Street art is one of the reasons why most people come to visit East London and Shoreditch, and the mushroom sculptures of Christiaan Nagel are definitely one of the most interesting/curious things you’ll see in the area. Christiaan’s house, where we had the interview, is exactly as you would imagine. Pre-made mushrooms everywhere, ready to be installed somewhere in the city.
His apartment is also covered in glossy car-paint-meets-oil paintings which he’s been doing even beforethe idea of these mushroom installations. “It’s a new-build and I like that is open plan and
bright -he says. I make all my mushroom works in here, even thought I used to have a space to work in Hackney road”. It’s just curious and brilliant to enter this kind of environment, so the interview quickly became a conversation while drinking some beers and watching pictures of all the works he has been doing both in London and in the rest of Europe.
How did you start your art?
“I studied psycology in South Africa. In 2005 I did my first exhibition of these car painted paintings and in 2007 I was invited to my first international exhibition in London’s Goodge Street. That’s when I realized that if I want to be a full time artist I need to live in London. I was doing mainly paintings before London but soon moved into street art.”
Why did you choose mushrooms?
“Most of the installations used to be at night. I’d grab a mushroom, and along with some friends we’d go scout a spot and do the installation. It’s a metaphor for how it works in nature. Mushrooms
are transient, quick lived things, just like street art. I like how you’d walk down the same street you do every day and suddenly mushrooms have sprouted everywhere. It’s fast, modern art in contrast to someone like Da Vinci who took years to complete a fresco.”
What are the mushrooms made of and how long do you take to make one?
“They’re from polyurethane/expanding foam, usually used to fill gaps. It’s not very fumous so I can make them indoors, because It’s always bloody raining in London. It used to take me a while to do one, but I’m much quicker and accurate. I’ve made over 250. I can make like 3-4 in a morning. I also work on a much bigger scale now. Apart from that I also make these really small ones from casting plaster, but they are meant to be shown in groups of 10 at a time to get the desired effect.”
How do you install it?
A lot of the installations I still do Guerrilla style, on the fly. With the bigger works I get permission. You will only find my works high up on buildings. Its street art and it will remain that way.
Why do they usually say no?
“They don’t. I have a very high success rate. I’m very charming. But it does happen that people are uninformed and scared that the pieces might put them in risk if they should ever fall. But that was
exactly my main focus when choosing the material. Polyurethane is extremely light. I secure them very well. Some of my sculptures have lasted over 2 years. And if they would ever fall, which they won’t they would just shatter. It’s a bit like polystyrene, could you imagine if that would ever fall on you, oh the humanity…”
How do you decide where to put it?
“Street art is like a constant exhibition. I usually try to choose main roads so than more people can have a look at my work. I’m an artist and exhibitionistic by nature.”
What do you think about the development of Shoreditch?
“I love the subcultre of East London and I love the quality of street art. I did some installations in Berlin recently and I spoke to a lot street artists there. They’re very much against any sort of commercialism concerning street art. They tend to refrain from drinking popular brands’ products for example; they’re street art purists and very “old school. Industry it’s not necessary a bad thing. «
But with so many street artist in London it will naturally be more competitive…
“To me it comes down to quality. If there’s quality there will be room for us all to exist. That’s my biggest focus too, to focus on my product. Competition is not a problem. I like competition. It’s stimulating”.
What are your plans for the future?
“I want to travel as much as I can. I want to live the musicians’ lifestyle, traveling the world working. I’d like to also work on a bigger architectural scale, with steal and also more modern building materials. I really like design. I’d definitely see London as my home for the next couple of years, if not forever.”