Graffiti artist André Saraiva on why he likes ‘the vibe and spirit’ of L.A. and his new Uniqlo collaboration
Last month, renowned graffiti artist André Saraiva, who moonlights as a hotelier-restaurateur-nightlife impresario, was sipping iced tea while reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” at the Chateau Marmont’s terrace restaurant in West Hollywood as we met to discuss his L.A. connections, history of brand partnerships and a new collaboration with Japanese fashion retailer Uniqlo.
The 45-year-old artist’s limited-edition André Saraiva x Uniqlo T-shirt line, 12 women’s and six girls’ styles (from $9.90 to $14.90) that feature his iconic top hat-wearing and winking stick character Mr. A, launched March 27 at Uniqlo stores and uniqlo.com. (If you want to see more of his work, check out Saraiva’s street art, featured in exhibitions at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, on a wall at 4645 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Feliz.)
You have a long history of collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Bally, Tiffany & Co, Levi’s, Nike, Converse, Moët & Chandon and Chivas Regal. Tell me more.
I think I’ve partnered with everyone. The liquors because I like to drink. But most collaborations were very thoughtful. Clothing is a good way to reach people. We did Louis Vuitton scarves that were like art pieces, along with an amazing book. For Chanel, I painted graffiti on bags, and we created a psychedelic nightclub inside the Grand Palais that brought [musician] Frank Ocean to France for the first time. Fashion brands are very respectful of and very fast to collaborate with artists, from Cocteau to Picasso, as part of history.
Why did you decide on Uniqlo?
Uniqlo decided on me. I had a little house and [now-defunct international Le Baron] nightclub with an outpost in Tokyo and did a show with [Japanese fashion designer] Nigo, who had this amazing brand A Bathing Ape. So he called me about a year ago, as he is now creative director for UT [Uniqlo’s UT specialty T-shirt line], and asked me to do a collaboration. Of all the big fashion brands, they may be the only one that goes directly to the artists — not doing fake designs — and the price point is very accessible.
Are you ever concerned about becoming too commercial?
Good question. Artist and collaboration, artist and commercial, what’s the limit? When I started to paint on a wall or a T-shirt, it was almost the same. With graffiti, the idea was to put out our names and our drawings. So a T-shirt was a great surface to express my art. Since the ’80s, painting on clothes was part of the practice. Graffiti is very democratic. It’s Pop Art. And T-shirts are accessible. Keith Haring did some T-shirts that were, maybe, the first pieces of art that I owned and are still my favorite.
How many Mr. A moments have you created?
For years, I used to go out and paint at least 10 of my Mr. As daily. Now I do 10 on paper. If I was sick, I stayed home and did double that number. I’ve had these crazy rules for almost 30 years [since 1989]. Let the reader calculate. [Reader, that adds up to more than 102,200.]
I am always trying to bring a little smile to people and also to question the world we live in.
— André Saraiva
Your use of pink is a bit unusual in the street tag world.
I was, maybe, the first to use pink, and it wasn’t a masculine color. But that’s also why I like it. Because none of my peers were using pink, so it became my color as much as a color can become yours. It is very joyful, and I am always trying to bring a little smile to people and also to question the world we live in.
Do you visit L.A. often?
I have homes in Paris and New York, but my 7-year-old daughter [Henrietta, who stars in the Uniqlo campaign] lives in L.A. so I come here a lot. I like the vibe and spirit. You have space and nature and a very nice way of life. I used to come to paint billboards back in the day with [L.A.-based street artists] Shepard Fairey and Mr. Brainwash. In 2011, I had a secret [pop-up] club in Hollywood called Paul & Andre with Paul Sevigny [brother of actress Chloë Sevigny] that was so underground it only existed for about a year; we also had the Beatrice Inn club in New York. Now I’m too old to have nightclubs! Last year, I opened this little bar the Friend in Silver Lake with my friends [Maroon 5 bassist] Mickey Madden and [restaurateur-bar owner] Jared Meisler.