Swiss visual artist Cyril Vouilloz, aka Rylsee, has conquered new media channels with his catchy, satyrical hand drawn typography, becoming a huge representative of the typography world on Instagram. A traveler by nature, Rylsee lived and worked in Switzerland, Canada, Brazil and has now settled in Berlin. His work covers the fields of typography, design and mural painting and has been exhibited internationally, from the Americas, to Europe and Asia.

Now URBAN SPREE, an art and cultural centre housed in a large postindustrial compound in Berlin’s Friedrichshain area, hosts Rylsee and his studio fellows, including illustrators Andrea Wan and Memo Vithana. Over a skype call from sunny London to a ‘tropical’ Berlin, we spoke to Rylsee about his experiences abroad, his inspirations and upcoming projects.

So first of all, where does the name Rylsee come from?

It comes from an old school french hip hop technique which consists in taking the syllables of words and kind of mix or invert them. They used it when they were missing words to rhyme with, or as punchlines and stuff. My real name is Cyril but my friends used to transform it into Rylsee, its simply a different way to spell it. This was back in high school but it lives on to this day!

We know you moved around quite a bit in your life, can you tell us about your youth and your travels?

I was born in Switzerland but I travelled a lot as a kid. My mom would bring me and my brother to different countries, to see different cultures and stuff. So I guess from a young age I was drawn to this. I lived in Vancouver, Canada in 2010 and 2011, which was a really good experience. Then I lived for a little while in Sao Paolo, Brazil. I initially had a show there in a gallery, and I thought it would have been cool to attend it. So I checked the plane tickets and they were too pricey for me to only stay a short time. I ended up staying there for four months.

How did it go in Brazil?

It was really good! I didn’t get the chance to travel much within Brazil, but Sao Paulo is so big and I was focusing more on painting there, going to shows and understand about the culture. It was a really nice experience and I might go back at some point. Im still in contact with artists and people that I met there, one even came over to Berlin last year and crashed at mine. People in Brazil are extremely friendly, no kidding! As a foreigner staying in town for a while I felt great, I could bring something fresh to the city and people loved that!
I felt that as a city it was very artist friendly. If I’m correct, its been about eight years that Sao Paulo hasn’t allowed public advertisement in the city,  so there are no billboards, there is nothing related to advertising. And on the other hand, what we now call ‘street art’ is almost legal. If there is a wall, even in the city centre, you don’t have to ask the city for any permission. You simply go to the owner and ask if you could paint their wall, and if they say yes, you can start on the spot! And people appreciate the fact that you are taking some of your time, some of your own paint and your money to work on their walls. They sometimes even host you for meals and drinks, it was fantastic!

And now you’ve ended up in Berlin..! How long have you lived here?

I moved to Berlin 3 years ago with fellow artist Andrea Wan, who I’m still sharing the studio with actually. We work here at Urban Spree, where there is so much going on. There is a gallery, a bar, a beer garden, all kinds of studios upstairs, and we spend a lot of time here.

What are you guys working on at the moment?

Well Memo and Julian, the intern, are helping me to produce and publish a book. Half of my work is in my sketchbooks, but the thing is, except for Instagram, I haven’t been showing it much, so they’ve never been properly displayed… Its been a while since people started asking ‘why don’t you make a book out of these?’, and I thought maybe its time to make one, something that would reminescent of a real sketchbook! We’ve been going through many pictures and spreads, picking the best ones. And poor Julian is in charge of the scanning!

Its crazy how this acted as an outlet to the do so many different things like the ones you are working on now. I noticed that you had a ‘robot’ phase, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yeah, for a few years I was into robots. In theory it started a random day at uni, when I drew a Robot with a big metal penis for jokes, and that’s how the robot was born. Andrea is not liking where this is going… But skipping the silly things, I started drawing robots that were breaking down into pieces, destroying them a little. I took them apart drawing by drawing until they slowly died, but they saw some nice galleries and exhibition spaces so I think they had a good life. Lately I started destroying letters. I find this deconstruction process really interesting because I can mix all the illustration skills that I developed over the years into this lettering style. So its a mix between illustration and hand lettering, another field that I am still very much learning how to approach.

I also saw that you focus a lot on the message behind the typographical works that you do, can you expand on the balance between the slickness and aesthetics of type as opposed to the message or meaning that it holds?

Most of the time the two balance each other. The meaning of what is written will effect, or inspire the aesthetics of a piece, and sometimes its more about having the visual idea like a crack, a void or a pixelated destruction of something that will help me find a sentence or a punch line that will match it. Its king of a ‘ping pong’ thing, haha that’s how I call my studio mate.
I like the contrast in general, when I can manage to get the viewer to ask him/herself a question. My favourite questions are always the ‘is it true’, or ‘is it real’ ones. I love it when the viewer for example cannot understand when a drawing is made analogically or on the computer. But I keep everything, or most things hand made, that’s how I like it.

What materials do you use in this process?

Most people think that I use very expensive, high end materials. But really, I use simple, cheap stuff. I tried the expensive ones but its not really fun when I am scared of losing them! By far my favorite pens are the one euro Muji pens. Their ink is really nice, they have a good range of sizes, of which I normally use the 0.3 and the 0.5mm tips.

Would you say that some other artist has inspired you to become who you are now?

There are some artists that I look up to but I wouldn’t say they affected me or my style that much. I feel inspired by daily life situations, what people say, things I read, stupid blogs, and other random things. I wouldn’t say I am a deep character. One thing that I learnt from the artists I work with is that I should look up to people who do completely different things to what I do. I think the world of hand lettering can easily get boring for people, its a very technical subject but I made this poster recently that says ‘well one doesn’t mean interesting’. Nowadays many things are full of colours and shapes and visually exciting, but lack soul I guess. Maybe its just me, secretly wishing to be better at creating visual content haha!

Last thing then I’ll let you guys carry on with your work. Instagram, how did you find this adventure of yours?

Andrea introduced me to Instagram, I initially thought of it as a distraction, something that would take me away from working. Then I started seeing it as a game…I draw on a daily basis and showing my sketches, or ‘sharing’ them felt natural very quickly. Then I suddenly got very popular, Instagram itself interviewed me and asked me to share a post of mine.. I don’t know, I just thought  ‘who  would say no to this’.  And boom, after a few days my followers grew to like 40,000. It was strange because I didn’t know who these people were, I was scared that it would have simply been random kids and that is kind of the way it is. Social media popularity is weird, it kind of has an impact on credibility, I hoped that Instagram would bring me more than just likes and it did in a few instances. I still get more selfies than briefs but its not something that I would complain about, it  just happened really!

Berlin, Bears and Refugees