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The man behind the mask: meet notorious street artist Plastic Jesus

Dan Webb
He’s been described as the ‘Banksy of LA’ and featured by CNN, BBC, Time & Huffington Post. Street artist Plastic Jesus is certainly making waves and is unafraid of ruffling feathers in the process. We caught up in the run up to the 2016 US election.

Your work is often deeply critical of celebrity culture. Do you feel at all hypocritical receiving mass attention for your work, and participating in promotional activities such as this interview?
No I don’t. The focus of ‘celebrity’ by its nature is the individual where as I always endeavour to make my work the focus. By attempting to get a message into the mainstream the originator of that message is undoubtedly at some point going to become the focus, but I feel in order to create change and act as a catalyst you must connect with the largest number of people as possible.

You’ve also explored themes including corporate greed and consumerism, drugs, war and politics. Do you identify as a democratic socialist?
Yes I do and I’m very comfortable with that title. I grew up in Europe and I have seen the huge benefits of things like social healthcare and a social welfare system that actually works and is there to help, not to make huge profits. I’m amused how the word ‘socialist’ is regarded by many Americans. Sadly the bias and negativity comes from huge profit-driven media organisations.

I feel in order to create change and act as a catalyst you must connect with the largest number of people as possible.

Briefly, what are your thoughts on the upcoming election?
I find politics extremely interesting, either on a local level or national and international level. What I do see at the moment is the changing face of politics across the world. During the 80’s politicians were moving to the middle ground to try to steal voters from each other, now we see parties moving further to the extreme to secure votes. I think it would be true to say this happens in cycles. I guess everything will move back to the middle ground in 10-20 years.

Do you think anonymity in your profession is a good thing, or is it a potential deterrent to emerging artists?
I think it’s an important thing. Street art should all be about the art and not the artist. If someone wants to get famous through their art I would tell them the best way to do that is to die.

Do irregular work hours make it difficult to form meaningful, lasting personal relationships?
No it doesn’t significantly affect that, although my girlfriend hates me going out at night; she never knows if I’m gonna get arrested. It is addictive though, hitting the streets at 4am.

What first stoked your interest in street art, and did you receive any formal training or mentoring?
I remember when I was around 10 or 12 I bought a book about graffiti. It was full of the kind of humorous comical statements you find on public bathroom walls. I remember thinking that it was a cool way to get messages across. I have been a great admirer of Banksy, his ability to create poignant social messages within his pieces. I’ve been a photo journalist for over 20 years and when I moved to treat art it seemed a natural medium for me to convey opinions. I have no formal training in anything whatsoever!

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Leonardo da Vinci – On everything from art to science to medicine. We cannot even begin to imagine the genius of the man.