Alright so thanks for taking the time out to do this interview, can you give us a brief introduction to who you are, what your history is in the graffiti game and Where did the name Moi come from?
Thank you for your interest in my work; I’m honored.
My name is MOI (pronounce ‘Mwah’); I’m French, born and raised in Paris. I’ve been living in New York for about six years now. I started writing in ’99 in Paris under a different name. I think I was changing names every six months back then. Whenever I found a new flow I liked I was changing my name lol. I spent my first years exclusively tagging, maybe a throw up here and there, if that. I was really into bombing and developing my flow. I ended up getting in trouble in ’06 I think, with a trial that cost me a substantial amount of money. I stopped for a year or so. I came back in 07-08 when I met my mentor and great friend DRONE P19. DRONE belongs to the very first generation of writers in Paris; he is a real style master, and a living encyclopedia when it comes to art and art history. He taught me about everything I know about painting. With him I learnt all the fundamentals of painting pieces.
That’s when I chose the name MOI, which started as a joke. MOI means “ME” in French. Basically I thought it would be funny for someone to get up and to just write “ME”. It was silly. But I kept it for some reason. It’s actually a terrible name on multiple accounts. First, people mispronounce it in English; it’s just counterintuitive. Second it’s too short, and there is a structural imbalance because the I is thinner than the M. It just doesn’t have a natural flow – I dare anyone to try lol. I’ve learnt to work with it, to use the O as the center, and to build a symmetry around it. Anyways… It’s been my name for about 15 years now.
You have so much talent and such a wide array of different styles you do, I really enjoy looking at your work! Do you do this as a full time gig or is this just a passion outside of work? What kind of education background do you have?
Thank you. It’s funny that you should say that. I actually feel the opposite about my work. I feel like I get too repetitive, like I easily get into the same routine flows, like I don’t innovate enough. I have dozens of ideas in my head; it’s just the lack of time man. I constantly want to challenge myself with new styles. It’s frustrating because there is so much more I could do, and want to do. But I guess it’s a good thing to not have enough time; it keeps me hungry and passionate.
Which brings me to your question: no, unfortunately (or fortunately actually, for my sanity) this is not how I make a living; this is just my passion. And I have a job that keeps me busy 11 hours a day, 5 days a week. Without getting into too much detail, what I do has to do with math. And my education is relatively quantitative. That’s my other passion, mathematics. I actually relate mathematics and graffiti. There is the obvious fact that when you put a burner together with a proper 3D you obviously need to have an understanding of space geometry – even if it’s just intuitive and not formalized. Also, and that’s more my personal sentiment, the art of typography/calligraphy requires a very intuitive understanding of balance, proportions, what makes something look harmonious, what is the perfect curvature for this line, etc. All of that is math – again not formalized and put into a system of equations, obviously, but looking for harmony in lines is math.
My background is also growing up in a fairly artistic family. My father is a sculptor, and he worked in the movie industry. His dad, my grandfather, was a somewhat renowned painter in France. He started his career in the 50s doing ads when they were still painted. He was pretty famous at the time, did about a thousand ads over a decade before moving to more traditional painting. So I grew up surrounded with art, and with parents who were very receptive about that. I can’t remember when I started drawing. I’ve always drawn. There was just never really a purpose, and therefore no real focus until I discovered writing. That instantaneously turned a passive hobby I always had into a passion.
One of my favorite things about your work is the wide variety of mediums you use, you got everything from t-shirts, to dollar bills, to walls and then just straight up badass pieces on paper. What inspires you to want to always explore these different ways of making art? Is there anything that you haven’t done that you would like to, like computer animation or something like that?
Funny. There again I am obviously flattered but I would have said the opposite about my work. I feel like the media that I explore and use are actually too limited, and I wish I were more innovative and creative on that front. I like this interview: making me feel good about my work!
I am starting to do canvases – I started a series of pieces with an industrial feel.
As you mentioned, I also do dollar bills here and there. By the way those are a pain in the ass to do. It’s tiny and super detailed work, it takes me hours to finish one… Whenever I post one, I get requests from people asking me to do more so I end up doing them but it’s a hassle. I’m actually dropping an exclusive series of 10 dollar bills for a friend in Hong Kong who is an art dealer who specializes in graffiti and street art at the end of the month. But hopefully I’m done for a little while with dollar bills after that series. I have also done vintage subway maps on occasions. Those are fun, and it’s a nice format for a sketch.
The tee shirts are occasional – it’s whenever I do a sketch that I think would look good on a tee shirt, I’ll do a small series. But I don’t really sketch with the intent of making tee shirts. I do like them, though. It’s nice to wear your own clothes.
But most of my time is focused on doing walls and sketching on paper. When it comes to walls I’m really focused on constantly and consistently trying new letter structures, new color schemes, and new effects. Otherwise I get bored. I need each piece to be a challenge somehow.
Sketching is fundamental. I spend a lot of time sketching to find new letter structures, new outlines, new connections between my letters, etc. And most of my sketches – I’d say at least half – are just done with a ballpoint pen. I see it as a discipline. Basically you can’t cheat with two colors. You can’t hide the fact that your letters are shit, or that your structure is imbalanced, with effects and eye-pleasing colors that basically mask the flaws. A ballpoint pen sketch does not lie and will tell you what you need to fix to make your outline look good. The problems just stand out in black and white.
I enjoy all of that. But there are many more things I would like to explore. Some I probably haven’t even thought of to be honest. I don’t think I’m really into anything computerized. It gives me a headache; I already work all day on three monitors, I don’t want to do that on my free time. I like the physical contact with the medium – be it a canvas, a wall, a truck, or a piece of paper – and the smell of the ink; I think anything digital is the opposite of the graffiti that I enjoy doing. I know people can do great things nowadays on their ipads and whatnot but pass, thanks. That’s not how I want to relax.
What is your favorite documentary or book that covers the history or major players of graffiti and why?
I assume most people respond Subway Art or SpraycanArt to this question.
For me it’s a different book that built my graffiti culture; it was my Bible when I started. It’s a book called KAPITAL, it’s focused on Paris graffiti in the late 90′. It’s incredibly comprehensive, and it reflects the quality of the styles that Paris witnessed in the 90s. I know I’m biased but I still consider that book as a reference and the styles in there as a foundation. And it’s the styles I grew up seeing around so there is a sentimental aspect to it.
I discovered Subway Art and Spraycan Art later, and re-discovered them years later with a new lens after I moved to New York.
For those that want to go down the path you’re going down what kind of advice would you recommend? What can beginner artists do to up their skills when they are first starting out?
Oh well I really don’t know if I’m in any position to give advice to anyone. I feel like there is still so much I would like to achieve artistically.
I would respond along the same lines of what I was saying earlier about sketching with a pencil, an eraser, and a ballpoint pen. I would also recommend the very basic – and yet fundamental – practice of hand-lettering, to work on calligraphy, preferably with a chiseled tip, to work on downstrokes and upstrokes. I don’t spend enough time doing it, but I still probably cover over a thousand pages a year just doing tags, lettering, etc. That’s great practice and really fundamental. Practicing muscle memory. Finding new ways to do an A, B, or C, or to connect them.
And last but still fairly important I would recommend practicing can control. To me that comes last honestly, because that’s something you can significantly improve in a relatively short amount of time at the end of the day. Also, it’s purely technique, as opposed to creativity. And to me the talent is in the outline, not in how well you do it on a wall. But a clean wall
obviously stands out, no doubt.
Who were the artists that inspired you when you started and who are the artists that have inspired you today? Are they the same, and how do you think instagram has changed the graffiti game?
When I started, being mainly focused on tagging, I mostly admired local Parisian writers that stood out for their handstyles: Marko 3DT, L’Atlas VAO, O’Clock 156 LT27, Skeo BP, Clone OPC, Gorey, among others. I wasn’t doing pieces back then but I did like silver and black blockbuster letters or with straight black outline and admired the CIA and LT27 crews for the trains they were doing with massive blockbuster letters that had so much flow. Still an inspiration to this day.
The writers I admire nowadays are very different. I think living in New York has changed my perspective. I have been exposed to so much graffiti both on the streets of the city, but also through the walls I paint with other people. I have had the privilege to meet, and to paint with incredible old timers. I have been blessed to meet and become friends with guys like Ree MTA. Ree is an incredibly genuine and generous human being, and he just has so much to teach, it’s really humbling. Being lucky enough to meet, chat with, and paint with some of the most meaningful train bombers of the 70s, like Ree, Part, and learning tricks from them has been a great influence on me.
And then as you mentioned there is Instagram, which is a plague, but also gives you access to the best of what graffiti has to offer worldwide at all times.
With all if that into perspective, I would say my biggest influences or the people whose style I admire the most are:
Old school: Dondi CIA, Serve FBA, Pure TFP
New school: Ces FC, BIS UNO, Doves FC, Vayne UTL, Mast FC, Rime MSK, Post VSOP
Old school: Serch NES, Mode2 CKT, Swet, Delta
New school: Nomad, Funco/Satur GT, Boogie SML, Alive4000, Tones, Chek NT, Manyak OPC
Outside of the graffiti world, the things that influence me can be somewhat summarized as illustration art. But illustration is very broad and encompasses things such as M. C Escher with his insane illustrative work on optical illusions, or vintage wizardy illustrators like Vaughn Bode, Ralph Bakshi, or Frank Frazetta, but also 1930s-1940s animes cartoons by Hugh Harman, or even erotic art by Milo Manara, and Dr Seuss!
What is your favorite thing about graffiti versus other art forms? Is it the ability to collaborate and travel with other artists? Being outside? Or just the danger of it all?
It’s really a bit of it all. I definitely enjoy expressing myself on large surfaces; there is something liberating about it. Also, using spray cans makes painting very smooth because there is little contact with the surface itself when you paint.
I also really enjoy the exploration part, the fact that graffiti is always a bit of an adventure. It keeps me young, and makes me feel like a modern day Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. You basically choose to be a pirate when you’re a writer. I like that. The thrill of doing something illegal is obviously an important part of it. Even in abandoned spots which are generally pretty chill, you are technically trespassing, sometimes breaking and entering, so you are on the lookout, you are under pressure, even if ultimately it’s abandoned so you can take your time. It’s fun to see what you can achieve under pressure. Same thing with painting by night, or trackside, or at a layup. I like the going-on-a-mission part, the adrenaline, and the challenge of painting something clean, that stands out, under pressure.
The other aspect you mentioned is the collaborative part, and I do enjoy it very much. I naturally tend to just do my thing on my own but I know how much progress I’ve made just being around – meaning listening and learning from – other, more experienced writers. It’s actually been fairly transformational for me, because I have learnt to work with others through graffiti. It’s just not something that comes naturally to me. I also learnt patience. I am a very impatient person, and you can’t achieve much in art if you are not patient. Even to this day I have to force myself to let the first layer dry before I start the second layer. My natural instinct is to just go, go, go lol.
From an artistic standpoint, I enjoy the “quest for a perfect style” that comes inherently with graffiti, which is a goal that can’t be achieved. That’s the beauty of it. You tirelessly try to find a perfect flow that you will never fully control or own. You can here and there have a perfect flow but then the moment is gone. And only by working on letters like relentlessly can you increase your chances of those moments of grace happening. I like the idea of muscle memory, repeating a gesture ten thousand times to be able to do it right one time. There is something very meditative, and very close philosophically to martial arts and calligraphy art in that respect with writing.
Any crazy travel stories or graffiti stories in general you would like to share?
Actually not so much. I’ve been pretty blessed and not gotten into any trouble in a long time, thank God. There was just this one incident with a junkie a couple of years ago. I was painting the wall of my friend’s restaurant downtown on a Sunday morning, and this guy high as fuck tried to stab me from behind with a broken bottle while I’m 6 feet up on a ladder painting the wall. Fortunately some people came to help and the guy ended up running away but that
could have been dangerous.
If anything what I want to bring up is the fact that I’ve been blessed to meet a few incredible people who have made my 20 something years in this game an amazing human experience. It’s important to surround yourself with good, positive people. So in that spirit I want to thank Drone, Wyme, and Ree for being amazing people for remembering that hip hop is about accepting others and for making me a part of their crew.
Where is your favorite place to travel and a underated place to check out graffiti in New Jersey you would recommend?
Favorite place to travel is generally Europe. France, first, to see my family. It’s been a while with the pandemic. I miss Paris and every trip is always an excuse to paint with my mentor and great friend Drone P19, as well as with my friends Meik ELM, Pest P19, and Dume P19. And otherwise Italy. Greece too. All of southern Europe, really!
And I like exploring the US. I go to California once a year to relax, smoke weed, and paint. I really want to go to Alaska, and Montana. I went to Hawaii last year and had a blast.
I actually only just moved to New Jersey so I’m not in a good position to answer that. I did however very randomly come across a beautiful piece by Pure TFP in the woods the other day; it made my day.
I do know some good spots in New York and on Long Island.
But as a general rule, I avoid sharing graffiti spots because next thing you know the spot is messed up.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Do you have any grand plan for what you do you just take it one day at a time?
I have a grand vision but I don’t have a grand plan. I believe in building a wall rock after rock basically so I work hard on my craft, I thrive to constantly challenge myself and try new things, and I believe it may, one day, pay off. I don’t know what form it will take, but I believe in creating something over time with consistent and continuous effort, if that makes any sense. That’s my grand plan. I don’t think my grand plan is necessarily to sell my art, do shows, make money with it. I don’t really give a damn about that. I don’t think I will ever be the biggest writer in New York either; there are quite a few people that have put in a lot more work than I ever can. Good luck to those trying to catch up. I guess my hope is that my style will be remembered down the line, even if I need to spend the next 40 years working to perfect it to get there. Ultimately, anyone who does any form of art a bit obsessively simply has a heightened conscious of his own mortality, and wants to leave a mark behind on this planet for which he hopes he will be remembered. That’s what it comes down to.
Any shout outs you would like to give? Where can people follow you?
Shoutouts to: My wife, my parents, my sisters, Drone, Amir, Tibz XIT, Tayone, Wyme, JC Hundred Murals Co, Ree MTA, Meik ELM, Pest P19, Dume P19, Kister, Sebastien Walker, Soze, Sien Ide, Duster UA, Wore FC IBM, Woody CIA, Bonte XIT, Sly, Pou7 ODC