ANOTHER SIDE OF GRAFFITI ART: Interview with YVON TORDOIR

By Anna Savitskaya - Friday, November 21, 2014
ANOTHER SIDE OF GRAFFITI ART: Interview with  YVON TORDOIR

Graffiti: the attitude to this kind of art is rather controversial. Yvon Tordoir, graffiti writer with the Aerosolkings crew and head of Meeting of Styles in Belgium shares his experience and thoughts about legal and illegal graffiti, the styles, techniques and other details of this kind of art.

ANOTHER SIDE OF GRAFFITI ART: Interview with  YVON TORDOIR

Graffiti: the attitude to this kind of art is rather controversial. Yvon Tordoir, graffiti writer with the Aerosolkings crew and head of Meeting of Styles in Belgium shares his experience and thoughts about legal and illegal graffiti, the styles, techniques and other details of this kind of art.

Artdependence Magazine: The international Meeting of Styles (MOS) is a non-profit organization dedicated to urban art in general, including graffiti and street art. Started in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 2002 it now unites graffiti artists and lovers from Europe, Russia, Asia and America and has its branches in several cities. MOS’s aim is to create a platform to share practices, ideas and works, communicate and promote urban art all over the world. Since 2002 MOS has launched over 75 events in sixteen countries. Please tell us about yourself. How did Belgium get to be part of Meeting of Styles?

Yvon Tordoir: Every country where MOS takes place has its own local organization. Each organization is connected to the main organizer based in Germany. Aerosolkings (my crew) organizes MOS in Belgium now. This year’s edition was the first in seven years. The last one in Belgium was in 2007 organized by Arno Arnouts and Bram de Ceurt...











AD: How did your interest in graffiti start? And how much later did it get official status (Belgium Meeting of Styles)?

YT: My interest in graffiti started when I was just a kid. Growing up near the train tracks got me in contact with graffiti at a young age. I was 12 years old and running around on the train tracks with spray paint. I saw freshly painted trains passing by our house every day. This is what sparked the graffiti fever for me. The step to MOS took a while. The first wall I painted on MOS was in 2006 in Antwerp. After that we lost a great hall of fame and there was no location available for MOS. Many years later I found a new and even bigger location. After a pile of paperwork and permits we got MOS Belgium back on track. The return of MOS was bigger than ever. We invited 150 artists from 12 countries to paint more than 3,000 m2 of walls. With this event a new open air galley was born!

AD: What are the functions of Belgium Meeting of Styles? What do you actually do?

YT: We organized the event in Antwerp, invited artists, looked for sponsors, location, paint, etc. We did a lot of work for this event. We also meet a lot of great artists and get the opportunity to travel around the globe to paint MOS in other countries.

AD: Who can become a graffiti artist? How do people learn this?

YT: Anyone with talent and a lot of dedication can become a graffiti artist. You'll need a certain mentality and a lot of balls to paint in the streets. Not only because of the illegal element. Once you put your work on the streets it’s there for everybody to see. So you had better make it look good … haha. These days you can take a workshop somewhere and learn the basics, but when I started it was just me, some spray paint and the influence of graffiti around me. We didn’t have Internet. This is a big difference. Kids these days learn so much from the web. Styles are no longer just from a certain area. Internet made it worldwide.

AD: Are there any generally accepted themes and styles in graffiti art? For instance, can it be a still life with flowers or a landscape with a “postcard view”? Why are there sometimes only inscriptions (graffiti writings) and sometimes images or both?

YT: Graffiti starts with letters. It all starts with a tag, a name; this is what you see in the street. In graffiti you get two scenes: you get the illegal scene and legal scene. The illegal graffiti is what you can see on trains, highways and subways and this is mostly all fast graffiti because you do not have a lot of time. It has a different style and a different approach to how these guys paint. Then you get the legal graffiti, which is painted in the daytime, so you have light to see the colours and time to work it out, to make a more detailed image. 

AD: Are there any themes or objects that you will never see as graffiti painting?

YT: I don't think so. Everybody likes something else and has a favourite colour or style. If people like it and they just want to paint it, they just do. There are no limits here. You have certain technical limits of course, like, for example, miniatures, since it is just not possible. For the rest, you can paint whatever you want, if you have the skills to do it, of course.

AD: What is the difference between vandalism and graffiti?

YT: It depends on whom you are asking.

If you ask a cop, he will probably say graffiti is vandalism. If you ask me I'd say, vandalism is destroying something, by painting graffiti you create something. But that's a discussion that will always have pros and cons.  

AD: So, does the aesthetic side matter to you?

YT: Yes, during my years of painting the aesthetic part has become more important. I'd rather have one big full colour piece then ten quick small pieces. The evolution of my style is my main focus. 

AD: What is the difference between graffiti, street and urban art?

YT: There are a lot of differences between graffiti and street art, but also a lot of similarities.

If you say to graffiti artists that they are street artists, half of them will be really angry with you. It’s different in the way that graffiti artists basically focus on letters and a name (tag) that gets painted repeatedly, hundreds of times, so they will have their unique style of letters and fill-ins. 

Street art on the other hand mostly starts with a concept. It says more about how the artist sees the world, for instance, take Banksy, the most famous street artist of them all; most of his works are a critique on society.

Graffiti writers use spray cans, markers and sometimes stickers while street artists work with stencils, posters, installations ...

AD: And the difference between mural art and graffiti?

YT: Mural art is the legal side of graffiti, but the real graffiti, the illegal graffiti you usually see in the streets, is basically how it got started and how it was meant to be, but things change. Graffiti has gone through a big evolution since it started about half a century ago. 

 

AD: How, practically, do you do a graffiti image? Right on the spot? So you have an idea and you realize it immediately? Or do you at least make sketches?

YT: Some like to just paint whatever they feel like at that moment, others like to prepare. With me: sometimes I sketch, sometimes I don't; it depends on how much time I have. But if we just go out and paint as a crew it's nice to prepare a concept or something to connect with other crew members, so we prepare a colour scheme, a theme, a background, characters ... 

AD: How can you be accepted into graffiti society and get a wall? How can one become a graffiti artist?

YT: First, you need to paint a lot, and you have to paint good stuff. So people see it and they will start recognizing it. While painting in the street you take a risk. On the legal walls there is no risk and there's more time for details. There are so many people painting graffiti these days and with the Internet it is so easy to find inspiration. Writers in America can check our graffiti from Belgium and the other way around. 

AD: If someone who is interested wants to be part of your organization then what do you advise them to do? Send you some work they have done or something else?

YT: Well, the crew is kinda like family. We have known each other for years and paint a lot together. That doesn't mean that we don't accept new people into our group, but that takes time.

You have to be motivated to paint a lot, and to go to events to represent the crew. If you have a bigger team it's easier to organize events, you can divide the work and learn from each other. Last year we had a new crew member and before he painted in our crew, we painted some walls with him and got to know him for a few years. He had to learn a lot. Also we used this in a way to push him to do more, to work more on his style, to get to a certain level before he could join us. Otherwise there would be too much of a difference in the qualities of our works. A good team is important; it's a motivation to push your own work. 

 AD: How is it possible to sell graffiti art and is it for sale, for starters? We all know from the example of Banksy that some of his work has been removed/peeled from public spaces in order to be offered at auction, even without the artist’s consent, and that was condemned by Banksy later on. There are also problems with the authentication of graffiti artwork. Have you had any offers to buy your graffiti art?

YT: Well, not like this. I get proposals to go and paint some walls but it’s not like someone will take a part of this wall, haha. 

AD: Who is Banksy for you: an example, a colleague, an artist to follow?

YT: I think Banksy is a great street artist. His works are funny and to the point; always nice to see. 

AD: Do you do any commissioned graffiti paintings? And what are the conditions?

YT: Yes. I make free works and works on request. The client can choose a theme that will be painted on a wall or canvas. 

AD: Do you get a lot of requests?

YT: Well, I paint a lot for marketing companies, small businesses and private persons, and with these jobs I have a lot of left over paint that I can use for my own work. 

AD: How can it be preserved?

YT: Graffiti on walls is temporary. The sun fades the colours over time. It's not like an oil painting that stays fresh for hundreds of years. If you really want to preserve it I guess a canvas would be the best thing to paint on. 

AD: What is your dream wall to make a graffiti on?

YT: The bigger, the better. A giant wall would be good. 

AD: Any particular wall?

YT: I am still looking for a perfect ridiculously big one! haha

AD: Do you do it for fun? Is it your hobby? Does it bring profit?

YT: I live from it, it's how I pay my bills. And it's fun to do.   

AD: So, you have enough commercial orders to make your living out of it?

YT: I have different commercial work. I have done a bunch of t-shirts in the past. We also make our own works. I sketch a lot and paint a lot of commissioned murals, and if there are no jobs we just paint. And we are still gonna be painting. This is what the graffiti is all about – people who love what they do and just do it as much as they can. We enjoy what we do! We're not in it to get rich; we just do something we like, instead of doing jobs that we do not want to do, which will probably take all our time, and eventually the energy we want to put into extra things. I always think about the next painting, it's always in my mind. It's about being focussed and knowing what you want to do.

INFO:

The city of Berchem, located in the vicinity of Antwerp (Belgium) is a perfect example of how to encourage graffiti artists to put their creations in authorised and specially designated urban areas. And, by the way, at the moment the Berchem Wall is Europe's longest graffiti wall (the second longest in the world), on which painting is strictly regulated by MOS.

Travelling at their own expense, sponsored by local travel funds or by Eurolines, 150 artists were invited from 12 countries to paint the wall between Antwerp and Berchem. The organization decided not to stick to any theme, only agreeing on colour schemes for every wall. 

AD: What were the reactions to the wall in Berchem?

YT: We have had a lot of good reactions from the neighbourhood, the artists were really happy too. Actually the city was surprisingly positive about it! 

AD: Thank you, Yvon!

“We were very happy and proud to have MOS producing graffiti art in Berchem on such a large scale”, says Evi Van der Planken, president of the district of Berchem (Antwerp).

“The almost 1,5 kilometer wall is partly situated next to a trunk road in Antwerp and thus quite visible. We believe (and everybody who see the complete art work, fully agrees with us) that this kind of graffiti has become a very valuable art form and must no longer be associated with illegal tags destroying people’s property. It is an unwritten rule (worldwide) that tag-graffiti makers respect graffiti art works and won’t spray paint over it. Before tagging the wall it was a real dreary sight. We used to have a lot of hindrance in the neighborhood such as illegal dumping, urinating and so one. Thanks to the second longest graffiti wall in the world the hindrance came to an end.

A modern stylish piece of art with a message and, not to forget, one that solved quite some societal problems next to a historical architectural site (Cogels Osylei - listed as architectural heritage) is a unique combination, which makes it even more special and us - even more proud since this combination is hardly ever found elsewhere.”

All images are courtesy of Meeting of Styles and Aerosolkings except for the last one. This wonderful piece was captured by the interviewer.

More information about Meetings of Styles is here.

More information about Aerosolkings is here.

Anna is a graduate of Moscow’s Photo Academy, with a previous background in intellectual property rights. In 2012 she founded the company Perspectiva Art, dealing in art consultancy, curatorship, and the coordination of exhibitions. During the bilateral year between Russia and The Netherlands in 2013, Perspectiva Art organized a tour for a Dutch artist across Russia, as well as putting together several exhibitions in the Netherlands, curated by Anna. Since October 2014, Anna has taken an active role in the development and management of ArtDependence Magazine. Anna interviews curators and artists, in addition to reviewing books and events, and collaborating with museums and art fairs.

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