East Croydon Cool talks…Graffiti

East Croydon Cool talks… is a new blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts.

This month we spoke to Croydon artist Hazoe to learn a little more about the world of graffiti.

Born in Sorrento off the Amalfi Coast, Haz came to the UK aged 5 and grew up in Croydon within a loud Italian family. Recognising his son’s artistic ability at an early age, his father, who is a chef, always said “if you can draw then you can cook” and vice versa. Growing up, Haz found both sketching and cooking therapeutic, so he took cookery and art as part of his GCSE subjects and they turned out to be his best grades. The way he got into graffiti is both a sad but positive story and highlights why some doors need to close before new ones can open. He has been ‘graffiting’ for 4 years now, and knows he will do it forever. Direct quote; “even if you cut my hands off I will find a way to paint!”

1) When/Where did Graffiti start?
The word Graffiti actually comes from the Italian word ‘Graffiato’ which means “Scratched”. If you want to go deep into it, you could take it as far back as the Caveman days! Then there were the Greeks and Romans who used to engrave pictures and words with sharp objects onto stone walls to keep records of events and calendars.  In today’s modern world, Graffiti came from New York around the 1970’s, and refers to the painting of full coloured pieces, done top to bottom on trains. The original New York writers inspired others around the world with, what is now referred to as, their “New York Style”.

2) Who were the key artists in the early days?
Depends what generation you grew up in! I grew up in the 90’s and so the key writers for me were guys like Mef, Zoned, Zomby, Cosa, Zonk and Take. These were the ones who you spotted on the way to school by the tracks or at big mainline stations. Most of these writers were All City (known for their graffiti throughout a city) and some still are to this day. Consistency and regularity in putting up work to show what it means to have graffiti as part of your life is what makes a true writer.

3) How did Graffiti make the transition from the USA to the UK?
There was a writer from New York called Futura2000 who started painting trains in the 70’s. He came over to the UK in the early 80’s and did a trackside piece in West London. I think this helped inspire and influence UK writers and also contributed in shaping what graffiti is today. Nowadays, we can define writers and where they are from by their style of painting. For example, London style, European Style and New York style are all different but all play a big part in graffiti culture.

4) What are the different graffiti techniques?
There are so many techniques! You learn as you go along and mostly pick up new ways of painting from fellow writers or by just experimenting. Some writers devise their own techniques to create their own style and to get certain shapes and clean lines. For example, one writer I know uses blocked nozzle caps to get the effect he wants. It’s all about practice and patience and, most importantly, remembering to have fun!

5) Who have been the biggest influences in taking Graffiti mainstream?
There are so many big writers all over the world who have helped take the art form mainstream. You had the likes of King Robbo, who felt very strongly about politics and referenced this in his work. He was also one of the first London graffiti artists to paint a whole car train. There are still writers putting his name up and pulling off banging pieces in tribute to him. RIP Robbo! Of course, you then have Banksy, originally from Bristol. But to most writers, Banksy is regarded as a street artist and not a graffiti writer (ironic considering that’s how he started!) Banksy also promotes political messages and views in a comical way which has helped him draw more attention from the general public. There is Cope 2 from Queens, New York who has been consistent for years and is still painting today for fun. Cope 2 is highly respected by his peers from all around the world. Even I’m a fan of Cope! Google him!! Then you have Ben Eine from the UK who is famous for his circus style lettering. You can find his work mostly in the Shoreditch but Croydon also has some. Having made a name for himself within the art community, it was when David Cameron gifted one of his prints to Barack Obama that Ben gained global recognition. All thanks to Samantha Cameron being a fan of his work!

6) What’s the difference between graffiti and street art?
I hate answering this question haha! Everyone has their own opinion on this topic. For me, it depends on what it means to the individual. A graffiti writer wouldn’t call themselves a street artist as it defines a different interpretation. A graffiti writer watches over his location, timing and effort like a lion watches his dinner! A street artist on the other hand has more freedom (and time!) within his domain to paint and is more than likely to have been commissioned.

7) Where are the best places in London to see graffiti?
The UK is one of the biggest homes of graffiti fans! We have lots of places where it’s actually legal to paint. Leake Street Tunnel is one of them. Sometimes referred to as the Banksy Tunnel after he organised the Cans Festival there in 2008, the tunnel is London’s largest legal wall and open to the public 24/7. Stockwell also has a legal wall where Sundays are most popular for local writers to flock to and paint. Last but not least is Croydon which in addition to having a legal wall is also home to the Arts Quarter. All of these places make great outdoor galleries and they are free!

8) What do you think of the graffiti/street art scene in Croydon?
I think it’s awesome that Croydon is starting to become the new capital of street art and graffiti and I am chuffed to be part of it! What more can I say? When you have a passion for something that you can share for free with others, it’s a gift that is priceless! Croydon has a good mixture of both street art and graffiti writers just like in Shoreditch. You can find work here from the likes of Rich Simmons, David Hollier and Dotmasters. The mix of local and internationally recognised artists is what is helping Croydon evolve into the new capital!

9) How did you get into Graffiti?
I have liked drawing characters from a young age. I remember copying Disney characters from my video cassette cases (Sword in the Stone was my favourite!) I have always had a subconscious interest in graffiti, spotting the graff and tags on commutes. When I got into doing graffiti myself, I was sketching my tag but I felt my letters didn’t come out as well as I thought I could do. That led to frustration and so I tried something else and painted the character Bomber Man. This came out well and so I carried on painting other characters. The way my Popeye design came about was when I decided to do a memorial piece for my Grandad. Rest in peace! He actually looked like Popeye…just without the tats! The Croydon legal wall (which was situated in St Georges Walk at the time) was a busy pedestrian walkway but also busy with writers practicing and expressing themselves freely so I did the piece there. It lived a long time and even though well known local writers were painting there everyday, they didn’t go over or touch my Pops! This was a major compliment for me and meant people liked it. So I did a few more Popeyes in different poses and places and then, all of a sudden, people started calling me the Popeye geezer and so I embraced it! My most famous Popeye must be the one that has been living down at West Croydon bus station for a few years. This became a collaboration with a screen print artist called Miles Khan after he placed his confidence pill piece, popping out of my Popeye’s spinach can.

10) How would you describe your style?
I would class myself as a Character writer, which is quite rare because most writers paint their name and even if they did do a character they would probably just do it next to their piece. I just like to paint characters! But I can piece better these days which I do occasionally and I do like a good throw-up now and again. Haha!

For more information about Hazoe, check out his Instagram and Facebook Page. His online shop, selling clothes and artwork, will open later this year.
To learn more about the street art and graffiti scene in Croydon, take a Rise Gallery street art tour.

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