justART! M.A.S.A.R.O.

Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Alan Ng and Amie Nguyen
Photography by Jenkin Au


Location: Vancouver



Please start off by introducing yourself to our readers.

Joe M.A.S.A.R.O. I’ve been a visual artist and graphic designer actively for the last ten years. Yeah, just trying to do my thing, being a creative person in our city representing Vancouver with a different sort of feel.

Tell us what M.A.S.A.R.O. stands for.

I used to write back in the day, I would say about seven years ago. At the time, during the mid ’90s, the acronym was a big thing. I jumped on the bandwagon too and M.A.S.A.R.O. stands for ‘Man Amazing Skilled Artistically Raged Outcast’. That was it. I know it was a little bit early. When people asked me about it, I would always chuckle about it.

Back in the day, were you primarily a tagger or a bomber?

I would say tagger. I did pieces with my crew back in the day, just like a small time neighborhood back in Richmond. Nothing crazy–I don’t try to rep that phase of my practice but I would definitely say that a lot of influences are from that area. A lot of the things that I do was established back in the day, around that time.

What was that Richmond crew called?

I guess Thompson Community Center Crew.

(Everyone laughs.)

Well, actually, I moved out from that area. I was more of that No. 3 and Blundell crew. We call ourselves originally ‘Half Blooded Italians’, ‘HBI’ because we were all half-blooded Italians.  Afterwards, we got a Spanish kid. I guess it didn’t really matter after a while. At that time, living in the suburbs, and all of us having similar interests towards urban culture, I guess trying to replicate what we saw in a sense but obviously in a whole different magnitude.

One of the things that you have been concentrating on today is Rollers’ Studio. Tell us a bit more about your graphics company and how it started.

Rollers’ Studio is more like an entity for me to kind of be able to showcase a lot of things that I do. The reason why I kind of stood behind this virtual branding thing is because it allowed me to share my projects through this entity, rather than restricting to only showcasing and branding myself. Yeah, it started off with me doing zines and t-shirts with locals and friends, kind of making some pocket change here and there. From there, I carried it forth by doing more illustrations, doing more comics and drawings, just slowly evolving to where it’s at right now, under the name I put out mixtapes; music and art.

How do you transcend your knowledge of hip-hop and music through art?

A lot of pieces that I do, I try to find subject matters that inspire me. In this case, being a lover for music, I try to do a lot of references with music, either it be indirect or direct. In a sense, like people would always say to me, “Slip a little gem in things you do.” Instead of trying to tell people about what’s out there, you let them find out, sort of these little facts about these unique sub cultures, through your work. It’s almost more rewarding for them. For instance, a lot of the subject matters, portrait- wise, are drawn towards musicians. I guess just trying to slip in an imagery of a musician, or people from a certain subculture. I guess majority would be hip-hop, subculture, something like that.

Why were there so many changes in terms of focus over the years?

In a sense, trying to be a working, surviving artist, rather than someone working at a very different job and just doing art part-time. Over the years, I found that I have to really keep changing what I am doing to be able to support myself, and kind of make it a living. I guess I look at it more so as not ditching the old and embracing the new, but more so embodying new elements, combining it and mixing it into something different. Still, there are traces of me in the past. For instance, with a lot of graphic and commercial design wise, I still try to mix in very subtle urban elements, if possible, even some graphic elements into it, just really minor instead of knocking someone over the head saying that I threw in a graph here to make your brand more urban. All in all, trying to survive as an artist, so a lot of times I have to keep on changing.

Speaking with all these mediums that you have been experimenting through the years and always progressing with new methods, is there anything you are currently learning right now?

I try to use ball pen and ink a lot right now, I mean, when you think of it that right away, it would remind someone right away of being in school, going through a very boring class and you are just trying to doodle and kill time. Out of the blue, I had the revelation from maybe just going back to doodling on ball-pen and realizing that I can probably turn that into something a little more serious. Right now, I am working on a series of illustrations, more detailed portraits, actual traditional approaches to portraits using ball-pen and ink. It’s kin of a contrast between traditional rendering methods, with industrial elements. I find it’s getting my interest going and it’s working well so far. Got quite a bit of response from it.

Is there a piece of work that you cherish the most? Which piece of art took you a good amount of time and stays at the back of your head?

One piece out of the table of series that I have a special attachment of it is DITC, “Digging in the Crates”. It’s actually a drawing of my girlfriend and myself; we were going through records. There are some subtle references that I put in there. I was surprised that people would be able to pick them out, and when they approach me, that’s the first thing they would say to me. It’s very motivating because people are giving attention to what you are doing. I believe it’s 36″ by 36″ and it’s an oil piece. I would say that would be a piece in which I have an attachment to.

What are your views of the Vancouver art scene?

I guess before I go ahead and address this, other than Vancouver, I would like to state that I have only been to Edmonton, Toronto and Calgary. I’d love to check out Montreal. That being said, there is a very different flavor across those cities that I have been to. Mind you, when I was in Calgary and Edmonton, I saw a lot of graphs on freight trains, provided that I was only in that area. The art scene is more of an older age. Vancouver’s got this West coast feel good, more expressive, whereas East coast has a lot more design elements involved in the composition. Doesn’t matter what you do, it’s just kind of how I felt. Yeah, for myself, in a sense, I grew up moving around a lot of big cities before I ended up in Vancouver so I got this big city kid mentality. I try to rep Vancouver, but at the same time, not trying to do what everybody is doing, trying to give it a heavy dose of urban element. I mean, over the years when I have been working with more professional realm, I have people from companies suggesting me to change my style because it’s too urban. Nevertheless, people are going to have their views, but I am still going to stick to that, but because it’s my passion and growing up with hip-hop, I always try to stick with that and evolving, trying to do the flavor in a more serious setting so it avoids people giving a put down to my urban theme-based culture approach to my work so I am trying to do a serious light on it.

What is HYPE?

It is all relative, depends on what angle you are looking at. I think it’s almost like your mom is in the kitchen baking an apple pie and you don’t see it, but you smell it and in your head, you’re going with all these notions of enjoying the pie in a bit. I think it’s the feeling right at that instance when you pick up the scent and get excited about it–that’s HYPE.


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