If ever there was a sign that graffiti had made it into the mainstream, itís to be found on the walls of the soon-to-open Warehouse Gym on Umm Suqeim Road in Dubai. This subversive, controversial art form may not be found emblazoned across -Dubaiís buildings and public transport systems, as it is in other cities, but thatís not to say that thereís no place for it in the emirate.
When Edris Alrafi was envisaging the interiors of his hip new 20,000 square-foot urban-style workout space, he decided that graffiti art would perfectly communicate the Warehouse Gym ethos. He enlisted the help of the Bristol-based graffiti artists Tom Deams and Shaun Sepr, who spent a month covering the walls with bold patterns, inspiring slogans and larger-than-life characters.
How does one become a graffiti artist?
Tom: I started painting around 1988. Iím pretty much self-taught, and learnt by watching other people and picking up tips. I became influenced by reading a couple of books in the 1980s called Subway Art and Spray Can Art. These were examples of graffiti art produced in New York in the late 1970s and early 1980s. You had beautiful -typography, fonts, letter forms and characters, all sprayed onto the side of New York subway trains by kids from poor backgrounds. They saw the lights on Broadway and decided to write their own names in lights, as it were.
Shaun: For me, it started as a hobby that most kids have Ė art, drawing and painting. Iíve just not grown out of it, I suppose. Itís a great way to express yourself.
How did you get involved with this project?
Tom: Somebody put us in touch with the gym owner, who was looking for a graffiti artist. He wanted an urban element. He almost wanted it to look like weíd been here before the gym came in Ė as if the walls were painted already and then a gym was built around that. He had a lot of ideas but we also had a lot of input into how it looks. Thereís been a really good balance. As a client, heís allowed us to stick to our own styles, which is great artistically.
Is that the problem with painting for commercial spaces? Donít you immediately lose some of that freedom that has been so fundamental to the movement?
Tom: It depends on the client, at the end of the day. Itís an effort to do something that goes against the grain. It doesnít feel right spiritually, I guess.
Shaun: Itís nice to keep some of that freedom. To be asked to do something that is a carbon copy of an image that someone has seen is a bit soul-destroying.
Tell us about your specific styles.
Tom: Iím interested in a few elements of graffiti. One is Wild Style, which is basically letter forms and a tag name. My tag is Deam, for example, so I produce that word and make it into quite a complicated structure. I also like a thing called Blockbusters, which is big, really simple-style letters. So I mainly work with letters and the architecture of the letter form.
Shaun: Iím into people and characters. This is quite a big part of graffiti as a style but itís obviously very different to letters.
Tom: Thatís why we work so well together. Weíre just two geeks really. People say: ďYou should have grown out of that by the time youíre 20.Ē The problem is, by the time you reach that age, youíre just starting to get good. Iím nearly 40 now. The idea is that no matter how long youíve been painting, you can always learn something from someone else, even if they have only been painting for a year. Once you believe that you know everything, you might as well give up. You should always be learning and keep an open mind. And not just in art Ė in life.
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