1.It all started with a book
Before social media and the internet, ideas took much longer to disseminate, so it was up to those in the know to share resources and actively push the new art form.
“I first saw King Jammo painting in this hip-hop style at The Base in Mitchells Plain in the late 80s,” says veteran street artist Falko One. “Over the next year, Jammo would walk to my house every day, two or three kilometres away, and show me his book on spraycan art. Jammo would let me look at this book every day after school and at the end of the day, he’d take it back home with him. For us this book was so rare and we all took great care of it.”
Because there weren’t forums and groups to join back then, it was up to those interested to get their information and inspiration from wherever possible.
“The pioneers were definitely Falko, he was in all the areas, all over the city,” says underground artist Toe. “Wealz, who was from False Bay side, painted a lot there. In ‘99, somebody painted three carriages, which was huge at the time. They did three letters, OMG, which was a train crew at the time, all in gold. That was crazy.”
3.Then there’s skateboarding
Fringe sub-cultures sometimes aligned with each other to push an alternative message.
Says Falko: “We had an annual competition at the Alex Growl Cup at Boogaloos skate park, called Battle With Vapours. The first one we only had five people and the fifth person we actually had to beg because he didn’t feel he was good enough. But it grew and became something everyone aspired to.”
4.Not forgetting the graffiti bylaw…
As skateboarding and graffiti came up, the authorities tried to put a stop to what they perceived as anti-social activities, with street artists mostly coming off second.
“None of the artwork in Cape Town has been preserved because of the graffiti bylaw,” says Falko. “They just painted over everything. I tried to save a few, but one artist can’t save another artist’s work, because he has to apply for the permissions himself. A lot of important work was lost.”
“I think people are missing out,” Toe maintains. “They moved into Mitchells Plain and wiped out 99% of what was there. Paintings from ‘96! And the thing over there is you never paint over another piece – collectively, over the years, it had become this thing where everything was covered, not with tags, but proper murals. And that’s all gone now. Not cool.”
5.Still, you can’t stop this!
Today there are no rules and it’s about taking everything you’ve learned over the course of a lifetime, painting in as many different styles as possible, and using that to push your message, whatever that may be.
“As I’m getting older, I’m trying to cut out commercial work because that doesn’t push my own cause or add value to what I do,” says Falko. “It’s difficult because, yes, money is important, but if you sacrifice all these commissions and just do what you do, what you love, people will look back and see your work as valuable.”