Over three decades in development, aerosol art has grown into a complex and systematic hand lettering artform. Worldwide, practitioners have developed regional commonalities leading to distinct geographical styles. While "style writers" introduce new ideas, their discoveries echo throughout the international graffiti community.
Thanks to the internet, the fusion of style has become common practice among the new generation. American aerosol artist RIME began a project he calls The Exchange, a system of trading sketches and ideas with style writers worldwide. With twelve of the world's best aerosol artists participating in The Exchange, they are certain to develop unique hybrid styles to be mimicked by generations to come.
FontShop's Wes Wong spoke with RIME about the impact and future of The Exchange.
The styles of YES2 and EWOK mix to create this "YES2" piece.
Click on images for larger size.
Wes: What is The Exchange all about?
RIME: I came up with the idea late one night in January 2005, and have been coordinating everything. I've always wanted to try different methods of painting and to work with other writers. Lately, I've come to the point where I was tired of doing my name and the same brand of graffiti. I wanted to try something different. One of the reasons I started The Exchange was that I wanted to get myself to sketch again and to try out different sets of letters. A lot of my friends felt the same way.
It started when I talked to SEVER about trading outlines. Originally, I emailed 5 writers; REVOK, SEVER, YES2, EWOK and GESO; making one mass email with a proposal of what I wanted to do.
It all started off as a mass email that was going around. We were writing to each other saying what we think a bout certain pieces and styles, giving each other critiques.
Unfortunately GESO couldn't continue and was replaced by BATES. Each of us was given a choice of which writer we wanted to team up with. The next additions were PERSUE, ESTEME, SNOW, KACAO77, TOTEM and SERCH.
The Exchange continued and eventually I put it on my website.
"Bates" by BATES (DK). Sketches by RIME (US).
Where did you see it going?
When I started it, I didn't know where it was going. I didn't know if the writers were going to keep doing it and I wasn't planning on putting it on the website. Maybe sometime down the road the project may expand with more international artists participating.
Do you see your styles changing as a result of the collaboration?
The original 6 people that I picked, were people that I am directly influenced by. Working closely with them, I am even more influenced by their work. I've learned different ways of painting by trying to recreate and expand on the sketch that was given to me.
BATES said that, before he did REVOK's exchange, he never outlined the bubbles behind his pieces. It was something new to him and he might incorporate it to his style.
"Revok" by Revok (left). "Bates" design by REVOK, executed by BATES (right).
I just did a piece this weekend and when I stepped back to look at it, I was able to see a little bit of SEVER, little bit of REVOK, and a little bit of EWOK. I see that influence happening. With The Exchange, you can go on the website, even see an action shot, then read a response from the writer. You get some inside information about their process, and you get more of an idea of what it took to create that piece.
There are 12 of us in total, and a lot of us have never even met each other before. We only know each other by our graffiti, but we are in touch on a regular basis through emails. When I pair up with a writer like KACAO77, who speaks very little English, it creates a temporary partnership. I'm working with him, sending him emails back and forth talking about an outline. We work together up to the point of painting it, after we talk about the results. I think it's going to be real interesting when we all meet up. It's kind of like pen pals.
"Kacao" sketch by RIME (above). Executed painting by KACAO (below).
What do you think is going to happen with The Exchange?
I've met a lot of newer writers that came out within the past 2 years. A lot of them have no sense of style. What I'm hoping is that it will lure in the younger generation and influence them to think more consciously about lettering style. Put letters first before anything else. Before the color scheme or the background. Just to work towards making really good base forms.
I'm trying to get everyone in The Exchange to approach graffiti lettering as an art form. I'm trying to make it so that we can talk about our graffiti as if we are critiquing a piece of fine art. I think a lot of graffiti writers sell themselves short when they try to separate graffiti from art in general.
One of the ideas I would like to get across to those outside of the graffiti scene is, people should understand that creating good graffiti lettering is very hard to do. There is a method to the madness; the act of painting a name can require intense skill and years of dedication.
This Web Extra is published in conjunction with Font magazine, FontShop's free publication on typography and design. Issue 005: Legibility explores the topics of graffiti and the alphabet. If you received Font 004, you're subscribed — 005 should arrive in your mailbox within a few weeks. If not, subscribe now!