There’s much to be said for placing street art in a museum. While some may try to wrap heads around how such a subversive form can be commodified, others might feel that it’s the start of another era — where perhaps art from the streets can finally be accepted by the general audience and pave way for street artists and graffiti writers in the now.
For us, it was a valuable lesson in seeing the combination of different works around the world. It’s difficult to erase the connection between these art and roots in which one has come from, even if it was not originally intended so.
What was enjoyable as well was the focus that Magda Danysz has put in place in ArtScience Museum — straying away from the familiar names like Banksy and Futura, instead providing a wide enough platform for artists like Speak Cryptic, Yok & Sheryo, Tarek Benaoum, Remi Rough and Felipe Pantone who created new site-specific artworks for the show.
Yesterday, you said that ‘graffiti and street art are different conversations’. How so?
Graffiti art is, I guess, a coded language for graffiti writers who were painting or trained in schools in the UK where I came from. We didn’t really care if people liked it. It wasn’t about that nor understanding it, making money out of it or anything like that. It was language for the people who did it.
It’s more about the appreciation for the image. These two different languages have crossovers but for me, they come from very different places.
I think they get mixed up quite a bit in what I guess is the ‘now’. Street art just has a very different aesthetic. I’m still very happy to be in a show like this but I also have to be very true to where I come from — the world of graffiti art, or graffiti writing.
How would you describe the street art culture within artists and viewers in the 80s, and now in comparison? How did you manoeuvre your way around the scene then?
There were no Internet or mobile phones. It was a very different way of thinking then. Graffiti art is so connected now because of Instagram and stuff. Before, you write to people, send them photos and wait two weeks before they would write back to you – it’s crazy but the connection still happened. It was a very connected social engagement, I guess.
Britain was quite a tough place to be and grow up in, London especially. You didn’t have much of a voice then so this actually gave us our voice.
The work was still very naive and obviously now it’s matured a lot — technically and stylistically. You can see that in the first room, from the old school New York styles to the last section with Felipe Pantone whose works are a lot more contemporary. It has definitely changed a lot.
What's one way to learn and understand suprematism and street art better?
I think sometimes labels to things don’t sit very well. I can’t really call what I do ‘graffiti’ because it’s not. I can’t really call it street art because I occasionally paint on the street yet I’m not a street artist. Never have been. For me, I have to describe to people what I’m doing.
Say, I’m doing abstract work, it’s very geometric. I filter and reference a lot of suprematist tendencies too.
Suprematism, I think, is such a fantastic art form and movement that came out of the early 19th century and went very quickly. So I feel like I’m giving it a little bit of a second wind with my own interpretation.
I would never take anything away from the people who created it. I’m simply following their footsteps and trying to find my way with what I do as well.
Our environment and architecture move fast, in the form of depletion and progression – much like technology. How would you describe your relationship with these ever-changing elements?
There’s an element of futurism with my work. Futurism is not just about art. It’s about social climate, understanding, environment, cities, so many things.
I think the work is technology in itself. Spray paint now is very different from the ones used in the 80s. The pigmentation was different, the solidity of the paint, the ease of use, the pressure. Technology changes everything. It’s not just electronics.
I see them as tools. You could use a projector to project a logo and then paint around it or use a piece of string and nail to draw a circle like Tarek – he does that in a very old school kind of way, it’s not technology. You know, they’re just tools. Social media is just another tool.
I’ve lived quite happily and successfully without technology in my life, no offence. I’m sure I could do that again. We all struggle because we’re so tuned into it and so it seems like it’s difficult to pull yourself away. However, if we fell into the dark edges tomorrow, we’d get on with it.
If there's one knowledge you've gained about the notion or principles of aesthetics from street art, what would it be?
Probably that true aesthetics are quite hard to achieve, especially when everyone sees them differently. Everyone looks at an image – you might like it, I may not. This man might like it, this lady might not like it… I always think that making art is about finding a solution.
For me, I try and find solutions to space – simple as that. Balance, tangent, space.
Once I can begin to resolve it, I get in a happy place and things can then happily come out of it. Well, sometimes unhappily.
Now that you’ve mentioned that it’s all about solutions, I’m very curious as to how you came to create your work as seen here.
It’s all about layers. You know, the references. It’s not just suprematism or art. I used to do graphic design and there are a lot of referential elements in that. Shapes, text, type. What you see here aren’t letters or may not look like it but I could see letters in them. That isn’t what it is but those references are there.
The colours are referential to when I was doing graffiti writing in the 80s and 90s. I get a lot of inspiration from architecture. The building that the museum is located is such an inspiration, it’s amazing.
I wanted to be provocative in the kind of work that I make. I wanted to make people would walk around the corner and go, “why does that sit here? What’s that doing in here? Is that street art? Is that contemporary art?”
Before anyone even gets to the work and starts to understand the lines, the forms, and where the folds make, one realises there’s an actual structure. I liked the fact that I came into a beautiful structure and left with another one within it. That was my plan.
In previous interviews, you place a lot of focus on the viewer as the outcome. Why do you think people are drawn to your works?
I get a lot of people telling me that they’re drawn to my work because of the use of colour. Others tell me they’re drawn because of the use of negative space. I can’t answer that question fully but I think people see architecture every day. With people like Faile whose works reminds one of advertising, viewers are bombarded with adverts all day. So they go, ah! I understand this.
But they might not necessarily understand what I’m doing right away. The images within it, they have seen today. They have walked past Marina Bay Sands Hotel. These huge architectural structure and shapes… All these things inform how they will look at my work and I think as a viewer, you will always be informed on any levels when you go into an exhibition like this.
Graffiti and street art is about the environment – which is just as important as the artwork and placement.