I’ve always had a thing for European writers ever since I racked a copy of Graffiti World from Barnes & Nobles back in 8th grade. (Now ALL COUNTRIES got ill hitters out there BUT…) I remember thinking that Spanish & Greek writers were doing things with letters that were totally different from anything I’d seen yet or since. They didn’t look like they evolved from any style commonly found in the US. They were evoking impressionism, abstract, dadaist, and surrealist type aesthetics–like all of these guys were art history majors and graffiti was their thesis. Now, my dumb ass doesn’t have a valid passport currently so I’m reduced to keeping up with European writers via Instagram & this is how I came across TOREN. I had no idea where he was from but he was seemingly continuing this European flare, doing crazy things with his letters involving repeating shapes, hard angles and BIG monolithic structures, I had to reach out and ask him about it and wouldn’t ya know it, he was cool with it. check it out:
What is the TOREN origin story? What’s the Who/What/When/Where and how did you get into the graffiti?
I’m from Murcia, a little city in the south of Spain. Started into graffiti culture because of my cousin, who was already on the wave rocking the scene. Around 2007 my style seemed like my cousin’s style, tried to emulate it doing color effects and adding arrows and wildstyle to my letters. I was a kid, and he was a king for me, a pioneer in my city, we have an early graffiti scene in here.
How did your cousin get into graffiti? was it hip hop? the internet? some mysterious stranger from New York spreading the gospel? Better yet…how did he first describe it to you?
My cousin wrote“ SBEN ” . He started dancing break dance in 1992 and as a result of that he discovered graffiti in 1993. He had a very oldschool style (sticks and arrows). Sometimes when I went to his house he was painting murals with his group on walls that he had. I was amazed to see how they painted and they explained to me that graffiti was created by drawing a letter and distorting its proportions and adding sticks that joined one another and in 2007 towards a style very similar to what my cousin was painting as it was an influence for me. I tried to create effects of color similar to those he did with ends in arrows and very wild compositions, there I started to get interested in the art world. In 2013 my cousin no longer painted graffiti and only danced break dance but I forced him to make a mural with me and that day was impressive because I painted for the first time with the person who since childhood fascinated me what he was doing.
How long have you been writing?
Actually 10 years, but at the beginning it was toy style, since 2013 I’ve been thinking on painting as my way of life, and for the moment the dream comes true thanks god.
So how did you pick TOREN as your tag?
Toren comes from a play on my surnames, my friends started calling me that before I wrote graffiti and decided to put that name for my first signatures.
Did you still write TOREN during your “toy style” days?
I have always written TOREN but I have thought many times about changing my name, sometimes when I was younger and painted graffiti I was bored of always doing the same letters. I decided not to change my name because I thought I was going to have an evolution in my style and I could change the shape of the letters so that it would not be boring. Now I think that
Since 2013 I have been thinking about painting as my way of life, and for the moment the dream comes true thanks to God.
What are some of the most intense moments you’ve had writing? Any epic chases?
TOREN: A few years ago, me and some other fellows were bombing some silver pieces on a proper new concrete wall when suddenly we heard steps and shouts within the place, the one who was checking gave the alert, we started the classic runaway between tomatoes growing, then we found a place for hide ourselves and it was a creepy gipsies house, they helped to hide us and it was all. We couldn’t finish the pieces, the bad side of the story. (Laughs)
One of the big reasons I wanted to reach out to you specifically was to ask you about the “unorthodoxy” of your style. Its one of the better examples of a trend I’ve been noticing lurking on instagrams for certain writers–mostly in Eastern & Southern Europe–doing wild abstract, architectural shit with the letters & fills.
So describe your style. Where do you draw influences from and why do you choose to do letters the way you do? And do you see yourself aligned with this (for lack of a better term) “movement”?
That’s a good question! Somehow I think like you, guys. There’s a new graffiti movement, abstract, that sharply comes from the desire of seeking something new, something more shocking with the visual idea. Maybe people get bored of doing simple lettering or because some writers entered into graphic design trying to at the same time to educate the viewer and thus be able to sell better their works. Sometimes without supporting is imposible to develop big works. In my opinion Zedz is the first but Felipe Pantone is a total reference.
My style comes from an architectural movement called “Brutalist”– it keeps as essential the idea to leave concrete forms natural, with no modification. That pushed me to create very clean and flat shapes but making repetitions. Jan Vrendeman de Vries is my big idol. Also Villanova Artigas, Paulo Endes and Louis Isadore Kahn.
Who is ZEDZ for those that don’t know? And this new movement we’ve both noticed, where in the world do you think is it coming from? What countries/writers/etc are really pushing this? Because to be real, you don’t really see it too much in the US.
For me ZEDZ graffiti was the first I could see with that kind of style and in this present world within graffiti that is futuristic graffiti or abstract graffiti. Zedz’s work consists mainly of abstracted typography, the dimensional approach and the style of tettering could be considered his artistic signature.
For me, this style is evolved in the same way that impressionism began in the history of art. In the whole life of graffiti there has been a change of tendencies different styles that have had a period, there are people who continue doing classic graffiti, others who make modern graffiti and now there is a new movement that is abstract graffiti. It is the same process that art has had throughout life. With this I mean that in a few years more you can see a classic graffiti rethinking that we can see in some quite active writers. I think that before there was not such a quick access to see the art that is made far from our area and now with just a click I can see any artist of any century or country, at that time is creating an influence between styles of other countries.
The boss of the movement at this moment I think is Felipe Pantone tho.
Where around the world have you painted?
Spain is my favorite playground, the south is incredible and warm, and there’s too much level. I will recommend Elche or Valencia as complete places for graffiti writers, best spots near the sea, beautiful girls and incredible food, cheaper too. On abroad, Austria, Hungary, Italy and the south of France.
Have you ever painted in the US?
Not Yet. One of the missions I have is crossing the Atlantic and being able to tour America.
What are your thoughts on street art/street artists? Rivals that inspire? Evolutionary links in the same chain? Toys taking up all the good walls?
I think that street art is a very polemical issue, it’s important to contrast between bombing and art works. Everything has it own time and own place to be, don’t care too much about it, just care on having fun and doing my works enjoying. There are no real graffiti enemies for me in this world, sometimes there is a spark to be more productive and constant worker but above all, peace and love, we are fucking human beings, for the sake of god! (Laughs) They are not toys if they are able to catch the best walls!
So what are your thoughts on graffiti writers using social media?
Social media changed everything into graffiti, it’s a quick portfolio, also a very powerful tool for meeting people and get in touch if you’re abroad, and for selling works. It’s a tool as I said, we must make a responsable use of it and not to forget our roots and how graffiti was seen on the past, on the streets!
What are some of the most profound moments you’ve had painting? (Sunrise in the trainyard making you realize all life is inter-connected…that kinda shit)
Many days that started painting at the dawn and finished painting in another places, sharing good vibes with apparently strangers that became friends for ever at the sunset. ( Beer, talks, laughs, and many many stories…)
This summer I was invited to the Meeting of Styles Hungary and making the preparations before going I thought about doing some sightseeing to get to Budapest (visit the hot springs, take a walk on the river, visit a monument …) but as soon as they picked me up from the airport and when we arrived at a friend’s house, we thought it would be a good idea to make a welcome mural. The next day we went to paint and I thought I could go sightseeing another day since it was going to be a week. At the end of the trip I had 7 pieces painted in Budapest because from the first day I painted there I could not stop. I love to travel, to know new places and new spots I think that those days you start painting and you end up painting in other places sharing incredible things with other people that you do not know.
What is your personal code when it comes to graffiti?
Graffiti for me is a way of evading for some hours to the real world, when I see the surface, somehow I need to feel in complete harmony with the space and the atmosphere, just think on make it perfect and sharp. No time for problems, only cans, the sound of the paint flowing out through caps, every noise, every movement, every feeling focused on my moment, only for me. That’s for me the best of painting, a fucking drug, time for me. Like going church every Sunday. I try to evolve as person, being curious and awake, that’s a reflection of my works.
you can peep more of TOREN’s work on Instagram
Brian Gonnella is a semi-reformed vandal from Pittsburgh PA.
you can follow him on IG @briangonnellaisboring