We meander through our crowded kingdoms; this kingdom is called Toronto, passing by many nameless faces. The faces belong to you; to your family; your neighbour; people you may come to know at some future unknown date; and others you may never pass again; but at that moment in time your paths crossed.
Perhaps on one auspicious evening you may have passed a non-assuming person sitting at a downtown café enjoying a sugar spiked coffee while contemplatively taking in the passing emotional landscape. Instead you observed the blank non-descript bank wall on your left. A few hours later, after enjoying a vice or two with friends you retraced your path. Something caught your attention. You turned and there in front of you was a 6’ tall face returning your gaze. “Was that there earlier?” you asked yourself. Looking closely, you realized there was a certain familiarity about it, but you couldn’t quite place it. The following week you rode by that same wall. The face was gone, buffed. A few weeks later a new face replaced it and that same week you noticed a pair of watery eyes around the corner from your home. That familiar feeling returned. That’s when you realized those eyes have been there all summer. In fact, so have a few other faces along your usual routes.
You asked yourself who painted these mysterious faces sprinkled throughout the city. You looked for a signature, but found none. Who doesn’t put their name up and claim their art?
“People are constantly in search of answers. A lot of our lives are based around questions and answers. I liked the word. It meant something.” Anser dropped the W and adopted the counterintuitive word as his tagger name. Like most graffiti writers, it started for him with letter style graffiti tags. After about four or so years of writing Anser and other names he began to get a little bored of the letterform.
A supposition began to formulate as his perception changed. Graffiti was somewhat exclusive, geared really only to the graffiti community. He posed the question, “If graffiti is in the public eye, then why shouldn’t the public be able to engage with it?” He knew that whatever the solution would become it had to be true to graffiti. Meaning, it had to be of the moment and created under intense pressure.
These contemplations remained on his mind as set out to hone his art skills abroad. He made his way through Europe visiting museums and taking in the local culture with sketchbook in hand. Eventually he found himself in Australia. By this time his sketches had moved away from graffiti and he was drawing more along the lines of fine art. Portraits began to fill the pages of his sketchbook, becoming more and more his subject of choice. While he lived in Australia he spent a great deal of time hanging out with traditional graffiti artists. Their influence brought some old tendencies back. It was a culmination of circumstances and an unconventional setting that allowed new and old ideas to meet and make the leap from traditional illustration toward linear simplicity.
One night on a dimly lit basketball court in Australia, the answer presented itself. There was a wall in the court constantly being covered in graffiti. It just so happened that it had recently been buffed clean. This freshly painted blank wall called. He and some friends decided to make that wall a mission. Earlier that day he had been drawing portraits. In that moment as he held a can of black paint to the wall he decided he wasn’t going to do a tag. He was going to draw a face. He pressed the cap down and kept spraying. “I found the contour lines of a face.” He stepped back and in that moment, through the medium of the spray can he knew he was onto something. He finished the wall with his buddies the usual way by adding his tag and putting up some bombs. Eventually the face became the tag and he dropped his name. It was his friend Kizmet who convinced him to maintain the association of the faces with the name Anser.
Over the years the faces have evolved. Originally the faces maintained a strong reference to the writer’s traditional graffiti roots. They were filled-in and shaded. Gradually, their large eyes became smaller and more refined. The often curl tipped hair eventually became a few strands or a wisp. Contour lines that were once considered a little more raw and gritty became the sleek one-liners we see today.
These faces are drawn with the intention to be noticed. The subject matter is one that most humans can relate to and connect with. Drawing them street level next to sidewalks in major intersections or towering three or four stories high like a billboard, they become very visible components of the public realm. Indeed, these urban beacons are strategically placed so as to maximize public impact and interest. Yet, they bear a certain level of artistic detachment uncommonly associated with this level of public exhibition. The omission of the signature leaves the observer with the open-ended question, “who is the artist?”
One cannot question detachment without questioning ownership. In the case of graffiti, relinquished ownership through the transfer of imagery from the hand of the artist to the unsuspecting property owner is part of the art. It is this process that stimulates the required environment of risk induced stress. In the act of detaching oneself [the writer] from the art, does the art mutually detach itself from the artist? In the case of Anser, do his faces become a phenomenon unto themselves and the property of the kingdom? Anser observed, “Seemingly the more faces that appear, the more people respond to them”. We can only speculate on what that captivating draw may be. Is it their element of surprise, their obvious anonymity, or their sly beauty? Perhaps observers see a little bit of themselves or someone they know within the fluid lines. Maybe over time the faces simply become a recognizable and familiar comfort to find around the next corner.
There is another question to consider, which is integral to the realm of graffiti. This is the question of how did it get there. “For me one of the true art forms of graffiti is testing both your own physical boundaries, and your artistic process and approach in that moment of intense pressure. Sometimes the more pressure, the more beautiful a piece becomes. And, the more hardship experienced, the more meaning a piece carries.” The risk that provokes the question, “How the f**k did he do that?” is part of the magic. This question relating to feat itself is not exclusive to the graffiti community. It is cognizant to all observers and thus supports the supposition of public engagement and accessibility. “Pretty much I’m risking many different things at the same time, and more often than not it’s my life. I like this concept about reality where little things could change and with those alterations it will change people’s perception around them. I could walk a straight line and take up X amount of space. I could walk the same amount of line and if there is a massive drop that leads to my death on the other end it changes everything about it. It’s a test to myself. It pumps my adrenalin and its something that is incredibly fun and incredibly ridiculous at the same time.”
What’s next for Anser? Not the type of person to be restricted by boundaries he is making a rare environmental shift. He is taking his work indoors to Hashtag Gallery for his second solo show called Crowded Kingdom. His first solo show was held 6 years ago in 2008.
If an @ansermysteriousdate Instagram or Tumblr follower you would already be familiar to his usual ink on paper Affordable Art Friday offerings. Mixed with just right amount of experimentation, he has a flare for keeping his social media fans on their toes and their taste buds salivating for more. However, prequels to what his exhibit promises to behold they are not.
He revealed a sampling of his new pieces made especially for Crowded Kingdom. First, Anser led us to a display of assorted candy coloured sculptural resin heads. It is a collaboration with artist Laird. Next he picked up a framed ink drawing with a red band across the eyes. It was layered with typewriter applied words – cryptic poetry. The word kiss filled the lower lip. To the left was a transparent acrylic glass sheet-cum-paint palette. Now flipped in reverse the smooth side of the palette served as a backdrop for a portrait. He told us that there will be graffiti tagged brick and mortar wall sections to take home. A friend of his had carefully sliver cut salvage brick and rebuilt wall sections so as create an authentic graffiti canvas. Do you want to shed further light on the subject? The crowning gem of the exhibit will be in the form of a five foot neon tube face. In keeping within the vein of accessibility there will be plenty of small treasures too. There will be a surprise he declared as he walked over to a blank six foot square wood panel. Some of the attendees may find themselves or someone else they know as one of the subjects.
In this Crowded Kingdom you never know whom you might cross-paths with. It may even be Anser. See you this Thursday, February 26, at Hashtag Gallery. Crowed Kingdom