Same 2: What's in a Name?

Interview by Marie Chung

Following from Aero 164’s interview, Same 2 shares a little more of the Ins and Outs of graffiti culture. For Same 2, graffiti exists strictly outside societal norms – the true graffiti artist has to begin with illegal pieces before they gain their reputation in the graffiti world. Illegal or not however, Same 2 explains that graffiti is an art form in itself and its creative practices are part of a global community of artists.

What is the difference between a graffiti artist and street artist?

Graffiti is about letters, for me it ain’t about passing any message, it’s about doing fresh letters, trying to improve styles and colours. The rest ain’t graffiti for me. When you start drawing with a paint brushes or using white paste and posters, it ain’t graffiti anymore.

Do you have any memorable pieces that were major influences on your work?

The SAKE roller piece on the silos of the old malting plant in St-Henri. I passed by it about once a week when I was a young kid. It’s really visible from the highway. Even back then it impressed me, back then it was very mystifying. After I would come to appreciate it for other reasons. It’s the definition of a good ”hit” for me.

It has prime placement, it can be seen from very far, it’s bold and in your face. In other words, you can’t really pass on that stretch of the highway without noticing it.

Why did you start graffiti?

I just liked the ”you’re not supposed to do it” aspect of it. I was 15, looking for cheap thrills. The whole cliché. It was fun going out at night, climbing out the window, painting all night with friends, drinking beers and smoking joints, coming back home, getting away with it and getting that ”mission accomplished feeling”.

It’s also great when you pass by your pieces on the street that you haven’t seen in awhile. It happened to me today at the bus stop, it was a tag that I hadn’t seen since 8 years ago.

Can you explain the rule of not tagging over someone else’s piece?

It’s mostly that you don’t go over someone who is older, who has been graphing longer, who is more respected. It is disrespectful. If someone better than me does that to me, I wouldn’t mind because he is more of a veteran. It’s like an unspoken of hierarchy. You’re place is determined by how long have you been painting, which crew you represent, how good are you skill wise, and some ”politics”.

Are you familiar with the graffiti community?

Yeah, if you paint for a while you’ll just start bumping into more and more writers at walls, expos, rap shows, etc. You begin to get to know everyone and you see them everyday. The community ain’t that big. If you go to a show, you’d see about half of the writers there. We have an event called Under Pressure where you see everybody, it goes for three days and is behind a bar called Foufounes Electriques on Rue St. Catherine. The whole street is closed, there are DJs and scratching competitions. This year is its 20thanniversary. There are not that many legal walls, so when you practice with people on those walls, you start seeing those people.

Do you strictly stay on legal walls?

I do a bit of both. I have done some legal pieces but I like to go find the occasional spot in the middle of nowhere. Even if nobody is going to see it, I like the idea that it will stay there. I like exploring as well. My crew did a tour and explored the whole countryside and did huge pieces in the middle of nowhere. Not the usual graffiti vacation let say.

Does your crew classify their work an art form?

Yes.

Why?

The fact that it is illegal does not deny the fact that it there is a creative process behind it. There is a certain amount of preparation that is required; sketching, picking colours, deciding whether we do a background, characters, where to put the piece, coordinating with the schedules and dramas of 3,4,5,8 other people.

Usually we start with the letters using a pencil and form the outline and then you use colours. If I am with other people, we in the crew usually like to paint murals. We have a lot of Marvel fans in the crew so we have done Ironman, Avengers, Transformers and anything comic book like ninja turtles and ghost busters. Sometimes we focus on colours and that determines the work itself. Other times when we are lazy, we call it Pizza Productions because we use whatever colours we want and it becomes purely a painting process.

I believe our pieces are artistic but there are some people who do it purely for destruction because that’s their thrill.

Do you agree with that?

It’s always been a counterculture, that’s not me but I understand the ones who want to bomb and go all city (to have your stuff everywhere in every neighbourhood). We think about the extensions, flow of it, building letters and trying new ways to redo letters. I’ve been redoing some for 8 years. I still have every book I ever drew in, and you can see the evolution – that’s what I like about it. But for some people it is not about that, they enjoy doing hand style tags, with bubble letters and street style burning. There is nothing complicated about it and it is readable. A good bomber does it on a street level with a simplified piece.

What is the general perception in Montreal at the moment?

It’s good. Street art festivals have helped with street artists gaining a positive public opinion – the graff scene does benefit from this. Artists like the guys at A’shop, are a perfect example. 15 years ago, not even artists of their level would have thought of working with many of their numerous clients. It also helps in the way that it’s not that people don’t want to have these kind of murals all over the city. The uncontrolled, under the nose of law aspect to graff that is just put up without notice sort of say, is what’s hard to swallow for them. It’s a question of them getting used to seeing more and more visual art over time, to maybe have a more evolved opinion about it, versus what they have heard on TV.

Would you prefer more legal spaces for graffiti art?

No not necessarily. There are enough walls for that. I would prefer more commission walls for artists of a certain level. They often give you the opportunity to paint more elaborate piece in spots you wouldn’t necessarily be able to if you had to do it in a hurry.

Do you think then that the words illegal and legal are useless for graffiti? Should we just have commission walls?

No. Graffiti being illegal is the foundation of it. I don’t really like painting legal walls anymore, your piece get toyed almost instantly, (scribbled over by often young, inexperienced writers with no skills and no style – the graff world equivalent of a noob). I prefer a wall in the middle of nowhere than a legal wall.

Doesn’t the word ‘illegal’ make it more negatively portrayed, but you prefer to keep that word?

Yes. Part of it is about doing something you are not supposed to. That is the big part of the thrill, you can’t say you are a graff writer if you’ve never did some kind of illegal at some point.

How would you challenge conservative perspectives then if it is strictly illegal?

I wouldn’t, people with that kinda mindset, even if they had it explained to them in detail, they probably won’t understand the ”why” of it all.

There are two branches to graf. You either do bombing which is about tags, bubble letters and being the most seen. Then there are pieces that are more creative, the more colour, the more intricate, and the more creative as possible. There will never be a possible discussion between those two. The bombers are about saying ‘fuck you’ to society.

What do you think is the purpose to your work?

For me, it’s all about aesthetics. I don’t do graf for anything else than for the fun of it. It’s the creative outlet in which I try not to take too seriously and just do what I want to, there are some pieces where I apply a more thought out creative process. J’me casse pas le bicycle avec ça.

There is no political message. I just want to develop my style, push it and do creative letters. I did a whole European mini tour with my crew this summer. You meet so many people because of it, you meet people from different age groups and from all over the world, who wouldn’t come together elsewhere. We are all here because of graf. If you take what everybody does in their lives, they are all so different and we wouldn’t have met. Any time we want to crash at each other’s places wherever we are in the world, we can do that. No problem.

Is it possible to unite art with vandalism or the criminal with creative? The Law divides graffiti art from ‘real’ art and consequently denies its liberal expression in the public space. Aero 164 and Same 2 remind us that graffiti art constitutes its own culture with its own unique cultural practices. Like any other culture that has members who share a similar religion, race or nationality, graffiti artists ask to be respected as a community that practices a particular form of art. Whether the public eye sees their work as illegal or vandalism is not their concern. It is more important that society recognizes it as art – an art form that will persist as it has since its birth in hip hop culture. Graffiti will continue to feature in the urban landscape on trains, side alleys and rooftops, and its artistic form will remain in the eyes of the beholder.