Word on the Street: Freq catches up with local graffiti artist Conz

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The day is like any other: you’re commuting or running errands and your eye is drawn to a colourful, obscure arrangement of letters spray-painted on the side of a train car. Trying to decipher the image, you wonder what it says or represents, and perhaps most pressing -who left it here for me to see?

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A Very Brief History

Graffiti” emerged in the 1960’s and like many art forms originating in America, it has a rich and complex history. Early on it was utilized as a medium for political activism, and symbolically defined gang territory. In the late 60’s the expression began morphing into a more artistic form. Today, graffiti artists, also known as “writers,” vary between muralists, whose work is sanctioned by the city, and those who remain underground artists—often represented as criminals who vandalize public space. However, given graffiti’s roots in political and social consciousness, writers—whether painting murals or tagging by moonlight—are often motivated to cultivate and inspire community through colour, passion and skill. Words to know– Tagging: a personal stylized signature; Bombing: to paint many surfaces in an area.

Artist Profile: Conz

With his long hair managed wildly under a snapback cap, graffiti artist “Conz” radiates an aura of adventure and no doubt, mischief. Like his artwork, which remains silent, Conz is deaf, emphasizing what it means to be a visual artist. Conz has left his mark all over the world, but Calgary is home. The eclectic buzz of Cafe Beano is familiar to us both, but I wonder how the two of us experience the scene of life differently, which is where we begin:

Conz Profile

Freq. Magazine: why graffiti, what inspired you to start writing?

Conz: I went to Europe with my mom and dad; I’d never see graffiti before in my life. It was everywhere on walls. Calgary was so plain with boring walls that needed some art. So I started tagging around downtown and the south train line in 1993.

How has hearing the world differently affected your artwork?

Not hearing makes everything harder. In Berlin I almost got killed by a metro train. I was painting in a private city train yard in the middle of the night. All of a sudden a stranger ran and pulled me off from where I was standing. I turned around and out of nowhere bright lights are in my face, wind in my hair and this train is passing by so close and so fast. I was almost toast. Hearing probably would have helped there.

How has writing graffiti influenced your philosophy?

Don’t get caught. Be the best. Go bigger than everyone else. Have balls. You are what you do, not what you say you do. It teaches you to be real, not some Internet persona.

Tagging abroad seems very risky. Do you ever get nervous?

I love doing vandal pieces and tags around the world…I don’t feel nervous about it at all. If you get nervous, you won’t paint. If you don’t paint, you won’t get up.

How has travelling and tagging opened your view of the world?

I like to see different cultures around world and eat different food, just like everyone else who enjoys traveling. But I also paint when I’m there so it brings beauty from a Canadian artist. In poorer countries you can get away with more because people aren’t so uptight and have more important things to worry about than someone painting- it’s even encouraged because it adds colour to a beaten down community. […] You get tired of painting in the same city all the time; there isn’t much of a culture here [in Calgary], it’s not appreciated. So I like to travel to different countries and risk what will happen if I get caught.[…] Real writers need to get up all over the world. […]People need to pass your painting/tags everyday and you become part of their life. That’s graffiti.

Batangas, Philippine

Words: Jared Tobias Herring

Photography: Courtesy of Conz

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