Bond Truluv: Synthesizing AR and Graffiti

Written by Andrew Bell

Rheinberg, Germany, 2015

Bond Truluv is a graffiti artist based out of Leipzig, Germany. His vibrant, futuristic, tech-infused, geometrical explosions of color blur the lines between digital and physical space, and can range from giant murals that span the facades of multi-story buildings, to more subtle writing hiding in obscure abandoned lots, to portraited pieces fit for galleries.

Although he cut his teeth as a traditional graffiti artist, Bond Truluv has recently entered the realm of augmented reality, developing his own app with the help of YouTube tutorials and a gaming software that allows viewers of his work to immerse themselves in the three-dimensional patterns brought to life through their screens.

We spoke with Truluv recently about his creative process, the convergence of art and technology, social media, and and his work with augmented reality. 

I just wanted to start off by asking you a little bit about your background.  I’ve read you studied anthropology and then studied painting in Indonesia. I was curious about how that informs your artwork?

Yeah, I mean…I realized quite early on that I wasn’t going to be an anthropologist, wasn’t going to work academically, kind of complicated to get a job and to do research and all that stuff. But I got to travel a lot. Because anthropologists do that, you have to look for a certain culture that they want to indulge in. And I chose India, and I went to India without ever really having been away from home very far, and it was the biggest culture shock of my life. And I stayed there for around 10 months in a small place for street children, like a shelter kind of thing. And then I started traveling from there to all Southeast Asia in the next year, I think for six, seven years. I spent most of my time there traveling around Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, and of course, Indonesia as well.

[I lived in] this city called Yogyakarta, and the city itself was really inspiring to paint because it’s a crazy place. It’s a sultanate, one of the few sultanates that are still left, and the sultan allowed people to do graffiti. So there is no property in the visual case, you can basically just paint anywhere, except of course, religious structures, or the Sultan’s palace, which is forbidden, but anything else is allowed by law because he likes it so much. So for one year, I just rode around on a scooter and painted everywhere. And it was a crazy good experience. And of course, I traveled Indonesia, which is 14,000 islands and can be kind of an empty place if you stay away from Bali.

One of Truluv’s tags in Jogja, Indonesia, 2012

Your Point and Click series and your other augmented reality murals use AR in really cool ways, could you just take me through how that technology works?

Well, the augmented reality thing works with image tracking. It’s like a QR code, basically. So you have to have an app, of course, and a camera, and the app has to access the camera to see certain patterns that it can recognize in QR codes with black and white squares. And an image tracking, it can be light and dark values, contrasts. So the app tries to read this contrast of the image to match it onto some content that you have previously assigned to it, though, if you see this image, you have to play this kind of video. That’s basically what the app does.

“Bots,” Leipzig, 2018

And you developed the app yourself?

Yeah, I started by doing that through some YouTube tutorials, and software called Unity 3D, which is like a gaming development platform, mostly. And, yeah, I built the apps myself, very customized. There wasn’t much to change in the apps, and it was kind of bulky, it wouldn’t run or it would only run on my phone with a certain type of firmware. You couldn’t download the app from any store, because you need licenses to get apps to stores. And I’m not a professional developer. I’m not even working in the industry. I just self-taught. I’m a self-taught, DIY kind of guy. So also my first app, I developed with the help of YouTube tutorials. And of course, I have a basic technical knowledge. And I know some softwares and the way they work. But it was really a step-by-step process, following YouTube tutorials, and then of course, I eventually understood what’s going on and how to tweak and change certain things.

So how have you found people’s interactions or their responses to using this AR when looking at your graffiti?

 I mean, it’s always very exciting for the people, especially the ones who use it for the first time. It’s always like “woah crazy! What’s going on there? How is it even possible?” You know, there’s pretty much always this first reaction because people don’t know how it technically works and once you explain it to them, it of course makes sense. But the first reaction is like that. And it’s one thing that I’ve always wanted to reach through my pieces, to blur the boundaries of dimensions and of reality to create the ultimate illusion. So that’s something that the AR aspect really helps with, to make pieces move. I mean, when we paint something, it’s a static image of a possibly infinite process on possibly infinite motion, we just pick one frame out of this whole motion, and what the AR helps me with is to really bring this whole animation, the whole movement to the people, to the viewer. So that’s kind of special I feel. Even though it’s very technical. And it takes a long time to render out the animations and to draft them into concept. And so usually the technical process, that takes me longer than to actually paint the image.

“Zeitz,” 2020

And of course, it’s really interactive, the viewer can move around the piece, they can change position. It really animates and inspires the people to look for different vantage points and for different perspectives. So I think it’s a very interesting technique to look at it live. It’s very engaging, especially on murals. You know, if you have a large scale mural, you can really walk around the piece, look underneath it, look behind it even, and that is usually a crazy experience.

So what’s your view on this convergence of Arts and Technology, and also its relationship to social media?

Yeah, I mean, technology is all around us these days. So somebody has to bring the art, the traditional art forms, and technology together and to see what comes out of it. For me, I use technology as a tool to reach my means. And I’m sure, for example, people like Picasso, or even further back, they would have loved it, and, of course, would have used it. And so for me, it’s just natural to play with new technology and new tools to see what happens if I use them on my art, and to draft new ideas, and try to bring things together that hadn’t been brought together beforehand. And of course, social media is a big aspect. Because visual artists live a lot through social media, especially the graffiti people and the urban art scene. The whole showing process happens on social media these days.

“I Follow You,” Leipzig, Germany

People do paint on the streets, of course, but most of the artists upload their stuff on social media, it’s like the market. And you can reach so many more people through social media platforms than you can do on the streets. I realized that quite early. I mean I’m a graffiti writer and my overall goal is fame; I want to be seen, I want to be recognized. And I can do that by painting lots of spots in the streets in the city. But now there’s this other option, which is to go global and to upload your stuff. And if you have good stuff, then more people will see it. So if you really come up with new and innovative ideas, and you have a certain visually striking style, then even more people will see it and then for me, even now I paint in abandoned places or in places that nobody really walks into.

“Fame,” Corfu, Greece 2017

So the picture is my artwork. It’s not meant to be seen live, unless I am invited for festivals, of course, or I paint murals or any kind of activations/exhibitions, but the things that I do freely for myself, they are not meant to be seen, they are meant to be seen on social media. So I do small videos and photos, and I take lots of time to edit them and to draft them and to plan them accordingly. And set the lights and all that kind of stuff. And I feel also many people go about it the same way. They try to reproduce their work on social media. I don’t want to say it’s a good or bad thing. It’s just the way things are these days.

So talking about choosing a space for a piece, how does the space, the outside atmosphere of the wall, inform what you’ll actually write on it?

 Well, it’s hard to find words on how it does it. It’s always a surprise actually. For example, if I have the ability to choose walls, for example, if I get assigned a space and the different options for walls, I walk through there, I take lots of photos. And then I sit down in a quiet moment and I browse through them. And I wait for inspiration to come. And usually I have a list of things that I would like to paint. And then I try to see what piece, what style would fit which wall.

“Deep,” 2018

So of course, I try to match the different ideas and different approaches I have to the different wall options I have. And for example, if it’s only one wall for a big mural or something, and this is one wall that I have to paint, I also browse through my photos and see which style would fit there. What are the surroundings like? What are the lighting conditions? What would be the angle for the final shot? How much time do I have? What’s the weather conditions in that place in that time? Can I use a projector? Or is there too much light noise around, too much surrounding street light or whatever? What’s the structure of the wall? The texture? Is it really rough and crumbly or is it smooth? All these things influence the final decision for the piece.  What’s the color of the houses around? What’s the background color? What’s the base coat of the wall? You know, that’s all things that I would consider if I addressed the final concept.

Truluv working on a large-scale mural in Nuremberg, Germany

Do you have any future projects coming up? Anything you’re excited about? I know, it’s a weird time right now…

 You know, like most of the other of my colleagues, I lost a lot of projects. About 16, I think. So it was a really frustrating time for me in the last couple of months. But just a couple of weeks ago, one project came in that I was really happy about. Also financially, it kind of saved my ass, really, it showed up in the right timing. So I can relax a bit now. But really, I don’t have big projects coming up, that’s for sure. But I have lots of small projects for myself. I mean, that’s also always one thing that I’ve liked about being an artist, it’s never really boring. Even if there’s no jobs in terms of payment, or people telling you what they want. You can always be busy in the studio, or I have lots of abandoned spaces and walls around that I like to paint, I have tons of ideas and approaches that I haven’t tried. So it’s not really boring, just economically unstable. But it’s not like I’m not busy.

“I Love You,” Berlin, 2019

Based in London, United Kingdom

Andrew Bell is a freelance writer from Massachusetts and is currently based in London. While living in Istanbul for five years, he became immersed in the graffiti and art culture of one of the oldest cities on earth. He loves getting lost in unknown cities, loves music, and tries his best to differentiate between honesty and bullshit.