There are many names that are synonymous with graffiti in Melbourne, however there is one that garners unmitigated respect from all corners – Bail.
Throughout the years, Bail has made a name for himself with his unwaveringly dedicated, no holds barred approach to painting. From an early age, this desire to put his own personal mark up on his surrounds has consistently motivated him to expand his outpourings, each work often following the subconscious spurrings of a multitude of internal visions.
At times, these creative products are often whimsical, at others political, or embedded with indirect prods at culturally bullshit circumstances and situations. Poignantly, each of Bails pieces tells a story (if, at times, often convoluted and cryptic), and his work is deeply entwined with the prose that he conveys through both his written narratives and his hip hop lyrics. With rap having formed as large a part of his artistic development as painting on walls has, each aspect furtively promulgates and enriches the other like a desultory, meandering yang/yang orgy of expression.
With his upcoming solo show, Making Bail, about to launch, we had chance to throw the man a few questions, and find out a bit more about his many motivations, inspirations and lyrical annunciations – so read on, and enjoy a small glimpse of the mind behind some of the most prolific, and finest, work we’ve seen around the streets and laneways of Melbourne.
As an artist, there’s little doubt in my mind that you probably started out drawing and shit at an early age – what are some of your earliest creative memories and when did you realise that creating shit was something that was in your blood?
I cant remember a time in my life where I wasn’t building, drawing, smashing, breaking, climbing or writing/telling stories. I would paint everything; we had a chicken coop in the backyard and I would catch the chickens and paint colours on their feathers.
In kindergarden, they would give me watered down paint, this way I could paint all over the fence and at the end of the day they would spray it all off with the hose. Then in primary school, I loved the smell of fresh cut grass, I would tumble out of the class room at lunch time and gather up a massive pile of grass clippings then stuff it into the holes in the wire fence. Some kids would think I was weird – others would help. By the time lunch was over, and everyone was back in the classroom, I’d look out the window with a shit eating grin plastered over my face and see my name written in grass across the fence.
You know that the creative process is a fundamental part of your being, the day you first realise that the voices only stop when you are deep in the moment of creation.
Sometimes they stay quiet for a short while after you are done. But then you hear them. Faintly chattering, off in the distance and you know that you must start the process over, or pretty soon they will be screaming and howling between your temples like a pair of blood crazed baboons ripping at each others flesh.
When was the first time you picked up a spray can? What lead you to painting in walls in the first place, and can you remember your first real mission?
We used to roll down the drains on our bikes after school. Someone would bring a torch and we would go exploring like the goonies, following the cave clan directions deep underground.
We had some really good times in the drains, an hour underground, water rising, fearing death, lying on my back using my legs to pop open a concrete manhole cover because it was too heavy for us to lift. The drains were/are full of graff. We would ride past pieces by Grate (TGC), Trance (CI), Reakt, Perks, Giro etc, and sometimes we would see people painting. We started to borrow poscas from art class or find cans to leave our toy tags. It was a natural progression to start painting.
I always thought people should do some practice in their back yard on an old board, then do 20 drain pieces, then when your finally skilled up go trackside.
That being said, one of my first pieces was trackside and it sucked hahaha. I remember borrowing the paint from the $2 shop and doing the piece then taking my parents to see it the next day.
You’ve been doing this shit for years now – back in the early days, who were the guys around you, or other graff artists that were doing shit around the world, that really pushed you along on your own path?
I didn’t really know what was happening around the world until later. The Style Machine wall near Prahran station was a big influence when I was young. My dad would take me to the Prahran market to get the food and I would always ask to go past the mural. RB7 and Voter had tags every where. Puzle, Rush, giro, Mesk, Occupy, Denz, Reach, Higher were all favorites. Inpak did some of my favourite track-sides ever. Jorz had/has the best characters and always comes with fresh style; every piece, tag or shark throw up perfectly executed. Sdm, CI, TAB, KSA, RDC, Cduse had insides on lock.
Dorps came to Melbourne with Pubes and basically showed everyone here how it is supposed to be done; multiple cromies and one or two burners on every line, street bombing, throwies, insides and burner panels. I dont think anyone else has done it like he did.
Trance (CI/TGC) was way, way ahead of his time. He and Renks pretty much lead the way stylistically. Renks was doing these pieces shaped like guns that were ridiculous, and everything Trance was doing was ridiculous.
How about now? Who are some of the guys you love painting with these days, and whose work really just does it for you – and why?
I like painting with people with a warped sense of humour who can put up with my stupid voices and random outbursts.It is always good to paint with people who are better than you so you can learn. I like the work of Aryze, How and Nozm, some of Lister’s faces have ridiculous line work, Won (ABC), every now and then Sofles does something with paint that makes you get mad, real mad, but then after you get mad you wanna get even. The big piece Insa and Mad Steez did – well that was something, wasn’t it?
In terms of style, where have you most drawn inspiration from for your work over the years – can you pinpoint anything specific? Do you have any formal artistic background at all or are you all self taught?
H R Giger, George Hull, Won ABC, Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, Ralph Steadman, Nick Cave, Hunter S Thompson, Alan Moore, George Orwell, Tarantino, Cage. I have tried to study a few times but I find I can only absorb information I deem important so I’m not the best student. I was at RMIT trying to learn and I went to a careers guidance councilor for the first time. I told them of my situation and they riffled through some filing cabinets and retrieved a magazine from deep in the vaults.
“Here,” they said “do what this guy does,” and handed me an article about a graffiti mural painted by some dude.
“Is this a fucking joke?” I retorted. “Is a guy with a camera going to appear and start filming?”
“What are you talking about?” she answered. ”
You just handed me an article about me,” I sad. “This is me in the magazine – so you think I should do what this guy is doing?”
After that I figured I didn’t need higher ed – just hard work and drive. If the guidance councilor is going to inadvertently tell me to be myself, then, fuck, maybe I should.
You’re well known as a bit of a storyteller, most of your pieces that you post up online come along with a narrative – how important is this storytelling component in conjunction with your painted work? How much of it is true, and how much of it is creative license? ;)
I just like writing. I find it interesting. I have many strange and interesting experiences and I enjoy combining them with gross exaggeration, fictitious folly and malicious mayhem from my twisted imagination. I think you can tell which ones are based on an occurrence. I don’t want to be just one thing, so I like to add the written component so that people can see a little further into the world I am representing when I spritz the sprays on the rap letters. Some people might not like it or think I am a tosser, thats ok, there are worse things to be and they can just skip over the narratives.
One day when I am too old to run around painting the town I would like to get serious about it.
Speaking of words – you did a pretty fine album not too long ago, with Retainer under the name Hedge Burners – “Over Spray” – can you tell us a bit about this project and how it came about? Are you still actively working on rhymes and musical projects as well?
Cheers. I have been into rapping for nearly as long as painting. I used to go into all the battles, and I won a bunch: run amok, big day out 03? and used to get into the finals in Revolver and a bunch of others. I got a bit sick of rap and focused on painting for years. I always stayed writing here and there and free-styling but only got right back into it about 6 years ago. I did verses on friends albums; Pisces, Nekta and Flush and Celphysh and some unreleased stuff with Biggs and Retainer, I made some tracks and a few film clips for my self and one for Pisces.
This all led to me wanting to have something to show for all the years that rap meant so much to me. I wanted to put as many songs on the cd and cover as many topics as we could. After the art show, I want to do a few more tracks – some solo, and some with Tains.
Writing, painting and generally existing in the metropolis of Melbourne – how has this city itself helped the way you do graff, if it has at all? What is it about Melbourne that feeds into your work, and what are some of the more interesting stories you can tell us about some of your urban adventures here?
Melbourne had a particular flavour for a long time – I think this was due to a lot of artwork staying up on the train lines. This created this relaxed environment where you could spend hours painting a burner and it could stay up for 5-10 years (if you were lucky). The city you live in molds you subconsciously, so you could probably tell me more about the Melbourne influence in my style than I could tell you.
I used to paint atop the Collingwood silos a fair bit. Anyone who has climbed the still standing castle looking building next to it will know that the last level of the stair case has been removed to stop stupid idiots attempting to climb to the roof. Mayo and I had just painted the silos so we made our way across the rickety, wobbly wooden walkway then began our climb amongst all the dead pigeons and rotting wooden supports.
It is a bit of an effort, so it was nice to stand in the sunshine and admire our handiwork when we finally emerged from the trap door. We took photos and mucked around for a while. When it was time to leave, Mayo lowered himself down onto the banister – the stairs as I mentioned had been removed. Mind you, this is about a 10 story building – so he is balanced on this shitty piece of wood that is wobbling around then he jumps down to a landing.
It’s my turn, so I lower myself down the same way. Just as my feet are almost on the banister I screamed “fuuuuuuck” – a nail had popped through the webbing of my hand.
My natural reaction was to pull my hand away. Every part of me was saying get your hand off the nail, but my instincts kicked in and I found a foot and handhold for my free hand before I ripped my hand off the nail.
I looked straight down to the fall below, a spurt of blood still speeding towards what would have been my certain death. We laughed about that one when we got to the ground, but that was probably my 9th life right there.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming exhibition – its been a while since we saw a bunch of your work up in a gallery. What will the show entail, and how does it represent a snapshot of your artistic practices as they are today?
It is a mixture of things. Some abstract works that I did for no reason other than that I find them aesthetically pleasing. Then their are some grotesque paintings that are commentaries on life I suppose. Some prints.
A mixed bag. Fun for the whole family.
Whats changed in graff since you started out? How have things gotten better, how have things gotten worse? Where do you stand on all these debates on what constitutes graffiti as opposed to street art, or do you not give a crap about all the political bullshit side of things? Have you found that your attitude towards it all has shifted a lot from when you first started doing graff when you were much younger?
I think the lines have blurred between street art and graffiti. Graffiti artists have always done characters and productions so I’m pretty sure that is street art anyway right.
I do both. I just don’t like how many shit street artists there are and how they don’t put in hard yards, or represent anywhere good, but they’ll plug their shit work all over the net and get kudos from clueless muppets who think dog shit sprayed gold is good art (which it is, but that’s another thing) – then they get an inflated ego and act like they are not a silly misguided gronk.
But its all gravy, life sorts everyone out.
So, after the show, what do you have planned for the rest of the year, and, indeed, the future? What projects lie unrealised, where would you like to travel and where would you like to take your work next?
I want to finish this stupid fucking book I have had in the pipelines for years, but it fried my scone so it has been on the back burner.
I want to travel – always, maybe try and get involved in this big mural art bs while the boom is still reverberating. Some more raps, some more sprays, maybe some writing, maybe some filming/acting/directing.
Maybe I’ll learn to shoot laser beams out of my eyes.