Philipp Chrome leans back in his chair, spray-can in hand, looking for all the world like the graffiti artist he used to be.
But there’s no need to adjust the CCTV on your garden walls.By Jon McKnight
Like Banksy, the cloak-and-dagger artist whose murals were initially seen as an irritation by officialdom but are now so highly prized around the globe that people have literally removed entire walls to steal them, Philipp Chrome has gone up in the world.
But unlike graffiti artists who lurk furtively around bus stops and railway sidings, desperate to spray their unsolicited creativity on unauthorised canvasses, Philipp Chrome is now a serious artist, fêted at home in Germany and beginning to catch the attention of collectors who relish acquiring works from an emerging artist before the rest of the world gets a sniff of it.
The appeal of his work is powerful and undeniable. I first caught sight of it over breakfast in Nice when the artist, in his other role with a company in the luxury industry, showed me one of his paintings on his iPhone.
Even on a screen that small, the vibrancy of his work made everything else around look drab and dull – and that takes some doing on the French Riviera.
So, what makes Philipp Chrome tick? How has he metamorphosed from irritant to inspiration? And what is it about his work that makes people think “I’ve just got to have that painting”?
Here, in an exclusive interview with Luxurious Magazine, Philipp Chrome opens up his portfolio, his studio and his heart.
I start by asking why he calls himself Philipp Chrome. Was it just a name he took a shine to, I wonder?
“When I was 14, I started as a street artist,” he explains. “When you paint graffiti, black and chrome are often the only colours you are using.
“Contrasting colours make the painting more recognisable, and black is definitely the best colour for the outlines.
“To fill in the letters, chrome is a very attention-grabbing colour, and back then it was one of my favourites.
“When I started to paint on canvas, I decided to combine my name with elements of my street art background. That’s how I became Philipp Chrome.”
Some people only discover their artistic nature later in life, but Philipp is a mere 26. When was he first aware that he was artistic?
“Ever since I could think, I was interested and curious,” he says, fingering the spray-can. “At the age of four I drew pictures with figures and characters I’d seen in cartoons.
“My parents couldn’t believe they were drawn by me, because they were so accurate in almost every detail. After that, they and my teachers tried to support my skills. But I was a young rebel and wanted to find my own artistic path.”
It’s noticeable that Philipp doesn’t live in a garret and hasn’t cut off his ear – so far at least – so what background has he emerged from?
“I grew up with my parents and my younger sister in Leipzig, Germany. When I was 10 we moved to Berlin and the vibe was so different there.
“The city was full of free spirit, and in the 00s the Hip Hop and Skateboard culture arrived. I became really inspired by the new movement and wanted to be a part of it.
“I spent every free second with my friends, painting walls, customising our clothes and playing basketball. The whole of Berlin was our playground,” he says, excitedly.
But his first stirrings as an artist occurred while he was still in another playground, at school.
“I remember when I was young and my parents dragged me through all the galleries and museums. It wasn’t too exciting for a young kid,” he laughs.
“But when I was 12, I had my seminal moment. A new kid called Tim joined our class but instead of going to lessons, he was drawing amazing portraits in his exercise book. He was my hero, instantly.
“We became friends and back then I tried to adopt his style. Later I created my own style and I became inspired by paintings I was looking at, different types of music and experiences in my own life.
“By the time I was 12, I was drawing sketches and tags” (tags being the unique stylised signatures that graffiti artists adopt). “I experimented with different pencils and colours, and by the age of 14, I got into graffiti which was great because I could paint bigger artworks.
“My friends and I were kids who just wanted to go out and spray walls that were unattractive to the public to make them look nicer and more colourful.
“Suddenly, I thought: ‘Why is that amazing stuff only on walls or trains? Let’s take it from the walls to the canvas’.”
He’s been doing that ever since, and says he’s been painting in what has now become his recognisable style for four years.
“I always try to push my style to the limit because I have no boundaries relating to materials, colours or motives. But it always comes back to the Philipp Chrome style.
“Sometimes I have spontaneous ideas and I execute an idea in one weekend. Other paintings can take me months to complete. It also depends on the size and the detail.”
As you can see in the pictures in this magazine, Philipp Chrome’s style is very distinctive. So how does he describe it?
“When I was a teenager, my style was 100% street art. Over the years I became more and more inspired by advertising, fashion, luxury, music and status symbols.
“I also experimented with new techniques and materials like acrylic, epoxies, oil, varnishes and unusual backgrounds like comics, advertising posters, and vinyl records.
“I started to paint iconic pop culture characters and models. Beautiful women and exotic kinds of people are very inspiring to me and it is a magical feeling when I paint them.
“Combining it with iconic luxury brands can mean treading a fine line, because it can be over the top. But I always celebrate and admire the people and brands I include in my paintings.
“Quotes and lyrics, even if they are sometimes provocative, help me express a feeling and leave room for the viewer to interpret.
“I’m an artist who wants to enjoy beauty and a positive vibe every day. That’s what I want to share with those who love and collect my art.
“Usually, when people look at my paintings, they say ‘Why do you paint a beautiful face and destroy it afterwards?’,” he laughs. “They point out all the paint splatters, the graffiti elements and the provocative quotes. But as soon as they take their time to get into it, they feel the expression and start to appreciate it.
“One of my buyers gave me feedback that he didn’t understand the meaning behind one of my paintings – and that’s why he bought it!
“Sometimes art collectors don’t want to understand the artwork because it allows them to dream and to have critical discussions about it.”
Philipp begins to wave his spray-can around subconsciously as he gets excited, so I keep a discreet distance, just in case. I ask how he felt when he sold his first painting.
“It was just amazing,” he says. “And I didn’t see it coming. In 2012, I visited an exhibition at a gallery in Berlin that was organised by four local artists.
“While I was viewing their artwork, they were all busy talking to other visitors. On my way out, one of the artists asked me if he could show me around.
“We had a good conversation about art, life and fashion for about an hour. But when he saw some photos of my paintings on my phone he gave me the chance to show four of my artworks in their exhibition.
“The night of the event was crazy. The gallery was packed with people and you almost couldn’t breathe.
“I saw a guy looking at one of my paintings for almost an hour. Then he asked if it was still available because he wanted to buy it.
“I felt exhilarated – and, to my surprise and that of the four other artists, it was the only piece of art that was sold that evening.”
Other exhibitions followed, and Philipp Chrome’s reputation began growing as whispers spread.
“It’s important to me to have my exhibitions in an authentic environment. The location has to be related to fashion, street art or the luxury lifestyle.
“I’ve had two big exhibitions in Berlin. One of them was a solo exhibition called Girl On Fire, which had a great reaction from the visitors.
“I’ve also had showings in galleries, fashion boutiques, restaurants and companies’ premises. I particularly enjoy exhibiting with other artists, because it’s always inspiring and it can be organised independently without a gallery.”
Not all artists are willing to talk about their technique and their inspirations, but Philipp, still fingering that can, is happy to oblige.
“Usually I get inspired by something very exciting that doesn’t let me go. It can be a beautiful face, a certain feeling or a song. Then I think about how to compose the painting, which colours are the best, or if I can do something special. Before I start painting I create my own vibe: I put some music on, light candles, and prepare my equipment.
“As soon as I do the first brush stroke, I go with the flow and let it happen. At the moment I enjoy painting on magazines.”
At this point, I have visions of this one, Luxurious Magazine, finding its way into artworks that, thanks to a little adornment by Philipp Chrome, will one day sell for eye-watering amounts in hushed salerooms at Christie’s. But back to Philipp.
“When I use this technique, I rip out pages of lifestyle magazines, after I’ve read them,” he laughs, “and then I stick them on the canvas with a self-mixed glue of sugar, water and flour.
“As soon as the glue dries I carry on painting the person I’ve chosen and then I add all other elements and fine details afterwards.
“Usually I start with a white canvas which can be as big as six square metres. But sometimes I modify photos with Adobe Photoshop in a very intensive process, like I did in the Monroe Forever painting.
“Then I print it on canvas and add my magic to it. Sometimes I almost destroy the photo on the canvas with a knife and other tools. I want to make sure it doesn’t look like any other portrait. The unperfected is the true fascination for me, and I’ve made it my signature style.
“One of my biggest inspirations was Jean-Michel Basquiat. His artworks express strong emotions and you can feel what he went through in his life. Unfortunately he died at a very young age. I also love the work of street artists like Banksy and Alec Monopoly.”
I ask how he chooses his subjects and if he undertakes commissions.
“It may sound crazy but the subject comes naturally to me,” he says. “I get inspired by so many things and when an idea comes into my head it’s sometimes difficult to get to sleep, because in my mind I’m already starting to create.
“I also love to create special paintings for people. It’s a challenge for me as an artist because I want to make sure the person loves it.”
So what’s life like for a young artist who divides his time between Berlin and Zurich?
“Usually, I get up very early to do some fitness activities in the morning,” he says. “I’m lucky to work as an online marketing specialist in the luxury industry as it’s important for me to be creative in my day-job as well.
“When I have no meetings in the evenings I paint as often as I can. I’d be very interested in creating art for luxury hotels, because I think my artworks would fit in perfectly with some of the new designer hotels.”
And if any of those luxury hotels are reluctant to take a chance on an emerging artist, they would do well to remember the case of Jeanne Calment, the 114-year-old French woman who used to sell artists’ materials in her youth to Vincent Van Gogh.
She was reported as saying he smelled, and she presumably sent him away with a flea in his solitary ear. But if she’d bought just one of his paintings, she’d have died a multi-millionairess.
For more information visit philippchrome.com