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ART: Swaze

Featured in Freestyle Volume 01 2007. Interview by Jason Jaram. Photography courtesy of Swaze.

Tell us a bit about your background and how long have you been involved in the graf scene?
I first saw graf in the movie ‘Breakdance’ then ‘Beat Street’ (mid 80’s). I recall breakin’ and battling my older cousins, I was like 9 years old doing the worm, knee spins and moonwalking. Mad funny days. An older school friend gave me the tag Poncho to put up, I tagged it around school and did mini pieces with markers, I didn’t even really know what I was doing, it was just fun and I liked drawing. I didn’t start painting ‘til way late.

Catching the train to town was always exciting for me I would just check all the pieces on the lines, I was hanging with a different crowd though, just partying, so never got out there until I met a couple of writers (Yeha and Hekups) in 98-99. I showed them some outlines and Yeha pretty much told me “hey you’re getting up with our crew (SFX)”, I was like “I’m not really good enough to get down with them yet” so I felt like I had to play major catch up and didn’t want to let the crew down.

I’ve been doing full colour pieces since 99 (not as long as most of the guys I paint with), so I’m always feeling like I’m playing catch up which I guess is a good thing because it pushes me, I always wish I had more years under my belt.

What was your first tag?
My first real tag was Wax One. In 99 Yeha and Hekups used to come round and just do outlines for hours most nights of the week and I’d just study all their old Hype magazines. I always loved art and was going through a phase making sculptures with wax. One night while I was sculpting and Yeha just turned round and just said “You should write Wax!” That was it, I wrote that for couple of years or so but wasn’t happy with the letters in the tag. I wasn’t experienced enough to be able to kick style with them so I was searching for a new tag and that’s when I came up with Obes, I liked styling the E and finishing the piece with the S.

Tell us about SFX (Sydafeks) crew and how you got involved?
According to my research and what I’ve been told the crew started in 89-90. A well respected crew from the start with well known writers at the time (some still writing today). The crew slowed down in the mid 90’s due to people getting busted or wanted by the GTF (Graffiti Task Force).

Let me say big respect to some of the old school Sydafeks members that I’ve met and have shown much respect to where the crew is at now. Writers like Mare, Spate, Perso and Dream. Yeha and Hekup put me in the crew in ’98. We were never about “more members the better” we’re more about the quality. We’re good friends out to rep our style.

How significant are the letterforms to your overall work and how much emphasis do you place on the progression of style within letters?
Letterform is everything to me. The most important thing in letters is the proportions of the letters, and there are no short cuts. You need to put the time and effort to master your letter proportions.

Some writer could do a piece with mad fades, good can control, wicked colors and crazy effects or a mad realistic background, but all that really doesn’t matter. An experienced writer can look straight through all that fancy stuff and just check your letter forms, and if your letters aren’t right you won’t impress many writers. It’ll just be a nice painting on a wall.

I love freestyling and expressing my letters on the spot not knowing the finished product until it’s done. It’s more challenging therefore improves your letter skill. I freestyle 9 out of 10 pieces and the only reason I got into freestyling was because I would never have time to do outlines the night before going out to paint a wall. I’d always rock up with no outline and think damn, now I gotta freestyle something while everyone else would have their outline from the night before.

What/Who inspires you?
What inspires me is something innovative or original. Something I haven’t seen before, someone taking that risk to go off track yet stay on track. It’s almost impossible to do something original because realistically everything has been done. Even in the Style Wars era there were people doing 3D’s.

I get inspired by anything at times. Things like the universe, the ocean, cultures of the world and God's creations. Old school writers painting 15-20 years inspire me, especially when they show me respect. They keep this movement alive and healthy, and push me to be in their shoes one day. My crew definitely inspires me and pushes me. Bombing can inspire me to get out more.

How do you feel about writers getting mainstream attention?
Nowadays the mainstream side of things is huge. Graffiti is everywhere! It’s invaded all other subcultures like rock, surfing and skating. Even the graphic design industry is looking to the street artists for inspiration.

I’ve done my share of paid work and don’t consider that real graf. I was at a stage were I copped a couple of fines for vandalism and theft and thought I’m in debt and sick of buying paint, ok time to flip the situation and earn some dough. I was earning roughly 15-20 grand a year from ‘02-‘05 just doing paid graf and getting the dole. Those days were sweet, but I couldn’t do that forever.

Nowadays if I need paint I’ve just got to get on the e-mail to my boys at Sabotaz 80 and they’ll send me a few boxes of paint. Nice paint by the way, no let downs.

If writers can make a dollar by doing something they love, then do it. Screw the haters! But at the same time I believe you’ve got to balance things. Get paid, do a piece and go bombing!

What are some of your favourite pieces?
I’m my own worst critic and a bit of a perfectionist, so it’s hard to pinpoint the ones I’m happy with. I always feel like I’m just half way to were I wanna be. It’s an endless search for the perfect beat.

Have you ever had any major trouble with the authorities?
One of my favorite aspects of the whole graffiti movement would have to be copping the chase! No doubt I love that shit! I was always a fast sneaky bastard and in school was the best in my year for cross country, so I just took those skills and applied it to graf. Doing dope productions is all good but nothing beats a mad James Bond meets Mission Impossible story. I’ll jump from roof to roof if I have to and won’t stop running. I’ll hide for half a day in someone’s attic! I’ve had many close calls. I don’t wanna boast but if you ask certain people they’ll tell you I’m a fuckin’ ninja!

Sydney can be a violent place, have you ever had any major beef? How does it affect your outlook on graf?
I guess you gotta prove yourself sometimes to get respect in the game. In Sydney there’s too much beef though and too many people hating. I kind of look at it like if you got a lot of haters you must be doing something right because so many jealous writers wanna bring you down. Either that or you’re just wack. I don’t really mind haters; they can be very motivational, pushing me harder to come out full steam!

Thats true, turning a negative into a positive! Lastly, any advice for young writers coming up?
Look up to your elders and they’ll look after you. Don’t hate, you’ll just bring people to hate you. Put the time and effort in and like most things you’ll get to where you wanna go. The best way to learn and the way I learned was to watch and study other more experienced writers. What you surround yourself with you become so hang with people that inspire you. I always tried painting with people better then me so I could lift my game.

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