– by Lyndon Kidman
Colosoul is built on the pretext that Perth is home to a plethora of young inspired creatives, people who will go out on a limb and pursue their chosen career with an inextinguishable freedom of spirit. Amongst these folks is the graffiti artist known as Kzam, whose latest work includes a wall in the entry of Colosoul Magazines new basement headquarters on Barrack Street. We paid a visit to Kzam in his native environment, a studio space filled with canvasses, skateboard decks, custom painted sneakers and milk crates full of Ironlak cans on the second floor of Fremantle’s MANY 6160.
It looks like you’ve put a lot of time in to this operation, how long have you been painting for? On and off since 2009. But in a professional sense I suppose I’d say only the last year, where we’ve started to get more commissions as opposed to having to go out and do work illegally to get recognized. So about five and a half years in total, but five and a half years ago I was doing the worst work ever. I wasn’t happy with it.
From back then to now what would you say has been the catalyst for your interest in graffiti art, to the point where it’s now become your whole life? I really have no idea what it was that absorbed me. I suppose just seeing it around I thought that looks pretty cool. I saw some sketches my mate had done in his science book in high school and was like wow what is that? And I’d try to do it, but the stuff I did didn’t look anywhere near as cool. I was almost frustrated that I couldn’t do it, so I kept going, kept trying. Tried to get some outlines done, something I was happy with, and by that time I was pretty much addicted to it. At that time it was also the adrenaline rush of going out and running around with a bunch of mates with a bag of spray cans, down to the local train line or whatever.
And what inspired you to make a business out of it? I suppose it’s been a whole combination of things. I look at guys like Lister and Sofles, and they’ve made a whole career off of it, they’re wealthy people now just from doing what they love. For example Sofles five years ago was facing I think fifteen years jail for painting on trains and whatnot, then got picked up by the Brisbane council to redecorate half the city. It’s interesting that he had to do all this work illegally before anyone opened up to the idea that these people with aerosol cans are artists and not just vandals, so after that it sort of took away a bit of the stigma of an aerosol can.
Have you witnessed that change in attitude of city councils as something that’s happened and evolved in your time as an artist in Perth? Oh yeah, for sure. You look at for example Beaufort Street Festival, that’s been going for three years now I think, something like that, but since that started, that whole strip in Mt Lawley, every second shop has a big mural or a piece of artwork on it, and the public have responded, it’s actually a hotspot for shopping and coffees and socializing and god knows what else. That’s the first suburb to become like an arts hub, even when the festivals not on they’re still doing amazing amounts of art based events there.
From there I think Fremantle and City of Perth caught on a bit. It’s still a bit dodgy, because in Fremantle if I go out and do a piece of work illegally, if it’s up to the quality standard for street art, and it has to be declared by I think five members on the arts board for Freo, they’ll say yep that’s street art, we’ll keep it. So it’s like they’re saying if you go out and do this stuff illegally and get caught, bad luck you get caught, but if it’s good enough we’ll keep it. It’s like they’re stealing artwork almost, like the good ones, and censoring other things.
Like having people work for them at risk for free. Yeah, I mean I think it’s good that it’s starting to get out there a bit more and shop owners can see it and think oh yeah this is pretty cool, we’ll get a bit of commission work done in our place, but there’s still a way to go.
So getting back to your art, how would you describe it to people who aren’t familiar? Mines almost, I’d say, medieval. A medieval feel to it, slash psychedelic style with a hint of futurism slash alien.
Obviously graffiti art is nothing new, do you think you’ve sort of gone off of a blueprint of graffiti art as it’s been defined by previous generations, and then created your own niche amongst that? Yeah definitely, otherwise I wouldn’t have known what to do when I started [laughs]. I had to look at other artists before I even picked up a spray can. You sort of have the mindset of tag, throwy, piece, master piece, mural etc., and there’s the core rules you stick to when you’re going through your piece. You know to do your shadows, do your highlights, do your key line; there’s almost like a checklist for most people. But you don’t wanna stick to it too much otherwise you won’t get noticed, so that’s where I try and steer away from it a bit and try different things. If people see my work and then see it on the street they’ll be able to match it up, in that sense I think I’ve achieved my own style.
And how long have you been honing that in the peace of your own studio here in Freo? Probably the last six months. I just needed a space that wasn’t my bedroom so I had some place to go every morning and be painting or doing stuff, I can’t just slack off and sleep on the couch or whatever because there’s people working around me, it’s good to get a bit of motivation from other people.
Who would you say has been your biggest inspiration for turning your art in to a business? There’s a crew called MSK aka Seventh Letter from LA, they’ve been pioneers in graffiti in LA and the world for a long time. They’ve been around for so long and just killing it that they realised they were getting so much internet fame just from posting a few photo’s here and there and kids would see and go oh that’s sick and repost it and whatever, and it gets around. Then they clicked on to the idea of like, shit we’re getting so much free advertising here, we could actually make proper money off this. And that’s what they did, they’re one of the biggest street labels in LA now, they’re doing sell-out shows once every few weeks throughout LA and the world and just absolutely killing it. And they’re just a bunch of mates that started out doing exactly what I do, running around doing graffiti etc, now they’ve got like ten websites selling all different things from jewelry to artworks to shirts to doing decals on the side of cars.
So as far as a range of goods and services that you foresee as being able to offer to clients, those guys gave you a lot of insight? Yeah, I mean, I think I sort of already had the idea that that’s what I wanted to do, but as soon as I saw that they were doing it and that all this stuff was possible, I wanted to be all over it, and that’s what I’m trying to do with Keep Up.
How many of you are there dedicated to the crew? There’s twelve core members at the moment, as well as ten international artists which are sort of affiliates more than working for us, because they’re self-proclaimed artists that are more so doing collaborations with us. There’s probably about thirty as a whole team, but yeah twelve core members and my one mate Site who’s my partner in crime, we sort of kicked the whole thing off together.
And how much success are you having so far with it all? Are there many roadblocks? It’s getting there, I could always have more work on my plate, but I’m getting by, I think that’s the main thing. One thing that’s sort of been keeping me back a bit is most of my canvasses I’m holding back for a solo show, so until then we’re just getting the word out by word of mouth and pieces and murals that we’ve done as commissions and things like that. It’s been good though I mean it’s gone from a few years ago going out and doing a piece on a Sunday to going out and doing a commission on a Sunday.
Yeah it sounds like it’s all coming together. Do you have a five year plan for what you want to achieve and where you want to be? I’d say Melbourne is somewhere we definitely want to expand to, purely because there’s a lot more happening over there as far as art and culture goes. There’s a few people in the crew who spend most of their time over there and just come back to visit and stuff. My business partner Site is over in Europe at the moment hanging out with a few graffiti artists over there who own shops and things like that, so that’s somewhere we’ll be looking at getting to in the future. For the mean time I’d say we’ll stay in Perth, because it’s where our roots are, it’s where most of our support is. Obviously as a business you want to go as far as possible so hopefully within five years we’ll be an established business making proper money off of our artworks and shirts and whatnot, we’ll have a couple of shops and galleries around the place. The website will be up in six weeks so that’s where we sort of kick off.
Keep up with the latest works and events by Kzam here.