Hubert Burda Media

Alec Monopoly’s Illicit Arts

Masked street artist Alec Monopoly talks about muddling the line dividing high art and the masses.

Blinged out, painted up and scruffed up, street artist Alec Monopoly is bringing art to the masses alongside an envy-inducing dose of aspirational luxury. His real identity remains concealed by a bandanna mask that he occasionally pulls up to obscure his face for photos – since street art is technically illegal.

The Los Angeles-based, New York-born artist is not yet 30, but he’s hosted the coolest parties at Art Basel Miami, and sold pieces to collectors like Avery Andon. He is one of the few artists that are crossing over and thriving in multiple sectors: from street culture to high art to popular celebritydom.

Speaking to Prestige less than 48 hours before his exhibit at Bangkok’s Museum of Contemporary Art is due to launch, on his wrists are a Rolex Sky-Dweller and four different Cartier love bracelets; his shoes are custom Goyard, and gold chains as thick as a child’s thumb hang and glint from his neck.

But they are all covered in big, bright drops of dried paint. Alec is nonchalant, though – even gleeful about his haute-meets-art ensemble.

“People take luxury super seriously. For me, it’s fun. They say, ‘Oh my god! You’re wearing a 45,000-dollar watch and you’ve got paint all over it?’” he laughs. “But it inspires me. It helps me paint better.”

Alec Monopoly – a nom de plume – is most well known for his Monopoly man-themed creations. But Alec’s work comprises other cartoon and childhood characters too, and he’ll also recreate and reinterpret famous images of pop icons like Madonna, and Hollywood stars like Robert de Niro.

A Dream Come True

When did he realise he had made it big? “That’s basically this moment right now,” he says. “My whole life as a kid, my dream was to be in a museum. For me to be 29 and be exhibiting in a museum already, it’s crazy. It’s a dream come true.”

Indeed, this late September saw him in Bangkok finishing up an exhibit at Museum of Contemporary Art, titled “Retrospective”.

The 30-odd Thailand-created graffiti art pieces have the minimum price of US$4,800 each. They are localised re-interpretations of cartoon icons that are consistently, even insistently, upbeat and simultaneously cynical.

“I like to leave the question open to the viewer and not form any conclusions. The important thing about art is for people to form their own questions. I like to leave my work open to interpretation,” he says.

The exhibit also includes a collaboration with celebrity photographer Kit Bencharongkul, who created canvas images of top celebrities Chermarn “Ploy” Boonyasak, Cris Horwang, and Davika “Mai” Hoorne, on which Alec added his own paint.

Following the Greats

He strives to echo the positive energy of Keith Haring, one of his favourite artists. But there’s a bit of Andy Warhol in his work as well – whom Alec admires – in not just his marketing savvy, but the subject matter. 

“To be successful with your graffiti, you have to make imagery that is relatable to everyone,” Alec says. Street art is just as planned and calculated as conventional art forms. 

Alec seems to have hit on a thirst in popular culture: the need for a narrative that is accessible and deeply impactful: as well as being for sale, Alec’s work is also viewable in public spaces. 

“Street art is changing so much. When Banksy first came out and with the movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, there was a sudden rush of street artists everywhere. Every regular artist wanted to be a street artist…they wanted to do it to expose their work,” he says, shrugging.

“Now that that has fizzled out, there’s a few of us that are still key players in the street art game. I’m just going to keep growing as a graffiti artist.”