Second in our series of interviews that took place at Carbon Festival, is with Barry Mcgee. We were lucky enough to catch a bit of his time while he was in Melbourne and chatted about tags, art, his favourite Sydney writers and the effect graffiti has on cities.
Barry Mcgee would have to be one of the world’s most famous graffiti writers/artists. His career in both galleries and outside with graffiti are equally as prolific. Find out more about him here (it’s a google link, because he has no website).
Photos of Barry McGee by Michael Danischewski
THE OPENING HOURS: Since you’ve been here have you seen anyone up?
BARRY MCGEE: Just Sinch, I’m obsessed with Sinch, completely obsessed. You know when that happens? You just become completely obsessed?
TOH: Yeah totally. And you were saying you liked Zack as well right? Great throwups.
BMG: Yeah I like how loose it is, it seems like they go over whoever they want too which I find interesting. I know it’s controversial but i just like no rules. Is that bad?
TOH: I think there’s so much graffiti here that you kind of have to make your own space.
BMG: Yeah I like when its chaotic.
TOH: What’s your bag with graff?
BMG: I like throw-ups and tagging, all the bad stuff.
TOH: That’s all the good stuff!
BMG: Is that bad?
TOH: That’s great! I saw that you liked the insides in the mag (referring to Freak KGB’s section in Artillery magazine).
BMG: I like people focusing like that on something.
TOH: The tag wall you did in Sydney last time was quite controversial…
BMG: Oh yeah, they should have painted over that thing, i wish kids from Sydney hacked the whole thing, that would’ve been cool.
TOH: I was going to say, someone did actually.
BMG: Is there someone who writes Space there? I was into him. He was up all on the freeway.
TOH: He’s still really up.
BMG: Like I wish he went over the whole thing. You know it’s a weird thing, I don’t like legal walls, I just feel like there’s so many kids in Sydney that deserve it more. I don’t like the people coming into town, its just an awkward thing. I like when other kids come to town and smash stuff, but when you come to town and do legal walls its just lame. I think its better for sydney writers to just take over. Don’t you think?
BMG: Don’t you think someone should have just fire extinguished that whole thing? That would have been the proper thing to do.
TOH: Well, Rich did cap it.
BMG: He didn’t go big enough, he should have filled the fire extinguisher and gone over the whole thing. I’m really glad someone did it but I wanted more. Fucking wreck the thing.
TOH: When you did it did you know you weren’t you supposed to do that part of the wall?
BMG: Yeah we knew. It’s always the best to do a bit more.
TOH: The reactions were pretty amazing because it’s quite a conservative area there, theres nothing cultural around there. I went the next day to have a look and there was business people yelling at me going ‘That’s disgusting did you do that?’ and I said ‘It’s a pretty infamous guy that’s done it, you’re pretty lucky to have this in your day to day’. Some of the businessman thought it was amazing that you could possibly get that high.
BMG: Did someone lose their job because of that?
TOH: No, you probably made a few because they did buff it in the end, which is a shame.
BMG: Its always better when it gets painted over, makes more space.
TOH: I really liked that massive wall in new york that you did with colossal media.
BMG: How weird is that!
TOH: Yeah how weird is it that someone else painted it for you!
BMG: I feel like someone should fire extinguish that (laughs). Im not into stuff like that it was just an opportunity that came up. Theres a dance company that had the space but i’m not really sure, they just wanted a sketch and I gave it to them. I wasn’t even involved in the sketch and someone put it together, its totally weird. Im really into chaos, like how things go together and I don’t have anything to do with it. You know how you set the table sometimes?
TOH: Put your knives on the left?
BMG: Yeah, it wasn’t as chaotic as i thought.
TOH: Did you watch it happen?
BMG: No I was in San Francisco! I didn’t know anything.
TOH: Those colossal media guys are pretty amazing though.
BMG: Yeah, they are good at what they do huh!
TOH: Yeah, some of the photorealistic stuff they do is crazy.
BMG: They do photorealistic stuff too?
TOH: Yeah hand painting all the ads on the sides of buildings.
BMG: They’re all graffiti kids aren’t they?
TOH: Yeah i’m sure, they’ve gotta be.
BMG: Tell me more about the Sydney graff scene.
TOH: Well it gets buffed quite often. We have these vans full of every colour paint, there’s a lot of money in buffing. But they don’t patch the colours, so you get all the patchy odd colour splurges on walls. I think people have these 15 minutes of fame when they pump everything and then its goes, and then a few people drop out, and the hardcore few keep going. Most of their stamina can only last for so long when its so defeating.
BMG: But you have youth on your side right, constant youth that gets excited. I think of the kid just focusing on insides (Freak KGB), if i was a kid just riding a train I’d freak out. Imagine if you were like 12 years old getting on a train, you’d be like how is this happening. He’s setting up a whole thing for young kids to get involved in. When you do something that well and with that focus, how can the kids not get involved.
TOH: Generally the whole train system in Sydney is getting smashed at the moment.
BMG: I love that, thats a good healthy city.
TOH: Tell us more about the graff where you’re from, Who’s up?
BMG: Theres a lot of kids like busriders who are up, they just focus on the buses. Very specific to San Francisco. There are tonnes of kids, most of its going on in oakland now, it kind of shifts back and forth with the cleaning up. Oakland’s out of money so all the kids go there. It looks really good.
TOH: Its funny in one way how it can feel like a healthy city culturally if its pumped, but then its not really a healthy city economically because they cant afford to clean it.
BMG: I think if they looked at the big picture its actually a better way to go as far as an interesting city. Just walking about melbourne and seeing all the graffiti, I don’t care if its just people painting murals or whatever, its a more interesting city. I know I always come down on street art but at least it’s something you know rather than nothing.
TOH: Its like thousands of voices screaming all the same time. Last question, whats your favourite hour of the day?
BMG: I think right around 2am is my optimum time, things are shut down, i can focus really well. That and like 6 in the morning is good too. When was your best hour?
TOH: Mine’s like 9am when I start working, when the madness starts.
BMG: Right out of the gate, you know what, can I change that? I think you’re right, morning’s better. I have a window when I’m good at 2am, but then I start fading, or I’ll do something I’m not supposed to be doing and then…you know what I mean?
TOH: Yeah for sure. Thanks heaps for that!
BMG: Thanks you guys!