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Street artist El Bocho: “It’s the most free form of art”

For Berlin graffiti artist El Bocho, street art has led to gallery success – but that doesn’t mean he’s turning his back on the scene.

Photo: El Bocho

If you haven’t heard of El Bocho, you’ve definitely seen him – or at least his art, which has been popping up around Berlin for almost two decades. His best-known art include his Little Lucy cartoons, inspired by a Czech cartoon from the 1970s that revolved around Little Lucy and the many ways she kills her cat, and his The Citizen portrait series of young women painted in pop-art style, often declaring their love for Berlin. While Little Lucy is cartoony and fun, the girls pictured in The Citizen series always have something melancholic about them. “For me that’s romance,” says El Bocho of the girls’ serious facial expressions he paints. “Being young but knowing that life will get harder and harder as we grow older.”

Street art is a bit like advertising, trying to reach people, make them communicate with my art.

The pieces, some as tall as a person, are sprayed and stencilled on paper tablecloths that he buys in huge rolls. After spending several weeks working on them, El Bocho sneaks out at night and puts multiple paintings up at once, using the paste-up method. “I don’t like to do it alone, it’s nice to be in a group – looking for spots to cover, drinking beers as if we were just young and having a party,” he chuckles.
Originally from Frankfurt am Main, El Bocho moved to Berlin after completing his graphic design studies in 2006. He had already been doing graffiti for 10 years then, working with stencils and experimenting with different methods, when he was introduced to a group of guys doing poster art the year he arrived in the city. He started going out with them at night to put up placards and was hooked the second he put his first Citizen face up on a wall. He still thinks of street art as a dream job: “It’s the most free form of art, and I need to stay free.”

Photo: El Bocho

In 2008, two years after his poster-art debut, El Bocho took part in a group exhibition by the Los Angeles Found gallery, who had rented a space in the Raab Galerie in Charlottenburg for one month. When his work ended up being the only one sold, El Bocho realised that illegal street art wasn’t the only path available to him. His canvas work, which stays true to the street art in its themes and colour schemes, now sells for thousands of euros. He has just sent off several of his canvas pieces to an exhibition in Erfurt, and he’s started prepping for a solo show in Berlin, due to start next February, where visitors can expect a lot of neon, he says.

The two worlds – illegal plastering by night and his day job as an illustrator (he also once worked as a political illustrator for a major German newspaper) and gallery artist – serve to boost one another. “When I decided to move to Berlin, the cover story of [the now defunct city magazine] Zitty talked about how difficult it is to make it as a graphic designer or illustrator in the city, so I thought I’d be in trouble,” El Bocho recounts. “But then I just went partying for a week straight and handed out my card to people, and within five to six weeks I had a big commission in the music industry. I actually still get most of my work because of my street pieces. People see it and like it and then they find me. Street art is a bit like advertising, trying to reach people, make them communicate with my art.”

Photo: El Bocho

Today, El Bocho’s street art can be found all around the world. As a veteran of the Berlin art scene, his goal now is to give something back to the streets he calls home. “I want to positively enrich this place,” he says. “I feel responsible because so many guys I started with have disappeared from the scene already.” In this spirit, El Bocho also mentors young artists. From 2016 to 2020, he ran a sketch group that would hop from bar to bar to drink beers and draw, and he continues to offer apprenticeships today. “There is still so much potential in street art,” he says. “And I’ll keep doing it as long as I can walk!”