MEAR ONE (Kalen Ockerman) has been at the forefront of LA’s graffiti and mural culture for nearly three decades. He is famous for having pioneered the Melrose graffiti art movement in the late 80s and is considered by many to be LA’s most prolific public muralist. Early on in his career, MEAR gained his recognition for building the bridge between graffiti art and fine art. He was the first graffiti artist to exhibit at the infamous 01 Gallery on Melrose, as well as at 33 1/3 Gallery in Silverlake, where Banksy would later debut his first North American show. MEAR ONE’s work was part of the landmark Art in the Streets 2011 exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. He is perhaps best known for constructing powerful narratives juxtaposing philosophy, ancient mythology and modern politics to inspire an evolved conscious. This interpretation of reality is achieved through balanced dialogue between realism and the supernatural. MEAR ONE helps us envision the sublime spirit of our time – not by escaping reality, but by confronting it head on.
“MEAR ONE – a prophet in his own country? We might smile, but the comparison is not that far-fetched. His highly communicative visual art requires the same keen attention as any narrative would.
Long a major figure on the Los Angeles street art scene, MEAR ONE explores the obscure corners of life through his painting. Give him a wall and, with the undiminished energy of his early days, he’ll tell us about ancient mythologies, political shenanigans, conspiracy theories, the big stories of history, science and philosophy, spirituality and mysticism, sometimes bringing up uncomfortable truths that we’d rather not acknowledge. Nothing seems to escape MEAR ONE’s awareness. His convictions (alarming, yet filled with hope) are abundantly offered and powerfully expressed: beautifully executed, complex and technically brilliant. At the height of the Melrose Movement, which he helped found, he was compared to Salvador Dalí and Michelangelo, and the comparison is not frivolous.
In 1986, the young Kalen Ockerman (barely 15!) fled a life of dreariness with fat cap in hand. In one giant step, he went from sketching in the privacy of his bedroom to public wall painting: exploring creative and social forms, expressing the frustration, rebellion and beauty of the ghetto. By the late 80s, three letters were everywhere in the alleyways of Melrose: CBS, for the Can’t Be Stopped – City Bomb Squad crew. To escape boredom, MEAR and his crew channeled their energies into taking over the Melrose alleyways of West Hollywood, which eventually became the heart of the California graffiti movement. With great agility, the CBS crew juggled works that were barely tolerated with works that were commissioned, all the while building a strong identity as vandals – the secret to their artistic balance. A stark neighborhood became transformed by color, reflecting the shift from a space where casual acquaintances might bump into each other to the home of solid friendships. So could we say that graffiti is, above all, the generator of a more humane environment?
Taking the name MEAR ONE, Kalen plunged into a culture that had come straight from the East Coast. The experience rocked his life: it was his “great awakening.” Today his work appears on more permanent platforms, from album covers to clothing lines. His art transcends words, ignores the barriers of vocabulary, travesties emotion, and gives voice to lost souls. In 1993, the death of his friend and founding CBS member, SK8 ONE, brought home the fragility of life and the harsh reality that you could die painting trains. He responded with a tribute wall, which led to his first solo exhibition at the Zero One Gallery. This side-step into the world of fine arts confirmed for him that art is quasi-mystical, a vehicle for introspection, philosophy and altruism. Art galleries the world over have become his allies, supporting his exhibitions, walls and live paintings.
MEAR ONE is a subtle chronicler of modern times, and he can produce paintings of a nearly oppressive realism set within a surrealist atmosphere. With their succession of perspectives, details, events and characters, his works are highly complex but nevertheless a true pleasure to contemplate. The stunning effect of light and the intelligent use of color combine in shadings, draping and mistiness, all of which attest to the patience and ardor that the artist brings to his work. Oil is his best medium.
Emerging from all this visual information are his interpretations and criticisms of society, although he leaves us free to take notice or not (his works are often accompanied by short texts and he’s very active on social networks). A lot to say, MEAR ONE? Of his own country, this messianic painter has much to say. Although he also comments on the broader issues of the world, his mission is often to draw us into an awareness of the energy, more or less visible and volatile, that surrounds our humdrum lives. MEAR ONE […] explores life at its most intangible: spiritual and mysterious. Never moralizing, never pedantic, his paintings simply evoke tranquility, fascination, thoughtfulness and wonder. Perpetually seeking to share what he sees in the world around him, MEAR ONE combines content and form to explore the human condition, always moving forward. His mission: to alert us to what really matters in life, and he does so while remaining deeply faithful to his graffiti roots.”
Sabella Augusto, 2016
Galerie At Down, Montpellier, FR.