Monday, August 29, 2005

City to City: Vancouver Street Art Interview (by Storker)

Over the past weeks, I've been getting to know the street artist weakhand through Flickr and then too, I got into checking out the whole Vancouver (Canada) scene which I've been seeing up on Wooster. It led to doing this interview with the Vancouver-based Street Artists nokin, the dark, weakhand, and Office Supplies Incorporated. It was all done via email and I'm really happy with it. I think the group interview really works too to get a bit of a feel for Vancouver (Canada) and its Street Art scene. I'm hoping maybe too, for it to act as a kind of mirror on DC's scene, showing the differences and similarities between the two cities, and maybe inspire new people to jump out there and start putting up works.

Q: How long have you guys been doing Street Art?

nokin - For about a year and a half.

Office Supplies Inc. - I put up my first few posters in 97'. I was pretty steady for a bit then left for while, came back and have been semi-consistent since.

the dark - I've been putting stuff up on the street for a little over two years.

weakhand - For about 3 years, initially with spray-paint under a different alias. I have been seriously focused for about the last year.

Q: How did you get into it?

nokin - My first stab at street art was in grade 1. I was 5 and living in Montreal. My friend Matthew dared me to write TIT on the side of the school. I didn't actually know what TIT meant but i think I knew writing on brick walls with chalk was not something good kids did. My mom reprimanded me for using a naughty word.


Office Supplies Inc. - I was talking to a friend about this the other day and I really don't know. I had seen Obey Giant, but only small stickers and I thought it was a skate company. I just found this image one day and decided to put it up. Rather odd really.

the dark - I saw the stencil graffiti book by tristan manco and was inspired. and this girl dumped me and i got all stalkerish and started putting stencils up in her neighbourhood.


the dark

weakhand - Partly anger and frustration, a growing interest in streetart, and people i was meeting during that time.

Q: What is your favourite piece? Where and Why?

Office Supplies Inc. - The dumpster with the rust and grease on it is I suppose one of my favorites. It looks great how the city seemed to rot over it. Not my favorite poster I have done but great looking once the city got done with it.

Office Supplies Inc.

The other fav I would suppose is the billboard, just for the fact that we planned, plotted, got our shit together and did it. Not the best thing I have done, I'm not crazy about it. But it seems like one of those things that you pipe dream about and never get done. It's a symbol that we can do whatever we want if we work hard enough.

Office Supplies Inc.

the dark - havent put it up yet. its a 7 ft by 5 ft 3 layer of an old man.

weakhand - Among a few including the billboard I would have to say The Pope. It was a matter of timing, they went up 2 days after his death.



Q: Have you put up work in other cities?

nokin - I have one or two stencils in alleys around Seattle. But they've probably been buffed.

Office Supplies Inc. - No, it's all about Vancouver. I put up a few stickers on a trip to Montreal, but it just didn't seem to work. The context of the city made me start, in another context I just don't know if it would work as well. Besides, I am not trying to make some other place into something. I am doing this to make Vancouver a better place to live with the limited tools that I have.

Vancouver is a young city. People always say that. But as it is young, it has the potential to become whatever it wants to be. Who controls the city? The people living in it. So it is up to us, every one of us in Vancouver, to do the best we can to make it into a grown metropolis. Every time I travel to a big city in the world, it seems like its identity is already engraved in stone. Everyone there is just following the vibe and style that has already been developed. We are in a unique position to actually sculpt a city. And let the city sculpt us in its image. It's circular, the city influences us, that influence goes through our minds then comes out of us in physical form, which influences the city. And so on.

the dark - yup. toronto, winnipeg. i brought some stencils to d.c. but i was too chickenshit to put them up.

weakhand - No, I'm largely focused on Vancouver but I can see it happening in the future.

Q: What if any are the reasons you want to see Street Art grow in Vancouver?

nokin - I enjoy seeing other talented street artists' work. I think it would be great if the streets and alleys around Vancouver were covered in art. I'd never be bored walking around. Seeing other artists' work inspires and encourages me to get off my ass and make something. Especially new artists, I'm always on the lookout for new work by new artists on the street.


Office Supplies Inc. - We are a city that is extremely dry for public art. We have parks and green areas all over, but a serious lack of public art. As I don't have the cash or influence to change that, I use the little resources and impetus that I can pull together to do the best I can.

Graffiti in this city is getting very tame and controlled; city hall is very smart and has a very effective plan for regimenting graffiti in Vancouver. You just can't find the quality of public work you used to be able to; a lot of the people working with city hall are just uninspired. There are exceptions of course, but it seems the majority of it is just Graffiti Font #5 with b-boy characters, the odd dragon and a background. And the city is paying out large cash to these guys, who just have to co-operate and they will get paid. The ones who bomb keep bombing or fade out and the good peicers stick to trains and walls in the middle of nowhere because the city has made it obvious they are not welcome here.
And so it goes. Things will get tame and more controlled, the city will clamp down. I think that street art (a really loose term granted) is going to be the new free style. The chance for anyone, for better or worse, to produce a truly Free style. A style of art that has no real rules or restrictions in format or materials. No preconceived ideas or limitations. Any size, shape or form. It just has to be outside. And so, a lot harder to control. It may sound corny but it seems to me like the last honestly free art form left.

the dark - Its pretty much about five or six people that regularly put up work
here and we've set the bar really high. i think people are a little too
conservative here and arent willing to take the risk. but it would be great to see some
more quality stuff. i know people want to do it but maybe just need

weakhand - To overcome City Halls crack down on streetart, and that there is a huge lack of public art to combat the insessent corporate advertising. There are a lot of talented artists here in vancouver, new street art is lacking and new people need to be putting stuff up. I love seeing my work and my peers work up on the streets, but I seldom see anything else by other people with a few exceptions.

Q: You all have your own original styles, but I see that there is some similarity in the feel/theme behind your works. Do you feel you influence each others works? Do you ever collaborate with each other on ideas for imagery?

nokin - What similarity? I guess some of our works have what you could say are similar themes, but I think more important to note is the similarity that we share just by being human. We all feel the same things in one way or another and I suppose our imagery varies based on our styles to express these ideas or feelings. When I'm creating a new piece I almost never think about anything besides what I am trying to convey. I try to keep my work free from other's influences but naturally this is an almost impossible task.


Office Supplies Inc. - No, we don't consciously influence eachother or get together on imagery, but I think that there is a theme. That theme revolves around the darkness (no pun intended) of Vancouver. Myself and the dark especially have a connection in one way or another to the downtown eastside of Vancouver, it just seems to be where our hearts are. The concentrated drug market, the extreme poverty and the open suffering you see on a day to day basis makes it a bit of a stretch to be making buttercups and Smurf posters and acting like nothing is wrong. The contrast between that and the "most beautiful city in the world" rep that we seem to have is a big drive for me personally.

BRDN or Road Rage in particular are people who I see as recognizing that in our city, maybe unconsciously. They seem like the next real Vancouver styled artists and I think that they will have a larger long term impact than some of the Pop Tart kids I see.

The darker work outside just seems to work better, in my opinion for these reasons. I see some newer people doing happy stuff or silly things and it just doesn't seem to work here. Even our graf roots are more towards hard lines, sharp points, thorn looking letters. It's part of the city and it seems odd that some of the newer faces out there are not naturally leaning in that direction. It's so cheesy to do dark artwork, black is the new Gap, "I am so hurt and misunderstood", Satanist are as scary as Britney. But we are dark people. I'm not some 16 year old kid trying to piss off my parents. I am a grown man for fuck sakes, this is who I am.

Office Supplies Inc.

the dark - its the vancouver vibe. i attribute it largely to the influence of the
downtown eastside. i live just on the cusp of it and its really harsh
sometimes. it makes me sad and angry to see people suffer so much for

the dark

weakhand - Seeing work by my peers is always inspiring, and it push's me to do more myself. We have used each other before as sounding boards to bounce an idea around, but aside from that I think the influence on our works comes from our own perspectives. I believe that a lot of it for myself stems from having lived in and around the Dowtown eastside for so long, it gets to you and you can never avoid it. It hardens you in a lot of ways.


I think there are a fair number of people who have experienced the bad sides of this city, including ourselves which is where if anything that a similarity may have formed.

Q: Do you take part in a lot of gallery shows or do you prefer to just stay on the street? What was your most recent show?

nokin - I have been in some gallery shows. But yes, I prefer to be out painting on the street. My most recent show was as part of the group show, Diminished Congress at Misanthropy Gallery with Char Hoyt, the dark, weakhand, Everett Nolan, OSI, Theola Wong. Previous to that the dark and I did a collaborative show at El Kartel called Dead Empire.

Office Supplies Inc. - I just got a chance to do a mural in a punk bar in a run down hotel owned by the biggest slum lord in the city and I accepted without even thinking about it. Like, throw me a couple of bucks for some mistints and I'm there. Right after I say that I don't want to do any inside work, I get offered to do a booze can mural and I'm all over it. If I got offered the same thing in an upscale gallery, I would turn it down now. I am getting an understanding of where my stuff works, which is a great feeling, for better or worse.

I have done a few things in gallery situations, but it doesn't seem to fit. And why do they want me anyway? I'm not really that good, there are way better people to do those places than me. I build a bit of a rep outside and now I'm popular with those people. Seems like a bit of a scam to me, I don't know who is getting scammed harder, them or me. The whole thing seems odd. A booze can on the ground floor of a skid row hotel seems more fitting for what I do somehow.

The best thing I got to do is the Misanthropy closing show, of which I have flicks of on my Flickr site. I got to work with a lot of friends and people I look up to, and collectively, in all my humbleness, we fucking killed it. I have a show with Weak Hand next year and I am hoping we can do half as good as that.

the dark - many many shows for me in the last couple of years. at last count it
was over twenty group shows and three solo shows.i dont want to do it
anymore. id rather put the energy into stuff for the street.

weakhand - I have taken part in a number of shows since 2003, the most recent being "The Diminished Congress" Closing Ceremony's for Misanthropy Gallery( ).
I'm more focused on doing work in the street. I'm not opposed to gallery shows, but I'm not hustling to get them...if they come up I'll decide then.

Q: In Vancouver, are there a lot of Street Art Fans? Busts by the Police and how do they treat street artists? Also are there Street Art Festivals/Exhibits for the public at large?

nokin - I have met quite a few street art fans. Never been busted by police. I'm more worried about private security. There is the occasional city-sanctioned "graffiti" event, but nothing close to the sort of street art exhibitions that go on in places like Brisbane, Australia.

Office Supplies Inc. - I think there is a lot of people looking and not enough doing. Every once in a while someone will come up and do something good, then stop. Never to be seen again. The consistency is missing. Once we get about 20 people working all year round, we will be able to really see things change. I have my own issues with consistancy, it's hard with the rest of your life going on to stay on top, I understand. It's just disappointing to see something good, then nothing else.
I think street art is very well received. Especially people like the dark and Weak Hand who are just good anywhere they put their work. They are giving gifts to the city in my opinion and it damn well should be appreciated. Their quality is very high for street work. I have to work twice as hard just to keep up with these dinks, and I've been doing it longer! But I think that people like what is going on.

the dark - I think the general opinion is that traditional graff is "destructive vandalism" whereas the street art, posters, stencils ect. is more accesible to the masses and therefore more acceptable. and the big press for banksy and clothing lines by obey help with public recognition. the city of vancouver has this "spread the paint" for graff writers which is basically a sting to get photos and ids on all the writers in the city by bribing them with free paint and lucrative mural projects. the last competition i was at was crawling with undercover cops . it was really lame.

weakhand - There are a lot of Street Art fans here, but not enough street artists. Definitely busts by the police, although I have yet to be busted I have heard of many. Don't get busted, I've heard of artists facing fines and court hearings, and I know of one person that they drove out to the middle of nowhere and left on the side of the road and worse.
The closest thing i would say is The Fringe Festival once a year, they have a Grafitti Art Pit over the course of the is more a highlight of the weekend long event then a focus on Street Art. A Slient Auction happens all weekend where the works can be bid on.

City Hall occasionally hosts Graffitti events, but i steer clear as they use it as a way to put a face to the art. Police Constables and City Hall Officials are always present. The artists are usually censored in what they can do for imagery, or their working through a theme created by City Hall. Ultimately I think the saddest part is that if the public, or a buisness owner like a piece of work City Hall could care less, they are more concerned about shaping the city based on their views instead of listening to the publics. I don't believe in their public poll surveys, as holding a survey can be contained and controled within a certain public mass to provide the statistics they desire.

Q: I checked out the Vancouver Graffitti Pool (on Flickr) and read about the Vancouver Street Art Day you are organizing for the 15th of August to hopefully jump start more street art in Vancouver. It looks cool, but I was wondering if you are concerned that the cops might get the tip off and be on the lookout to bust artists putting up works?

nokin - I really don't think the cops are gonna be a problem. Whether it's representative of the VPD's attitude toward street art or the areas in which I paint they never seem to care a whole lot. I've had cops walk right by me while painting. Getting busted obviously is still a real possibility, especially with the new Graffiti bylaws that Vancouver has passed allowing them to fine the artist up to $5,000. Either way, the benefits of putting up art far outweigh the risks of getting arrested and/or fined.

Office Supplies Inc. - That is for the people who go out to figure out. It is intended to light a fire under the ass of a lot of people who have had an idea and have had no idea how to get it off the ground and no reason to. Set a date, chose a goal, make it happen. Starting something new is hard. A bit of a push in the right direction will help a lot of these people get out, even if just for one night. It will give them a bit of an idea of the process and what goes into it, so they can understand it better.

Basic street art is like the Japanese game of go. Anyone can learn how to play, but it takes a lifetime to master. I would just like to give some people the board and the pieces and let them see if they like it. It's not for everyone. But get off the bench.

the dark - i really dont think the cops are going to worry about a bunch of upstart art kids having a day. they are too focused on graff as a problem and anything that doesnt look like a tag or throwup isnt going to be as much of a concern for them. i ve had cops stop me in the middle of a stencil and tell me that its cool art and i should be getting paid for it. they did ask me to pack up and go but in a very nice way. they didnt even get out of their car. its just basically up to the participants of the day to do their best to put up whatever they want wherever they want purely in the name of narccisitic self-expression.

weakhand - That hadn't even crossed my mind untill I read the question. I think it is unlikely, but you never know. It seems to be safer putting up posters and stickers instead of a throwup or bomb. I've had police roll right by me before while putting up a poster. The City's focus is mainly on "the vandalisim problem" graff. I think the police don't take as much notice mainly because postering is a common thing for events, bands, and advertising. I'm just another person putting up a poster, the real heat will come doing larger work. Like when myself and Office Supplies Incorporated hit the billboards about 2 months ago. I hadn't felt that heaty in a very, very long time.

You can view more works on each of their Flickr photostreams. - nokin. - Office Supplies Inc. - the dark - weakhand