IN­TER­VIEW: GRAF­FITI ARTIST ANSER

Pseudony­mous cre­ator talks up Trayvon Martin, the niqab and ap­pro­pri­a­tion of pri­vate prop­erty for art’s sake

NOW Magazine - - NEWSFRONT - By PETER JERMYN news@ now­toronto. com | @ now­toronto

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).

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