Designing the official Christmas stamps for Luxembourg’s postal service is a long way from the B-boys with attitude or pissing pigs that Sumo used to paint when he first started experimenting as a graffiti artist.
“I like sending Christmas cards, so it is great that I can send them using my own stamps,” says the amiable Luxembourger. So does this latest seal of approval from the corporate world--Bofferding and Rosport have already used Sumo’s work--mean that the Luxembourg establishment is now totally accepting urban art?
“I think it is because the visual language of my paintings appeals to a certain generation. Not just the very young, but people my age. There are references from popular culture--colours and images--that they can relate to more than normal graphics. There is the influence of skateboard graphics, colours reminiscent of MTV, the cartoons we watched…”
Sumo’s original inspiration as a kid was the thumbnail images of heavy metal albums he saw in music magazines--he started copying the logos and then began drawing and designing original work, such as flyers for parties and posters for concerts.
At the Lycée des Arts et Métiers he met fellow artist Spike and while on a field trip to Munich the pair saw their first examples of genuine graffiti. “When the others went to the museum, we snuck off to the train tracks and took photos. That was our first contact with graffiti.”
Back in Luxembourg there was no graffiti scene as such, but by 1995 together with another artist, Stick, they had developed a reputation and were discovering scenes across the border in Trier, Metz and Nancy. “We just learned by doing.”
Indeed, Sumo developed the crazy baldhead out of exasperation as he tried to find something original. The character developed from rather crude beginnings into slightly mysterious personas with light emitting from their eyes.
But Sumo has moved on since those early days. “Apart from the technique, not much has evolved in graffiti since the 1970s,” he says rather despairingly. “The edge has gone.”
He has now started painting on canvas. He describes his multilayered works (he often paints over a previous theme), with their fascinating detail, as personal and infinite.
In the summer he held an exhibition of major works at the BIL Galerie Independence--an endeavour that took him eight months of working until the wee hours of the morning. “It was big risk, because if nobody bought my work then I would have wasted all that time working for nothing.”
The risk paid off and Sumo is now an established figure on the local arts scene--one worth writing home about.