Hello Mona is a street artist from Lexington, Kentucky. HM blends influences from pop culture and classic art to create new artwork that is colorful, vibrant, full of humor and sticky (as in sticks to walls and other things). American Fantastic spoke to Hello Mona about the artist's influences, technique and where their work is able to be seen. We've also included some of our favorite examples of Hello Mona's work.
"They don't love you like I love you."
AMERICAN FANTASTIC: By way of introduction, tell us a little bit about your monicker, ‘Hello Mona’ and why you chose the Mona Lisa as a subject to blend with other images from pop culture. What is it about the Mona Lisa, and how does this painting influence you as an artist?
HELLO MONA: I created Hello Mona in 2012. I chose the Mona Lisa because it’s the most well-known work of art in the world. It’s also the most parodied. When you think of art, everyone thinks of the Mona Lisa. I thought that was an iconic work to use. I put it in stencil form and mixed Hello Kitty with it. Because I wanted to represent what it would be like today, and the influence of our culture on something from the past.
There’s Hello Kitty everything. There’s even a Hello Kitty airline. Hello Kitty sushi. Everything you can think of, they’ve made it and made money off of it. It’s a cute representation of the unfortunate effect of commercialism on our culture. It’s like peanut butter and jelly. Two really iconic things together that everyone knows and loves.
AF: How did you get into art? Who influenced you as an artist growing up?
HM: I’ve been making art or doing creative things for as long as I can remember. I was really into music for a long time and played a lot of instruments. I was always into art in drawing, and got really into it in high school. But I never went to school for art. I went for a different subject, but I was miserable, so I quit. Everything I know now I learned from other people or learned online. I think people, when you reach out to them and they see that you really want to learn something, they’re willing to help.
As far as influence goes, I like a lot of different artists. Probably the art that influenced me the most about street art were things I would see in my hometown. I would see a lot of Dronex and Left Handed Wave in Lexington. Those were people I saw doing something similar to what I’m doing now before it was even a thought in my head.
When I made the Hello Mona, that’s a stencil, and I was really into that kind of art for a while. I had a friend in Lexington who did a few wheat pastes, and he showed me how to do a stencil. I’ve reached out to other artists, not just street artists. Now I’m working on some tiles for a show in August. I’ve never done that. But I have a friend who’s a really good ceramic artist in Lexington. And he’s teaching me.
Bow to the mouse.
For me, I have to get my hands in there to learn. I don’t learn from watching. It feels good to get in there with somebody’s who good at something. I tried to do screen-printing by watching videos online, and I ran into some problems. I reached out to a friend who helped me figure out what I was doing wrong. It’s important when you’re working with a complicated process.
I started out with a lot of stencils. I’ve always known how to use drawing tools like pens and pencils. But a lot of the more process oriented mediums, I’ve started recently. I really like the look of screen print, and I wanted to do that.
There’s no instant gratification in the art world. Maybe there is for some people, I don’t know. Not for me.
AF: One of your most recent series, ‘Of Mouse and Myth’ blends the style of ancient Greek ceramic art and Disney cartoon characters. For example, Mickey Mouse as Hades, god of the dead and the underworld, and Pluto as Cerberus, the hellhound, tasked to guard the underworld and keep the living from entering and the dead from escaping. How did you come to blend these two styles?
I guess the first character that I made was the hellhound. And I was kind of on this mythology tip from last fall. I painted a Princess Peach Medusa. The piranha plants coming out of the pipes were her hair. So my brain was in a mythology mode. So I decided to do Pluto as Cerberus, because Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld. It seemed to click.
Bad hair day.
So I made the Cerberus body all black, which I thought would be cool on the red clay. I splotched the paint to look like red clay. I had the idea of doing the mythology with Disney, but I wanted to bring it back to the ancient style of black-figure pottery.
I guess actually one of my biggest influences growing up and making art is cartoons. I mean, I just love cartoons. I like that kind of imagery that is really graphic. I like hard black lines. You’ve got your black lines and brighter vivid colors.
Whatever theme my brain is kind of thinking, affects certain kinds of ideas that come out.
Last year, I did these Tiki totems but they were like troll dolls. And then I did these Monas that were in the Amazon. So I was in a tropical...(laughs). Sometimes when I get on a theme, I get more than one idea for it. So I do a few, and then I cross over to something else.
The first Mario symbol I did was the piranha plant Ouroboros. Because that’s an ancient symbol for rebirth, and a life and death symbol. Because you die when the piranha plant eats you. So it’s pulling life and death from the past and the present, but it’s the same theme.
The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of death, rebirth and warp-zones.
AF: What kind of tools do you use to create your art? For your most recent work, ‘Hello Monarchy’ a black and white illustration of the Mona Lisa as queen, you posted a pic on Facebook that includes a couple of Prismacolor black pens and a black Copic marker. But I imagine you keep a lot more in your kit.
HM: For ideas and sketching, I use pencil and I use a lot of microns. The pens in the picture weren’t Microns, but they’re similar. And just little markers for more sketchy stuff. And I always need an eraser, because I do a lot of erasing.
For stencils, I use an Exacto, poster boards, spray paint.
For the enamel paint, I use different kinds of brushes. Quills, stripers, etc. The princess peach, that’s all hand painted with brushes. The mouse and myth, that’s all hand painted. Brand: One Shot. People make painted signs, signs used to all be hand-painted, that’s enamel paint. People use it for striping cars. It’s oil based. Thick and sticky. It’s real slow moving. You can’t paint fast with it.
The infinity pipe, I made with five layer stencils.
AF: Where do you post your art? And considering legality, feel free to be quite general. But what kind of spaces do you like to use to exhibit your art? As a sticker and street artist, where do you like to post your work? Would you ever want to do a show or gallery, anything like that?
HM: I do a lot of different little shows, I guess. I have work hanging in a few places in Lexington. As far as galleries in Lexington, there aren’t any I have work hanging in. Most of it is up in the street.
I have work hanging in Third Street Stuff and Limestone Blue. They always have local art in there. Those are a few places in Lexington . I also have work hanging at the Paper Crown Gallery in Arlington Heights, IL. They have a gallery and webstore where you can purchase artwork.
Around Lexington I participate in a lot of group shows. The most recent show was the Lexington Guild of Printmakers Member Exhibition at the Breadbox Studio. Last year I curated a show at A Cup of Commonwealth called Protect Ya Deck, a skate-deck art show. Mostly I participate in group shows around here. I would like to have a solo show, but I haven’t gotten around to that.
The best-protected newspapers in the city.
AF: “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” –Leonardo da Vinci
You include this quote from Leonardo da Vinci on your facebook page. What do these words mean to you, and how does da Vinci inspire you or influence you as an artist?
HM: I like that quote because I feel like it coincides with what I do as my art. Because all of my art is a perception of everything around me, past and present. It’s my own output of how I perceive the world . It’s really related, I thought, to what I was doing with the Mona Lisa.
AF: Where can people find your work? What if they want to buy something? Do you have any shows coming up?
I am co-curating a show opening August 27 at the Breadbox Studio in Lexington, called 1UP. The artwork will all be themed around some of the earliest and most loved video/arcade games.
American Fantastic would like to thank Hello Mona for sharing their art and ideas with us. Make sure to check out HM's artwork on-line or in person!