by Matthew J
Introduce yourself to the world. Tell us who exactly “TEK” is, and what differentiates you from other writers?
TEK: My name is Tekar (Tek) and I am a Graffiti writer/Street Artist based out of St. John’s Newfoundland, Canada.
What differentiates me from other writers is that I don’t paint letters I paint style. I prefer painting pieces over bombing, but enjoy doing both. I write FOG (Frozen Ocean Graffiti) with a small group of other writers from St. John’s. I started painting outside four years ago as a way to avoid creating objects and to bring painting into the streets and off of the canvas.
You have a background in gallery-art, but chose graffiti over big gallery (art). Can you tell me what exactly spurred you to leave gallery world. Was there a particular moment that gave you the motive to leave or did you just want to shake things up?
TEK: I continue to be actively involved in the gallery world as a volunteer and am occasionally employed within it. I believe it is important to have spaces for people to experiment in with any medium. I also think it’s important to preserve and maintain that art left to us from the past and be inspired by contemporary and historical work. However that being said I find that many people within our society do not enter these institutions. People don’t have time, they are intimidated or simply don’t realize they exist. I have worked within several galleries and I am often frustrated with the lack of bodies within them. This frustration caused me to create outside. I am not opposed to the creation of works for galleries; I just prefer to create work within public space. Creating work in public space enables you to avoid a lot of the bureaucracy associated with working inside.
Why do you, personally, prefer ‘mural graffiti’ over text-based graffiti? I realize that an individual can be more creative with images instead of words, but I want to know, what caused you to focus on murals rather than typography?
TEK: I have never been big into typography. I have always had terrible hand-writing and I had a lot of trouble learning to read as a child. I loved the look of graffiti but I never really wanted to make letters. I have always loved the style, the shapes, and colour of the letters but I never really wanted to choose letters for myself. I find handwriting frustrating and I think that childhood resentment for language has stuck with me through the years. I don’t necessarily even want to create recognizable images either. I am more interested in creating an emotional response through shapes, colours and forms, than writing a word that people can’t identify with other than appreciating it aesthetically. One of my complaints with the art world is the wordy write-ups that people can’t identify with. If I throw away the text and leave the style people don’t need to wonder what it says or what a word means, or what the piece means. People can simply enjoy the shapes colours and forms of the work, and if I want it to mean something else it doesn’t really matter.
What does graffiti mean to you?
TEK: Graffiti is direct action. Graffiti is a way to get outside bureaucracy. Graffiti is a way to shake things up and break people out of their daily routine. For me graffiti is a way for me to bring my painting practice outside of the white cube. It is a way to make large gestural instantaneous marks. It’s going on adventures and meeting interesting people along the way. It’s bright, fast, immediate, and intuitive. Graffiti is any mark placed outside that does not have consent from the owner of the property. Ultimately what graffiti means is up to the individual to decide. I know many writers who don’t consider street art graffiti. I know many people outside of the scene who consider any mural painted in graffiti style to be graffiti. What I love about graffiti is that it doesn’t really matter what you think it is or what it means to you; someone will like it, someone will hate it, and it doesn’t really matter either way, do it for whatever reason you need to do it.
If you were to critique your work, what aspects/areas would say are your weakest points? Which ones are your strongest? How do you build on the weak areas?
TEK: My major weak point is my tendency to overwork pieces. I often push them too far and end ends up looking overly detailed and like a chaotic mess. This happens because the majority of the times I paint I paint freestyle. As I paint I try and do too much and it sometimes becomes overly cluttered and complex. Recently I have begun to try and create more variety within my marks so that the piece looks less uniform and has more rhythm. Being able to knock out solid freestyle pieces is one of my stronger points but it also causes me to develop bad habits. I find a way to paint that works and repeat it, which can limit the amount of experimentation I do. One habit that I am currently trying to work with/break is how I often favour heavy outline within my work. Outline is an easy out to clean up a piece and requires you to do way less cut backs, but this can also flatten a piece, it can be distracting, and sometimes takes away from the work.
What I have been doing lately to try and improve on not overworking pieces is reminding myself to step away from the wall more often and take time to look at where a piece is going. I also try and take some time to look at the wall I am about to paint on and plan my piece so it integrates more of the shapes that are unique to that space. I have also started trying to step away from freestyle work a little and to push myself to recreate the drawings I do in my blackbook. This enables me to experiment more within my drawings and then I am able to consistently get solid pieces when I paint. Painting freestyle is an amazing feeling, but there are many pieces I walk away from not feeling. Painting freestyle can also be a huge waste of paint. By recreating works form my blackbook, that I already love, it enables me to waste less paint and ads a level of guarantee that I will be happy with the finished product.
What is the origin of name “Tek”? Is there a story to tell about it?
TEK: I have always been an Internet kid. Since I was small and we first got high speed I have been a heavy Internet user. The origin of Tekar is that it started out as a digital identity. I could usually register on websites with that name. When I first started making marks outside I rarely signed anything. As I continued to paint more and more I decided I needed to call myself something; so I started signing things Tekar. I couldn’t find any other writers named Tekar online and it meant something to me so I began using it. I like that is an anagram for Taker, and the “Tek” aspect can be seen as a reference to mass media and technology, but mostly it was just a name I had been familiar with for a long time.
Recently, I took a trip to St. John’s and was blown away to see so much graffiti throughout the downtown core – especially in spots surrounding Water Street and Gower Street, as well. Despite having such a strong-graffiti-presence, St. John’s is rarely mentioned when people talk about some Canada’s “graffiti cities”. I had no clue your city was active, and I feel it’s a shame that mainland Canada doesn’t recognize the contributions being made in the 709. Could you tell me a bit about the scene in your city and its progression over time. How does the public embrace the art? Who are some of the more active writers (crews)?
TEK: The scene in St. John’s is relatively young compared to most cities in the world. I’m not from the city but I know most of the writers who were born here. The scene here really didn’t start until the early 2000’s and there have been various crews that have formed & died paint since then. The main crews I have experienced in St. John’s during my time here are AVC, SYS, NTC, and RC. The most dedicated writers in town usually end up writing one of these crews and often write in more than one. AVC or Audio Visual Crew has been an influence to many writers in town. Early on they were up more than any other crew in town, Dr. West and Sois were the primary writers for that crew for a long time. Sois still writes, and over the last few years he has organized several graffiti jams within town, getting young writers paint and legal spots to practice and learn. There’s also one new crew, RTB, who have been around for just over a year, I like their style and am excited to see where they go.
I write FOG, Frozen Ocean Graffiti, I started the crew with my buddy Rayd. I had played around with the idea of joining one of the other crews in town I never felt connected to them. I paint with most of the writers in town, but outside of Graffiti we never really hung out that often. I wanted my own crew, something where I wrote the rules as to who got to rep it and what we stood for. I wanted what I wrote to represent people I hung out with inside and outside the graff scene.
I can’t talk about St. John’s without talking about RC or the Rong Crew. You can’t walk 20ft in St. John’s without seeing an RC tag. They are St. John’s biggest bombing crew. They have several large rollers in and around town and many burners. Specifically you can’t walk around town without seeing a Semy or Seone tag. Semy and Seone are known for being brazen and have had some pretty heat spots on lock in downtown St. John’s. RC is a large crew but the most prominent members are Bird, Game, Semy, and Seone.
One thing to remember about St. John’s is that it’s small. It doesn’t take a lot to get noticed here and because of that we have had several big busts in town that have had a major impact on the Graff scene. The first big bust was in 2007 and at the time Dr. West was the biggest name in town. He and several other writers were arrested and that cooled down the scene here for a while until the Rong Crew started tearing shit up.
One of the main reasons there is so much tagging within town is that we have no freight. Every Newfoundland writer’s dream is to get to the mainland and hit a train somewhere. So if you want people to notice you in St. John’s one of the major locations for tagging has become downtown. People want to be seen and for visitors to this island most people will walk through downtown St. John’s at some point. Like many cities in Canada our downtown also has a lot of abandonment due to shopping being taken to big box land, which means you can hit a spot and it will run for a while.
The scene here has continued to progress during the period I have been here. We have several great chill spots outside of the city where the majority of the piecing happens. We have two free walls within downtown St. John’s and there are some pretty great abandoned spots within town where if you’re careful you can paint without worry. Every year we have our usual batch of new toys coming up, some stay around some fade away, same as most cities, but in general the quality of work within town has continued to grow.
The majority of the styles seen within the community are lettered pieces drawing inspiration from 1980’s NY graff. If there was one thing I would be critical about the scene here is the lack of new and unique individual styles. Sure I can tell who wrote what within town but largely the styles here are drawn from other styles around the world that already exist. What I try to do is make my own style and push that and it’s my hope that other writers will do the same.
As an artist whose style and techniques are constantly evolving, who would you say has had the biggest influence on your approach to your work? Is there a particular collection or artist(s) that you credit with helping you push your own boundaries as an artist?
TEK: I draw my influences from contemporary graff writers/street artists, modernist abstract painters, and mass media culture. Without the internet and websites like Wooster Collective and Unurth I would never have begun painting outside. Long before I made my first mark outside I was continually looking at street art and graffiti on the internet. I have always loved turn of the century early abstraction, Kandinsky (& the rest of the Blue Rider Group), the Russian Constructovists, Futurism, & Cubism. For contemporary artists I love the work coming out of the scene in Melbourne Australia, Slicer and Reka from the AWOL crew. I continually look to other artists working outside who are painting abstraction, Rubin, Alexey Luka, Poeta, Duncan Passmore, and Nelio are always inspiring to look at. I had the opportunity to meet and paint with Nelio this past summer here in St. John’s and that experience has had a major impact on my work. I’ve looked to his work for years and having the opportunity to paint with him was amazing. He gave me great advice on how to push my style.
Follow up to last question, how have you been able to separate TEK’s work from that of those influences? How have you been able to maintain your own artistic identity?
TEK: I think it’s important to follow your own intuition when it comes to whatever sort of work you do. Find a method, technique, medium, or style that makes sense to you and do it as often as you can. I make the marks that I am drawn to create; the feeling of using your whole body to create large continual bright marks makes sense to me. I think I am able to maintain my own personal style because I never try to mimic others painters styles. I draw inspiration from others, and have learned techniques from other painters, but I use those techniques in my own way. I believe if you have the confidence to just create and push yourself without fear anyone can find their own unique form of mark making. Trying to push yourself into your own painting direction is never easy, it’s a terrifying experience to continually go outside of your comfort zone and develop. You won’t always like the pieces you create but the times when everything works makes it all worth it.
I know the downtown of St. John’s is ripe with graffiti; almost everywhere you look, some sort of tag or mural can be seen. Where are some of the best spots to see graffiti while visiting St. John’s?
TEK: If you are passing through the St. John’s area and are looking for something chill and not one of our high traffic legal’s I would take a trip out to Red Cliffs. The easiest way for vistor to get there is to just Google Map “Red Cliff Rd.” It’s just outside the city — drive to the end of the road and follow the trail marked “East Coast Trail”. Red Cliffs is our 5Points. It is a series of abandoned US military radar buildings. All along the East Coast of Canada you can find these old buildings that were once part of a radar defense system known as “the PineTree Line”. Red Cliffs is chill and an interesting spot to paint in, it gets toyed every now and again but it is well worth the 20 min hike along the path, there are usually some new untouched pieces from the local painters there. This spot gets painted regularly, especially during the summer, and the view from the cliffs alone makes the hike be well worth the effort. Who knows, you might even catch me up there as I end up in that spot every couple weeks.
Final words? Any comments or ideas you’d like to share with the readers?
TEK: Yes, if anyone out there who paints wants to paint when they come through town I’m always down for a session. I’m planning on getting off this island for a journey at some point within the next year – I’m thinking about a Cross Canada Tour or perhaps a European Tour. So if you want to paint get at me. In the meantime, I’ll be outside or in my studio.
Here’s a shameless plug for my social media:
I also am involved in a project called “The Coloured Box Project”. Through this we aim to bring contemporary painting practices to the streets of St. John’s. If you are interested in being involved either by sending us a paste to put up or even coming here to paint send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Push yourself. Keep inspired. Keep creating.
As we get ready to go and end this interview, are there any people you’d like to shout-out and give thanks to?
TEK: First I’d like to shout out to all the guys in St. John’s my buddies in FOG Rayd, Barek and AntiDote, the Tweak and the other NTC Guys, the whole RC crew but specically Bird, Game, Sloe, Semy & Seone, Sois and AVC they’ve been around forever and had huge impact on the St. John’s scene and to the young guns shaking things up in RTB. I’d also like to shout out to some other East Coast writers, thanks Yron and Space5 from BME for showing me a good time every time I visit Halifax; those guys have some amazing style and are always good for a round of painting. I’d also like to shout out to the boys in HCV from Moncton, I always have a good time hanging with Munk and Store. I want to send a special shout-out to ‘340′, for helping keep the East Coast graffiti community alive.
I can’t forget to send a big thank you to Nelio for coming to St. John’s this summer – it was a wild few days.
Lastly, I want to say thanks to SensesLost.com and Matthew Johnson for doing this article. It’s always nice to see Canadian content on SensesLost and I do appreciate the recognition. Cheers.