Xenz - Interview

Xenz portrait

1. You've been through the whole spectrum of graffiti, to street art, to fine art, what have been the most interesting changes and adaptations for you?

I suppose if when I was 16, someone told me I’d be doing some of the things I have done by the time I was 40, I would have been pretty amazed. I think that’s the same for all teenagers. It never ceases to amaze me how graffiti has brought such opportunities. I’m by no means rich, but the rewards that come from working all day on what you love aren’t measured in numbers – it’s a warm fuzzy feeling. For me, the biggest changes I have noticed are the advancements in spray-paint. All the colours that are available now and the paint is so much easier to control.

2. You've previously said you love painting with spray paint because you love the idea that you're controlling and playing with gas. What are your favourite mediums and materials to work with?

I just love using paint in all its forms. What ever is suitable for the job in hand. Nothing really beats the thrill you get from spray-paint though. Painting is about experimentation and how to achieve effects, either by accident or on purpose. A lot of my studio paintings take elements from my wall murals. I like the fact with spray you rarely actually touch the painting unlike with brushes. I try to do a similar thing with studio paintings by exploring using spray-paint in different ways. I’m enjoying creating drip paintings lately. It’s a process of experimentation that constantly reveals exciting results. All time-based. Some works take weeks to reveal themselves. Some of my paintings are more about paint drying that paint applying.

3. You originally studied textile design, do you think that's something that has affected your work today?

Yes. I am from East Hull - I was a bit rough round the edges. I suppose I was a lad who just wanted to spray on things. Going to art college in particular to study applied arts and textile design helped me think how I could make places look better, rather than worse. It opened my eyes to the bigger picture and made me think in patterns and in seasons, it taught me to think ahead and try to be unique. It helped me think a lot more about possibilities for my work; a lot more about how to operate as a creative person in the real world. Not just trying to re-invent the wheel all the time. I was painting graffiti through most of my senior school days and this fed into my art college work. I was a unique student, back then a lot of people hadn't even seen spray paint - that was for cars and bikes. It wasn't really my decision to do textiles, I wanted to do graphics, but someone noticed my drawing skills and pushed me through a fluffy world surrounded by girls and silk and all the nice things in life. I dread to think how life would be if I hadn’t escaped Hull via art college.

4. You’re involved with FluorescentSmogg, what was the reception to your show, 'The Moon On A Stick', like over there in Barcelona recently?

It was great. I really enjoyed having the space to do what I want it's a special thing when you have the trust of a person or a gallery to the point where they are happy to let you be you, even in a commercial venture like a print release or exhibition. I have a lot of respect for that. It's about fun and freedom of expression and morning jogs through the markets of Barcelona, feeling like Jason Bourne, sort of.

5. You often paint birds, butterflies and landscapes. What is the fascination with nature in your work?

As a kid I’d go camping and often go on long hikes with my dad, he’d be pointing out birds and trees and clouds and all the things kids don’t really pay attention to in the city. This was a time when big heavy books known as encyclopaedias were the Internet. At a very young age I became fascinated with pictures, in particular those in the bird books that show the species in their habitat. I would stare at the backgrounds, always fascinated by how they were painted. This is what sparked my creative side. By the time graffiti arrived in the UK, it was exactly what a kid like me needed. Eventually, after a few years painting walls, I became disenchanted with the ‘Hip Hop’ style graff and wanted to do something different. We all did. We lived in Hull, it felt weird imitating the art of New York. So we just fed into graff elements we loved. You have to enjoy it. I think it was this ‘keep it real’ thing. Our reality was very different to that of our fellow graffiti artists in the USA. So eventually my work became more painterly and abstract. I'd often devise concepts for crew murals for which id be doing the background making a wall of different pieces look like one big mural. This is where skies and birds and skylines all play a big part.

6. Do you struggle to maintain autonomy when working with galleries and organising bodies, or are you at a level of experience now where you know what you can and can't ask for and how much you are prepared to give?

No I don't struggle with autonomy, it's not like I just want to paint maggots and shit everywhere. I learnt in the early 90s when I used to DJ that its important to play what the people want to hear and not be too self indulgent, or you’re just going to have an empty dance floor. The very fact you’re on the decks is because you have good records, it's a no-brainer. With my paintings I want to create something that I enjoy creating and also that other people enjoy seeing, most importantly those who don't know me, those who don't care about graff or its disciplines. I'm not preaching to the converted.

7. You've been around as an artist for quite some time now, and no doubt seen a lot of people come and go, and even come back again. What do you attribute to your success, or longevity? Do you think there's a morbid fascination with seeing artists 'burn out' in the art world?

Where I'm from, a career as an artist was something people just thought was a bit of a joke or an excuse not to find a proper job, but in reality it’s probably much more demanding than a proper job. It takes a lot of motivation and positive thinking to keep focused on your dreams and aspirations. There is no secret, it's about dedication, passion and routine. Getting up every morning, doing more than a days work, regardless if you’re getting paid or not. There’s always something that needs doing. If you want to make money, then be a banker, or try and get a job in the royal mint. Being an artist is as much about selling paintings as being a farmer is about selling milk, meat or vegetables. Don't do it to make money. Having some sort of patronage is a major factor that separates a hobby from a career. But the sales of these paintings isn't about money, it's about the very fact people want to live with your work even if it's hung on the back of the toilet door. Don't get me wrong, bills still have to be paid. Yes, I have seen people come and go but they were just trying to get rich quick and they may as well have opened a photocopy shop…

www.xenz.org

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