As part of an interview series exploring the relationship between design and music, PAPER have spoken to several artists whose work is heavily influenced or connected to music. First off is visual artist 'Ruff Mercy'. In the interview below we are discussing his background and breaking down his work methods and inspirations. This interview series will be featured in the forthcoming PAPER issue 'Music and Architecture', set to be released this autumn.
PAPER: What’s your background, how did you get into visuals and graphics?
RUFFMERCY: I have always been into art since I was small, and as I got older I discovered that I was pretty good at it (and not much else). I don't think it crossed my mind to do anything else, I just knew I wanted to follow that route. After school I went to university to study illustration, whilst there I dabbled in animation, mainly stop motion stuff.
P: How would you describe your style?
RM: RRR: Ruff, Rugged & Raw.
P: You’ve done some work for Ministry of Sound Australia, and electronic music seems like a fitting genre that is open to visuals accompanying the beats. Most of the work in your portfolio however are music videos for Hip hop artists, do you think that certain genres or musical styles translate into visuals better than others?
RM: I would love to make more videos for electronic artists, it's something I plan to do. I listen to that genre quite a lot and at the minute I play Shigeto almost once a week. I would love to work with him. The reason that I've done so many urban videos is because I've had a passion for Hip hop since I was 13 years old kid blasting Public Enemy's 'Yo! Bum Rush the Show'. I listen to a lot of different genres but Hip hop was the first one that hit me like 'POW' when I was young, and it stuck with me to this day. I didn't plan on doing mainly this genre but when you do one and you're lucky and people like it you get asked again and again. The first video I came out with as RUFFMERCY was for Blu x Flying Lotus, this was a perfect track for me. I loved the combination of Hip hop and Electronica. I'm drawn towards heavy tracks with that kind of energy.
Blu x Flying Lotus - BNG
P: In many of your videos you highlight certain words and phrases from the lyrics. In your video for ‘Numbers On The Boards’ (Book & Bronze Bloodsport Remix) by Pusha T for example, I find it interesting that some of the vocal samples in the beat appear alongside the lyrics. This way they play a part of the song in a way that they hadn’t if they weren’t visualised. It reminds me a bit of screwed and chopped music from Houston as well as Ghetto Tech from Detroit where elements in the music (lyrics usually) are repeated and chopped up so that they are imprinted into the listeners ears. I guess in a way you’re doing something similar but visually through graphics. What can great visuals add to a track in terms of depicting the mood and atmosphere of the beat and lyrics? (‘Blue Daisy presents Dahlia Black - Fuck A Rap Song’ for me is a great example of the visuals doing just this).
Blue Daisy presents Dahlia Black 'Fuck A Rap Song'
P: When I first saw your visuals I thought of Basquiat in some respects. A lot of his work is covered in fragmented writing which gives the impression to have been painted almost effortlessly, similar to the way your graphics are depicted in the videos. I read in another interview that you never redo a line or a stroke but move on to the next frame, do you think that this way of working is vital to achieve the final result?
RM: It goes without saying that i'm a huge Basquiat fan. I didn't set out thinking 'yeah I love Basquiat, let me copy that', I saw an exhibition some 13 years ago and was blown away. I think his images have stuck with me since then and have definitely influenced my work. I don't know, I'm feeling like a cheap knock off right now. I think the main thing that I get from his work is seeing all the fragmented images and text together, it feels like seeing my brain on paper and also the looseness of it all. It's very graphical but oh so loose.. Can't beat it!
Yeah, I try to stick to that rule of not going back and correcting anything. I have broken that rule a couple of times but I have always been happier with the ones where I stuck to the rule. You ask whether it's vital to achieve the final result - I like to think that it is, but for me it's more important to feel loose and not so precious about it, that mistakes are okay. I have spent a lot of time in the past trying to be a perfectionist with work and I wanted to break away from that. I hope that the viewer feels the looseness but I reckon a lot of people (especially cell animators) probably think I'm a bit shit (haha).
P: When re-watching your videos I tend to pause and play every other frame to see the graphics as still images and to study them in detail. After I started an animation and 3D graphics course at college I began to really appreciate frames and understand how they finally become a sequence. The fact that every second in an animation is built up from 24 or 25 frames (depending on the format) is something that one rarely reflects over, but for you and many others in this field this is the reality in which you work. Still, in your creations, the fluidity and flow of the graphics is vital. How do you manage to keep the whole picture in mind whilst working at such a fragmented level?
RM: Ah, welcome to a world where 10 seconds can mean a day. I'm both lazy and hardworking. I'm lazy in the sense I can't be bothered to plan, yet I'm hardworking in the sense I'll sit for hours upon hours drawing. So how do I keep the whole picture in mind? With the hand drawn stuff I don't, I just draw what I feel that day till it's done.
House Shoes - Danny Brown
P: What other artists inspire you?
P: What makes the music video such an interesting platform for you to work with?
RM: Freedom, especially on the low budget ones, the ones where no one tells me what to do. They are my favourite and funnily enough, they seem to be the ones people like the most.
RM: Yes, I really want to make a mini series based around music. That's the goal, I'm just trying to find the time to do it. Watch this space!
Ruffmercy was interviewed by Samuel Michaëlsson.
Have a look at RUFFMERCY's work on his website.