We had a chill convo with renown street artist, Mark Paul Deren aka MADSTEEZ
September 17, 2016
With much anticipation for Cam Newton’s new food truck, we recently reached out to Mark Paul Deren, a.k.a MADSTEEZ, the L.A. artist responsible for painting Newton’s new food truck Smokin’ Aces. With a huge following in the street art scene and well publicized pieces for athletes, celebrities and notable brands, we discussed his background and inspiration as an artist, the importance of local art, and what it was like working with Cam Newton on his most recent project.
CLTure: I wanna start with a little background on you as a creative…How did you get your start as an artist- did you go to school for it, are you self taught, have you had any sort of apprenticeship?
MADSTEEZ: I would say I am 100% self-taught- I started as a graphic designer where I became an Art Director for a large company at 18/19 years old. I basically had a mid-life crisis at about 19 and I quit and spent two months in Indonesia and that basically changed my perspective on the whole world. I then toured Europe and came back and started painting because I could.
CLTure: Now I’m curious why was painting the outlet of expression for you?
MADSTEEZ: I have no idea to be honest. I think a lot of it had to do with color, Indonesia is a very colorful country and when I came home I lived on the beach and there were no waves to surf, so I just found some masonite in a junkyard next door and used some paint that I had to create my first painting.
CLTure: Where are you originally from and where have you created most of your art?
MADSTEEZ: I am from originally from Centerville, VA which is 15 miles west of DC. My mom actually is crazy flamboyant with the way she would decorate the house, like we would win the Christmas lights contest every year- it was basically the Clark W. Griswold house. So that super over the top environment seeped into me but I didn’t actually begin creating art until I was in L.A.
CLTure: How did you get the name MADSTEEZ?
MADSTEEZ: So the word ‘steez’ is another name for style. I used to wear crazy outfits, not much different than what Cam Newton wears after games. So the word transcended to me having mad style and then it just stuck.
CLTure: Your style is certainly your own, not to categorize you, but it’s quite pop-art in color, comic book as far as the way you illustrate, with some graffiti styling. How did you develop this sort of style and why is it the best expression of you as an artist?
MADSTEEZ: That’s a very good question. I don’t believe in schooling for art. I was never taught how to properly paint something, so when I started I had no one telling me ‘Oh, you’re supposed to do this first and do it that way.’ If you look at my very first painting it is pretty similar to what I am doing now, so I guess that has always been my style. I didn’t know any different, so it was definitely coming from within.
CLTure: Being self-taught, has there ever been a point in your career where you’ve felt the need to go back and learn, say color theory or art history and have that as a tool in your toolbox.
MADSTEEZ: Never scholastically, no. I just started sculpting and thought ‘Maybe I should learn the proper way to do this’ and then decided I didn’t want to know the proper way to do things. Everything I’ve been told may not be possible. I have been able to figure it out, and if you have limitations put on you to begin with, you may not push yourself, and you may give up. It could alter the outcome of your work.
CLTure: You’ve got a lot of projects going on- some independent and some collabs. You’re working on murals, illustrations, paintings, and series. How do you walk the line between keeping up with all this stuff and still staying true to yourself and remembering why you began making art in the first place?
MADSTEEZ: To be honest, I will battle with that sometimes- commercial projects vs. my own personal projects. I’ve been very good with time management… we waste a lot of time in our day. I think I am very prolific with my time, if I take a day off it freaks me out that I haven’t created anything.
CLTure: You paint a lot of celebrities, from musicians, actors, politicians, and pro athletes. What was it like working with Dennis Hopper? Pretty cool dude?
MADSTEEZ: He was probably one of my favorite people I have gotten to work with. I was very aware of him as an actor and he had a big art show in Beverly Hills. It was the single most influential gallery shows I have ever been to… he had these huge murals inside the gallery space and that is always how I wanted to paint. He was at the gallery show and I asked if I could paint his portrait and he was totally on board.
CLTure: Recently, you were sponsored by Nike on some work and you’ve done pieces with and for Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Shaq, Kobe Bryant, and most recently Cam’s food truck. What’s your interest in celebrities and, more specifically, athletes?
MADSTEEZ: It kind of fell into my lap. I grew up as a jock playing at least three sports all year, my whole life. When I started working with Nike in the year 2000, I was having to do a lot of sports inspired artwork. I think other athletes gravitated towards my work because that’s what they saw. I am excited to even push it more and do something for, say, the Olympics.
CLTure: Ok, so Cam Newton. That’s why we’re here right? You’ve just finished working on a food truck mural of Cam in Charlotte. I know you originally connected with Cam through instagram, how did the communication start?
MADSTEEZ: Yeah he reached out to me originally to do a commissioned piece. Since then he would randomly hit me up and about a month ago he asked me for a favor. He said he had an idea for a food truck and wondered if I could make it happen in 30 days, in time for the first game. I said ‘Let’s do it!’
CLTure: We’re you able to have many conversations with Cam about art and what he likes, doesn’t like, Charlotte etc.
MADSTEEZ: He doesn’t know the art he likes until he sees it. He is awesome in that way- a lot of collectors buy something because someone tells them it will be worth a lot of money- and I don’t think he cares about that. If he likes it, that’s what he will buy. He likes work that makes him think. As for Charlotte art, he wants there to be more and wants to bring as much flavor to the city as he can. He is trying to get a team to do a mural on the outside (or maybe inside) of the stadium. He’s bringing the steez!
CLTure: There’s been a little bit of criticism from the arts community in Charlotte about Cam not using a local artist for his food truck, and although the visual arts in Charlotte are not nationally recognized, there is a budding art scene here. I actually have a quote from one of our local artists, she said “It’s definitely not as prominent as other cities but we are in the adolescent stage as far as a big city goes… But art is going up and what already exists isn’t to be ignored.” What do you think helps lesser known cities to get recognition and why is local art important in communities nationwide?
MADSTEEZ: So, lot’s of very good points. I was actually kind of nervous about there being some backlash with people tripping out because I’m in here from L.A. with no connection to Charlotte. But, in Cam’s defense, he knew me and reached out because we’ve had a relationship and that’s what I’m known for- portraits and stuff, even though this wasn’t my usual style. He had a short timeline to get this food truck done, so it makes sense why he would go with someone he knew could do it rather than finding someone local. I spent six days there and you can basically walk everywhere. I will say there is not a lot of art… I saw two sort of semi-murals. It’s more office buildings whereas downtown L.A. you can’t go half a block without seeing some sort of graffiti or something that gives life to the walls. It is great that people are saying that because maybe this brought awareness to it and may prompt the conversation that we (Charlotte) should have even more art! I think it’s a positive.
CLTure: Did Cam give you any more info on the menu, chef for the food truck?
MADSTEEZ: Actually the day I was leaving they were meeting with the chef to finalize the menu. So I honestly probably know as much as you do… something about pescetarian.
CLTure: What are you currently listening to music wise? What do you listen to while working?
MADSTEEZ: I listen to a lot of Pandora, currently the station I have is a band called Youth Lagoon. Usually I listen to stuff within the realm of indie rock. I also like hip hop and other stuff but lately its been Youth Lagoon.
CLTure: Any advice for artists who want to follow in your footsteps?
MADSTEEZ: I wouldn’t want to follow in anyone’s footsteps. The most successful people are those who don’t look at what others are doing. I do sometimes find myself getting jealous of other talented artists projects but you can’t do that. You have to go at your own speed.
CLTure: Any new projects we should be looking forward to from you?
MADSTEEZ: Honestly I have no idea what I’m doing right now. I need to look at my emails and stuff because I just don’t know. It’s been a mad dash.
And there you have it, you’re not alone in needing to check your emails. You can catch MADSTEEZ at the official opening of the Smokin’ Aces food truck this Sunday, September 18 at the corner of 601 S. Tryon st. across from the Gantt Center.
More about Mark Paul Deren aka MADSTEEZ.
Check out this cool time lapse video of MADSTEEZ painting the food truck.
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