British graffiti scape artist Xenz presents his brand new major solo show – Cloud Cuckoo Land on December 1-4 2011 at Blackall Studios, Old St, London. Having painted his first piece in 1987 at the tender age of 14 – by 1993 he had gone on to form what has become one of the UK’s longest standing and most respected graffiti crews known as the TCF crew. It is an honour to welcome him to ohDearyme for an interview!
How long have you been a graffiti artist?! What is it that keeps you at it?
I was about 12 when I really got into breakdancing and electro and rap. This generated a fascination with New York and L.A. I got spray cans to spray my BMX bike and naturally tried to tag my garden wall. I progressed into the alleyway, then into the local park: painting walls at night; sneaking out with spray cans in socks in my bag so they didn’t rattle. Venturing into the dark and climbing fences and then trying to see what colour you were painting was all part of the thrill when I was 14. The morning after, when we would return to see what we had painted, that’s when the real buzz kicked in and the game began. I signed my first pieces with my nickname ‘Graz’, but I soon got caught at school as this was the name everyone called me. I saw a flyer for a club called Sense and I thought, ‘that’s perfect’. I like ‘s’, ‘e’ and ‘n’, and so began the evolution of what I write now — Xenz.
Ending up in an opium den was a childhood dream?! Can you expand on that?
It’s funny how things get misinterpreted. In some way, that’s what has driven my whole art career to date…You start with a block of marble or a blank canvas and you begin making marks or chipping away. Initially, you wanted to make a pyramid, but what you ended up with is an egg. The childhood dream was setting sail to discover these exotic lands; the opium den was a symbolic way to describe the distractions reality puts in front of your dreams. It’s a bit like booking that nice hotel only to find out it’s a building site.
As you grow up, you realise that there’s a thin veneer that masks this vision of paradise that you had as a child. To get from a to b you have to go through c to z. No, I didn’t dream of ending up in an opium den. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse, but that’s exactly what I try and play with in my art — the irony of it all. As a human, I can stand and create an image of this beautiful place using paint. It’s like a hallucination or a dream state. It’s imagination. For this particular body of work, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a Victorian botanist exploring the Far East looking for orchids and birds.
Do you have any online blog recommendations for us?!
Are you an undercover graffiti artist or do your parents know?
When you get to the far side of 30, keeping secrets about what you do in your spare time is a bit hardcore. I’m not that kind of guy. I don’t really think of myself as a hooligan or terrorist; I’m an artist. I paint walls and canvases. I make things. I design things. I create things. I’m using the tag I’ve signed walls with for the past 20 years simply because my real name isn’t as exciting — but what does that matter in the grand scheme of things. I suppose there is a rebellious sound to the term ‘graffiti artist’ that works in comparison to an oil painter, as it gives people a mental image of what type of pictures you create. But I feel it distracts from the reality of what it actually is. It makes it a fashionable thing, but to me, it’s just my art. People call it graffiti because I use spray cans and have developed my skills as a painter through graffiti and combined these with my training as a designer of applied arts.
What other graffiti artists work do you enjoy?
Banksy, Paris, Busk, Blu, Smug, 3dom, Eco, Insa , Dicy Feek , Sat One, Joys, Loomit, Can Two, Mode 2 — there are loads…
I don’t think David Cameron should be allowed art in number ten. Are you political?! Any views on this?
I really prefer to think about the wonderful side of life more than the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are part of a secret handshake society that want to keep us all scared and ultimately have a bigger plan that will benefit from the whole banking system collapsing. No, I’m not political. I think everyone should enjoy the arts — it’s good for the soul.
When you were young what did you want to be when you grew up?
I loved adventure and map reading. I wanted to navigate and draw maps. I loved maps and tried to go into the navy, but they wouldn’t let me in as I have high frequency deafness. Quite important if you’re listening to radar. So I realised I was an artist and that’s what I focused on.
Do you think anything is possible?!
Yes, if you know how and have the right equipment.
Do you have any inspirational quotes?
“All the lights that lead the way are blinding” – ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis.
I didn’t mention banksy yet. Does his fame as a graffiti artist please or annoy youn
It pleases me. I went to his very first show in a block of flats in Easton and have shared a few pints with him. He’s a very inspiring guy and a very nice person.
MORE INFO: www.xenz.org