerland? It has been a great partnership.
You have just painted 300 TAG Heuer straps for this new limited edition connected watch, can you tell us about this?
I did most of it in my studio as it takes a long time to paint 300 straps and it wouldn’t have been possible to do it all at the event here, but I finished them here.
It seems that a lot of your art is now linked to a performance. Do you enjoy that?
I’m kind of used to it as being a graffiti artist is a performance in itself as you are painting in the street in front of people. I have always been known in the graffiti world as I paint everywhere, I go with the flow, whether it is in my studio or elsewhere, it is pretty much the same.
TAG Heuer’s slogan is don’t crack under pressure. Do you ever get nervous?
Tonight was definitely a “Don’t crack under pressure” moment. I still get nervous before I have to do any public speaking, but I have noticed that throughout the year, working with TAG, I have done so much of it that I have become very good at it and much more comfortable.
What else are you up to this week during the art fair?
I have the Art Take Over at the Fontainebleau Hotel tomorrow and then we are going to be opening a gallery at 6pm at the hotel. After that I have a collaboration with Philipp Plein where we have a capsule collection — the t-shirt I am wearing is from the collection — that’s opening tomorrow and then Friday night I have a party at Liv Nightclub, which is very cool. And lastly, I have a collaboration with Helmut Newton, the amazing photographer, where I have painted on his photos.
Your success has been an American dream going from graffiti artist to celebrity. Was there a particular moment when your career switched?
It just happened gradually, from working really hard and it just grew naturally. There wasn’t this one moment where it grew all of a sudden. Perhaps after my first art show, when people started to see that I wasn’t just a graffiti artist and did canvas work too, that was a big moment. And signing with TAG Heuer was obviously an important moment for me.
How has the collaboration with TAG helped you?
It definitely showed people that my work is certified. It is an amazing thing to be working with a Swiss watch brand like TAG Heuer.
What would you say is the secret to your success?
I just have a crazy work ethic. People who know me know that I am in the studio every single day. I am always working and very dedicated to my passion.
What does a typical work day look like to you, if there is such a thing?
I wake up around 9am and do some kind of exercise. I may go surfing, skateboarding, go to the gym or boxing, something like that for about an hour. Then I go to the studio and I’m probably at the studio all day until about 7-8pm and then I go home, sometimes I take a nap and then wake up at 3 in the morning and I’ll go and paint in the street, which is my favorite thing.
I wanted to ask you about that, do you get much time to paint in the street?
It all depends on the night. If I am in the mood to go painting in the street or if I wake up in the middle of the night and I can’t sleep, I’ll go paint in the street. I go as much as I can, but it is a battle because when I’m doing canvas work and I’m trapped in the galleries and the studio, I don’t get the chance to get out in the street as much as I’d like, that’s why I came to Art Basel early to do the big graffiti mural I did.
What do you like about painting in the street?
It is just the energy of painting outside and you have the energy of the people. It is not just for your fans and people who come to galleries, it is for everyone to enjoy and for the most part everyone loves my work.
Do you feel that you have been accepted into the art world?
Honestly, I have kind of created a market of my own. There are a lot of critics and all that stuff, but you know my work appeals to the masses and they have had to accept me. The sheer fact that I have so many fans and I’m so well-known has made a lot of people come around. Before, they may have been saying this work isn’t sellable or this and that, but now my prices are exceeding most other artists and I’m in a great place. I have never paid attention to the haters or the critics, they have never gotten me down, I just did my thing and did what I love and it has all worked out.
What’s your next challenge?
Releasing another edition of our watch. It was a challenge painting all the bands like that. I’m also traveling with TAG Heuer to do a museum show, which I can’t talk too much about now, but that is going to be really cool. It is at a museum of modern art.
Last question, are you having fun?
I’m having a great time. It has been a long day, a lot of work and running around, but this is what I love doing so I am so happy to be here.