He is an unorthodox vagabond who is capable of conforming to any situation. As a Berlin native, Nomad, has traveled around the world in search of freedom and self exploration. He has faced the realities of life head on; embracing its beauty and ugliness equally.
Throughout twenty turbulent years, Nomad spent time at the centre of the Berlin graffiti scene and encountered life as a homeless street artist in San Francisco. Today, he has finally made it within the art world. From a penniless street performer, to selling his work to celebrities, he has witnessed society from the very bottom to its very top.
Exhausted by the same faces and routines in Kreuzberg and Mitte, Nomad decided to head to the flourishing and spacious Grunewald. Here, he has found the peace and quiet required to concentrate on his work while taking in the tall, healthy trees from his window.
His confined apartment provides an impressive testimony to his past and present. Every corner is filled to the brim with colorful and bizarre utensils for his work. From painting to dj-ing, as well as participating in charity projects for young people – all of it finds purpose here. Nomad is a man most happy when seizing the moment and actualizing his ideas into finished projects. One step at a time.
You recently moved – away from the hectic Berlin-Mitte to sleepy Grunewald. What motivated your relocation?
What generally started to bother me about Berlin-Mitte is the social networking. It is impossible to go shopping without bumping into five people and meeting them later on that night at a birthday party or a vernissage. There are too many distractions, too many shows, something that essentially bored me. Besides this, I got really tired of having people come by my atelier and babble on for hours.
You found peace here?
I have my retreat. Here I concentrate on the things I really want to focus on. As an artist I work with many different things, often simultaneously in different fields. Hence, one must really stay focused, which is something I do better with distance. Besides that, I have nature around me. I can see trees out of my window, breathe in fresh air, and listen to birds. That gives me much more strength and inspiration than sitting drunk in a bar during the week.
Have you ever had such a phase?
Definitely. I lived in Kreuzberg and Mitte for the past seventeen years and took all the good experiences from this time. During the post weekend period there was a bar for Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and so on. The bars had no names, we simply occupied different houses and opened up places. Back then people had a certain mission concerning things and managed to establish cool things without much money quite effortlessly. Nowadays I cannot conform anymore to the scene within Berlin-Mitte. The Berlin nightlife has decreased gigantically.
You used to be active within the graffiti scene in Berlin. The local scene was known for causing turmoil. Is that also something your are missing within the over-the-top organic nouveau Mitte?
No, not at all. I am someone who feels at home in all kinds of spheres. I can hang out with people from Wedding and go to dinner with celebrities and be able to talk their language. To be able to do anything at whatever given time in all sorts of worlds, ‘Access All Areas’ – that is freedom to me.
You probably have caused scandal with this spirit…
The search of freedom is always related to that, no matter what scene you are in. Speaking of graffiti: even there I encountered resistance, especially because violence and a rougher social intercourse were established. I am fundamentally against violence if it can be avoided. It is the very last resort to defend the self. In regards to physical conflict, I follow the principles of Kung-Fu and try to avoid violence, or rather try to redirect it.
What is the search of freedom about?
For me it is about spiritual growth in everything that I do. And spiritual growth is impossible without freedom. Spiritual growth and conservation of energy are my drive. To become a better person and help others to do the same. This can be achieved in different ways.
An important approach is humor, to be able to laugh at oneself and encourage others to succeed. To not take everything so seriously and get negotiate situations in a playful manner.
You also brought this idea of freedom, nomadism, to your name. Where does this derive from? Did you break free from a corset as a child or adolescent?!
It definitely has to do something with the fact that I always wanted to run away as a child. Instead, my sister ran away when I was ten. As a result, I was responsible for finishing my education and fulfilling my parents’ expectations. Regardless of anything, I wanted to do that on my own because I had respect for my parents and the crucial fact that they were the ones who raised me. Even though home was not always full of sunshine, I still consider my Father my hero. Unfortunately, my Mother is not alive anymore. My Father is such a strong person and we used to argue so much. But he also raised me to become a stronger person and I have always respected that. So, I did my Abitur. It was obvious that afterwards I would leave and be free. And that is what I ended up doing: I ran away and never came back.
Where did you go?
Firstly I was on the streets around the world for four years.
So you literally were a nomad?
I was a better version of a vagabond. During that time I didn’t beg for money but looked for work. But I spend many nights under bridges and trashed cars, always a bowie knife in the sleeping bag. I definitely pulled through with that lifestyle (laughter).
Do you remember the first moment you received money for your art?
That was in San Francisco, in the Summer of 1990. I was 19 or 20. I had absolutely no money left and needed something to eat. I stole crayons and did street painting on the ground, next to a little bowl for money. That was definitely the first time I got a few coins for a painting of mine. They were definitely hard times. I slept next to junkies in the park and washed myself every morning inside a McDonald’s bathroom. It was easiest there because they didn’t have security.
And thanks to street painting a Big Mac was possible?
I wish. The street painting barely brought in any money, so I went stealing at Ralph’s on Hollywood Boulevard every day. That was the supermarket were all beggars would go because it was the place where all the celebrities would do their groceries. They too were kleptomaniacs, so essentially the security was removed to prevent high profile public scandals and trials. This why it was easy to steal. I would nicely buy something small and put the rest in my jacket.
But Ashton Kutcher paid for your art that hangs inside his office, right?
(Laughs) That was the return to LA. It is a really funny story. I met Hollywood from the very bottom to its very top. Better yet, I was allowed to meet it. It is something special to return to old venues, but this time in a limousine rather than with a skateboard.
How long were you homeless?
About two and a half months. During that time I got very close to insanity. I got into a mode where I was unable to sleep for weeks because I was constantly on alert. It was an extremely hot Summer and I couldn’t deal with the heat. I was paranoid about every small sound and was scared someone would want to take something from me.
Back then I acquired skills that would prove themselves helpful for being on the move in Europe. I was able to get rest and sleep in some kind of way while being completely awake. A kind of ninja-samurai sleep – you relax, but as soon as you hear that someone is getting closer you are fully there. Overall, it was quite a rough program for a 19 and 20 year old.
How did you get out?
I was hired in a small skateboarding company in Baywood Park, called Small Room. I had hung out and skated with them for a while, then suddenly there was an open position. They took me off the street. I did skateboard designs, silk-screened boards, and printed shirts. That was the first stage of my life where I thought I had achieved something. I made a dream come true without the help of others.
Meanwhile you have succeeded in realizing many other dreams – you paint, dj, and are active within charity projects. How do you manage to put that all under one hat?
I am someone who truly loves his work. Through that I work a lot without really realizing it. Being established also gives you the necessary and crucial drive to do something. Sometimes conflicts are created, but all in all I am able to continuously work 18 hours a day.
Do you sometimes forget time and work all night long?
Often. I usually try to be done by 4 AM. Something I cannot do is to sleep past 11 AM – even if I stay up until God knows when. I simply cannot sleep through the day. If I do, I feel bad and get depressed. I need light and wake up in order to get my momentum going.
After hours of painting and djing you must feel quite overwhelmed. Do you have any rituals that allow you to calm down; for instance you burn incense?
There are rituals: I practice magic, twice a day. I meditate and practice autogenic training. It is something I do regularly and is a constant in my life. It doesn’t take place on a fixed schedule, but happens after and before sleeping. That helps me to relax and stay on track.
You call this ‘magic?’
Yes, that is magic. I study a magic system that has to do with Hermeticism. I have read thousands of books on it and have followed these practices since I was 16. Magic is strongly integrated within my life, perhaps even the other way around. It has to do how the world constantly transforms and one’s relationship to this environment. To me it is a much more effective medium than religion.
So magic is a replacement for religion?
Religion is not my thing. I can definitely comprehend its meaning and history, but I am interested in the truth that is behind it. That has something to do with energy, to sort of be able to control your life and receive wisdom. To use that wisdom in an effective manner one can become a functioning and better person. All this comes without the annoying properties of religion – that one believes it necessary to influence, convert, or transform someone.
With this “magic” are you able to transport yourself to a different state of mind, and really release yourself?
I can do this without using drugs. It is all about concentration. I could explain to you the mechanics right now but that would go beyond the time of this interview. We would need to talk about how consciousness is constructed and elementary things, like the goals of manhood.
We could maybe discuss your personal goals then. You have done a lot – painting gigantic walls to fabricate ‘Duchamp’s 2.0-’ lavatory seat-esque work. Do you still have concrete ambitions and dreams to realize?
It is definitely not about being successful. I could have stayed with one idea and beat it to death. But I am not interested in that. In the past I have already internalized the deal during skateboarding: to achieve a goal always requires a different surface but the same tools. In skating this means not to only be able to perform sick tricks but also being able to rate them and look good at it. In short: you have to have a flow. It is the same with art. I have changed style and technical directions, have moved around in different surfaces, but have always kept the same tools.
With this mentality and ability for free association there is no place in this world that is unattainable. Therefore there is not one singular goal. But I make sure to put one foot after the other, stay in flow, and try to feel out my next steps with a waking consciousness.
And your waking consciousness tells you that?
With my trained skills – music, painting, connection to lifestyle, people, zeitgeist – it could go into the direction of film. I could well imagine that. I recently wrote a script for a friend in France, in only a hour and a half. In the past we had often thrown ideas at each other and then I had a great idea for a romantic thriller. It doesn’t have a title yet but it is an amazing story. I also want to write a children’s book with illustrated poems and stories. That is something I have been wanting to do for a long time and in two weeks I will finally start.
That sounds very concrete.
In two weeks I am visiting friends in Gran Canaria. There I will have the necessary peace. Coming back to the theme of ‘dreams’: I painted a huge dam there a few years ago, something I had seen a year prior to that. I had to digest it for a year and think about how to do illegal work on such a big cement wall. I had to think about how to reach it and what I would do with it. And then I just did it. Those are moments that make me most happy: to have a project that requires contemplation – and then one day you’ll just do it.
Thank you Nomad, for this interesting interview!
Photography: Alex “Foley” Flach
Interview & Text: Nico Cramer