Interview with Airborne Mark, the notorious vandal painting his origami riots on the walls of London
You’d be hard pushed to miss Airborne Mark! Known for his origami inspired art on the streets of London he is an artist who is hard to forget. Creative to the core it’s not just the art which is important. Here we have the all-round artist from the clothes he wears to the music he makes and the paintings he produces.
Mark’s is a journey we’ve been following for a while here on Inspiring City. A regular contributor to the evolving walls of London, his work is difficult to miss, and there is no doubting that his style is pretty unique. Shaping his creations initially out of paper he folds what he wants to paint before he paints it. It’s origami on the walls!
Originally from Poland, Mark moved to London in 2005, part he says, of a wider long term plan which has always governed his approach to life. Now officially a British citizen he does go back occasionally to the country in which he grew up but London is the place to which he has always been drawn and it is certainly home now.
Looking at his work, it’s hard to imagine the artistic journey he has been on. Growing up close to a Soviet military base in Poland back in the era when the whole country was still behind the iron curtain, paint was hard to come by. Luckily for Mark his father was one of first men to deal in paint when the wall came down, if people did need to get their hands on the stuff for whatever reason then it was him they went to. Not that this gave a young Airborne Mark free reign, it was still too expensive to put on walls.
A fire at the paint shop was the catalyst for the young Mark’s artistic career! Rummaging through the rubble he salvaged everything he could, amassing a stash of paint that would do him in good stead for years to come. “People just didn’t know what to do with me, they just thought it was interesting” says Mark as he reflects on his first experimentation with painting outdoors. Graffiti, immediately post communism, just wasn’t really a thing! “There was no concept of it being illegal.”
Reflecting on those years he became known as a “notorious vandal” or rather that was the epitaph afforded him by the authorities who despaired of his prolific train painting in the goods yards of post-communist Poland. Even now he considers himself to be a graffiti artist, a graffiti purest! Yet to look at his work since moving to Britain it’s not necessarily what he’s become known as over here.
He knows how he could be perceived by some and there’s a part of him that feels rejected by it. “You know that Airborne Mark, the gay, fancy, fashion, street art fag?” he says as he mimics the biases of others. “But I’ve been at it so long I’ve earned my stripes and don’t have to prove anything to anyone.” He’s right of course, since moving to the UK he has blazed his own trail.
His artist name for a start is immediately intriguing, Airborne Mark! It stems back to his formative years growing up near an airfield and having a father who was a pilot. From this a pilot character was born. Initially with letters, they were dropped when the character started to evolve. Eventually he added paper planes and the whole origami painting thing started to take shape.
His original name ‘The Pilot’ stemmed from this. It’s a name which even now is immortalised in an unofficial biography of Banksy. The author of which caught him painting paper planes in the Leake Street tunnel just after the infamous CANS festival. It wasn’t long afterwards that he dropped the name becoming Airborne Mark, something he was already using on stage during his performances as a rapper.
Now Airborne Mark is best known for his origami riots series of origami inspired paintings. The name itself is an oxymoron, there is nothing riotess about what he paints, his work is meant to be spiritual. “All the animals I paint are totem animals” he tells me. “I speak in allegories it’s about communicating with people on a subliminal level.” Everything he paints has meaning, not he says, that this meaning is straight in your face but he is hoping that people will get the vibe of what he is trying to do.
“Funnily enough my biggest following is the origami world in Vietnam” Mark tells me as we explore more about his fascination with paper folding. For him the most interesting figures to paint are the most intimate because often they take years and years for the figure to be developed. “I study folding, I study paper, I follow some instructions but I also make my own figures such as the origami piranhas I painted recently.”
That work, a collaboration with London based artist Irony on the underside of a bridge in Camden was the culmination of some of that study. Those piranhas, shaped out of £50, £20 and £10 notes were up-scaled versions of what origami piranhas shaped out of money would look like. Research which was partly theoretical as the actual folding of money into carnivorous fish wasn’t yet entirely in his gift.
I am learning a lot about paper folding. About how the light plays a part in creating the work and how the folds, so intricate can take years to master. “Nowadays I tend to spend more time folding than I actually do drawing” he tells me. Yet whilst he is good there is still much which for now is out of reach although that doesn’t preclude him wanting to create ever more elaborate origami designs on the streets. “I’m working with four very well known, very well regarded artists at the moment and I have their blessing to paint their origami but I’m saving it for something special.”
For Airborne Mark those paintings will no doubt kick start the next stage of his origami inspired art, something which I’m learning, is just part of the natural evolution of the man. He will also soon be releasing his EP, the Origami Riots, which will take his origami inspired message into the musical sphere. For him there is no separation between his music and his art and that is what makes this notorious vandal riot.
Airborne Mark was interviewed on 25 May 2015 in the Vintage Bean Café on Cheshire Street in Shoreditch. He will releasing “Birth of a Rascal” his Origami Riots EP on 22 June 2015, a trailer for which can be seen below. His website can be found here and his facebook page is here.
Airborne Mark Gallery