Peering through the hole in the wall and seeing sense – seeing Xenz on the other side where imagination trips lovingly through Xenses and blue sky highs meet freestyle organic rides. Moving away from straight lettering and traditional interpretations of graffiti, Xenz has taken his can on a symphonic tour of memory – collective and personal where subtle shades of natural impression spiral away into the whirlwinds of infinity. Soft textures and fragmented reflection swirl through frescoed clouds of classical dreams – landscapes suspended in dreamscapes illuminating the cityscapes – a lyrically honed, poetic escape.
Old school as ya like on the one hand yet experimentally liberated to chase those elusive visions of beauty, his gentle fascination with natural wonder weaves into the metaphysical mind’s eye and breaks out into wild, exotic worlds – sprayed rays of Eden’s myriad faces. Rolling horizons of grandiosely modest infinity – a fractured vortex of dreams where the Hanging Gardens of Babylon hang wistfully in the heart of urban Babylon itself and endless skies meet creatures from the cortex and modern fables of fantasy envelop the senses in tapestries of primal feeling. We had a word with Xenz
How were you first exposed to graffiti?
I was about 12 or 13 it was the late 80s i was growing up on East Hull in Yorkshire, England. There was a lot of punk and skinheads names written in big letters in white paint all over town along with the “no poll tax” political stuff, but my first encounter of the arty stuff with colours and swirls which looked like the stuff I’d seen in films like Breakdance was a tag saying Cosmo. It was done using two colours and it completely caught my attention. I started to notice other tags written more like signatures and became fascinated trying to read them all and so began my journey of discovery into the world of graffiti and I knew I wanted to do this more than skateboarding, breakdancing and bmxing all put together.
Were you always arty or was this something completely inspired by graffiti?
As a kid I loved drawing, copying cartoon characters and the outlines of the continents in the atlas while I also enjoyed drawing on peoples faces in magazines. I think the thing which propelled this fascination with graffiti was the Superman logo and the flying 3D Superman letters. Then came Spraycan Art and Subway Art two books that consumed my early teenage years.
Was there a scene in Hull during the eighties and if yes, who were the players?
There was a thriving graffiti scene in Hull where I grew up but I’d put it more in the early 90s when it got really active. I say thriving but it would be the equivalent of one block in the Bronx by comparison to the New York scene. We had all the usual inter school/estate rivalry like any city, we wrote on bus shelters, and if we fancied a girl we’d scratch her name into a wall. We didn’t have phones or the internet and graffiti was what Twitter is today – just on a very local level. The unique elements that generated such a vibrant scene with the spraycan art style of graffiti was fuelled more by the East / West divide in the city, we lived on the east side and our competition lived on the west. We hung out in a park called East Park and thats where we did our murals mostly at night but eventually we just painted in the daytime as people just thought we were being funny. It got to a point where each weekend we would be painting a wall in the tennis courts and friends would bring sound systems and we’d be having reggae sessions in the park on balmy summer nights.
I set up a crew with two of my friends who tagged Paris and Decode2 we agreed to sign our large colour murals as a collective, we called ourself The TCF Crew – Twentieth Century Frescos. We were in competition with the legendary Devious Rebels of Art aka DRA of West Hull (pinky elete leebo perv ziml spam). Our mission was to paint the crassest shit possible. That was the competition the rivalry wasn’t violent in any way it was a healthy sense of experimentation and one up-man ship, more hippy hop than hip hop. Hull used to have a thriving dock community along the River Humber and the River Hull. By 1990 the landscape was empty warehouses with massive walls. These derelict industrial estates became our halls of fame.
Tell us a little about the equipment back in the day compared to the streamlined kits of today. How did you learn the techniques?
It wasn’t equipment, it was just spraycans from the garage a fairly limited colour pallete and a varying unpredictable paint consistency but we loved it. We managed to blag loads of free paint by doing murals at youth clubs and we also mixed our own pinks and blues by freezing one can and putting the other in a bucket of hot water. Then using two WD40 spray nozzles with the straw we pumped hot red paint into a frozen can of white. There were various techniques developed to achieve a certain thickness of line using hair spray nozzles for fatter, turning the can upside down for thin.
Did you have mentors that showed you the way or were you just winging it?
Mostly winging it, we had our inspiration and the paint and the wall, it was usually an organic idea that grows but in the early days we looked up to the London crews like Chrome Angelz, Non Stop Arts and also people like Inkie and 3D from Bristol and the Essex Rockers. This was all alongside the pioneers and the avant-garde pushing it back then like Futura 2000, lokkiss, Jon 156, Vulcan, Crayone.
What motivated your decision to live in Bristol?
My friend who I started painting with moved there to study at the art college and I’d gone up to Edinburgh to do the same and after we finished in 1998, I decided that moving to Bristol was a good idea as I wanted to do more murals. Banksy had organised a weekend graffiti event in Bristol called Walls on Fire and I basically came down for that and stayed for 9 years.
Who were the main players in Bristol when you arrived?
Paris, Banksy, Inkie, Lokey, Dbz, Fsh, Awkward, Tes, Shimz, Turroe, Infoe, Feek, Nick Walker, Dicy, Shabz, Rowdy, Vermin, Jago, Will Barras, lewis the Barron,
How much influence did Bristol have on your style as an artist?
A lot of my work got lined out in the early years and I developed my style to accommodate this and this is where the floating city scape’s and scribbly rawness comes into it. Bristol was and still is a busy scene, you have to have style to stand out and you have to put effort in. Working with the crew environment encouraged me to get a bit wacky on the backgrounds and themes for the wall and thats how my paintings evolved into the tromp style I call tramp (lol).
What shows do you have lined up for the run up to Christmas?
I have a solo show opening on the 1st of december called k ‘exotic’ which I’m quite excited about as it’s giving me a chance to show new work alongside some recent work extending the theme of exotic worlds
You’ve been in the business decades and worked with many legends in the game. Do you mind naming a few for readers?
I’m rubbish with names.
Eko, Paris, Elete, ziml, si2, Feek, Dicy, soker, vermin, flx, Banksy, Eine, Busk, Bonzai, Snug, Inkie, Panik, Chu, Tizer, Nick Walker, Petro, Gasface, China, Shock1, Rowdy, Elph, Derm, Cept, Snoe, Ponk, Pinky, Solo one, Astek, Mudwig Insa, Peeta, Joyz, Ogre, Probs, Moas, Daddy kool, Connor Harrington. Mutoid Waste, Bleach, Best Ever, Ian Cox, Lazarides, China, Shock1, Aroe, Spam, Replete, Sune, Pyyro, Cheo, 3dom, Run, Nosca, maclaim, Huim, Klit, Ram, Mode 2,Vhils, Panik, Chu, Tizer, Broken crow, Mysterious Al, Eelus, She one, Mr Jago, Will Barras, Alex one, Miss Van, Sweet toof, Descreet, Zest, Detone, Mos, Mao Mao, Mac1,
We imagine you must have raised a few eyebrows within the graffiti community when you started painting what you wanted as opposed to what the culture dictated?
Are you saying I’ve got big eyebrows! no not really people probably just thought i was high, some of my close mates said wheres the letters and that used to start big arguments when id get all deep on them and try and explain my stuff is so far beyond when im drunk. The letters are in there but they are usually disguised as hills or clouds but theres always x e n and z in the composition it just doesn’t look like the obvious graffiti style. For me it was a case of wanting to get lost in the painting as i work real fast and doing quick lettering pieces is a quick hit but it doesn’t satisfy my creative urge. The battle is always ongoing theres always symbolism and subliminal statements in there.
The work you produce today is far removed from graffiti you created in the past. Tell us a little about the transition from graffiti writer to full-time artist.
When you hit 16 and 17 you think you rule the world and the decisions you make then are what form your future. I decided I wanted to paint murals with spraycans. I didn’t think about the money, I didn’t really think about the future, I just planed my next piece and that hasn’t changed for as long as I can remember. I do remember wanting to live like an artist when I grew up. I suppose I am living the dream – well my dream anyway.