Featured in Freestyle Volume 02 2007. Interview by Jason Jaram. Photography courtesy of Mistery.
It’s somewhat ironic that a graffiti writer going by the name Mistery would in fact have to be one of the most recognisable faces in the Sydney graffiti scene but such is the case. Churning out burner production walls since the 80’s, Mistery has created and developed a style that is instantly recognisable to anyone with an interest in aerosol art. *Insert cliché about mysteries being unraveled here*.
How did you get your tag?
I dig tags that you can abbreviate and have a cool meaning, so I liked Mistery ‘cause you could shorten it to Mr-E. Also at that time I’d just moved to the city from Bankstown so none of the City writers knew me so Mistery was quite applicable.
You’ve been involved with graffiti since its very early days can you tell us a bit about that period of the scenes development?
Initially the Hip-Hop scene in Oz was based on breakdancing, so most old schoolers you meet will have been or still are breakers. Our pieces were big and full on, with backgrounds and characters etc. Then there was a period where dudes were mainly rockin’ quick little pieces to get up, now I think there are both. I think the influence of the overseas productions has psyched us to get back into bigger walls again. I’m really about big productions.
Can you tell us about your crew?
I’m in 3 graf crews: Twenty First Century, DCA, and Bounty Hunterz, TFC is originally an old school Perth crew started by my mate Shime. It’s mainly made up now of old friends from around the country and overseas, like Dash, Kab101, Poise and Darco etc. DCA is newer generation crew with Days and Sumo etc. BH is based in Oz and Africa with Jesta157 and Sky189. Also my lady Chez is also in all the same crews as well, I mainly paint with her. Music wise I rap in my crew Brethren with my bro Wizdm, although at the moment I’m currently working on a solo album called ‘Way of the Warrior’.
Who have been some of your inspirations/influences?
Well like a lot of writers I was influenced by the book Subway Art and the New York legends, but more specifically I’d say Skeme and Doze. On a local tip my mentor was Casm/Dem2 of the crew FAB4. He was pretty much the first dude to ever rock a piece in Sydney, and I was fortunate enough to have been schooled by him. I also dig a lot of early euro stuff like Mode2 and Chrome Angelz etc. I also get inspired by the peeps I paint with and I like to jam with writers to get different ideas flowing.
You’ve become renowned for you characters. How was it you got into painting characters?
As a kid I was always drawing cartoons and stuff, when I got into graf it naturally continued. Also I have to do a lot of characters because I do a fair bit of commission type work and the average punter on the street is after images as opposed to letters. I still do some comic work and have done a bit of stuff for Mad Magazine.
How significant are the letterforms to your overall work and how much emphasis do you place on the progression of style within letters?
Graf is about lettering, that’s the bottom line, everything else is secondary. I try and push my letters and innovate whenever possible. I dig in the movie Style Wars how when they flash the pieces by Seen they’re all different…that’s dope. I’m cheerin’ when I get a wall that allows me to rock a wildstyle.
How do you feel about writers getting mainstream attention?
It’s all good as long as the writers are good and represent what the culture is about. I’d prefer a writer to do a commercial job than some wack ass graphic designer ripping off some images from the net or doing some pseudo graf style and passing it off as street.
How did you get into the legal side of graffiti and how can some of the younger writers go about getting into painting commission walls?
It’s pretty much been a case of word of mouth. I did the door knock thing when I’d see a nice wall. I’d show some flicks and do a few walls with my own paint and people would just stop by and ask if I had a business card, I still get jobs that way. Now I’m doing a lot of stuff with councils and one of the things I’ve been pushing is to set up legal spots. It’s easier now to do legal stuff if you want to, a few councils and youth centers have stuff going.
With all your dealings with the community how do you respond to the negative reactions of both the community and the media?
The media loves to hate graffiti writers; we’re the easy target on all those crappy tabloid TV shows. It always gets a reaction and provides them with good ratings. A few times I’ve ended up in the media having to comment on something to do with graf, usually the story has some negative slant. I usually only do it because if I don’t, 9 times out of 10 they’ll interview some young kid that can’t string a sentence together and edit him to buggery so we all look like a bunch of friggin’ idiots. On the odd occasion we’ll win someone over into taking the time to understand what we’re really about. That make’s it worthwhile.
How do respond to strictly illegal writers who say legal walls are not graf?
Each to their own, I’ve been involved on both sides of the coin. It’s all about your motive for doing it. If it’s to beat the system, if it’s to utilize a new art form, its to express your love of hip hop through a visual means it all still looks the same to me. I don’t think you should judge anyone’s form of expression, be it legal or illegal.
Have you ever had any major trouble with the authorities?
My joint was under surveillance for a while, but it wasn’t just because of graf. Unfortunately my younger brother got done for graf (among other things) and the authorities thought because his first name started with E and he lived at a certain address that he was me. Later when I started doing more legal stuff Sergeant Snow from the Graffiti Task Force told my old man that they’d leave me alone if I continued concentrating on legals.
Sydney can be a violent place, have you ever had any major beef? How does it affect your outlook on graf?
Yeah on and off over the years. I’ve never been much of a troublemaker and I try to stay clear of politics. Also I grew up in Bankstown and Marrickville with some close mates that were pretty heavy characters. Most of the time I’ve had support from dudes who think graf beef is kid stuff. I just do my thing and try to keep my nose clean, but you can’t be too naïve so I still train and teach Martial Arts. The roughness can be a good way of sifting out those who are jumping on the band wagon; I’m just not a fan of the 50 on 1 style of fighting that can happen. It’s about paint on a wall…that’s all.
So with all your years in the scene how does the future outlook for Sydney graf look?
There are heaps of younger dudes that have the same passion that I only saw in the older generations, so I think there are good things in store. I just think a bit of unity wouldn’t go astray. I remember the writers were all tight when we had beef with the other subcultures like the skinheads and punks etc. If the Sydney scene can unite a bit we’ll get some burner stuff happening.
Any advice for young writers coming up?
Don’t bite. Be inspired and study all the kings that have gone before you. Learn your graf and Hip-Hop history. It’s so much easier now with the internet and mags etc. Push your style and experiment. Although sometimes the experiment might bomb out, when it doesn’t you’ll have something new and innovative that people will attribute to you.
Outside of graffiti what else are you into?
I’m big into my Martial Arts and I love MCing. I still break from time to time and believe it or not I run a Hip-Hop church called Kroswerdz.
OK well this is a car mag so what is your favourite car?
For looks you can’t go past the old school Kharmen Ghia. Although it’s a VW under the hood it looks like a cross between a Porsche and a shark. Only in silver though, with Porsche rims of course.
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