Turning a childhood passion for graffiti into a career as a fine artist, photographer and gallery curator, the industrious Manuel Osterholt, AKA SuperBlast is always on the move.
First immersing himself in the skateboarding, hip-hop and graffiti scene of his hometown Heidelberg in the late ’80s and ’90s, he was caught in a subcultural undertow that drew him to Berlin in the early 2000s.
It was in the German capital that he began cutting his teeth and developed his idiosyncratic style. Berlin is a unique city for graffiti—its buildings with big, blank firewalls devoid of windows make perfect canvases for huge murals. When Manuel arrived in Berlin, he naturally set out to stake his claim. “At the beginning of the ’00s there was a huge rush to graffiti the walls, so I also started the large scale ones. Before that I had been involved in doing large pieces, but it was more with our names and characters linking it all together. This was the first time I’d make artwork for myself and blow it up big.”
The artistic liberties offered by Berlin led him from traditional graffiti into fine arts—now when you see a SuperBlast piece it is unmistakable. His skeletal figures reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls limbed in Byzantine cobalt and indigo-irised eyes have evolved with Manuel over time.
“If you just have your name as a graffiti artist, you keep on repeating your name in different styles, but you cannot really develop or communicate what you want to say artistically.”
“When I first came to Berlin I started working as a freelance graphic designer on the side and began to develop a different language. If you just have your name as a graffiti artist, you keep on repeating your name in different styles, but you cannot really develop or communicate what you want to say artistically. By taking figures and symbols I started to develop this language, and step by step there came new symbols to it that I added that were important to me.”
This symbolism and visual language has its roots in Greek orthodox icon painting, and Manuel's interest in various mythologies from around the world is present throughout his work. When pressed on the inspirations he draws on for his work, it’s apparent that there’s more than homage at play. “It's the human condition. What is the universal connection for all of us as humans, where is the link between all of this? Is it the fear of death, is it joy? All of what we are as humans and living on earth, and trying to see why are we here. ‘Sinn des Leben’, the sense of life.
It’s very kitsch in a way, but for me that’s the essence I’m searching for. What are we doing here in the universe and how do we connect with other people, and how do we find ourselves? It sounds spiritual in a way, but it’s a broad approach. What is human, what is life?”
In addition to his fine art and graffiti, Manuel is also an avid photographer. His approach emphasizes the immediacy of a moment, not the medium used, “I don’t care if I have a film camera or if it’s digital or a phone, for me it doesn’t really make any difference. The best camera is the camera you have in your hand while it happens.” This approach differs from painting, where a layer of pain can hide the past.
“My way of taking pictures isn’t staged. I want for something to emerge and come together, and exactly when it happens, I take the picture. It has a certain graffiti feel for me—it’s instant and you have to be awake and aware and you have to be in the moment.”
An all-electric tour through Kreuzkölln
A visit to the office: Studiolo
“I don’t want to be boxed in. My work is fine art to me.”
Following his intuition, Manuel’s latest venture feels like another natural step forward. From graffiti artist, to fine artist, to photographer, and now gallery curator. At the BEINGHUNTED Gallery in Berlin, he has found a new outlet for his creativity. Through conversations with Gallery Director Jörg, it emerged that they both shared the same vision of what they want to see in the gallery. Their first collaboration was an exhibition of acclaimed photographer Boogie, and next Manuel will be putting on his first solo exhibition since 2009. Commenting on the gap in exhibitions, Manuel’s elaborates, “There was not a place in Berlin where I felt at home to show my work. There are a lot of street art galleries, but I’m not interested in that because for me it just boxes you into a category. I don’t want to be boxed in. My work is fine art to me, and I don’t want to be mixed up with a niche.” As curator of the gallery, it has provided not only a new home for his art, but for what he also wants to promote. “It’s totally natural for me to go this way because I’m a fanboy of all these artists. I love these guys and they are mainly friends of mine, so I’m like, ‘Wow, I want to show them.’ This kind of work is interesting for me—to see it from a different angle, and how to make a show.”
Manuel’s constant exploration of new creative avenues has led him to continue evolving and making art, always remaining a cut above.
Chilling out: a pit stop at California Pops
“My way of taking pictures isn’t staged. I want for something to emerge and come together.”
The curator is present: BEINGHUNTED Gallery
Thank you Manuel, it was a pleasure to hear about your storied arts career and be given an exclusive peek into your studio and creative process.
Our tour around Kreuzberg with SuperBlast is part of our collaboration with unu – the smart electric scooter. Together we’ll be exploring Berlin with locals, getting the inside scoop on the local hotspots.
Text: Jonny Tiernan