ZAP wall in Sydney
Sydney-siders, ZAP and JUMBO, in Paris recently, were first exposed to graffiti culture in the ’80s and ’90s. JUMBO says about graffiti culture: “In this age that we live in, it has become harder to be individual and have a unique voice. Our culture is more homogenised. I think that going and taking a spraycan, ball of yarn, poster, or tin of paint to the street and creating something of your own is a statement of individual willpower and stands against the kind of society that seeks to flatten peoples viewpoints and ideas”.
Can you tell us a little about your artistic background and how you got into street art.
JUMBO: I was always interested in graffiti culture from when I was young. The guys in my school had painted trains and tracksides, and I could see these artworks on the way to and from the city. It coincided with the change in music that was happening in Sydney during the early ’90s, house music and funk, hip-hop etc, were all coming through on community radio stations. Listening to this music, mixed with graffiti, it was a strong message, I was getting something from it. I didn’t want to go all out and take risks by doing big damage and I was more consistently doing illustration-style artwork and drawing. So, I stayed more or less away from the graffiti scene until it changed around 2000 and things were freeing up, when Barry Mcgee became big and Shepard Fairey was doing poster art. That was around the time things were changing in Sydney, anyway.
Further to what you’ve mentioned, can you pinpoint the main themes and influences present in your work.
JUMBO: I’ve been doing quite a lot of symmetrical work lately which usually incorporates a circus theme and animals with varying deconstructed limbs. The idea isn’t really clear to me. I just try to work ideas in around each other all simultaneously. This makes it interesting for me to paint and draw.
In terms of influences that spring to mind immediately, I like the work of Honet, Hell’o’monsters, and the guys here in Sydney Beastman, Numskull and Bafcat; and the design and architecture from the ’50s and ’60s.
ZAP: Normally, people like my works, the colours, shapes, characters, etc. Some people are brick heads though, they don’t understand anything creative. The main influences with my work are Psychedelic abstract forms, also ’70s and ’80s comic influences. Shapes, characters, spaceships, are all symbols of the artist’s journey through time and space.
Video by ZAP
How do you compare working in the street, often without permission, to making work just in a studio, and to the way your production is connected to the commercial art market?
JUMBO: I started out doing posters because they were easy to put up in Sydney. It’s quite strict if you’re caught doing illegal graffiti, it’s seen as an intolerable crime. Posters were an easy way to get around the problem and there are always spots to put them because they can go almost anywhere. That has changed and now I do a lot more work with spraypaint onto walls directly. I find this is a more challenging and interesting method for me at the moment. I think I’ll go back to posters again, eventually.
ZAP: I would call myself an outsider artist using spraypaint, because before street art was popular, I was experimenting with unusual ideas. I think the whole world of spraypainting on walls is great, from graffiti to street art. I don’t like how some people use street art or graffiti to make money. It’s great to make money, but when you only do the art form for money, then it becomes like anything else, it doesn’t stay underground. I think there’ll always be issues between graffiti writers and street artists.
Take us through your process for producing artwork.
JUMBO: Bring a rough sketch to the wall and sort of expand a bit on it depending on the space and perhaps change it to suit the environment.
ZAP: The process of producing the artwork is through sketch, then wall. I pick a location through spontaneity. The architecture is also important: textures of the wall. I usually like run down places with a lot of character etc.
How do people usually respond to the work you create in the street?
JUMBO: Paris was great, the people were really supportive of what we were doing. The work we painted in Paris was probably not seen very much on the street there. Quite big, non subjective and colourful and abstract in style. It is non-confrontational. That being said, we did have some people who reacted badly. There was a guy who already had a lot of tagging on his shopfront and shutters, so we came along and started to paint over the tagged area. It was going to freshen it up a bit, but he saw us and went berserk, started kicking the cans we’d laid out on the pavement all over the street, and wanted to report us. He had a point, sometimes the shopfront gets wrecked, but we weren’t there to ruin it. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it the same way, but I can accept that.
ZAP: The political climate [in Sydney] at the moment is dominated by conservatives, which affects street art and graffiti, because they want everything to be very clean, like in Singapore. The whole yuppie thing doesn’t help either.
What is it that you like about putting up work in Paris, and where else did you paint on your trip?
JUMBO: Paris was great, it has such nice alleys and streets. I think you have to be cautious and consider about whether it works in the environment, because these streets are historical and the people are proud of their city. It’s not rundown anymore and some places are quite upmarket. So they react badly if you go and paint in the wrong area. I also painted in London and Berlin during this trip.
ZAP: When I was painting in Paris, I had a lot of unusual reactions. There were some close calls, but mostly positive. Much more than in Sydney. What I like about Paris is the raw energy of the streets and architecture. Berlin is the same. I like Paris styles a lot, I have always liked it since the ’80s. It was amazing to paint on a lot of abandoned buildings. There was a great vibe. Sydney in my opinion is one of the worst places to paint. Everything gets buffed, there is too much real estate developments, there aren’t that many abandoned buildings. The general public have a real backward idea of anything painted on the wall. If they see you doing anything with spray paint on the walls, they will call the cops straight away. Europe and South America are amazing places to paint.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced putting up a piece on the streets?
JUMBO: Finding a spot that doesn’t offend anyone is a bit of a challenge…especially in a foreign city where you don’t know for sure what is going on all the time.
Like I was saying, the law is heavy here in Sydney so there isn’t a lot of opportunity to do what you want . It has to be legal, most of the time anyways.
ZAP: One of the biggest challenges I faced while putting up street art was when I was putting these posters I had made, which where two stories high. They kept on falling down, but eventually I put them up.
Where and when did you put up your first street piece?
JUMBO: It was in Sydney in 2001
ZAP: First of all I, started to get into graffiti around 1986. I got into graffiti through skateboarding. I was building skateboard ramps in abandoned buildings – thats where I did my first graffiti piece.
I was into pure graffiti in the ’80s and early ’90s, until 96. I started to experiment with anti style, which was an abstract style, with the ’70s and early ’80s comic influence with fuzzy lines, no clean lines, overspray etc . The spray painting I was doing looked like outsider art. I was also going to art school then. Graffiti writers would say to me, “that’s not graffiti, it should be on a canvas”.
What do you think is the importance of street art?
JUMBO: In this age that we live in, it has become harder to be individual and have a unique voice. Our culture is more homogenised. I think that going and taking a spraycan, ball of yarn, poster, or tin of paint to the street and creating something of your own is a statement of individual willpower and stands against the kind of society that seeks to flatten peoples viewpoints and ideas.
What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
JUMBO: For the rest of 2013, I plan on doing a few overseas jaunts, a couple of shows here in Sydney and a hell of a lot more painting on walls.
ZAP can be found online, here.
JUMBO can be found online, here.