Against the wall: Graffiti pioneer opens gallery

Sumo, also known as Christian Pearson, pictured, was among the pioneers of graffiti in Luxembourg during the 1990s Patricia Pitsch

Sumo, also known as Christian Pearson, pictured, was among the pioneers of graffiti in Luxembourg during the 1990s Patricia Pitsch

Luxembourg artist Sumo is in the strange position of running both early and late. His new exhibition space and studio at 31 rue de Strasbourg, ga1:1ery, should have opened in May. Thanks to renovation surprises, the date was pushed back to September. But then again, since choosing to become a full-time artist six years ago, he says he never expected to open his own gallery so soon. “I thought it would be in 5 or 10 years but, I saw the opportunity with the space I found. You only live once!”

Living life to the full is something that Sumo has always subscribed to, from the first moment he picked up a spray can and began tagging walls with his cousin in London in the mid-1990s, to the illegal paint coup of the Hollerich skate park which he helped coordinate.

The artist blazed a trail for the Luxembourg graffiti scene at a time when it was far from cool or tolerated. He says his first real contact with graffiti arose during a school trip to Munich when, while his peers were shopping or visiting museums, he and friend Spike headed to the railways tracks to photograph graffiti. “It hit us, this is what we were doing but huge. From that point on I was trying things out.”

Treading new ground as it were, Sumo recalls having to learn through trial and error. “We didn’t know [anyone] that did graffiti, we had to find out by ourselves,” he told Delano in an interview this week. Fortunately for him he had a huge blank canvas in Luxembourg to train on. Among the walls of choice were those of the former abattoir and skate park in Hollerich, a site which has become synonymous with graffiti thanks to Sumo and his friends.

In 1998, back when artists had to ask permission to paint on just one wall, Sumo and fellow artists staged a surprise, two-day paintathon throughout the entire complex with 3D artists from the greater region. “It looked nice. Everything was colourful and clean,” he remembers. Far from landing in trouble, the city never intervened and, if the works were replaced, it was only by those from other graffiti artists. Years later, in a magazine interview, then city councilor Xavier Bettel declared the site a legal graffiti zone. From that moment on Sumo kept a copy of the interview on him at all times, just in case he was stopped by police.

Becoming an artist

In the intervening years, Sumo owned part of a concept store and gallery in avenue de la Liberté and worked as a graphic designer before striking out as a self-employed artist in 2012. In that time Sumo has remained a key cultural figure in Luxembourg, even if today 95% of his work is done using acrylics on canvases.

The crazy baldhead character that has become his calling card is less of a feature and his colourful, multi-layered works exploring space and time are very different from the art he compulsively sprayed on street walls. While previously based out of Bonnevoie co-working space Hariko, Sumo had been looking for a new studio space since its closure was announced.

The new gallery in a former launderettes came with enough space for a studio, enabling him to work and meet clients out of one site. And it won’t just be about him. “I’m going to have exhibitions all of the time and it won’t just be my work,” the artist says, adding: “The idea is to exhibit pieces by artists I believe in, people that are authentic, do original work and have influenced the (urban art) scene.”

This, he says, was the thinking behind the “one-to-one” element of the gallery’s name. All of the artists whose work will be exhibited there are on a level playing field, united by their shared interests and philosophies. Just as the artists are with the clientèle.

Gallery open door weekend

Call in to Ga1:1ery, 31 rue de Strasbourg, Luxembourg-Gare, L-2561, on 15 September from 4pm-9pm or 16 September from 11am to 4pm to view paintings, prints and sculptures by Alëxone, Cone the Weird, Dave the Chimp, Spike and Vhils. The artists will be present on 16 September to sign prints and books.