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The Art of Pepe and Yeelen

Pepe Tirelli & Yeelen Moens Interview

These two fellas I really don’t feel comfortable writing an intro for. It’s not that I’m too lazy, it’s just the fact that words cannot describe either of their personalities. I’d much rather you go up and introduce yourself to them. Falsified introductions can only let you down as you never know what kinda day your fellow human is having. Therefore, if I put my word forward saying either of the guys is the best easy going person I would be right, however we all have our breaking points and either or both of these beautiful spaghetti headed humans could very much destroy your not pitiful little ungroomed brain into smitherines. Buy them beers and wipe their tears, kiss their lips and pinch their tits. Wet puppies still smell.

- Dustin Dollin

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Yeelen Moens

How did you guys get into drawing?

Pepe: I’ve always been drawing since I was a kid. I compare it to skateboarding a lot. It’s something that I naturally do and have done for such a long time.

Yeelen: For me, it also started as a kid because my dad was painting a lot, and I went to a school where you learned about design and working with Photoshop and Illustrator and stuff. For a while, I was just doing graphic design, but I kind of got over it cause I like the feeling of real drawings more.

Both of you also do tattoos. Did you tattoo each other?

P: We’ve known each other for three years, but I just tattooed him.

Y: I find it so hard on trips to fit it in and do it properly. It would be better if we visited each other. Then we could tattoo each other to the fullest.

"I was really into graffiti. That was the period when I was in art school. I mean, I fucked up the art school in the end…"

What tattoo did you get?

Y: A girl with a die. Stick and poke.

You’re both doing stick and poke?

Y: Yeah, if I do it on a trip, it’s stick and poke, but now I bought a new machine from a friend of mine, so I really got back into it. I took a little break cause I had a shitty machine.

Is that something you want to do full-time at some point or is it just a hobby?

P: I worked in a studio a little bit, but I don’t like the tattoo market too much. You know, to put a price on it. I’d rather sell my paintings and drawings than my tattoos. When you tattoo people, you have to compromise between what you want to tattoo and what they want to get on their skin. It’s way less natural. I’ve been tattooing random people for money for a bunch of years. Now, I just tattoo my friends.

Y: I’ll probably want to do something with it, but only when I know what kind of designs I want to do. If you get your own style and people know what you do, you know that people want your stuff and then you can keep doing it while getting paid for it. That’s the way I’d love it.

What do you guys want to express with your work and how do you decide whether it’s a tattoo, a drawing, a painting, or a collage?

P: Well, if I spend too much time with something, I don’t like it anymore. So pretty much everything I do is kind of fast or a natural process. I do some aesthetical research, reading, going to expositions, learning about new media. Sometimes I put a message or meaning in it, but other times, it is just something that comes up naturally, just as skateboarding. It’s just an aesthetical expression of what comes to my mind at that moment.

So it’s always spontaneous?

P: At least, I try to keep it like that. The more I force myself for a job, the less I like what I’m doing.

Y: Sometimes I do force myself. I have an idea in my head and I really want to make it work. When I have an idea of a drawing, it can take such a long time till I figure it out the right way. For me, it’s different than for Pepe.

P: There is a huge laziness problem with me. [laughs]

Y: I try to choose subjects I’m really interested in. Lately, I’m doing some graphics on corona and what’s going on with the world. I’m really into funny stuff. If I come up with something, I’ll write it down and make a design out of it. I’m not good at starting at a piece of paper and just drawing, I need to have something in my mind beforehand. I’m not good at how Pepe draws.

So Pepe, you just grab a piece of paper and start drawing?

P: Yeah, pretty much. Most of the things I sent to you come from little notebooks, so it’s a pretty small format. Everything that I did and liked lately have been five-minute things made on a bench somewhere waiting for something. It has really been a long time since the last time I sat down at my desk and drew for a while.

Y: When I did the drawings for the Tom’s Tales video, I came up with them because I always take pictures on my phone if I see something interesting. After the trip, I made drawings from those pictures.

You showed me your collection of bad graffiti.

Y: Yeah, I’m taking a lot of photos actually.

Are you into graffiti as well?

Y: Yeah, I was really into graffiti. That was the period when I was in art school. I mean, I fucked up the art school in the end…

What happened?

Y: It didn’t feel natural, cause you had to go with what the teacher wanted. I couldn’t really do my own thing. I feel like everybody in art school who is a bit creative has this problem.

Pepe, you’ve been to art school as well, right?

P: That was not an art school, it was for product and graphic design. It was really not my thing. Before that, I worked at a graphic design studio. I learned how to use programs there. The first year of university, I really felt like I didn’t learn shit. Then I had to choose cause there were a lot of skate trips. Actually, I would be down to go back to school at some point. It’s never too late.

Y: I met some people at school who are still my friends. There are a lot of people I know who used to skate really well and now they’re really good at graffiti and they’re traveling with it. I always thought you’d have to choose between skating or graffiti.

So you chose skating?

Y: Yeah and I got a fine once. They couldn’t really read what it said, so I was able to talk my way out of it, but I still had to pay 300 euros.

I have a friend who is deep into graffiti and he told me stories of going into train yards, doing whole trains, and running and hiding from the police.

Y: You can compare it to skateboarding, but it’s way gnarlier.

Sometimes you have to fight the cops to get away.

P: I grew up pretty much with people who were pretty big in the street art scene (or whatever you want to call it) in Italy. Some of them went to prison for that. Trains are still dangerous to do. I was doing graffiti, but I was too scared to do trains.

Y: I like to go with the guys once in a while. Friends of mine in Antwerp go painting at night. Sometimes I join them and check for security and stuff. It’s really cool to see how they do this.

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Pepe Tirelli

Is your graffiti style different from your drawing style or is it similar?

P: The few times I painted in the streets the last years, it was pretty much the same stuff I do on paper. I don’t even use a marker. I like to use charcoal.

Y: For me it was very different because there was a period where I practiced a lot of typographic stuff.

Why do you choose different styles of expression?

Y: With graffiti, you’d kind of want to spread your name, and with drawing, you’d rather spread your ideas. Graffiti has to be fast as well, but for me, it has been a while since I did it.

"A lot of people told me that I just draw naked girls and it’s kind of true. It’s something that I aesthetically like."

Pepe, in the drawings you sent, there are a lot of naked women. Is that because you think about women a lot?

P: I have girls on my mind. [laughs] I know a lot of people told me that I just draw naked girls and it’s kind of true. It’s something that I aesthetically like. I like the form of a female body or bodies in general. It’s aesthetically pleasing. It can be sexual, that’s a part of it too, but I don’t push it that much. I’m doing the same thing with photographs and portraits. Sometimes I manage to take pictures.

Y: Of naked girls?

P: Yeah, but it’s an aesthetical research. It sounds weird, but there’s a long history of nude portraits in art.

Do you actually portray girls or do you draw it from memory?

P: Both. Of course, I get inspired by reality, but I’m not that inspired lately. With skateboarding too, I don’t have that many ideas. I guess it’s just a period.

Y: If you think about the lockdown, that’s a crazy period, but it can also give you ideas – for me, it did.

P: Not for me. It would’ve been a great moment to produce a lot, but I didn’t do shit, because I had no ideas at all.

Y: It worked for me because, one day before lockdown, I fell on my ribs. I was out for three months and I had to do something, so I was coming up with these images of karate men fighting corona. I like Asian drawings, especially of samurai or kung fu. It’s kind of superhuman. They train to become almost aliens. So I found it sick to put them in a space station, fighting corona. Quarantine was good for me cause I had time to think. I had a lot of things written down and never did anything with it.

It feels like having a fun part in your drawings is important for you?

Y: Yeah, sometimes it doesn’t even mean something, but in my head, it looks good and then I’ll try to do it.

Pepe, I feel like you only want to please yourself with drawing.

P: Yeah, it’s weird. Sometimes I would really love to do something and share it with other people. I’ve been trying and brought some of my work to exhibitions, but it’s the same as skateboarding: it’s difficult to be really happy with what I’ve done, and so I don’t really put it out so much. Right now, the easiest way to spread your artworks is Instagram. Sometimes it feels like putting it into oblivion and everyone is gonna forget about it. That’s why I want to come out with a certain amount of works that I’m happy about. With photography too, I have hundreds of negative sheets I never showed to anyone, but I’m slowly getting to it. I’m trying to finish my darkroom for printing, but laziness and money come in the way.

Y: It’s hard to share everything on Instagram. I don’t really use it. It’s like people know about it or they don’t. Lately, I’ve been able to do some designs for people.

Did you do board graphics at some point?

Y: I did some for Belgium local brands and I was talking with Antiz about it. That’s what I like, thinking about a good idea. For me, that’s half of the drawing.

Like finding the spot is half of the trick.

Y: Kinda like this. Also, I’ll maybe do something for Vans again and Pop Trading Company. The manholes from Tom’s Tales was an idea because, in every city we traveled to, it was different. That’s how I do it: take pictures and make my own thing from it. That’s why I keep myself documented. I love the creative process. Even if the drawing in the end is shit, the process around it is fulfilling.

How about you, Pepe?

P: The first board graphic I did was for a brand in my hometown I was skating for, and two years ago, I did something for Antiz. I actually took them off my wall a few weeks ago cause I don’t like them anymore.

You’re pretty critical with your own output.

P: Yeah, but it’s not about being hard on myself, it’s just about my taste, because my mood changes really quick. [laughs]

Y: I don’t like to look at images for too long, I get tired of it. If I had hand tattoos, I would have probably lasered them off.

You guys have a lot of tattoos although you get tired of images quite easily.

Y: But the tattoos I have, I don’t see them all day.

P: For me, it’s more like that I don’t give a shit. It’s my body and I have really shitty tattoos. It’s too late anyway.

Do you guys have a good Dustin story?

Y: I didn’t know that he’s that nice. I thought he’s a Piss Drunk.

P: As a kid he was pretty much one of my favorite skaters. When we met each other, we became friends. It’s funny how things change. One of the last times I’ve been to Paris, I met him and we stayed for hours at the bar together. He invited me to his place for dinner. A funny story is that Dustin has my naked girlfriend tattooed on his leg. It’s my hand choking her neck and the caption I wrote under it is, “I don’t believe a word you say.” I gave Dustin the drawing, and months later, he wanted to get it tattooed. So we did it and said bye to each other, but late at night, he sent me a picture of the tattoo and said, “Man, we blew it.” None of us noticed that it was misspelled. So now he has “I don’t belive a word you say”, but he had the drawing hanging in his place for months…

Why do you sometimes put words in your art?

P: Pretty much everything I draw is personal. It makes it easier for other people to understand. I do it a lot when I draw on walls. I went pretty viral without anyone knowing that I did that in my hometown on a pillar on one of the central plaza squares. I just broke up with my ex-girlfriend and I did this naked woman shape. I was pretty drunk and pissed and wrote as a quote, “You’re such a bitch.” Of course not referring to anyone. There is not even a head. It’s just boobs and ass, but a lot of people took pictures of that one and it’s still there.

Did people ever say your art would be misogynist?

P: I’m not a misogynist and never thought about it in that way. I love women, I’m not a hateful person. A lot of girls actually took pictures of that drawing. I’m critical about my stuff, but I also don’t take it too seriously. It’s more a fun thing, a joke. I show what I do to my mother and she never has a problem with it.

She has an art background as well, right?

P: My mother is a historical researcher and teaches history of architecture and design at the university and my father teaches Italian literature and history – but they are really into art and buying art. My parents’ place is fully covered with prints. Since I was a kid, they were dragging me and my sister to every exhibition and museum.

If money wouldn’t matter, what art piece would you buy?

P: I’d buy art too, but if I would ever have a nice apartment with a fireplace, I wouldn’t mind getting a big Renaissance painting, Raphael or something like that.

Y: I’m a big fan of Toshio Saeki, a Japanese illustrator. His style is amazing. I would love to own something from him.