JP talks to MARS

You don’t have to say anything in front of these gentlemen. This mag is so good, man. It’s so good. I saw it on the website, and that’s why I initially agreed to meet. But seeing it now, in print, is just so much better.

Mars: Are these new? – looking at issue 2 of Justsunday Mag –

Khanya: These are for you bro. Have a look.

Mars: And this one?

Khanya: That’s for TAPZ

Mars: This is a nice magazine man! Oh i’ve bought a piece from her. I met her. She’s from Cape Town…

Khanya: Yeah, Danielle Clough. She’s cool. She’s amazing. Great person to talk as well. 

Mars: Fucking nice magazine dude. 

Khanya: Thank you so much…

Mars: Very smart. Sorry I’m still looking at it. Sorry. You know, print is a dying thing man…

Khanya: You know, everyone says that. Bringing out our first issue, people asked for the link and we were like, no it’s print. “Why would you go print? It’s dying and it’s expensive”

Mars: I fucking love books and magazine bro. I’ve got so many. It’s matte laminate right? I remember that from my designer days.

Khanya: You were a designer before?

Mars: Yeah. Graphic Designer… You’re the one who ordered the tea? – talking to TAPZ –

Jon Paul: So I’m gonna be the only one drinking beer? Anyway, first up, what are the Do’s and Don’ts? What names do you wanna use? Are you cool with photos?

Mars: Mars. I mean, I can send you some photos if you like. It would take time to shoot them all because my favourite pieces are outside the city, you know. Some of them have been cleaned. 

TAPZ doesn’t wanna be interviewed. I just brought him here hoping that he would agree.

Khanya: I’m just excited to have met him.

Mars: He’s right here, you can tell him that – everyone laughs – I’m like his spokesperson. Everyone wants to fuckin interview this dude so they always come to me, and I always have to relay the message.

Khanya: The phantom. I’ve had so many heated arguments about “Is it just one person? Is it a group? There’s no way one person can be all over”

Mars: But yeah, my client will have no comments today – laughs – You don’t have to say anything in front of these gentlemen. This mag is so good, man. It’s so good. I saw it on the website, and that’s why I initially agreed to meet. But seeing it now, in print, is just so much better.

Khanya: Bro, we have so many fights with our printers about paper. It’s so damn expensive. And we tell them, like, “Yo this is not funded bro. This is from our pockets. We’re in debt cause of this shit”. But they’re cool with us. They cut us some slack because they love the product. So we’ve been very lucky in that regard.

Mars: It takes a lot to do something like this. Or, do it properly at least.

JP: Dude, I remember when I actually met you. I met you before TAPZ introduced me to you…

Mars: Really?

JP: I met you at a clothing store called Woodmead Fashion House.

Mars: Yeah I remember, but I had seen you with TAPZ before that. I dunno. Maybe, I can’t say I’m sure coz that would be a lie.

We talk a whole bunch of shit before get into the actual conversation.

Mars: …sorry I interrupted you. You were gonna say something?

JP: I just wanted to know who your inspiration was. How did you get into graffiti? You know, when did you pick the spray can up?

Mars: Ok. I’ll give you guys the real story. I’m comfortable with you guys, and I like the magazine. I don’t usually do it for all magazines cause it’s kinda grim. But whatever, the truth is, around high school times, I was about 13 or 14… I can actually go a bit deeper than that. So, my father passed away at age 12. It was a difficult time so I kinda started drinking a lot, smoking weed and that kinda thing. I was also skateboarding at the time. From that, I met people that were doing the same and graffiti. You know how weed is like a ‘gateway drug’, so graffiti is kinda like a ‘gateway crime’. At that time it felt like a natural thing because I was in a negative state of mind. Like, fuck it. Let me go vandalise walls, whatever. Uhm… and of course I saw a lot of TAPZ’s tags so I got influence by that a lot. I didn’t know anything about it. I was young, I was drunk and high. I attracted a lot of like-minded people around the neighbourhood who were doing the same thing, you know…

Waiter: Here are your sauces and salt…

Mars: Thanks. So when you’re young, that’s it. You wanna live the “rebel” life, you wanna be a little outlaw. It had nothing to do with any artistic shit. A lot of people from that time ended up on stronger shit like heroin as the years went by. I had stopped that by 18; I don’t even drink now. I kinda just stopped everything. The only thing that stayed with me from that old life is the graffiti thing…

Waiter: Any other drinks? Beers…?

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JP: Just one more please.

Mars: …so I kinda just held on to it, really tightly. I didn’t know what else to do. I left school. I didn’t have an “official” matric, but I had graffiti. So I focused on that. From there it was the whole positive life turn around, you know, whatever. But initially it wasn’t a positive beginning. I doubt it ever is, for a lot of people. A lot of people ended up the other way, by leaving graffiti when they hit the heroin and crack, that shit didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered, you know. 

Khanya: Do you think if your intro to graffiti was not as hard and dark, you would have stuck it through?

Mars: …fuck. That’s a good question. I don’t know man. I don’t know. It could’ve been, by default, the only thing I had to hold on to. I stripped away all my old friends, didn’t go out to bars because what the fuck am I gonna do there sober? I don’t know. I can’t say. It just happened the way it did.

JP: What was the graffiti scene like at that period?

Mars: Well there was FUK Crew, there was DS, there was, uhm… FSU, and I was with FSU a lot of the time. Yeah, it’s safe to say they’re not around anymore. After years of that I ended up meeting 

TAPZ and I didn’t have a crew at the time. So he was like, “Hey, you wanna be down?” And I was like, yeah. Cool. Why not. 

JP: And that was DS, right?

Mars: Yeah, TAPZ’s crew. Demolition Squad. They was around long before I started. I looked up to them a lot.

JP: And how’s the scene like now?

Mars: It’s just a lot bigger man. It’s grown a lot from 10 years ago. You’d think it’s small. I mean, it was a lot smaller then. You’d go to the same bars as the graffiti guys, I don’t know if you remember Sunrise? Have you heard of it? Dude all the graffiti people would go there on Monday nights, R5 beers, and you’d have to fight people there cause there’s tension between this crew and that crew, but yeah it was a little underground cult thing going on. You’d hate half the dudes, but you’d still go there every monday night religiously so that you could fucking sit there and eye them out. So it was very small then dude, but now, I haven’t even met a lot of the guys doing stuff. I’ll probably never even meet them. They come out of nowhere, then they fall off, then others come on and they stay on for a bit longer. It’s definitely a lot bigger. There’s a lot more exposure on it, a lot more people watching it and appreciating it a bit more. 

JP: Do you feel like, technically, the kids are doing a lot more doper shit, just technically? Shading, line work, how do you feel about the quality of the work coming out now?

Mars: – Talking to TAPZ – I think this one’s yours. It has bacon in it. Did you order the same shit? Is it salami or bacon? Oh, alright. Uhm, yeah definitely. Since Rasty opened the store, it made things a lot easier. Before that we were using the local spray paint…

JP: Uh Sprayon, fucking… What was that? Sparayon, Dulux…?

Mars: There’s a few. You could go to Winenberg and get Sprayon  for like R12 a can. Eventually it went up to R15/R16, and around that time is when Rasty opened his shop. And it did a lot for the graffiti community, man.

JP: You think the young kids are kinda spoilt?

Mars: Well of course, as someone who came before that, I’m gonna say yes cause…

Stranger: With all due respect, I’m not asking for anything. We’ve been stuck here a while and I’d really appreciate a slice of pizza.

At this point we’re all laughing at how random that was. TAPZ offers the guy a slice.

JP: The reason why I’m asking is when I got introduced to graffiti, there was no fucking… none of the shit you got now. You had to go to fucking Makro or Game to get your paint. And you had to use straight up old school nozzles. There were no fucking skinnies, there were no fat-caps, it was all fucking can control. That was it. You had to slice the nozzle to get a nice edge. So you have to admit, the kids now are kinda spoilt a bit. Because the older motherfuckers, I remember this one show that got me into graffiti…

Mars: Overspray?

JP: Nah, it was some art documentary. Anyway, they interviewed Mak11 and Falko and I picked up a pencil the next day. But what I’m trying to say is, at that time the guys had to make do with what they had.

Khanya: I do feel like it was necessary though, for the culture to grow, for the culture to get better and for the quality of work to get better. I mean, it always helps, right?

JP: Yeah, sure. We used to replace caps and use Mr Min nozzles just…

Mars: Dude, the stuff you’re talking about, I’ve forgotten already – laughs – now that you’re reminding me, there were so many of these little tactics, like you said, cutting the nozzle, or fucking sitting there and putting plastic around the neck so you can’t push it all the way down – 

JP laughs – Dude! Or like, making a stencil from fucking… Half the job was trying to get that fucking thing to work. So never mind what your art piece was, who cares about that. It wasn’t about the drawing or the concept or any of that shit, you were just trying to make the line as skinny and as consistent as possible, without dripping. That was the whole point for me, for the longest time – we’re all laughing – Dude, the graffiti shop made everything so much better. But the tattoo guys went through the same thing. They used to have these old fucking, heavy and bulky needles. The new ones came in and they’e like a fucking pen. So the old school cats are like “Nah fuck that, blah blah blah” but the new guys, or the guys that have recently crossed over are like, why not just use them. They’re better quality and they make the work better, and that’s true. So we can’t really be like that, you know. Yeah they have it easier, they never had to, uhm… They missed all that, which was an experience in itself.

JP: Yeah. Back then it was all about can-control.

Mars: Yeah nowadays you don’t even hear that. It’s like an outdated term.

JP: Am I wrong in saying that Gogga is one of the old school guys that started everything. When I started in the 90’s there was a shit load of Gogga work all over. So, how does Gogga play in the grand scheme of the scene? How was his influence?

Mars: It was literally just Gogga and couple of people that he knew. He pretty much just did murals at that time. But I’m just quoting what I heard.

JP: For me, South African graffiti is at a world standard right now. Comparing to when I was coming up to what I see in Johannesburg now, from cats like the two of you – Mars and TAPZ – we’re really up there. There are a lot of phat pieces I’m seeing coming out right now.

Mars: I mean, we’ve caught up. Put it that way. We’re always the last continent to get anything. That’s just the way it is. First it was America, Europe, Australia and then finally, here. But we’ve definitely made up ground. We have guys that can now compete internationally. Even though they’re not as famous and people don’t want to look as SA artists, I don’t know why. It’s like people don’t wanna look at Africa or something. But there’s definitely artists here who are on the same level, if not even better than the internationals.

Khanya: How’s the perception shift on graffiti now vs 15 years ago? Like the word graffiti and commissioned never lived in the same sentence; whereas now, you get given a wall, the cans are supplied and you get paid for it. Are we accepting it as art a lot more instead of the taboo, illegal bull shit?

Mars: Look, yeah. Going back to the cult thing; any kind of

counter-culture always ends up becoming popular culture. It’s always just been a matter of time. The same with Punk Rock, no one wanted anything to do with this grimy bull shit. The same with Rock, I mean, when you saw KISS for the first time with their tongues out – JP laughs – it must have blown you away. Your parents must have been like “What the fuck is this satanist shit?!” and I think that’s the route graffiti took, like, “Who the fuck is vandalising” It blew up and then went down hill. Hopefully that won’t happen with this – graffiti –

Khanya: Do you guys still hold true to the hierarchy? JP was telling me about the ladder from being a Toy to a King. Is that structure still around, holding it together?

Mars: Hey look, if you’re Toy, then you’re a Toy, hey – everyone laughs – You’ll always be called a Toy when you’ve just started and you’re not good. But eventually you grow out of that and become good. Or at least, you quit, you know. Stop embarrassing yourself. Do something else. But these days King status is not what it used to be.

JP: What do you mean by that?

Mars: Hmmm… just because of the fucking quality of everything. And there’s different kinds of King statuses. Each city has it’s different kind of King status.

JP: Explain how Joburg’s is. How does that work?

Mars: I think it’s more universal. And there’s King status for various things. There’s your King of bombing… it’s not just one. It’ll be the dudes that are most up. They’ll just be like “KING” It’s become the least you can do if you want to make it nowadays. And I heard someone else say this; if you wanna be anything in graffiti you have to get a minimum of King status. There’s more than that now, you know, with the money, the commissions, travelling. King status used to be all that it was for. You just wanted to be known as a King. You know, like “What the fuck is this King status? How do I get it? Who gives it to me?” Now it’s just like, entry level.