When The Walls Talk: Artist Smalls

Vibrant, bold and layered-to-perfection, every Smalls piece enchants audiences, whether viewed up close, or from afar. In fact, this artist’s work jumps off the wall and into your memory.

Remarkably, Smalls paints a diverse array of subjects and styles, from people and lettering, to flora and fauna, with incredible depth and expertise. An absolute master of his craft, passion and exceptional precision tie his dynamic body of graffiti, street, mural and illustration art together.

Over his 12-year professional art career, Smalls has worked with high-profile clients across the country such as Westfield, MasterBuilders Australia, Rebel Sport and Nike. He also has extensive experience delivering workshops for schools and youth.

We sat down with Smalls to chat about his public art practice, how the Gold Coast shapes his work and street art more broadly.

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How would you describe your street, graffiti and mural art, to someone who has never seen your work before? 

I find it difficult to describe which sounds weird, but I’ve always felt the importance of maintaining a broad range of skills, in a variety of mediums and subjects. I feel this allows me to learn from and integrate different mediums and styles together, and also combine learning from alternative practices to try be the best artist I can be. My background involves graffiti, tattooing and a mix of hip hop, and hardcore music which influences my work; but I also enjoy portraiture and nature inspired themes.

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming an artist? 

Art was always something that I ‘did’. I was the kid drawing on the walls at home in crayon and on the school desks with sharpies. It was an interest that grew into a passion. I dabbled in a lot of mediums before trying and falling in love with spray paint and graffiti art around 2007. From there I knew whatever career path I chose in life; it would revolve around art in some way. I failed art class in high school, which became one of my biggest motivations to pursue artistic success and it’s been a hammer down ever since. Dreams don’t work unless you do.

How do you approach the creation of art in public spaces, and the creation of art on canvasses or paper, differently? 

There’s definitely many more factors that come in to play when creating in a public space. The position, shape and size of the wall(s), the surrounding colour schemes, the lighting and effects that changing shadows will have through the day, what material the wall is and how various paints will react to it – even the logistics of accessing all points of a wall can sometimes be a challenge. It’s often refreshing coming back to the simple white square of a canvas or paper.

What do you enjoy most about creating art in public space? 

Sounds a bit corny, but I think the reactions and joy it brings to the viewers does it for me. You put so much of yourself into your art and when you see people really, genuinely enjoy it, or stop and say ‘thank you’, it’s pretty special.  It’s a unique sort of art from in that you sort of pour yourself into the space during the creation, and then leave it, to possibly never see it in person again. So knowing that it’s left in the view of those who enjoy and appreciate it is a real highlight for me.

What are some of the obstacles or challenges creating art in public? 

Oh man, in terms of OH&S concerns, being a mural artist is cooked! Balancing awkwardly 3 meters up a ladder in the sun, breathing in fumes for 12 hours a day – I know my back, shoulders and lungs are all just like “bruh, what are you doing?” And in a public space there’s often a list of logistical and access issues to overcome as well; not to mention the stress and self-doubt that’s involved in creating something in the public eye – But still, best job I’ve ever had and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Does the Gold Coast shape your creative practice in any way? And if so, how? 

I take a lot of inspiration from the natural environment, flora and fauna here and how different it is to my hometown, Canberra. The colours in the gardens, the bird life, the brightness and warmth of the sun and the way it hits those colours. It’s nice to view all of that with fresh eyes. I like bringing attention to those things that can easily be underappreciated when it becomes the norm that people are used to.

What is one thing more people should know about street art? 

That without graffiti, without the tags, street art as it is, wouldn’t exist. I get people all the time come up to say they like my work but hate graffiti – they hate tags, hate writers and wish they would do murals instead. And to me, that doesn’t make sense. Street art has roots in graffiti, it’s grown from graffiti and shares the same soil. Sure, you can like one more, or prefer and appreciate it more, but you can’t love the butterfly and hate the caterpillar.

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Gold Coasters can check out some of Smalls’ recent work firsthand at Cheeky’s Bar in Surfers Paradise and the Burleigh Motel…. and hopefully many more to come! Visit iwritesmalls.com and @iwritesmalls for more. IMAGE (C) Smalls.

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