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If, while wandering the streets of Istanbul, you suddenly come across the Ice King from Adventure Time or Mickey Mouse, you have the street artist Fist to thank for that moment of distinct serendipity. We got the chance to chat with the artist about his cartoons and the street art scene in his native Istanbul.
It’s no secret that street art in Istanbul is on the rise. From the annual Mural Istanbul Festival, where local and international artists cover entire buildings with murals, to the art that bedecks almost every wall in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood and to the Street Art Istanbul App, which is trying to document the rapid growth of urban art pieces, Istanbul is a prime destination for artists. With so many local artists that outdo one another with their distinct styles, we felt a special connection with Fist, who interrupted our lives for a few minutes and carried us back to the raging colours of our childhoods right in the middle of a busy Istanbul street. We got to talk to the artist and Istanbul native (whose name we will, of course, not reveal) about how he gave up his 9-5 life and dedicated himself to his art.
How did you get into street art?
I used to draw cartoons in class when I was in middle school and high school and I also grew up with hip-hop culture, which includes graffiti, rap music and breakdance. I kind of gave up my drawings when I started playing basketball for the school team and by the time I finished college, I found myself working as a strategic consultant for about 10 years. When I turned 30, I suddenly had this realization that I was living my life according to the system and after that moment of enlightenment, I decided to live my life as I wanted to and do what I loved. At that time, I was living in Taksim on a street that was covered in graffiti and to me, it appeared to bring together all the elements that I loved: painting, rebellion against the system and hip-hop. And so, I bought some spray cans and gave it a try. I ended up quitting my job and now, here we are.
Why did you choose to focus on cartoon characters for your murals?
Well, I’ve loved reading and watching cartoon since I was a child and I also feel that cartoons are such a great tool to tell a story and express a message.
What have the reactions been to your work? Have you ever gotten in trouble for creating street art in Istanbul?
Most people are very supportive when I’m out there painting around the downtown area of Istanbul. Of course, some people, especially the police, can give you a bit of trouble. I’ve had a few incidents here and there, but I’m still alive and well.
You also create murals professionally for corporations. How is this different from doing street art on your own time?
With street art, you paint what you feel, at night, illegally. I always try to communicate and create an interaction with the people on the street. I’m the happiest man in the world when people end up stopping to think, even if it’s just for a second, when they see my art on the street. With professional spray art, the basic difference is that you’re painting mostly what your customer wants and pretty much just doing it for the money. But somebody has to pay the bills, right?
Which other street artists do you admire, especially in Turkey?
There are many skilled graffiti writers and street artists in Turkey, but my friend Hero is definitely my favourite.