Waxhead: Oozing worlds and abandoned buildings

ONCE upon a time, I rang this artist's doorbell for an interview, only to be greeted with the standard double kiss and a very modest: "I haven't really timed my day well and we need to go pick up my laundry". So off we went, lugging back a rucksack big enough to fit a child in and a plastic bag with drenched clothes, result of the typical broken drying machine. Daily chores completed, I was ushered through his living space/studio apartment as we made our way to the building's series of outdoor balconies and fire escapes that merged into a 3-storey central courtyard. This infrastructure, neglected by most Montreal landlords, had been entirely invaded by artists. Tags, throw-ups, murals, dingy couches and sealed-off doors covered every inch of available surface.

What's your least favourite interview question?

I hate when people ask me what my art means, what the message behind it is. I'm not trying to feed people anything, I'm just trying to create a world. You'd think it would be enough just being in the public space, visually shoving it down their throats.

When did you start painting? 

I did a lot of graffiti back in Toronto. All along the Dupont tracks, I lived right behind them. It used to be different than it is now, no-one would be up there, only graffiti writers. Now it’s all being developed, there’s paths leading up to it that weren’t there before. I loved that area, I got chased lots of time there, it was probably my best memories of painting. I learned a lot.

Were your characters there from the beginning?

It started with faces, if not full-bodied characters. That’s definitely where the “waxhead” thing came from really. I was drawing all of these drippy heads, oozing faces, totem poles just sweatin’. Friends began to talk and the name came up.

When did you move to Montreal?

About four years ago. I actually came here because of a girl. I had just gotten back from painting in Europe and I had no plans to move here whatsoever but we did. She ended up not liking it here and going home and I was like: “Well, I like it” and decided to stay.

What made you stay?

Just the scene, I love the people. I love the tight-knit, friendly and fair community we have here. We bicker, but we stay friends with each other. It’s not like other scenes in big cities where, because the price of living is so much, the lifestyle is very expensive and it becomes cliquey. People don’t work together or collaborate as much because there's a feeling of competition. Here I find we have a good balance and it works really well. Just as an example, the En Masse project brings together so many artists from so many different backgrounds under one banner. Artists are working together just for the sake of working together and it's a great way to expose yourself and meet other people. The strength in numbers is insane.

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Did you start painting as soon as you got to the city?

 Yes. I was doing it a lot in Toronto but I find it much easier here, the police don't really give a fuck and the system of maintenance and recyclage is less present.

Clean walls are just going to be painted over again anyway.

Let it grow, let it become something. Imagine if the city didn’t have any buffing, if it was all pieces on top of pieces or doors drenched in tags and art. You see that in the Graffiti Alley in Toronto. That's just one section, imagine if the whole city was like that.

Here I love the rooftops, it’s all low buildings so you get as high as a three storey roof and you can see for miles.

And the abandoned buildings are great. Toronto used to have some amazing ones, but the majority of them are gone. I feel so lucky to have grown up at a time in which the city was still pretty raw. Within the last five years it’s grown insanely.

What would you change about the scene in Montreal? 

If I could change anything? I wish there were more people doing characters on the street. This might frustrate some people but I’m going to tell you what I think anyway.

Of course, it’s your interview.

(laughs) A lot of the older guys were doing it a lot when they were  between the ages of 15 and 19. That’s kind of where I come from, I was starting out and doing tags when I was living by the tracks, even younger. I feel super privileged to be able to have had that growing up. I was always surrounded by it, it's always been a part of my life. But I see a lot of people who are just starting to notice street art now, and they’re using it only for the marketing, there’s no pure joy put into it. Public art is amazing, the best kind of art there is. But I love it when an artist comes from a background in which their life has been fully infused in the outdoor space and abandoned spaces. That’s why I love graffiti artists, I mean I hate some of the shit they do and their attitudes but I love that they've been doing it since they can remember, without thinking.

Do you think the street art scene, then, is going to die out at some point? With it being a trend now and everything?

Some artists are doing it for the short term, others are dedicating more years to it but I think there are people who will be doing it forever. It’s still pretty young, even if we have a bunch of artists who've hit trains and have been painting on the street for a long time.

And what about this ongoing “controversial” debate on the differences between graffiti and street art?

(laughs)I love it, it’s so fun.

What’s your take on it?

It’s all about respect. We’re all using the same space so I think there should be a level of mutual respect in not going over each other’s work and it's not always there. It's different aesthetics, it’s like dogs sometimes, just pissing on stuff.  Graffiti artists are just marking their space. I paint on the street as well but it just pisses me off sometimes when I try to work with some of these kids but they’re not interested in working as a team, they’d much rather fuck people’s shit up.

Have you encountered many problems like that?

There’s a bunch of young kids that just don’t have respect. In other cities I’ve been in, there’s more of it when it comes to street art and graffiti but here there’s always clashes. I guess it would be boring if -No, don’t go over there! (to the cat that's entering his neighbours apartment)

Curiosity killed the cat.

That cat actually killed my neighbours bird.

Oh shit. 

Anyway, mostly they just don’t have any respect, it would be boring without it I guess, it would become stagnant.

Do you ever get bored of your work? Uninspired?

No..I haven’t gotten it yet at least. I think it’s because I work within good parameters I set for myself. Do more, think less. Don't dwell on anything and just do more. That’s why I love street art. You just do, and then you walk away and do it again. It’s all impermanent. It’s not going to last but nothing really does, so why not just go for it in the moment?

People are scared to get into it sometimes, or have difficulty finding their voice.

That’s really important. I feel like I found mine, but truly it’s just having fun. If I’m not having fun, I’m not going to do it.

Are there any international artists you haven’t worked with that you’d be interested in collaborating with?

Kashink. I talked to her this morning, we were exchanging some messages. We’re in the works of working on something (laughs). I just collaborated with Jason Botkin for the first time, which was really awesome. He’s definitely one of my favourite Montreal artists.

(At this point the conversation rambled into Art Basel and a sudden mutual need to go get food, so we snapped some pictures and went to find some poutine)

[ You can check out Waxhead's work on his Flickr account here and follow his Instagram here]