BEGS EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: GRAFFITI HELPS MENTAL HEALTH AND WILDLIFE
Graffiti is often an overlooked element of the hip hop movement. Everybody raps these days, and we’re not exactly running out of deejays either. The same goes for breakdancing.
Somewhere between vandalism and criminal mischief, graffiti didn’t quite take off in the same way. 1982’s Wildstyle, gave us street art in its rawest form: an underground tradition of tagging by night while ducking and diving police.
Fast forward to 2017, and we still have people doing the same thing. But why? What makes Banksy any more important than the million other artists out there trying to breakthrough and make a name for themselves?
In an attempt to make sense of it all, we caught up with Oxford-based graffiti artist, Begs. A craftsman, who, in just over a decade, has gone from painting bridges to doing full-colour murals for charity. This is his story:
How long have you been painting?
10+ years, on and off.
When did you first realise you had a talent for it?
I don’t claim to have a talent for it, man! I started noticing graffiti when I was about 10 years old, seeing the heavily tagged insides of the London underground and thinking that the letter shapes were cool and like nothing I had seen before. Then I started noticing it more and more, tried my hand at it, and realised I really enjoyed it. It’s all kicked off from there, really.
How you would describe your style?
Legible, bold, funky, European.
What got you into graffiti?
Listening to and learning about hip hop, seeing it around my neighbourhood, and my friend called Freddie.
Who are your biggest influences?
I take influences from a lot of stuff around me or things I come across: comic books, vintage cartoons, modern and classic typography, graphic design, and, for sure, the French graff scene. Pop artists like Lichtenstein and Rosenquist too.
How active are you with your work on social media?
I started posting pictures of my pieces on graffiti forums and flickr back in the day. Now I use Instagram, although only a small portion of my stuff makes the cut. There is something a little unsettling about using social media to post pictures of graffiti. You need to be careful what you post for obvious reasons and graffiti is most at home on the street, not the internet.
Describe the graffiti scene in your hometown?
Room for improvement!
What has been your most notable piece to date and why?
Me and a friend took out an entire bridge end-to-end. We did it in broad daylight with plenty of traffic going by. We took our time and had no problems at all – a lot of people even stopped to watch. The end result was really pleasing to see.
I’ve also been working on some commissions in my hometown – working with the community and local charities – these are really satisfying to do too, but in a totally different way.
I understand you’ve been working closely with the community? Talk us through some of those projects…
Word, I work with local arts councils, the city council and other outreach organisations to dispel the myths surrounding graffiti. Although a lot of people are coming around to the idea, there is still a negative stereotype and that’s what I’m seeking to change. The first step is acceptance and appreciation, once we have that we can start to build something great together.
I’ve done commissions with mental health charities and on World Mental Health Day last year, a buddy and I were commissioned to paint a mural for a local psychiatric charity who seek to rehabilitate those with mental illness back into the community. It was a great initiative and generated a buzz in the community, raising awareness of issues which often go overlooked in society.
In the pipeline we are going to be working with more charities and local events – a particularly exciting one is the Wildlife Trust, where we hope to do a series of large murals across town drawing attention to certain endangered British species such as the red squirrel, among others.
What are the key messages behind your art?
If I’m just doing it for fun, my own enjoyment, I don’t necessarily try and communicate a message. I like the idea that someone can look at my piece and interpret it in their own way, and someone else another.
However, when I’m working commissions, or as part of a community initiative, I try and establish a theme or message which we can run with, then design something around that.
Is it fair to say that there are some misconceptions around graffiti?
Definitely man, as I alluded to earlier, some people find it hard to accept things they don’t understand. Although over the past 10 years since I started I think it is getting more accepted as an art-form.
There will always be negative attitudes towards tagging, but more positive ones to a full-colour mural. That’s just the way it goes. I like both though, obviously!
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a legal profession out of graffiti?
I wouldn’t really: I think before doing any commission or legal stuff you have to pay your dues.
The world of graffiti can be fickle and you always get the two camps: illegal bombers and legal wall cats. I’m cool with both to be fair, but a lot of animosity exists between the two.
If you are thinking about monetizing your graff, make sure you have a style of your own. You have to do everything yourself, so bring a good attitude and positive mindset. Get yourself out there by networking with local councils, art groups, and community action committees. Knock on doors of local businesses that might let you paint their property. It can be tedious to start with but it definitely pays off.
From a current standpoint, how do you envisage the world of graffiti art evolving?
Graffiti is always evolving, like anything else really. A lot of trends come and go, but from them develops something stronger and more positive. I see the future of graffiti as bright, vibrant and a lot more people will start doing it. There are pros and cons to that I guess, but one thing I hope for is that graffiti retains its roots as subversive, underground and raw. Without that, you’ve not got graffiti, you’ve got street art.
When we first spoke all that time ago you expressed an interest in a photo of me stood next a some street art in New York. If you could paint anywhere in the States, where would it be and why?
New York is the spiritual home of graffiti – it would be cool to paint there. But my crew, the BWS, also have a Cali contingent based out in LA (big up those guys), so I’d also love to get back over there and paint with them. Palm trees, beaches, sun and painting – that’s what it’s all about.
What other countries would you be keen to break into?
Any with walls and train yards. I would love to do a European tour soon.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep writing, keep sketching, try and build my commissions business and most of all, keep loving what I’m doing. If you haven’t got the love for it, you might as well stop, and stopping is not an option for me.
Any shout outs?
Big up all those who paint graff, keep doing your thing. Especially BWS, Amor, Rabs, Delay, Moes, Soak, Ysae, Bones, Skeams, Clone, Gofer, Grom.
Follow Begs now by hitting up this Instagram page!
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