The identity of the enigmatic artist Mr Fahrenheit is a well-kept secret. The only personal information he shares on his website is that he’s originally from Berlin.
Unlike other street artists roaming around London, you won’t be able to find any pictures of Mr Fahrenheit online: it’s all about his work and not about the man behind it. He hardly does any interviews, so you can imagine my excitement when he agreed to do an interview in person for my blog. We spoke about his life in Berlin and London and about the fine line between art and self-promotion in the current London street art scene.
Although Mr Fahrenheit will remain an enigma to me, it’s no secret he has a great sense of humour. It was a real pleasure meeting him and I look forward to spotting his U R SO PORNO, BABY! slogans in the streets all over the world.
When did you move to London?
A few years ago, but I didn’t really move to London. It’s part of my living in Europe. I don’t live in London the whole time. I’m often travelling, at the moment mostly between England and Germany.
What are the similarities and differences between London and Berlin?
There are quite a lot of them. I think Berlin is still a bit like London was in the 1960s. It’s not swinging London anymore, it’s definitely swinging Berlin I would say. London has kind of grown up over the years and it’s not really thrilling anymore. That’s the biggest difference.
There is still something here, but if you go through Berlin, you really see what is going on. Berlin is still developing. There was so much input in the last 20 years and I think the city still has to find its way for itself.
The main reasons for people, and mostly creative people, to go to Berlin is because it’s cheap and there’s a big cultural scene.
How has Berlin changed over your lifetime?
Massively. If you think of East Berlin, after it was after the war and see where it is now, so much has changed. It’s still thrilling going back to Berlin and see what is going on.
I try to go back to Berlin as often as I can and it’s still different every time, more than London.
In a positive way?
Not always. You have the same problems as over here that they are gentrifying areas, the same as in Shoreditch. There are some independent people living there, poor people living there. That area gets attractive because of some restaurants or bars and then everything follows. It’s the same thing here, but not the same as here, I think that’s the difference. London is much more expensive than Berlin.
What about the street art scene? What are the main differences there?
People doing street art here are doing it mostly to get some applause, lusting for some attention, getting to get in a newspaper, getting into a magazine. And this is I think the major difference with Berlin. There people go out, do something and have fun with it.
In the last year London saw the rise of so-called street art agents who work as intermediaries between artists and shop owners. What is your opinion on this development?
I think that 99% of all the people doing something here are not doing it for the purpose of art, but for the purpose of, I don’t know. It’s about getting attention, selling stuff. I don’t have a problem with people selling stuff, but the point is: are you doing art or are you doing whatever, spreading your name everywhere with ‘art’ you made on your inkjet printer at home? The commercial aspect is okay, just as long as it’s art.
We have a saying in German that says: Kunst kommt von Können und nicht von wollen. Sonst würde es Wunst heissen. Art is defined by capability or being able to do something and not wanting to do something. Otherwise it would be called Wunst. Kunst means art and Wunst is a play on words, derived from ‘to want’.
Let’s talk about your art. When I first saw your works in the streets, I couldn’t identify them all as Mr Fahrenheit art as you use not one, but different styles. Especially your more recent works consisting of hundreds of little paper strips are really impressive.
I know it’s not politically correct, but I went to India. [looks at me and says:] Oh no, that was completely wrong! I mean I went to Africa and I took 50 Africans back to London and they are sitting in my studio cutting these lines all day.
In your work you frequently use icons from pop culture like Kylie Minogue, Ray Charles, Mohammad Ali and even the Queen. What is the reason behind this, is it some kind of tribute?
There is absolutely no reason for this. I could use your picture, the cyclist’s picture [pointing at a cyclist in the street]. It’s something that comes, I do and that’s it.
I especially like the ones of the Queen playing music instruments.
I took that picture when I was invited to Buckingham Palace and she said ‘what about playing some guitar?’ [laughs] I thought that if The Sun doesn’t take the picture, I will do it and bring it out in the streets.
Whenever I see your slogan ‘U R so porno, baby!’ in the streets I can’t help smiling. Why are you using this particular sentence?
Does it mean something? Does it mean nothing? I don’t know. I think it’s funny. It’s like a brand. When you go to Shanghai, you think “What’s that? ‘U R so porno, baby’ in Chinese! Such an offensive sentence I try to escape from in London and now it’s in Shanghai or whatever!” [laughs]
What about the QR codes in your art? Do they have a meaning then?
The same thing: nothing. How shall I explain this? Forget what you see, it’s not about what you see. It’s simply something that’s there and I really do not know why. It’s there and I do it. It’s not about thinking what I’m doing, sitting and planning it all.
I studied literature, so I always ask myself the question ‘What is the reason behind it?’. I thought you were ridiculing the trend of a few years ago when everything had a QR code on them.
You know, I am not interested in what people see in that. It is not about that I have something to say. Maybe the Queen has something to say, maybe Cameron has something to say, but for me it is only sitting, standing, walking in my studio, doing something and that’s it.
A funny memory for me is when I was a small boy, we went to a museum and I was standing in front of some old painting where someone was explaining what the painter wants to tell the audience. I think it is complete crap because artists are not interested in any audience. Art is not interested in any critics. Art is art. Art exists without us in a way. Of course there are people who want to explain art because they make money from it, which they need to pay rent.
You’ve always had political and social movements reflecting in art. These are concepts that are not really separate.
Art has nothing to do with any political expression.
Not necessarily political, but one is formed by his time, everything that happens in his life. You see it in literature, art, dance, music. I don’t think you can separate yourself from what happens around you.
I think you have to because if you start putting political things into art, it doesn’t work, then it’s not art anymore. It becomes a political poster, a political message, but stopped being art.
When I see artists nowadays, they are always on the left-hand side of the spectrum. Why? There is no reason for that. The moment you start going to the right or to the left, you are following some ideology in the end. And I think that is something you shouldn’t do. Following an ideology means that you create some victims in the end. I think art is standing beyond that point, on top of it. It is more than that.
What place in the world feels most like home to you?
Wherever I lay my head. I don’t go to places I don’t like. If I’m Berlin I like it, then I go to London and think I should stay here. When I go to the Middle East I think ‘oh I should stay here’.
I can’t say I want to stay here till the end of my life. You never know what happens next year.
Is there any meaning behind your artist name or not even that?
It’s what I said: when I’m in Hong Kong I think I should stay here, but then I’m travelling again. That’s what Mr Fahrenheit does: travelling with the speed of light.
So it is a reference to that line in the Queen song? (Don’t Stop Me Now) I thought so but I now feel like anything is possible with you.
Oh yeah, always. Of course there is always a little bit of humour, don’t forget this. It’s important.
How much time do you spend on making your artworks?
That depends. I get up early in the morning and I go to bed late. When I’m working, I’m just doing that and I’m not looking what time it is. It saves a lot time not taking lots of selfies to put on Instagram, not going to social events people call exhibitions. It saves some time not being distracted by people wanting to talk to you in the streets. To me art is about getting some distance and not getting involved in any crap people. I don’t take any offer for an interview. Honestly, I think why, what’s the point? For another story on the internet that no-one is interested in?
Let’s hope people will be interested in this interview then! 🙂