A variety of labels can apply to the amazing art visible here and there and everywhere on Toronto’s exterior surfaces: street, mural, public, and graffiti are but a few terms which, preceding the word “art”, put their particular spin on our considerations of outdoor media. Formally distinguishing between these categories is a task I leave my more theoretically inclined colleagues; however, through a series of recent interactions I’ve come to be aware that my own work requires a little elaboration as far as where it stands with respect to them.
Very recently, I was approached for an interview. The topic of the would-be article: graffiti art. The author was interested in my comments on Toronto’s graffiti scene given my evident public works.
To my mind, my work looks nothing like graffiti, neither does it derive from the same world that graffiti writers/artists ultimately speak from (although this world remains complex). Graffiti moves me greatly and I cite it as a source of inspiration, but my real relationship to it is one of a total outsider looking into a crazy candy shop. I don’t seriously try to emulate it – mostly because doing so would feel quite inauthentic – although I do try to capture the electric energy behind the best graffiti designs.
Occasionally text is incorporated into my stuff but these are usually awkward and goofy-looking disembodied letters, of little resemblance to the sleek type characteristic of much of the graffiti style. I do employ a certain cartoon vocabulary also found in graffiti art, but the syntax for its use borrows more from the history of art or pure composition than it does from popular or urban culture. My analysis here relies heavily on outward elements of comparison, but that is precisely because I don’t know much about graffiti culture per se, from an insider point of view. I can say little concerning it as a “scene” save what I’ve absorbed from documentaries…which is fascinating learning, by the way.
After Nate Kogan of Huely Socks saw Jive Obelisk (the 1st pic above), I was conscripted into the fold of Series 02: Street Art, thereby joining (proudly, I should add) the ranks of other Toronto artists such as Uber 500, Spud1, Anser, Poser…folks with serious track records in the urban art underground. Did I fit? Absolutely. With provisos. To my mind, “Street” art is another term which while it denotes the geography of a certain work also carries an urban sort of flavour, in that the art is not only “on” but also “of” the street. By and large, street art and artists are also opposed to elite contexts and conditions of access. I personally have no problem with my work being shown in a gallery, although philosophically I am much more focused on forms of community exchange and view whatever work I have existing in the public sphere as connected to that. I’m too much of a nerd to boast street cred, though. Whatever form of wildness I may exhibit comes out of my love of the subconscious and the depths of my own id. However to be fair there is a long, time-honoured tradition for working with the subconscious within an aesthetic framework which pre-packages even this spontaneity. So mine is a highly regulated insanity, in other words.
Another emphasis in street art with which I agree is on the ART. Graffiti may or may not be “art” (tagging or pure vandalism can be considered graffiti along with higher forms), street art may or may not contain elements of graffiti, but “street art” always implies that the work itself is of a particular artistic quality. To the extent that that’s true, my art is more street art than graffiti.
“Public art” tends to reflect commissions which are installed in notably public places, like parks or the like. In a very broad sense, then, my outdoor works to date may all be considered small-scale public art, as they’ve been funded rather than produced in a purely voluntary (and/or illegal) capacity…although this term is too limp to describe my artistic vision generally. I’m happier with “street art”, frankly – although again, I wouldn’t say it’s terribly “street” in the first place. Maybe I need to devise a new word?
How about “SIDEWALK EXPLOSIONS”?