You have entered a museum, you are going to see artwork done by one of your favorite artists. You have been waiting for months. Your heart is beating with excitement as you enter the building - but wait - you start to wander. You start to questions yourself, "is this the right place?" You start to sweat and get anxious. You are now uncomfortable, sticky, and hot. You finally get into the right room, but now you are too disgruntled to focus. You zip through the exhibit, you have barely seen anything. You have become too anxious and need to leave. You have lost your chance to successfully enjoy your visit.
The spot lights flashed off her golden mini dress as Kandle Osborne slinked onto stage as her band, the Krooks, performed the James Bond theme song. In the intimate bar-like atmosphere of Montreal's Cabaret Mile-End, Kandle and The Krooks were playing for the first time since the release of her album In Flames. She stood sly and shining, looking like a sleek cat surrounded by four adorably scruffy dogs. The crowd, a mixture of young and old, all pressed close to the stage and moved to the music as she sang in a sultry, bluesy voice.
I grew up on a farm in a valley buried in the hills. I rode horses before I could walk and drove tractors before I drove cars. It was the center of life. Farmers, friends and children flocked together to play, to work, or just to share the town gossip.
Work on the farm never ended. We did our sugaring in the old fashioned way, with a team of horses. They were a dream team and had giant hearts for the work that they loved. Those who came to help us travelled back in time through the pull of the sleigh, the jingle of the harnesses, and the steam which rose up from the horses' backs. I drove the horses, but I was so small that I was not able to see over the sap tub, but I could steer straight and that was sufficient. In the summer, the tractor that we hayed with was only one step above horse and prone to overheating. I drove the tractor, but had to hang off the side of the steering wheel and use all my weight and strength to turn. We worked in the searing heat and endured the sting of wasps and the prick of the hay. Sticky with sweat, rivulets would make clean tracks down our dirty bodies and the hay dust clung to our wet skin. Every other day meant some sort of mechanical breakdown of the tractor or haying machinery. The work was hard, but we persisted.
Swel is a graffiti artist from the Montreal area who started the hip hop crew T.A. Crew, or Team Autobot Crew. Swel currently works as a career professional who does graffiti on legal walls with other T.A. Crew members. He is a modest artist who is known in the community for being big hearted and an all around great guy.
Swel is away on business, so we conduct our interview over Google Chat. I send him a message that I'm ready on my end. Once he accepts the invitation a window pops up, and there is Swel in sunny California looking worn out from his seven hour flight. I apologize for the noise on my end as my kids are watching television and being noisy. He smiles and says, "That's okay." Swel has a business meeting to attend so I dive right in.
Me: So when did you decide that you needed to move in the direction of a career over graffiti?
He scratches his beard and leans back in his chair.
Swel: I would say that it wasn't really that...I think that one of the things that hampered me, that really slowed me down in graffiti was the fact that got busted for doing it so, that experience kind of, although I still really loved it, it made me not want to do it anymore because I did not want to get caught again, because that experience was not very pleasant at all. That pretty much stopped me from doing graffiti, not one hundred percent, but back in those days there wasn't any legal places to do it, so if you wanted to participate in the culture you had no choice but to do it on illegal walls, where now-a-days I've had plenty of opportunity to do it on legal walls. But from a graffiti artist's standpoint that's kind of controversial because just doing it legally isn't enough, that's what a lot of graffiti artists believe. But it's nice that there is that opportunity to practice and not have to break the law while you get some skills. I would say that concentrating on school was something that I wasn't ever against, it was just I guess I got older and got tired of not being appreciated and working at crappy jobs. And making money to live on you know.
Me: And how did it make you feel to come to that realization? Were you kind of saddened at the thought that you may have to compromise a little bit or to put it on hold and not to improve yourself on your skill?
Swel: Not really because I had already pretty much stopped writing graffiti, at least, a large amount, when long before I decided to go back to school. So it wasn't kind of like an exclusive choice between those two things.
Me: Do you still write and how often?
Swel: In the summer there I tried to get out three or four times to the legal walls, in this year. So, yes I still write.
Me: And who influences you now? Out of the writers out now who do you think, "Ya I really like that style, I'd like to do that." Or makes you think.
Swel: As for how style goes I don't think I get influenced by other writer's styles, I kind of already have my own style, as primitive as it may be. It's kind of like what I do so I'm kind of set in that, but I do see a lot of graffiti art out there that I like, you know like the Crazy Apes Crew, they do a lot of amazing, amazing things. And um, there are a lot of old influences on me too, names like FLOW, big time FLOW and KAS...SIKE.
Me: What is it that makes you want to write still?
He becomes distracted for a moment and says "Did you hear that? It's the Queen Mary." He grabs his laptop and moves over to the window to show me the boat out in the ocean. Than after a few seconds he sets the laptop back down on the desk and we continue the interview.
Swel: Um, the thing about graffiti is, it's kind of, I hesitate to use the word addictive, but it's very, the feeling you get from it is very...it makes you want to improve yourself [art]. And it's like every time you do it you're putting it out there for everyone to see it, it's kind of...I'm trying to think of how to describe it, but it's a feeling you can't really get in a lot of other things. Because you're doing it on your own, but you're also...it's a very public thing that you're doing so.
Me: What do you think of your progression as an artist, from the beginning to what you're able to do now?
Swel: I don't consider myself to be a very, you know, a great graffiti artist, I do it for fun. You know, it goes back to getting up and I don't try to get up anymore. I'm only really competing with myself, it's more like I don't think there's anywhere I can go.
Me: So you don't feel proud of perfecting a certain style, or even having just a piece that you feel proud at having produced.
He begins to lean back in the chair and rock back and forth contemplating the past.
Swel: I don't feel proud, I'm just happy, happy with what I'm able to do now, but it also has a lot to do with the fact that I've improved a lot. When we were first writing I wasn't very...the tools were not great. Like the spray paint was not very good, um it really took a lot of skill to make something look good, where now compare to what you used to get what you can put up on the wall is pretty good.
Me: What frustrates you about graffiti?
Swel: Not a lot.
Me: Not a lot?
Swel: No I mean it's a...it can be political. It can get very political, people can be very short tempered whenever you have something to do with ego. It can get...people can get short tempers.
Me: Okay, so it doesn't frustrate you. So what do you think that your style says about you?
Swel starts to laugh, and I do too.
Me: Have you ever been in trouble for doing graffiti?
Swel: Yes, like I said before it's one of the reasons I slowed down my graffiti writing.
Me: Would you discourage your children from doing graffiti?
Swel: Yes, illegally definitely.
Me: And how would it make you feel knowing that they're out there doing what you did?
Swell: I don't want to talk about it. I wouldn't like it. It's not really necessary anymore [doing graffiti illegally].
Me: What do you think of when you think about your kids continuing on with T A?
Swel: Well I like it. I think it's something that we can hand down to the kids, a sense of community.
Me: How does it make you feel to think of the end of TA? You know, people getting old and not wanting to do it anymore, being apathetic?
Swel: I don't think it's getting like that. I think, I mean it's always hard to motivate people, it's always been hard to motivate people to do things. Even in TA's hay-day it was hard to motivate people. Because people have other things to do, so to get people together to do something is not easy, no matter how old you are, even in the old days it was hard to motivate people to do things together. You just have to do something that everyone wants to do and hope that the community keeps coming together.
Me: How long do you see yourself doing graffiti?
Me: Do you continue to work on your style?
Swel: To improve it definitely.
I look at my paper and realize we've gone through all the questions.
Me: Well that's all I have for now. Thank you for agreeing to do this with me.
Swel: Thank you for asking me.
I thank Swel for his time, he smiles and signs off with a wave. His image disappears from my screen and I feel like I know a little bit more about Swel and his ideas of community. The Montreal graffiti culture is strong, and from this interview I knowl Swel will be a part of it for a long time, and that he will keep T. A. Crew going as long as he can.
Graffiti art exhibit at Foufounes Électriques, Wednesday April 24th.
Check it out, https://www.facebook.com/events/311129902349881/
Recognizable graffiti artists such as: Banksy, Obey, and Mark Echo, have helped to mainstream graffiti and garner more respect and influence for graffiti artists and art than ever before. Graffiti started as an underground art form, though recently graffiti has become esteemed by movie stars and art critics. Graffiti artists have been out in the dark of night painting walls and rooftops, evading capture, long before the popularity of the art form. Graffiti is illegal and the artists risk their freedom doing what they love to do.
Therefore, due to the legal issues and subject matter, I'll be making a loose description of Swel, the Montreal artist who started TA Crew. Looking at him in his work clothes you wouldn't know that he is a graffiti writer, he looks like an everyday professional. Swel, the founder of TA Crew, has receding dark hair, honest green eyes, an attractive smile and an enigmatic personality. He talks animatedly about the things he loves: family, graffiti, computers and video games.