Textura: Valencia Street Art - The Work of Escif
Adapted from Textura: Valencia Street Art (Mark Batty Publisher)
By Luz A. Martín
When did you first begin to think about Valencia’s need for or interest in graffiti? What aspects of your personal life or of social life in Valencia influenced you in your decision to take up graffiti?
I started painting on the street in 1997. Among my group of friends, there were a couple who had already spent some time painting and their stories enticed me. I started doing tags with a marker and some pieces whenever we came across paint, which wasn’t that often. In time, my interest in graffiti grew and I started to see the street as a playing field in which there existed greater freedom than compared to the common perception. I left letters behind and started to try out different techniques and formats and made the city into a big workshop for my experiments.
How do you understand your graffiti’s relation to its context? How much do you take the environment into consideration (the street, wall, plaza, or neighborhood) when you design a piece? In a more general and sociopolitical sense, do you think that graffiti is a viable tactic for engaging the public sphere?
Of course graffiti is a viable tactic for engaging the public sphere. I see graffiti as a necessary symptom of life in contemporary cities. A painted wall represents a way of using the city that is not thought about socially (though it becomes more so every day). It seems very interesting to me that people that live in a city do not settle for using it according to imposed rules; they invent new ways of utilizing it. It seems of equal validity to me to paint a wall, to put on a party in a plaza or to organize a brunch on a rotunda. There exists a collective social ethic that makes us understand a tag on a dumpster as a sign of vandalism while a McDonalds stuck in the historical center of the city is seen as a sign of progress.
As far as my work is concerned, I don’t only understand it as graffiti. It might be closer to Mexican mural painting or to contemporary illustration, even though I am aware that it is a format that makes the graffiti movement its point of departure. I like to reflect on the spaces where I insert my paintings and believe that this is an essential aspect of my work. I prefer to use the context, to confront it, like most of the paintings you see on the street seem to do. When I get in front of a wall, I never have the final result clearly in mind. Sometimes I start with an idea that I previously had outlined in my sketchbook, and others I just attempt to discover how to establish a relationship with a space.
In relation to other visual genres, especially pictorial or audiovisual ones, or to comics, do you think that there is some link or interaction between them and the way you conceive of graffiti? And with respect to the notion and institution of art, do you see that there is more of a dialog, a conflict, or both at the same time?
If I had to relate graffiti with other artistic disciplines, I’d link it, without a doubt, to the art of action, performance. I fundamentally oppose thinking of graffiti as an illustrative technique, and that’s why I think of my work (as ESCIF) as far removed from the principles of graffiti. Graffiti isn’t spray painting an abandoned wall. Graffiti is much more than this, even though to the institutional system it is not recognized as such.
The art world has spent years trying to integrate the graffiti movement. In spite of the many accolades that it has received, I don’t think that it has been successfully absorbed, and I would hazard to say that it never will be. What gets put in museums, galleries, magazines and press releases is not graffiti. Graffiti as a concept implies transgression of “public” space, and because of this its institutional adaptation ceases to have value. What makes graffiti graffiti is not its aesthetic qualities, nor the distress under which it was executed. What transforms graffiti into graffiti is precisely the conditions under which its engagement is made. A graffiti writer can exhibit his work in museums and galleries, but this does not transform his work into graffiti. Graffiti is on the street, in its natural condition, where it will die.
What is the function of a tag in your graffiti? How or why do you consider it necessary? Wouldn’t it perhaps be preferable to remain anonymous, like the artists of some of the wall paintings in the city?
I don’t sign everything I do, but I do sign most of my projects. I try to use tags more as a graphic element and to think about them as aspects of the composition of my paintings.
On one hand, I see signatures as a question of ego, as a reaffirmation of one’s self, a sort of I am here and a look what I know how to do. This is not a stance that I am very comfortable in, but I have to recognize that I still have not managed to get myself out of it. I’m working on it!
On the other hand I see tags as a sign of identity, as a stamp that allows the relation of different interventions and builds a broader discourse. Once the style of the graffiti is more recognizable, tags cease to have this meaning.
What could be called the identifying marks of your personal style, if we consider it like visual poetry?
My work begins, on the whole, with experience and personal reflections. Every wall I paint makes up a part of a personal diary that is charged with recognizable images. Over the past couple of years I have tried to avoid abusing technique and to give a bigger part to the concept. It’s my goal for style to be a natural consequence of what I’m trying to say. I would like to think that what matters in my paintings is not so much their form as what they talk about. Taking the personal as my point of departure, I attempt to make use of a language open to multiple readings. Every now and then I have a problem with my work and I get tired of myself. At those times I try to move away from the way I do things, and to find new languages. I want to see life as a journey of constant investigation where there is no end, as a process of eternal learning in which every step puts the past in doubt.
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Excerpted with permission from Textura, Valencia: Street Art by Luz A. Martín (Mark Batty Publisher) Copyright © 2009 Mark Batty Publisher. All rights reserved.