Here’s a interview with Canadian spray monster KWEST courtesy of the home boys @ Bizarre Beyond Belief
Bizarre Beyond Belief: In the beginning stages of your career you managed to connect with Toronto legend Kane, how did that come about and how did it help your development?
KWEST: I can’t exactly remember when I met Kane, but it all came about through my older sister. At the time she was in high school and I was in public school. Having an older sister gave me a foot in the door to go and party with the older, cool people (Kane being one of them). I was also best friends with the younger brother of one of his good friends. We’d hang out and drink beer, roast pigs and somewhere in there, my eyes were opened up to graffiti. I started hanging around, and frequently visiting the keel wall, which is a legendary west end Toronto spot. As my addiction to aerosol kicked in, naturally Kane became a good friend. From then on we’ve been tight, and he and I have produced a lot of significant work in this city. I wouldn’t say that his style is a very evident influence in mine, but we share a common respect and dedication to the game. He has always had a full arsenal from throw-ups to wild styles, so that taught me to be diverse and be able to work with any situation. Also, being that we’re from the same neighbourhood – we clicked.
BBB: In 98 you moved it west and settled in San Diego, what led you to leave your native Toronto?
KWEST: I was a handful back then. Moved out when I was 14 and dipped back and forth, in and out of my folks house. I struggled through high school and focused on graffiti (mainly freight trains). I guess I wanted to see where these trains were going. So I rode a train out west and ended up in the mountains for a while. Hopped a few freights around BC. Pretty much went where life was taking me. Met a guy in Jasper, Alberta that wanted to head south to Mexico in his beat up Chevette. We convinced this Aussie gal to ride along and we headed south. We stopped at all kinds of spots along the way, my eyes were set on the rails throughout the trip. It was a pretty epic experience for me. Rollin’ through SF and LA in ’98 was an eye opener. My most vivid memory was walking around Market Street in SF, took a dip down an alley and found a giant Saber burner that stopped me in my tracks and my jaw dropped. The pits in that area were amazing too. Just crazy ass burners, with such hard styles. I had some cheap ass panoramic camera and still have the flicks, which are my most favourite to reminisce upon. We ended up in San Diego, out of cash and found OB – Ocean Beach. Held up there for a good while. Surfed a lot, but didn’t paint much. Just lived on that beach and did what we could to keep fed and entertained.
BBB: The move out west led you into getting dropped in to the BSM crew, can you describe the crew’s origins and how it has kept at the forefront of Canadian graffiti for so long?
KWEST: My first intro to the crew was through Insight, back in Toronto probably around ’96. Once I made my way to Jasper, which is a small town in a national park, that path continued. Word travels fast there, and just before I arrived one of the BSM members had been caught riding a train and was booted off. As a result, he had hooked up with a girl that I became friends with. Legendary stories were exchanged about this individual which I had heard some prior from my buddy Sight back in Toronto. So when I ventured to Vancouver on my way to Cali, I had to meet this dude. I’d like to say that we clicked right off, but circumstances of our intro were a bit awkward. Back then we all had a harder approach to other writers, so being an outsider from the east was a bit of a hurdle. But I quickly charmed ‘em all, hah! After coming back from Cali, we reunited and from there it was a perfect fit. We’ve always been a tight crew and haven’t put any new heads in for many years keeping it a close-knit circle. It was a moment in time where we all came together bringing our own individuality through style and character. We crushed and regulated in respect for the rails. It’s a crew built on a strong bond between a brotherhood of like minded individuals with comparable drive and motivation. When I was put down in BSM it was easily the most significant milestone in my graffiti career. I think the longevity, diversity and dedication of the crew has kept us up in front. The crew started in ’93 with Cmor and Take5, in a small interior BC town. Their main addiction to trains, walls and bombing as well, but trains were the real poison. I think BSM has always upheld a respect for what we do. Everyone in the crew brings their own unique style to the table and can throw down serious burners along side being solid individuals. I think those qualities have held up over the years, keeping the crew at a highly respected level in the Canadian and north American game.
BBB: You have painted thousands of trains, how did you delegate time to freight painting in order to reach that number?
KWEST: Time wasn’t delegated to trains, I had to make time to work, make money, eat. Even those things involved trains. I’d eat at a spot where I could watch the mainline. Work a job that I could drive around and scope shit. All of my time was spent benching, tracking down new spots and trying to catch day shots of what was produced throughout the previous night. Pretty much every apartment I rented was within a ten block radius of the mainline yard. Inevitably, the numbers stacked up. I used to keep logs of what was done, reporting marks, type of train etc. Regulating spots and keeping toys out was always a time consumer, but a necessary component to the whole game. After years of living this way quantity became the product of this grind. I’ve always focused on maintaining quality and quantity.
BBB: How would you compare or contrast between the street bombing and freight painting scene?
KWEST: I’ve had my bout with the streets and highways. Being focused on the steel mainly. But I’d say that they both demand a backbone in quantity and dedication. Anyone can run through the city and catch a ton of wreck. But to really stand out you have to keep it up and be smart about it. Otherwise, you’ll catch a case or get lost in the mess of half assed shit. Most will get their foot wet and then dry up in the sun. The real heads that put in the work year after year are the ones that have real focus on what they’re pushing. A lot of street level bombing in this city is walk around after the bar type shit. There are few that can claim status on a consistent level. The same goes for freight writing. In contrast, trains are tough in that they are gone once you’re done. You have no control of what happens to the burner you just laid down. In the city it’s pretty simple to keep up on a spot and maintain them, it gets buffed you go back and get it again, someone side busts and you go over ‘em. But both require a dedicated and driven character to gain respect. With trains you have to understand that your apart of a legacy of artwork that has been touring north America for decades. There is a higher level of respect required which I learned early on in my development. Knowledge is power and understanding the system will benefit the longevity in your pursuit of steel, and I have always shown great interest in learning and upholding the history of the rails.
BBB: In recent years, you’ve been focusing more on sculptural work than freight trains, how does your mental and creative process change between the two fields?
KWEST: It’s actually very similar in creating the two art forms. All of my sculptural work and train pieces are produced along the same mental creative. I work best in the moment, not to much planning. Choosing colours for painting a freight and selecting material to construct sculpture are comparable in the process of executing the work. The shape and form are shared throughout both mediums. The difference is in the tangible result. I can walk away from a train and relinquish all control of its fate, where as my artwork is somewhat controlled in its environment. The work produced has an existence which I determine and allows further manipulation with light, location and audience etc. That would be the significant difference between the two mediums, other than the obvious physicality of each.
BBB: With your background as a carpenter was it an easy transition or were there many obstacles?
KWEST: It has been seamless and fluent. I wouldn’t call it a transition; both have grown alongside one another. As my skill set evolves in both worlds they naturally communicate between each other and influence accordingly. The only obstacle I’ve come across happened about a year and a half ago. I slew footed myself on a ladder in my studio and ended up with a piece of raw steel right through my left bicep. Impaled clean through the artery and half severed the medial nerve which is responsible for most of your feeling in your lower arm and motor functions. Luckily I was able to plug the wound with my thumb, apply a tourniquet and get to a hospital. Could have died right there in 8 minutes. This accident put a bit of a dent in producing work, I’m not one to sit and wait and dwell on negative thoughts. So two weeks later I was back out on scaffold crushing a massive wall with good friends El Mac and Stare. Up and down climbing the scaffold with one arm was interesting. It’s been a slow healing process. Nerves regenerate at a rate of 1” per month, it’s like watching your hair grow.
BBB: On that note, you went out to the Roskilde festival this year and created the world’s largest graffiti lettering, what can you tell us about this experience?
KWEST: It was an amazing opportunity put forth by big Tiws – the Roskilde Fest Graffiti Coordinator. He asked me to come up with a dream piece and as a result, I went as big as I could in 14 days. Creating a piece on this scale felt right to me, I’ve always preferred size and having the space and freedom to flex. All of the people that I met on that trip were really genuine, and I couldn’t have executed it without them. A project always comes together when the ingredients are on point, and the few that helped me in all the stages of the production were key in its success. In the end as it stood there when the gates opened and a crowd of a hundred thousand deep flowed past it, I was really proud of what I had produced and the gratification will last a lifetime. It was a notch on the post for me, showing what I could accomplish in a short amount of time. Bringing these forms to reality in such a setting in a different continent was truly motivating to create more of these colossal structures.
BBB: You’ve recently done work with people such as OVO and Susur Lee, what is it like collaborating with these individuals?
KWEST: I haven’t done work directly with OVO, but have had the honour to work with 40 of OVO. I produced a massive installation in his recently built recording facility called SOTA (State of the Art) studios. 40 is such an inspiring person to work with. He really let me run with the creative and produce an epic install for the space. From the initial stages of planning I set out to map a sound wave in sculptural form. We have known each other for many years so his trust in my work was evident from the beginning of the project and that trust allowed the creation of an installation that felt natural to the space. The effortless collaboration was such an amazing experience. I worked on that piece for about a year, being in the studio environment and meeting countless talented people while listening to music being created really added to the creation of my work in a unique and positive way. Working with Susur Lee and his family was a great experience as well. I really appreciate hard work and dedication. These are qualities that they live by. For me it really aided in my production and desire to create and put out the best work I could in order to maintain that level of professionalism. Collaborating with people like them really pushes me to elevate my work and I’ve been fortunate to have commissions like these.
BBB: How do you find the creative process is affected when collaborating with individuals or companies versus creating for yourself?
KWEST: In all situations I focus on creating my work. It has to come from my core of what I’m producing. When I’ve collaborated with individuals or corporations, I keep my creative at the forefront of the design. I’ll take in information which will influence the final product, such as colour palette, material, location etc. Using any suggested criteria from a commissioner is usually a good experience as it allows for a new perspective into my work. I stay away from creating what a designer or individual wants. I’ve come across that quite a lot where a client presents the complete creative and expect that I will construct it. I leave that work for design and fabrication outfits. That’s not what I’m about. I’m purely focused on work and opportunities that will elevate my artwork in positive ways which will allow for progression. Working with certain like minded creative people will motivate me to really bring my best resulting in unique pieces. When I produce works to experiment or bring an idea to life, that’s where I really explore the medium, creating work solely from my design.
BBB: Is there a time, person or piece of work that you find to be the most pivotal piece in your artistic career?
KWEST: I went to Pittsburgh in the mid 2000’s to be part of a group show organized by my buddy Prism. I had the pleasure to meet the master, Delta, who had been there for some time producing a giant sculptural piece, a robot that was composed of his name, vertically. It stood about 16’ tall and was produced along with the help of his assistant that traveled to Pittsburgh with him. The execution and workmanship of this sculpture was inspiring, and showed me the possibilities of the medium. Witnessing work on that scale solidified my direction of where I was going with my work. To be able to travel and produce on a large scale was something I had been striving for. I sent him shots of the Roskilde piece as I felt he was partially responsible for my ambitions in creating such a large-scale sculpture. The whole trip was one for the books, we painted some burnin’ trackside pieces that I’m pretty sure are running to this day. At that time in my life it was a moment that definitely pushed me in the right direction.
BBB:Are there any projects, shows or events that our readers should be on the lookout for in the new year?
KWEST: I have a few things on my plate for 2016. This will be 20 years of writing Kwest and I aim to make it a memorable one by producing some unique collaborations and solo works both in studio and public. I’m currently working on the initial creative for my first US solo show. I’m also planning something big for 2016 Basel, and hopefully bring something unique to the audience in Miami. Recently, I’ve produced a few sculptural site specific installations which will be coming to light in the next few weeks which I’m really amped on. I was challenged to use materials and techniques outside of my normal arsenal.