Interview: Mikey XXI
Posted on June 21, 2012 by Mr. Pickles
Recently I caught up with one of my favourite writers to pick his brain. Click to see how it went down…
First of all, give us the basics. What do you write / crews and how did you get into Graffiti?
I write Mikey XXI, Twen One & 21. I used to write other tags and crews coming up, but after going legit I retired those ones which those that know will know and those that don’t, don’t need to. I got into graf after an old school writer named Sinister ROA came to my primary school to do community service after getting snapped and gave a talk to the class about graf and showed us Beat Street. I was amazed and my friend Sabre and I went up to him at lunch and hassled him for all the knowledge he had. I practiced on paper for a few years before doing my first piece in ’88 and my first train in ’91, which was when I considered myself a writer. After 2 decades now I consider my self an artist with a graf style.
A lot of dudes these days write graff under a human name, I can guess the Mikey part, but I find the roman numerals for yours intriguing. Can you explain how you came about your name and what it means to you?
I started using the number 21 when I was 16 when I learnt there was another New York writer with the same tag I was using at the time. I attached a number to differ from the other and not many oz writers had numbers so I chose 21 as we were heading into the 21st century. It stuck and I was known for it so when I switched to using my name Mikey, I changed it to XXI which is roman numerals and the name I rap under so to join the 2 elements I kept using it. Now its been 21 years since my first piece so the meaning will always change to what’s relevent to the times.
I understand you recently made the move from Queensland to Victoria, how has that affected your art and how would you compare the 2 scenes?
Good question… I’m acclimatising to both the weather and the people. Its been good for the art as Brisbane is pushing the art indoors and underground as public space is no longer for the public and in Melbourne people are more embracing of the culture and the art is more open and diverse…makes me want to pick up my game. I’m not here to step on toes or be part of the scene, just doing my thing painting walls and it looks like there’s plenty to go around. Respect to the original writers here.
Where and how does Sydney fit into that?
Sydney. Dope graf. A lot of the original styles and crews there. I lived there as a teen, unless it’s origin night I’m a fan! Good lads out at Gosford too, painted in Sydney a bit with MOC, KOC & TPC years ago. Much respect.
Your website describes you as “someone who started out on the wrong side of the law, but learnt fast there are more legitimate avenues for your art”. What were the influences to make you want to turn legit and was there one sketchy event in particular that helped define your decision?
Too legit to quit. I was snapped early for a lot, served lil time. Out in a month due to an appeal on having a kid. My crew mate got a lot longer, but I got a lot of community service and restitution. Years of probation and not being able to travel set me back so I started asking around and I was lucky Ksino helped me out with early legal’s and showed me the ropes back when there wasnt many people doing it legit or better yet for a living. I respect those that keep the art movement in its true essence, but I’m not keen on running or court systems again so I look for the legit way to keep painting coz that’s why I do it, to paint.
What advice would you give to someone who loves aerosol art, but doesn’t necessarily want to risk freedom or even their life getting up to no good?
My advice is sketch a lot. Practice on boards or back yard walls first. When ya get ya can control down good, then get a few pics and ask around. You’d be surprised how many people let you. Ask 20 or so walls, get 10 maybes, 4 walls to paint and 1 or 2 paid jobs. Keep on asking. It’s mostly word of mouth and cash in hand with paint left over for your own art. Stay original and smile for the public A lot of people like graf but don’t want to risk getting hurt to view it, so the galleries and commission walls give them a chance to view it in a safe environment.
I would describe your style as very traditional, the way you rock letters and characters has a timeless finesse. Who were your main influences when you were coming up and currently.
My influence was and is early New York subway art and Style Wars. B-Boys and Hip-Hop. To name a few when there were so many – Seen Dondi Phase2..Overseas – Bates Swet Can2. In Aus – Defwish Unique Ksino Puzle Hype Twins Mr. E & nowadays im feeling the funky public styles like Depth or Mad C. Subway Suds and Lucks showed me a lot too, as well as original tag master Bosie. Brisbane style evolved from his tags I reckon.
Seeing your B-Boy characters, Hip-Hop is obviously a major part of that. Off the top of your brain could we get a top 5 MC’s / Groups?
Top 5 emcees and crews in my opinion -
Defwish, Dwiz, 7ravesty 333 Keith Murray, Delta, Triple 3, 750, Artofwar, Impossible odds & EPMD.
Do you have an interest in other types of music? What other things in life do you enjoy?
I like a lotta music from easy listening to hard core gabba, depending on my mood. I make Hip-Hop as I represent most elements somewhat. You can hear my crew 333 rapping. Free downloads and shameless promotion haha. I like chilling with fam and friends and long walks with a marker pen and a pocket of stickers.
Have you traveled much and hit walls worldwide? Any good stories from you adventures?
I’ve been around oz painting most capital cities and loved the central country towns. I’ve been painting through Cambodia, painting villages that had very little – 3rd world. Amazing people and a moving experience. K.L, Malaysia is possibly one of the best places to paint. It’s not illegal there in most parts and has some of the best artists internationally. I enjoyed and learnt a lot from overseas travel. It’s good to refill the creative cup when it’s running dry.
So, what’s on the cards in the future. Any projects you’re keen to start on?
Keep on painting lots. Walls and canvases. I have a few silent projects I’m working on so keep an eye out.
You do a lot of commission work, when the paint is basically free, whats your choice of weapon?
Belton’s, Montana, Crunch and Export.
Besides letters on a wall, you have done some pretty amazing murals and canvass work. Have you explored other mediums?
As an artist Ive explored many mediums that can make a mark. I prefer aerosol over oil coz I have lil patience for drying paint and I like it large.
My girl Bee, fams, children and friends.
Last question and the hardest one. To me graffiti can be quite complex. Obviously there’s the magnificent art that adorns not nearly enough walls in the world, then there’s the adventure, the bombing and the risks. All integral parts of Graff, but that can lead to some serious repercussions. Basically, what I am trying to ask you, after thinking about those things is what does graffiti mean to you?
Graffiti is a word that can mean many things depending on perception and placement. To me it’s more than an art form; it’s an art movement and most of all a way of life. I’m blessed and grateful to create on the daily and achieve what I have with others I respect.
Peace and thanks for the opportunity.
If you are interested in any of the work for sale or even looking for a way to spice up that boring wall contact - firstname.lastname@example.org