Welcome to what I hope will be the first of many interviews with our favourite graffiti writers. A chance for you to get to know the human behind the tag, what got them into painting and how graffiti has influenced their life.
Who better to kick off this Graff. Life. Blog series than our very own OPAKE. London graffiti painter turned commercial artist and co-founder of P-NUT.
How did you first get into graffiti? What made you want to start?
Graffiti, or graff, has interested me from a very young age. I remember getting the train into London as a kid, no older than 10, and being totally fascinated by the scale of what people were doing on buildings and structures that weren’t even theirs.
I didn’t understand how (and when!) these painters were actually able to create something so massive – how were they even reaching those areas of wall and climbing those bridges to paint the sides? At that time, trains were still battered with graff and I just didn’t understand when people were able to do it. I found it all so intriguing, like this secret world.
What does graffiti mean to you?
It’s everything to me. It’s my life. It’s my work, my passion, it’s what I think about 24/7. I just love everything about it. The people involved in it, the subculture and community it has created. It’s just really cool. When I’m out painting, I like the fact I’m doing something that most people wouldn’t be able to go and do – it’s a liberating freedom that you’re doing something that’s not considered ordinary.
Why do you think graffiti is so often viewed as vandalism? And what do you think about the laws around graffiti?
I think the laws in the UK around graff are crazy. Sending people to prison for graff is nuts; I know people who have got 4 years for painting trains. I understand that when most people see a tag, all they see is a scribble. But at the end of the day, that little scribble is the foundation of all street art, and like it or not all the massive street artists that are idolised now started off by tagging. In my opinion if you can’t tag then you shouldn’t paint graffiti.
Whether it’s tagging or painting big colourful pieces of street art, it’s the same thing, they’re both part of the same subculture. What graff really comes down to is getting your name out there, again and again, so your peers will respect you within that subculture, it’s like a big ego war, as well as being a form of escapism.
Can you explain the difference between graffiti styles?
Before the internet, graffiti styles were very specific to countries or to areas. If you look at graff artists in LA, they have their own specific LA style, there’s nowhere else in the world where people paint like that. The lettering is quite aggressive, getting its roots from chicano lettering and gang influence as well. NYC has a specific style; very bold simple lettering, which to someone that doesn’t realise what they’re looking at, can look quite naïve. In Berlin they paint euro style, which is a lot more abstract and in London the typical graff you’ll see is big chrome straight letter graff with black, white or yellow key lines.
With today’s access to the internet, everything has become very diluted and styles have all merged. People in NYC are painting euro style graff because it’s so much more accessible. It becomes not so much about where you’re from, but more about what style you like the look of.
As well as differing styles, you also get different complexities to graff. The most simple form is your tag, which is just your name usually written in pen. Then you’ve got your throw up - simple bubble style letters, normally one colour that’s not usually considered pretty to look at. At the more complex end you’ve got your piece which you’d typically spend more time on. Lots of different colours and written in a specific style (wildstyle, bubble letters, naïve, straight letters). All these different aspects are a part of the graffiti subculture.
What makes a good graffiti piece?
The letters have got to flow, the proportions have got to be good, connections have got to all match up. The execution and can control can’t be messy, all the lines have got to be tight. You only get this through years and years of practice. Even the most skilled graffiti artists are always learning and trying to better their last piece.
Like with anything, consistency is key. A lot of people paint for a year and then disappear, whereas the people who are really serious and are out painting every week or even every day, they’re the ones considered to be the kings.
It takes a lot to go out and paint constantly, day after day. It quickly becomes a very expensive hobby. But for many writers, it’s a lifestyle, an obsession, even a sickness to be chasing a status within that subculture, to become a king. But often all you gain is a criminal record.
What made you want to combine clothing and graffiti?
A lot of graffiti clothing has been produced over the years, but as an artist I wanted to create designs with my own style.
I really like the custom aspect of what we do. I’ve always spent a lot of time tagging people’s names, so it seemed like the natural next step to try and add my tags to clothing, and produce a cool product which hopefully our customers love.