If anything is considered anathema within the global graffiti scene, it's painting over another writer's work. One pair of Berlin-based artists turned that rule on its head to explore the power of collaboration while creating "The Versus Project III," a group exhibition of multi-artist works debuting at Miami's Museum of Graffiti on Friday, February 3.
To create "The Versus Project III," Patrick Hartl and Christian "C100" Hundertmark, also known as the duo Layer Cake, enlisted an ensemble cast of graffiti artists from around the globe, including Akue, Raws, Flying Förtress, and Bond Truluv. Hartl and Hundertmark gave each piece its start and then shipped off the canvases across the globe intentionally unfinished and without instruction to the receiving artists. Hartl says this process of collaborating without communication produced moving results, showcasing the unique gifts of each artist involved.
"The collaboration happens without agreement, and everyone can do what he wants. There were no guidelines for the participating guest artists. The spontaneous and surprising part is, among other things, what makes the project so exciting," Hartl explains. "Since our project is not a classic collaboration in which you agree on a common plan, and the partial, mutual overpainting is even part of the concept, we thought 'Versus' would be a very appropriate title."
After each artist added their signature touches, Layer Cake finished each canvas, taking special care to ensure that no one artist's work was overshadowed or lost. A series of unified works showcased the current milieu of post-graffiti, contemporary art. Two previous installments of "The Versus Project" have been exhibited recently at the Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin.
"Most of the work took two rounds until it was finished," Hundertmark says. "We put the last layer on each canvas, but of course, each artist was asked at the end if he is satisfied or wants to add another layer. We consciously pursued that all three artists remain halfway equally visible on each canvas, and no one slips completely into the background. Nevertheless, you can see on the canvases a kind of struggle for form, surface, and focus of the image; a clash of different, but still somehow similar, worlds. At best, none of the three artists has won, but each has made visible a work process that should be exciting and interesting for the viewer."
Hartl says creating the works in "The Versus Project III" has proved a rewarding opportunity to create and learn from his and Hundertmark's respected heroes and peers.
"We worked with heroes from our youth and artists we still look up to today. To be able to continue working on all these canvases and add our style was just great fun and an insanely inspiring project, which we want to continue in the future," he says.
Alan Ket, cofounder and curator of the Museum of Graffiti, says this exhibition gives audiences a rare peek into an artistic process not commonly seen within the worlds of neither graffiti nor studio painting.
The power of collaboration has informed Layer Cake's artistic process since the pair's formation in 2015. After one evening spent painting a canvas together on a whim, Hartl and Hundertmark realized collaboration can lead to growth and creative evolution, and Layer Cake was born.
"The whole thing started quite spontaneously through a joint painting session where we painted a canvas together one evening. At the end of the evening, we were both very happy with the work, and we noticed that we had talked the whole evening but not a single word about what we actually just painted," Hundertmark says. "As it is when something is fun and works well, we have repeated this a few times. We paint mostly temporally on a common image without agreement. Again and again, we partially paint over until we are both satisfied with the result. We have found that this way of working always takes us far out of our own comfort zones, and in a certain way, we are led to a new level that has now also inspired our respective solo works."
Hartl says he hopes viewers of "The Versus Project III" recognize and become inspired by the vital importance of collaboration in not just the global graffiti scene and the contemporary art world but every facet of life.
"We hope our project and the exhibition will inspire visitors to have more team spirit in their lives, not only because you create more together, but also because you often create different things together than when everyone creates alone. New perspectives are always important in life," Hartl says. "It's especially important for us to show what important places friendship and networking have always had and still have in the graffiti scene. This experience of making, again and again, is one we ourselves have always considered very special, unique, important, and very positive."
Ket says "The Versus Project III" places into stark relief the beauty that results when artists are free to create and expand upon their own visual language, and the exhibition's messages feel especially urgent in a modernity fraught with division and strife.
"This show reminds us that there is beauty and power in collaboration, and today more than ever, we benefit from collaborating with our peers, with our community, and with our families," Ket says. "The future of our planet depends on us seeing and knowing that when working together, we can make things new, exciting, and better."
"The Versus Project III." Friday, February 3, through Sunday, April 16, at the Museum of Graffiti, 276 N.W. 26th St., Miami; 786-580-4678; museumofgraffiti.com. Tickets cost $16.