INTERVIEW • JERRY RUGG / BIRDO
Where are you originally from?
Saskatoon. My family is there, warm folk come from Saskatchewan. I’m proud of being from the prairies. Im definitely a Torontonian, however, the prairies is a very refreshing place. It reminds you that Torontonians need to slow it down, take care of each other, say hello to one another and be kinder to one another.
Spaces are very important for street art. Where would you say your favourite space was?
I consider the things that go on around me, how I get to blend into a community for a small amount of time. One of my favourite surfaces I painted was in a barn. It was the perfect juxtaposition of this urban form, “street art” and then farmland. But in terms of my favourite city, there were definitely places that weren’t as fun as other places. Like Baltimore was an amazing experience because it was a world that was so unfamiliar to my life. I learned so much in five days on one corner than I’ve learned more about street culture in the fifteen years I’ve been working in Toronto. I was also in the town of Waterford in Ireland and it was magical, filled with a lot of history. Every place I walked into had a song playing that meant something to me from like ten years ago. It was the oldest town in Ireland and was filled with viking artifacts.
How long have you been making street art?
At least fourteen years. I tagged my shitty spray paint nickname on property that wasn’t my own for many years. That was an amazing learning time and a lot of fun. In terms of seriously creating art, it’s only been about five years.
Five years as a muralist?
Yeah narrowing down to that sort of official title if you will. I’ve loved painting since the first time I picked up a can and sprayed it around. I loved spraying freight trains. You can’t duplicate the experience of painting something and it going all over the place for you.
Tell us a little bit about your early years as a graffiti artist, working with the DMC Crew. Any advice you can give to aspiring street artists?
Toronto is a super good graffiti town. People like to fuck shit up in Toronto, it’s competitive. There are some really epic guys that are from Toronto that are recognized globally. The only advice is just go fucking paint something; go put spray paint on some shit. That’s what we did as a group for many years and I care about those dudes a ton, we’ve kind of gone our own way since but I’ve got a boatload of memories painting with DMC.
Do you have any formal training?
No formal training. I gravitated towards the culture. I had some buddies who were freight training; my friends were always around painting. When people asked to come and hang out, one out of a hundred people that come are just watching paint dry for that one person because they are so fascinated, they have questions, they want to help, and I was like that. I just grabbed a can one year and just started. You kind of learn the hard way. Self-taught is definitely the hard way. Then you come up with tricks and you bounce tricks off one another. I think for me, you always have to think you suck, or at least think that there is room for improvement. I’m definitely better now than I was a decade ago but I intend to hopefully be much more polished ten years from now.
Do you think about the audience at all and the effect that your art has on the audience?
That’s a good question because a good chunk of my art is in the public realm. For the most part, since I grew up in the graffiti culture I didn’t give a shit. But of recent years this is a big piece in someone’s neighbourhood and they have to see it everyday. I want to adhere to design principles and to ensure that I am putting my best foot forward. The hope is that, typically if I love a piece, it’s received well from the people that I speak to. Again I have no idea what viewers may think of it but it is my objective to bring smiles and that’s definitely what I want to leave behind. I want to brighten a corner, not make it worse. Leave the spot better than you arrived. I think that’s a fair philosophy.
From going to a graffiti artist and not giving a fuck to having to consider the public audience and the audience in the art world because it kind of dictates your work to a certain degree. Once you’ve defined your style and once you’ve gotten to a place in taking strides to defining your style, that’s what people expect to see if you have an audience. You want to continue to challenge yourself and enjoy what you’re doing while adhering to the audience you may or may not have created, like a balancing act as is with everything.
There are many identifiable marks in your work such as geometric shapes and dimensions as well as the common recurring theme of nature and images of birds. Can you talk a little bit more about your style?
graphic design has been a big part of my life. I also cite principles of graphic design. When I look at a building, I like to treat it as a layout. That’s sort of how I manage the space and the flow of space. I use a ton of negative space. I want to achieve balance. I almost want the approval of graphic designers and creative directors. What allows me to continue to have fun – whether it’s going to be a creature or bird – it’s going to be a discombobulated creature that is comprised of all sorts of little bits and pieces. In terms of inspiration, the beauty of it is that it could be a design blog or a house party, a cover of a wallpaper magazine or it could be a hockey fight that breaks out at Trinity Bell Woods Park. Whenever I see something that interests me I document it in my mind or on paper, and really that is what really keeps me excited about the next project amongst many other things.
There is a lot of play with vantage point, perception, lighting and illusions in your work. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
In terms of growth, I have learned that you have to fail to grow, to learn and you also have to challenge yourself; try new things to learn and grow. For instance, I continuously work on perspective type stuff, continuing to learn shadows and perspective. Its always just a way of challenging myself. I did a few pieces that I loved so much that it becomes addictive. It becomes an avenue to when you get an opportunity on the floor or two multiple walls you kind of look at it and say, “I can do a flat piece,” or scare myself and risk failure, and that’s when the most interesting things come about.
Odeith is sort of the godfather of perspective pieces. I had a chance to meet him last summer and it was such a great experience. I want to be able to bring my own voice to perspective pieces so meeting the legend and getting to see him do his thing was amazing. You just want to push yourself, challenge yourself and pay homage to the ones who were doing it before, and try to bring something unique to the table. For every piece, I want at least one little section to be something new or challenging. Sometimes I paint over it because I wasn’t happy but I just want to keep learning tricks and continue to grow.
How was your collaboration with Getso at Honest Ed’s. How do you determine who to collaborate with?
That experience was incredible. That one was two very different mind’s coming together. If you look at both of our work, what we produced at Honest Ed’s is not reminiscent of either one of our work. But is a reflection of our minds together. It was super fun to be in there, everyone was amazing, the organizers and everything. For Getso and I, that type of a challenge at times we joked that we remained friends throughout the process.
How long was the process?
We put in an eighty-hour work week. In terms of win or loss, how close do you land on your vision? That was a phenomenal success. What we had suggested we would do, we did and we were very happy. In terms of collaboration, I’ve been a lone wolf for a ton. My man Tenzo2 is a local guy. I’ve had a chance with my travels to start painting with new cats. When you watch someone else paint, you get inspired by there work, you get to take the piss out of them and vice versa. I’m super excited about more and more collaborations.
How do you decide? There are so many factors. What is the timing, coincidence, and serendipity? However, I love when I see collaborations, especially with street art. I love to see different artists come together with different styles, and when you look at it it feels like different artists created one piece because there is harmony. Versus when there is one wall and two artists, it looks like they split the wall. I hope to have much more successful collaborations in the future.
What’s your favourite species of bird?
I don’t have an affinity to birds, however, I love painting them because they are sort of a smooth and fluffy texture. They have little lizard legs and beaks. What I find with my work in terms of design is that there is vectorized imagery and shaded round geometric images; I’ve always tried to strike a balance between rendered, shaded and flat. I find the form of the bird naturally has that.