Graffiti City: The Moving Walls of MOTER

Graffiti artist and illustrator MOTER - whose identity will remain anonymous - ponders for a bit as he lights a cigarette. We’re hanging out in the park with mutual friend Juan Angel (who shot this feature) among skateboards, jackets and backpacks full of aerosol cans. It’s just 6:30 pm but the sun has gone down and there’s no-one but us three and my dog-eared notebook with scribbled questions.

What got you into writing?

Seeing graffiti in places where you normally wouldn’t. When I moved up north I’d see full street side pieces in spots where people would walk by everyday and I’d always wonder how they were able to create them while going unnoticed. I’d been introduced to graffiti before, but this really piqued my interest because an aspect of challenge was applied to these sort of hotspots. I was into art as a kid, always drawing and inspired to create. I was a voracious reader as well so naturally those two came together and I found myself looking for an optimal word to write.

You do some rad illustrations as well. Do you feel like your style differs a lot when you’re putting a pen to paper than when you grab an aerosol can?

It’s emotion-based, really. Hitting a wall definitely has a different feel with the illegal factor and stuff, but a lot of times I’ll come up with graff ideas on paper and be like yes, I want to see what this would look like with paint. Styles can change with different mediums though, so I tend to leave graff sketches open ended so there’s room for them to evolve on the wall.

What’s your favourite setting to paint in?

It’s really hard to say and that’s the beauty of it. There are so many things to paint on, they all have an individual value.  With certain mediums you’re restricted to, say, a canvas or digital illustration. The thing with graffiti is that there’s always something new that people haven’t explored. Personally, I like walls in old abandoned places that have been around for a long time; that have decayed, rusted, aged. I like using that as form of transition- old architecture with new, modern graffiti. It’s two generations coming together. There’s an element of history to it that is pretty awesome.

What do you dislike the most about graffiti culture?

It’s a really lawless culture so there are unspoken rules, but there are also a lot of people who just don’t give a shit and don’t pay their dues...it can become very ego-based. It’s like your painting shit for the sake of painting it and having other people see it no matter what. I don’t like the drama, I don’t like the beef that comes out of it. At the same time, it can be healthy because there’s a competition that comes out of it and forces people to improve. The drama is what I like the least but it has its benefits.

From a scale of 1 to 10, how important do you think it is to remain anonymous?

It really depends on the individual. To me, it holds an importance of almost a full ten, I’d say. When you see graffiti, you get an idea of the person. They’re showing a bit of themselves on the wall but at the same time you don’t know what they look like, what their interests are, etcetera. When you meet somebody that mystery disappears. I wouldn’t say I’m let down, but sometimes I meet writers and it’s like, oh ok. The anonymity is a big part of it and is truly cool because of that.

Have you travelled and met up with writers outside of the city?

I have and that’s one of the most important things to me. Being in new settings, new environments, different vibes, meeting different people through it. The artist network is important to me as well because people will hit you up to paint together. It’s a small world.

What keeps you in to Toronto?

I can’t really put a specific word to it, but it has a very unique vibe to it that no other city has. There’s such a cool conglomeration of cultures in it and because of that it stands out to me in its vibrancy. Every place has an individual culture, but something in Toronto draws me to it, I feel like home here.

And your relationship with the cops?

I’ve been arrested a couple times. It’s part of it, I guess. There’s that rush of breaking the law and that influences the style a lot too. You see the people that write legally and their styles are a lot different than the people that everything they do is completely illegal.

What’s your opinion on that? Legal vs. illegal, graffiti vs. street art culture?

It originated completely illegal and a whole art form came out of it which is where the legal aspect of painting emerged. There are writers that are dedicated to different things. I think they all should deserve respect because they’re all talented but the freeness of the illegal graffiti holds an importance in the sense that you shouldn’t always be permissioned to create art. I definitely have things I don’t paint, I have my morals but a lot of people don’t and will paint anything. I don’t know, you see a lot of grey buff marks that are painted over tags and it’s just a big grey square and people can’t honestly think that looks better than the graffiti that was there in the first place. It doesn’t make sense. That’s one of the reasons that make me want to paint, I want to add colour to things.

You parkour as well, right?

Yeah, that’s a big part of what I do. It’s a lot of climbing, a lot of exploring. It’s definitely helped me find ways to get to spots that people wouldn’t really think of painting. It works so well for graffiti and vice versa that it’s basically become second nature. Like skateboarding, it just ties in with it. It comes naturally, you know, I do art on walls and I ride my skateboard- I might as well put the art on skateboards. There’s also an aspect of graffiti that’s static. You paint on walls but they don’t move or get around. But then there’s freights, trains, trucks: it’s all moving art, you know? It’s the same with skateboards, it’s where my name comes in.

Why “MOTER”?

My name kind of evolved through what I liked and what I didn’t. I originally wrote MAKER because you’re making a statement, you’re a creator. But then I decided to switch out the A and the K for the O and the T. MOTOR...Everything has a motor, everything has a force that pushed forward. I’m my own motor.

All photos registered copyright by Juan Angel Photography