Sporting a hat, with his face masked by a bandana, graffiti artist Alec Monopoly surely stands out in a crowd. When he visited Jakarta in September, we sat down with TAG Heuer’s new Art Provocateur for an enthralling interview.
Alec (real name Alec Andon) greeted us warmly and, once there were no photographers around, unmasked and started talking about how he began his street-art career in his hometown of New York City. In 2008, he quit the Big Apple for California. That was the year the markets imploded. The subprime crisis, the new Wall Street crash, fraudster Bernie Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme,… the world of high finance experienced its darkest days since the 1930s.
All this found an echo in Alec’s work, and his career took off. People started calling him Mr. Monopoly, after the diminutive and debonair banker who appears in many of his paintings. He has depicted the banker in every conceivable situation and his rich, colourful works are filled with dark humour. Alec has turned his focus towards reimagining other icons of popular culture, such as Scrooge McDuck and Richie Rich. Movie stars like Robert De Niro, Adrien Brody and Seth Rogen have bought his confrontational paintings
How did Alec feel about being asked by TAG Heuer CEO Jean-Claude Biver last year to become one of the company’s brand ambassadors? “I saw it as a perfect opportunity to combine my artistic abilities with my love of timepieces,” he replies. “I’ve always had a passion for beautiful watches and it started kind of organically with Jean-Claude. When we first met, he told me he was collecting some of my works, and we really hit it off. It was just a beautiful beginning.
“As Art Provocateur, I’m a brand ambassador. But I’m also more of an Art Director for TAG Heuer. I create artworks for the company, and we are transforming boutiques into art galleries, which is something that’s never been done before. For me, to be a graffiti artist working in the brand’s manufacture in Switzerland is amazing. It’s also been a lifelong dream of mine to design my own watches and to have my artwork on the dial of a new model, which we have coming out soon.”
It seems that Alec was born to be an artist. “My mom is an artist,” he says. “She taught me all the skills. Ever since I can remember, art has always been a part of me. Also, growing up in New York, it’s a way of life to be involved in the street art scene because it’s part of the culture of the city. I always wanted to be an artist I knew early on that was my passion. It was what I wanted to do as my life, my career.”
“When I was in my teens I was skateboarding and doing graffiti in the streets. Later, I had an art show in New York and that’s when the police started catching up with me. They actually came to my show and they tried to arrest me, and that’s why I now cover my face and hide my identity. It’s for all the illegal graffiti that I’ve done in the past, because in the States they’re very strict about it. That’s when I ran from New York and went to Los Angeles, where they’re a little more lenient. And there are a lot more walls to paint since L.A. is a huge city. At first, I was just kind of hiding out, but then I ended up living there.”
What was it like being on the wrong side of the law and being arrested? “It’s the worst!,” Alec replies. “Having your freedom taken away, and you have zero inspiration there. But now, I’ve grown up and I’ve learned a lot. I express my art in more of a positive way, and when I do graffiti murals, I usually get permission first or it’s on an abandoned building that no one really cares about. I’m a lot more cautious now.”
“I think it’s good that street art is becoming much more accepted nowadays. But at the same time, if it was allowed everywhere it wouldn’t be as much fun. I kind of like the aspect of breaking the law and running. I think that’s what makes it interesting.” Has he ever been accused of selling out by collaborating with big brands? “That’s how people
can see it,” Alec agrees. “But they should see what I’m painting, the subject matter. I think it’s kind of funny that anyone can go, ‘Oh, you’re selling out’. But see first what my work is really about. And for me, I’m very selective about the brands I work with. So, it’s not like I work with just any brand. TAG Heuer is a very cool brand. I’ve been a fan of their watches forever, and it’s part of my dream to create my own watch. Some people can say what they want, but I’m just living my dream.”
What does TAG Heuer’s Art Provocateur hope to achieve in the future? “Early on, the goal was to do a museum show and to be immortalised in art history,” says Alec. “Now, it’s more about giving back. You know, inspiring the next generation and doing charity work. I recently did a piece for hurricane relief in Houston. A lot of my friends were affected by it. I auctioned a painting to raise funds. It’s not easy to create an artwork, it takes a lot of time. But it is easy to raise money from selling a painting and give it back.”