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"Graffiti doesn't ask to be completely understood. It only wants to be seen."
Calvin Coles, Graffiti artist speaks to mym about his work and inspiration.
Calvin Coles was born in London, Ontario, on October 13, 1984. From a very young age, he was very interested in birds, and independently taught himself pretty much everything there was to know about North American birds. He was never really interested in many sports, and eventually got an intrest in visual culture. Art was always a slow and casual experience for Coles, and his skill took many years to develop, and his full intrest in art was realized in high school, where he really began to enjoy his creations. After high school, he was accepted into the Ontario College of Art and Design, and moved to Toronto to pursue an academic career in visual arts. There he studied formal art practices, but after he received his foundation diploma, he decided to branch off and pursue an independent career. He then lived in Toronto and worked for two years, painting with friends and making new connections. He presently lives back in London, Ontario, and is working and practicing art independently. He plans on travelling in the near future and exploring art in different cultures, and continuing to paint and expand his artistic horizons.
I have always been interested in the style of graffiti. Ever since I was young, I was interested in it, but when I became interested in art in high school, graffiti became a much more serious interest. I wanted people to recognise me for more than just the art that I did at school, and I was never good at sports or other school activities. It is hard to get recognised in high school.
What was your first graffiti experience? Is it still around? What was your inspiration in creating it?
Actually, I am not sure if that graffiti experience is still around. It was awful. I was actually motivated by a good friend of mine, who was into graffiti, and she convinced me to come out with her one night. It was a good experience, but I definitely had no idea what I was doing.
You have been commissioned by business owners to create graffiti pieces and murals on the outside walls of their business. Can you comment on the acceptance of graffiti as an art form (both positive and negative) in your own experience.
I have seen many people's different opinions towards graffiti art. I think that in general graffiti is not accepted as a form of art, because of the offensive nature of it. I personally dont like to think of it as art. The term art is something that is so vague and open, yet every individual has a very precise idea of what is art and what it isnt. To expand the horizons of art further is too much to do. I consider my work to be a visual display. In that case, it is what it is, and there is no debate about boundaries of art. People have mixed feelings towards graffiti. I think that if it does not classify itself as art, it would be more widely accepted and understood. Art is a dying term. Graffiti doesnt ask itself to be seen and completely understood. It only wants to be seen. Art implies so much more beyond what the work actually is. Paint on brick. Graffiti, in my opinion, is art that doesnt really require a viewer. A viewer is appreciated, but when somebody views it, the artist doesnt necessarily get credit. It is the art itself. It does not need an artist, nor a viewer, to be what it is.
What intrigues you about showcasing your artistic talent with graffiti? What other media do you work in?
I see graffiti as one of the most resisted forms of art out there right now. From art history and culture classes, I have learned that the most unacceptable art is always that which creates movement. Controversy is what pushes art, and inspires. The delinquent artists get lots of recognition, as opposed to those who follow the 'rules'. My graffiti influence comes from my art, mostly paintings and drawings, that have always been my basis for creation. I paint as large as I possibly can, using mixed media,on canvas. The subject matter is usually similar. Birds, in contrast with the 'modern' industrial world. My art is about overcoming stress, admiring the birds who do such a thing on an everyday basis, constantly being pushed around by the world that we force on them.
How does ART influence your life...and how does LIFE influence your ART?
I try to not let art influence my life too much, but it is understandable that it has an effect on the way that I live my life. Art is everywhere. But my art in many ways is a direct reflection of my life. When I see a painting that I have made, I am reminded of the way that I felt on that day, or what the weather was like, or little things that had an impact on the painting itself. I am almost completely directed by my surroundings. I like to paint outside whenever I can, and allow the elements to have their impact on the painting.
What graffiti artists inspire you?
I am inspired by every artist that I have ever met or seen the work of. Whether Graffiti or any kind of artist. There are a lot of graffiti artists that I admire, local and international. Daim, Water, Mars, Thesis, Rebos, Banksy, Press Pause Collective, Razer, Klas, Sight, Val Kilmer, Mr. Brown, Kwest, Vida, Orek, and many many more. There are lots that I am forgetting.
Birds are a common theme in your art work. What do they represent to you?
I could talk all day about birds. I probably learn most of what I know about humans, by watching birds. They represent a side of me that cannot be concerned with money or materialistic things. They work, they fight, they love, they dance, they sing, and they play. They get all of the same feelings that we do, happiness, sadness, mourning, excitement, lust, anger, etc. , and they deal with it very well. They are very accepting. I have seen a bird for days and days on end trying to fashion a nest in a bush in my backyard. He can't get it right, and the branches wont help him build a solid foundation, and his mate has been trying to help out, but they don't stop trying. They are dedicated, and strong, and frustrated. I could easily help them, but if I was to fashion a nest and put it in the tree, they would disassemble it, and make their own.
I admire birds and everything that they do. Plus they can fly.
You say that graffiti kept you out of trouble in high school...how so?
Well, to tell you the truth, I have no way of knowing where else I could be, but I have to respect the interests that brought me to where I am in life right now, because I am in a pretty good place. Sitting in my basement drawing and practicing for many nights kept me out of whatever trouble I might have gotten myself into. I guess I used art and design as an escape from whatever life was pushing on me at the time. I am happy with the way that art has directed my life.
What is your favourite picture that you have created? How do you feel when someone covers your work?
My favorite picture is a painting that I made in 2004 called 'Daylight'. It represents a huge time in my life, and whenever I see this painting, I can really see the way that this painting pushed me in the right direction. After that, I really had a lot of control of my style and my ideas. When you get into graffiti, you need to understand that your work will be covered up. It is kind of upsetting when it happens, but you shouldnt get mad and do something offensive over top. If you want your work to stay there forever, then you should do work inside your own house. As upsetting as it might be, you need to understand it. And get a picture of your work if you can, so that even if it does get covered up you can remember it.
How does being an artist help you cope?
The act of painting on canvas, is almost meditative. I dont completely understand it, but it seems to effect me on a molecular level. I will find that hours will just pass by, and the pictures will grow and become their own creation almost. It makes me proud of myself. If I ever have a problem, I can paint the problem out. Self expression will release whatever intense feelings I have inside. I always feel good afterwards, even if I dont create something that is spectacular. Graffiti art is a rush. It is a way of bringing myself to another state. It excites me to a level that painting on canvas could never do. Both types of painting help me cope, but in very different ways. Being outside late at night feels good, and it always gives me time to think about whatever I want, and be away from the rest of the world. Making art is a way of relaxing and opening myself up.
Photos curtesy of Calvin Coles