Man One: Celebrated American artist gifts his graffiti to Kathmandu streets

American Graffiti artist Man One in Kathmandu working on mural.
American Graffiti artist Man One in Kathmandu working on a mural. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale

“I loved the place, the people here (in Nepal) and their respect for each other. There is a rhythm here even in the chaos,” says graffiti artist Man One from the US who was in Nepal for an art project organised jointly by Artudio and US Embassy in Nepal, recently.

He adds, “If the traffic in Los Angeles was like in Nepal, there would be a lot of car crashes. But here too, it seems people just know where to go even when they are not following the traffic rules. This is harmony and understanding going around.”

Man One is such one artist who sees harmony in chaos!

This artist is regularly commissioned by big companies such as Coca-Cola and MTV and has also worked with the band Black Eye Peas and Will.I.Am Foundation. But, now, he is in love with Kathmandu’s harmony and hence gifting his art to the city.

Growing up as a graffiti artist

This graffiti art is created in collaboration with American graffiti artist One Man in Kathmandu.
This graffiti art is created in collaboration with American graffiti artist Man One in Kathmandu.

This artist has been in the graffiti scenario in Los Angeles, California, and around the world. Since the beginning of his career, he has seen a lot of changes in the graffiti art scenario.

Man One was only Alejandro Poli Jr Alex, the name given by his parents till 1987. As most graffiti artists have a name chosen by themselves, 16-year-old Alejandro chose the name—Man One.

In those times, graffiti art was underground and illegal. The artists would get chased by the police a lot. According to him, one of his friends got jailed for six years for creating graffiti and there was another graffiti artist who was fined USD 100,000. However, he feels lucky that he has never been to jail even though he was detained by the police a couple of times.

“I was not that good when I started, but in graffiti, like in anything else, you have to start at the bottom and practise and work your way up,” Man One says, “ So I knew I wanted to do big murals. I knew that this was an art form and it was going to take some time for people to catch up.”

With a dream to be a professional graffiti artist, he went to college and got a degree. Until then, most graffiti artists would not go to school but learned on the streets. “But, I said if I was going be a professional, I wanted to have a degree so that I could show people that I’m a professional,” says Man One.

He graduated with a degree in fine arts in 1993 from Loyola Marymount University­ in Los Angeles, California. He did not want to live in an illegal way, but he wanted to create an impact through his art.

He adds, “After graduating, I started acting like a professional. I started doing contracts with my work just dealing with people on a more official business.”

Man One also asked for payment although a lot of times graffiti artists just painted on walls for free those days.

However, in the initial days, his parents were against his idea of being a graffiti artist. “My father was not happy because he thought I was trying to be in a gang. I had to prove to him that I was an artist, not another gang member.”

From graffiti to gallery

American graffiti artist Man One with his friend posing for a photograph in Kathmandu. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale

Man One uses spray paint to create his graffiti. He says he prefers vibrant colours in his graffiti and his signature art is portraits using bright colours like pink, blue, red, and green.

When asked what art is for him, he says, “It’s my life. It’s everything you do as a human. It is about expressing yourself and trying to change the world for a better place, making it a better place in your own way, and that’s what I try to do.”

“I try to do things that are positive and that can help change minds and help uplift people, change the world for a better place, make it a better place.”

After graduating, Man One got married to his high school sweetheart in 1994 and today they are happily married with three children. It was the support from his wife in the initial days that helped him focus on his passion.

“I was making no money. It was very difficult. But, I told her I needed two or three years of hustle to be able to make some money and she was working full time,” he shares, “I told her just you know, this is a real job. This is my passion and don’t ask me to do something else because this is all I’m going do and yeah, she believed in me.”

Once he got popular for his work, he got different offers and recently, he even established a gallery—Crewest Gallery— to promote graffiti from around the world and prove that graffiti is the real art.

Meanwhile, for a decade now, he is promoting and recognising young talented graffiti artists from around the world.

Being the founder of the gallery, he was confined to one place. But, being an artist, he wanted to explore and experience different cultures around the world. Hence, he decided to close the gallery.

Something more

Man One loves to work with children and has collaborated with them for his artwork too. “You know a lot of times kids look at art and they don’t think they can do it or they don’t think it’s a real job, or they don’t know how to start,” he says, “So, if I can Inspire them a little bit and have them start thinking about ‘oh, I can be an artist’ or ‘at least, I know how to appreciate art yeah,’ I think that’s a big step.”

Graffiti in Kathmandu. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale
Graffiti in Kathmandu. Photo: Chandra Bahadur Ale

Currently, with his professional partner, Man One runs several podcasts and a studio where he sells his merchandise and travels the world doing what he loves the most, creating graffiti art and sharing his love for art.

“To be an artist, one has to have a lot of determination that doesn’t allow other people’s opinions to knock you down,” he says, “I think you have to believe in yourself and just have to have a lot of passion. It always is difficult, but when it becomes difficult, you just keep working and you don’t give up.”

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Shrestha is a senior sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. Contact her at [email protected].

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