Alright so thanks for taking the time out to do this interview, can we get a brief run down of who you are and how long have you been in the game? What crew do you rep and how did you get the name Merc?
I got into writing in 83, I’d always been drawing from a young age and writing my name all over my estate with whatever I could find, but was always fascinated with NYC from the late 70s onwards with films like Saturday Night Fever, The Warriors, Death Wish etc, seeing all the writing on the trains but not really knowing what it was, which then kicked into gear after seeing the Buffalo Gals vid when it first came out and blew me away. Reminded me of all the gang graffiti I saw in Scotland as a youngster growing up in the 70s but much more considered. Merc 2 was a name I suggested to my crewmate at the time back in 86, he tried it for a day or so and hated the letters so I ran with it instead, dropping the 2 in 87 but I occasionally throw it back in. I wrote numerous names before that. I co-founded ACR in late 85 with Redeem 27 and Dome, got put into CBM in the early 2000s and then NHS a while later, I also got put down with a few crews stateside like KMS, KAOS Inc, TDS, XMen and MDK. I wrote solidly up until 88, work etc took over and I then resurfaced in the late 90s by dropping the odd wall here and there.
So first off I gotta say your style and way of working is super dope! You got a ton of stuff that you do on your own and plenty of collaborations with people all over the states and across the pond, how did you end up collaborating with so many other artists? Have you done a lot of extensive traveling and just meeting up with artists at jams?
Cheers. Some of the connections abroad were through people who went before me and vouched for me, you can’t just turn up at these places and say “hey let’s paint!” Other times here in the UK it was through meeting people via painting walls, old graf forums, people contacting me via places like Myspace (remember that?), Flickr and the like looking to paint over here. Flickr was great for striking up rapports back in the day because people actually had constructive dialogue back and forth on there rather than just firing emojis at each other. I’ve managed to make friends around the globe I chat to on a regular basis.
What makes graffiti unique in my opinion is that its something where people come together to get drunk and paint walls with their friends, do you think this social element of doing graffiti is what keeps you in the game after all these years? Any fun travel or hangout stories to share?
For me it’s all about the social and the laughs. I’m not a big fan of a solo spray as I like to have a catch up and talk shit with my mates, plus there’s always room for a brew or two in the mix! Had a good one last time I was on the West Coast, we had a game plan to do a car. We found an autorack, I sketched the letters in and my mate filled in behind, then I went back to the start to outline the piece – took me back to the 80s as I did a couple of tubes like that back then… 3/4 of the way through the outline we heard a loud creak and the train slowly pulled out before we could finish…we chilled in the yard for a bit, realised we had enough paint on us to try again and managed to grab a TTX waffle car. This time I got up to the point of bordering the piece and once again, that creaking sound and away it rolls. I swear that outline was cursed.
I have many stories but they’re too long to fit in this format!
Your style always looks fresh and dope in each piece, what do you think keeps an artist growing over a long period of time painting? Do you think its experimenting with different approaches, and do you feel like you learn from every artist you collab with?
I try to maintain a formula to what I do to an extent, based on an 80s London blueprint with influences from NYC predominantly. My thinking is, how many ways can I write my name? Don’t want to be one of those people with only one outline, you end up with a photo album looking like a Derek Zoolander calendar. Keep the trademark “isms” but keep changing things up. At the same time I want there to be a clear lineage to the stuff I did as a teenager so even if I’m not painting my name you can still tell it’s a Merc piece.
I definitely learned from the people around me, you can’t help but pick up things from the people you paint with. Painting in NYC for the first time, plus painting outlines given to me by NYC writers definitely changed my outlook and approach to graf. When I paint with Corze and Funk for example we quite often share responsibilities on our pieces to help create parity across the wall, it’s usually the last 10 minutes when it all comes together.
What is your favorite documentary or book that covers the history or major players of graffiti and why?
Tough question! Getting Up is brilliant. Dondi: Style Master General is brilliant. I liked Blade and T-Kid’s books a lot, I like hearing the back story sometimes more than just looking at graf as it makes me try and picture the environment it was created in.
Do you have a creative day job or is graffiti just your outlet? What kind of advice do you give to people starting out in graffiti who are wanting to take their skills to the next level?
Yep I work at an ad agency, I do a lot of design, artworking and retouching so I pretty much spend most of my time sitting in front of a Mac and have done since 1987. Advice to people starting out? Don’t try and run before you can walk, start with simple styles and try to keep those letters in proportion and scale. Spend a little bit longer when you sketch up to get that shape right otherwise it will stick out like a sore thumb later on. Don’t kill your piece with unnecessary colours and details for no reason. Don’t throw arrows out of weird places for no reason and try to find some place to practice in private before going public. We were all shite once.
What’s your go-to hip hop artist to listen to while you’re working? Who would you say is underappreciated in either hip hop or graffiti that deserves more recognition?
To be honest I don’t really listen to much hip hop when I paint! I listen to old school funk and breaks, boogie, disco, dub, electro, house, drum and bass, techno, every now and then some mad obscure shit.
Thanks again for taking the time out to chat, Any shout outs you would like to give? Where can people follow you and purchase your work?
Yep big shout out to everyone I’ve painted and had a laugh with, I could be here all day… and I’m bound to miss someone out and upset them for forgetting to give them credit or a mention, but here’s a few off the top of my head to be getting on with: Coad, Fuem, Reez, Idee, Johnny Jay, Scoe the Hoe, Seize, Splat, Spot, Corze, Funk, Hatch, Task, Nero, Laso, Sye, Doc, Part, Chain 3, Fargo, Skore, Dek, Web, Yourz, Wore, Stef, Unique, Leink, Arek, Con, Acine, the Saviles for the in-jokes that have in-jokes to their in-jokes. Also rest well Phed, Mint, Ganja, Robbo and Acne.
I can be found on flickr (still!) at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mistermerc/ – I post all my joiners and higher res shots on there. Also at https://www.instagram.com/merkism_acr/ for small square pics, and I still throw stuff on https://www.tumblr.com/merkism as well for those that use it.