INTERVIEW: GRAFFITI ARTIST ANSER
Pseudonymous creator talks up Trayvon Martin, the niqab and appropriation of private property for art’s sake
On why he paints faces rather than letter- based forms: Graffiti is very alienating; it’s difficult for the general public to feel any sort of connection to it. It’s largely coded letters created exclusively for other people in the graffiti community. I use the stylization that comes from letterbased graffiti art to create an icon that people can relate to. That’s the power of an icon: its accessibility and the instantaneousness of its message. On graffiti as vandalism: There’s a constant battle going on in the graffiti world between those who do it for purely aesthetic reasons – street artists and muralists – and the more hardcore who write graffiti purely for its destructive quality. I don’t know if everyone can be thrown into one camp or the other, but there is a kind of beauty in bombing’s destructive quality. My work is very much about trying to bridge the two. On appropriating private property for his work: I do understand the legitimacy of owning property. But everyone has to interact in their daily lives with what’s around them in their physical environment. When you have a wall facing a route that everyone passes in their daily lives, that’s where the legitimacy of private property, to me, disappears a bit. I’m always baffled by why people care so much that someone is painting underneath some bridge in a place that is very uninviting. Graffiti artists are trying to make it more beautiful.
You have advertisements everywhere trying to sell ideologies. Graffiti is a way of taking that space back and having our own voice in the public realm. On the influence of portrait painting on his work: The historic tradition of portrait painting always involved hierarchy and status. A portrait was a way for you to connect to an “important” person. The way I paint links to that tradition in the sense that it embodies the idea of connection to another person. I’ve taken away that element of status that defined traditional portraiture by painting images of everyday people and putting them on the streets. On his artistic influences: I love a lot of old portraiture, but I’d say my biggest influences, especially growing up, have been other graffiti artists. I took that letter- based style – especially the importance of the line – and applied it to my general affinity for portraiture. On his hooded images inspired by the shooting of Trayvon Martin: I was very moved by the power of that story, which to me was very much about how certain images are perceived in the public realm. A kid was shot because he looked “scary” or “dangerous,” all because he was wearing a hood and his skin was a different colour. It’s a very strong, powerful and scary story that people need to reflect upon. All across the world, including in Canada, we have these prejudices toward the way people dress. On the message behind his pictures of women in niqabs: When I started painting those, I was not trying to make a judgment one way or another. It was more of a symbol of inclusivity, to reclaim space for images of women who have generally been barred from representation in the public sphere. I believe people should be able to wear what they want, but there’s also a highly oppressive aspect to this garb. To me, it’s less about making a statement and more about raising the question. On the sexual objectification of women in graffiti: It’s a huge thing within graffiti and street art. When I add a strand of hair that suggests a woman’s face, a lot of the time the face is staring directly at you, almost confrontationally, and that, to me, takes away from the objectifying nature of the image.
People see an image of a beautiful woman and say, “That’s art.” That’s what’s been taught to us by the art market and art world. Patrons used portraits like Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring as a way of possessing this beauty as a sexual object.
I’ve always enjoyed making faces that are a little bit more androgynous. The image is no longer specific to one gender, so anyone can apply what they want to it. On his reasons for repurposing found objects: It has to do with saving the history that’s there and the life of these objects. I feel as though there’s an essence within those materials, an aura that comes from these objects. This interview has been edited and condensed. A longer version originally appeared at nowtoronto. com. Anser: Surface Salvaged runs until Sunday ( February 28) at # Hashtag Gallery ( 830 Dundas West).