Q. Who is behind Sardine? Moreover, Why Sardine?
A Homo sapien called Mike V. Derderian. Why I choose Sardine as a nom de plume?
I grew up reading French comics, in Arabic, and all the illustrators and writers had these catchy pen names so I decided on Sardine. My mother hates it. Why Sardine? Because my work smells and is awful. I also like the shapes and designs of Sardine cans, and I happen to like eating Sardines. Someone asked me if there was a deeper connotation … well maybe it is just reflective of how many things can come out of a rusted sardine can.
Q. You are originally from and based in?
I am the son of Armenian immigrants, who arrived to Jordan following the Armenian Genocide. I am a Jordanian national based in Amman … My New York.
Q. Do you think street art/graffiti belong in the traditional, mainstream art community? Why?
I think street artists and graffiti artists belong in the streets, however, every now and then it is okay for them to go indoors. I love drawing in the streets because it cancels the middleman. It is just you, the wall, the street and some passersby! You get all the feedback there and now.
Graffiti was always about self-expression. Your piece says, “I am here.” My pieces are reflective of my sensibility as an illustrator. Your canvas is the walls of the city. Your free will, imagination and the can you are holding are your brush.
Graffiti is about being out there, every week, and drawing on a wall and producing a piece . I wish I can go out every day but that would probably get me divorced and fired.
Q. Who are your heroes and influences?
Somefield (Barnaby Ward), Yuko Shimizu, Ashley Wood, Time Sale, Otto Schmidt and Hayao Miyazaki to name a few. Upon seeing the work of Ward – I haven’t drawn in years and was still working as a writer – I was shell-shocked. I wanted to draw like Ward but I couldn‘t. I was real rusty after a 10 year hiatus. At some point I started drawing non-stop on A4 papers. I was just drawing lines and lines. I was trying to figure who I was. I am still working on that.
Years later I came across the work of Miss Shimizu. Her work and style are beyond amazing.
The biggest influence as a kid was the French and Belgium comic masters I grew up reading. I once tried to draw like Tin Tin’s Hergé. I was a 5th grader. Needles to say after hours and hours at trying to figure out what I was doing I folded the paper and went back to playing with my toys.
Hugo Pratt from Italy is another hero through his beautifully redered Corto Maltese character and universe. When it comes to my robotic characters Mr. Miyazaki’s work is a major influence.
In terms of graffiti and street work I love the works of Alex Senna and Fernanda Guedes. Over all my work is derived from comics, cartoons, cinema and music. I mostly stick to black and white whenever I can.
Q. Do you have a specified audience you try to reach with you work? If so, who and why?
Nope. I don’t have any specific audience. I just draw what I want as an illustrator. I am putting my own mind on walls – hoping that it moves someone’s own mind into action. After so many bad calls, instigated by idiots that I had the misfortune of working with for lack of experience, over the years, I stopped believing in the collective vote when it comes to creative work. I alone should decide what I want to draw. Period.
I realize, now more than ever, I like flying Han Solo, which is why I am now running
my own studio, F.A.D.A. 317 for cartoon and comic themed illustration and graffiti work. I mostly draw geishas, space-girls, robots, sirens, hairy monsters, papers boats and paper planes.
If it is in the street it will reach many people, who have their own opinions about it. Sometimes you get to read that opinion through a warm and loving Instagram or a Facebook post weeks and months later. Sometimes you see that opinion with a disapproving angry defacing paint over. Sometimes you hear it through strangers, and sometimes you don’t. As for my non-street and graffiti work I get comments from awesome artists on social media platforms.
Q. Have you ever studied art? What major?
No! I am self-taught. I have a major in English Literature. I owe my artistic upbringing to my mother. Her collection of books allowed me to come face to face with the works of world painters and artists.
As for how I got into graffiti a couple of years ago I met with Graffiti Artist Wesam Shadid, a.k.a. Wise One during a collective skateboard show. We both had pieces on display. Having been a fan of his work in the streets of Amman I introduced myself to him.
I was hooked from the moment Wesam showed me how to work with a can. I haven’t stopped drawing on walls since.
I owe my foray and beginnings into graffiti to Wesam and to Miss Alaa Qattam, The Art Projects Manager, at the British Council. Alaa gave me the chance to paint my first piece at the Citadel / Jabal Al Qal3a in Amman.
Q. What is the coolest thing that has happened to you because of your art?
People wanting to buy my work! That is simply the coolest thing. The best compliment to me is knowing someone wants one of my pieces on their wall. It is not about the money. Money pays the bills and allows you to buy time to draw more. As for my street work – the coolest thing is the expression on someone’s face when I tell them I am the smelly fish behind the space girl. Nothing compares to a smile of approval from a stranger passing you by as you paint.
Q. Do you keep your personal and street life separate?
I don’t have an inventory of spray cans and paint buckets home if that’s what you are asking – I keep everything in the trunk of my car just in case I see an inviting wall.
I leave papers, drawing pads, pencils and pens lying around the house so that my two kids, Amie and Andre-V, would want to draw. Amie is already doing it but Andre-V is in his toys phase. It is hard to split who you are from the woman you took vows with – I would come out as Mr. Hyde. In a way I am Mr. Hyde. Don’t tell anyone ;-})
Q. Have you ever felt guilty after piecing, pasting or tagging?
I feel guilty when I am not drawing or pasting a piece as I most often should. I mostly work on old depleted legal walls and permission walls so there isn’t much guilt involved. Drawing on illegal walls would harm the graffiti movement in Jordan more than help it, which is why I adhere to my own strict code of conduct.
No stone walls; no government walls; and no political- social-poverty-porn shit pieces. In the end you have less than 20 serious and hard at work graffiti artist in Amman. Why be an idiot and ruin it for everyone else just to stand out and have faux intelligentsia applaud you.
Graffiti for me is not an ego thing. It is about putting cartoon-themed visual pieces with a dose of art for art’s sake. I just want to remind them that there are “others“ who live in the same city; “others” who do not believe in what you believe in yet they have the right to be the same way you are allowed to be – meaning art is not against religion or God.
Q. Is street art a crime?
Not in my book but others might tend to differ. I do all my wall illustrations and wheat pastes in broad daylight because if you are caught with a can and a bucket of glue in the middle of the night it raises the wrong questions.
P.S: Never run when you see a policeman.
Foreign correspondents, who are usually in Jordan, searching for stand-out political and social oppression driven graffiti stories, are constantly asking us if we feel threatened by the police. We don’t! They know about us. Many times we have come face to face with security personnel. We explain to them we are merely adding colors to Amman’s yellow walls. We are let go with a smile and a “carry on adding color!”
Q. You have joined baladk project two weeks ago, tell us more about this project and any specific artists you collaborated with?
“The Baladk Graffiti Festival” was launched four years ago by Al Balad Theatre, which is run by Raed Asfour, under the supervision of Lubna Juqqa, Mu’ath Isaeid, and Graffiti Artist, Wesam Shadid, a.k.a. Wise One and also I was asked to join as an organizer on its third year.
It is an awesome festival. Why? Because we get to paint all over our city. Months before the festival starts Wesam and I go out scouting walls and get permissions for them.
I usually hate saying it but Baladk is “The first large scale graffiti festival in the Middle East.” Why am I saying it? Well, because someone had the audacity to take a photograph from our closing ceremony and use it to publicize her event as the first graffiti festival. Don’t you just hate it when someone tries to steal your hardwork!
Q. Tell us some of your favorites,music,movies and books?
That’s a tough one but if I have to be a little specific here you go.
I love watching science fiction and film noir. Blade Runner is my all time favorite movie – I love both cuts.
Future Boy Conan, known around these parts as Adnan Wah Lina, still haunts my dreams and daydreams to this day.
My favorite books are Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Outsider by Colin Wilson, Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I re-read the latter every year. The Tin Tin albums also played a big role in my upbringing.
As for music it plays a big part of my life. I’ve been working as a radio Disc Jockey for the past 14 years. I mostly listen to everything – I am addicted to old French Electronica. When I am drawing I listen to the likes of Karen O, Francois de Roubaix, and Wishbone Ash. Lately, I’ve been listening, more and more, to music that constituted the soundtrack of my childhood. I am fortunate the adults in my family had a good taste in music and cinema.
Q. What does the future hold for you,Mike?
I am not sure. I am trying to stay focused on getting through the present, and a very messed up Middle East like everyone else. Let us hope all the life-hating idiots pack their shit and leave earth. Until then just spray the word … spread the wall … and claim your city.