Chalk it up! With Maria Oben
If you can’t “Chalk the Chalk, then don’t “Work the Wall.” That was the first of many clever little notions that came to me as I looked at the portfolio of Ms. Maria Oben. Calling Maria, “The Muralist”, would be considered an understatement. Driven by her energy and raven red hair, you can’t help but think that this artist lives in her own colorful, wonderful world. Building beauty on well-known restaurants, diners, and breweries with her signature style, BOHH had an opportunity to talk to Maria in celebration of Women’s History Month.
BOHH: Who is Maria Oben and where are you from?
MO: To simply put it, but complex in its essence, I am a hand lettering designer illustrator. I was born in Brooklyn, moved to queens, and now based in the boogie down Bronx.
BOHH: How were you first introduced to mural art and why the usage of Chalk?
MO: I was introduced into art as a child by my parents. Through seeing both my mother draw and my father doing construction for theatre displays and churches. My parents loved doing DIY “Do it yourself” projects around the house.
BOHH: What attracted you to learn how to do hand lettering design?
MO: I was always attracted to ads on trains, signs, but then I was accidentally put into digital design in college and took a typography class. In that class, you learn the world of letters, but you were also taught to not use script so much due to it not being “legible.” But my inner rebel was so attracted to script and later I found artists who made their own type called “hand lettering” because script is a font itself. But when you make it in your own style, it’s called hand lettering. That made it exciting because you’re designing your own type!
BOHH: Describe your signature style? When someone walks across your work, what makes them say “That’s MARIA OBEN’S mural work!”
MO: My signature style is the POP of chalk colors on chalkboards and incorporating hand lettering within the illustration itself.
BOHH: When working with commercial properties such as restaurants and small businesses…where do you find your inspiration to create a piece for them?
MO: With restaurants I find inspiration when I experience their food, I call it “brain food” LOL. Besides trying the food, I love getting to know the owner(s) to open their imagination and exercise their brain to make it easier on what type of design they want while putting my style into the mix.
Now, as you visit Maria’s Instagram page via @mariaoben, she can be easily considered as the Willa Wonka of Walls. Her page is completely immersed with colorful chalked up cuteness while exploring the culture of her subjects. Be it art based on the borough of the Bronx, a dope Vegan spot, or even expressing her love of PacMan, there’s always such a vibrancy to her work. She even illustrates these incredible monthly bullets journal based on some of her inspirations. Her hope is to expand her work across many more walls in New York City.
BOHH: Have you ever had “chalkers” block? LOL
MO: I only have “chalkers block” if I didn’t have a snack or spend too much time looking for inspiration on the computer!
BOHH: In a world that’s can be seriously diluted with texting/social media, the essence and beauty of traditional hand lettering or personal touches seems passé, how can we bring the culture of hand work back?!
MO: Workshops! It’s fun when everyone gets together to create something. Just like an spin and or yoga class, you are exercising your body to stay fit. Same thing with DIY projects, you are exercising your brain to be more creative.
BOHH: What’s the longest it’s taken you to complete a project? And are there techniques or substances you put to make the chalk or mural work last?
MO: The longest it’s taken me to complete the chalk mural alone was 7 hours. It was the portrait I did of the host of ViceLand’s new TV show “Hustle”, John Henry. For restaurants, To make the chalk last, I use a final fixative seal spray can.
BOHH: What do you want people to talk away from you work?
MO: I just want people to smile when look at my work. To say WOW! To be impressed how you can bring colors to a black wall. To fall in love with black.
BOHH: We know art is art! But is there a distinction between being a graffiti artist as compared to a muralist? What are some commonalities and differences?
MO: Not much of a difference, it just depends on what materials you use that will identify you. If you use spray cans, you’re a graffiti artist, and you only use bucket paint, then you’re a muralist. You’re a muralist regardless if you’re creating on huge wall! Most of us are “mixed media muralist” because we use many materials to create the piece.
BOHH: Do you have any future dreams or wants for you work beyond the wall? Do you see designing apparel or objects soon?
MO: I just recently got the travel bug but not to visit your basic tourists’ spots. I want to learn culture! My dream is to paint a mural around the world. I feel like my dreams are now coming true because my boyfriend inspired me to start with my city The Bronx and expand outward to other cities, states, then countries. I am not as experienced in fashion design (yet) but I do envision my work on clothes but not just on your basic T-shirts, but pieces that really express my work.
BOHH: Who are your favorite Hip-Hop artists to listen to when you work? Hailing from the Bronx, the mecca of Hip-Hop, does that serve as inspiration to?
MO: I love listening to your basic 80’s hip hop artists such as!
Montell Jordan – This is how we do it
Salt n Pepa – Push it
RUN-DMC – It’s tricky
Young MC – Bust a move
BOHH: How can people stay connected with you?!!
MO: People can connect with me on: