On a beautiful summers day photographer Matt and I drove through Collingwood’s tight but colorful streets in Melbourne. We’re set to meet up with international graffiti artist, David Hook or perhaps better known for his street name, Meggs.  The studio is located on a street that’s decorated with graffitied walls, lined with design studios, art houses, clothing warehouses and a community radio station. Upon arrival, Meggs invited us in and took us on a tour of the studio, sharing memories and showing us things from the studios past then spoke of his thoughts of it’s exciting future. With a soundtrack of spray cans, a weekends worth of glass bottles, background conversation and music from the neighboring studios Meggs and I sat down for a chat.

When did you first get into street art?

I first got into street art around 2003.  I just started doing stencils on the streets, really basic stencils, I messed around with a little bit of graffiti in high school but that was my ‘in’ to street art.

How old were you then?

I was about 23, 24.

 

You mentioned that you messed around with graffiti in high school; did you practice any other art forms?

I’ve always done illustration and bits and pieces of artwork on my own accord for many years, but I studied graphic design so therefore everthing I was doing creatively was more structured around that.  I started working as a graphic designer so everything I was doing was brief based or client work but that then lead me to do street art outside.  I guess I started to get a bit bored or feel a bit confined and I wanted to get back to something that was looser and more fun.

With street art there is an adrenaline rush, how did it feel when you did that first stencil?

I think the very first time I did it I was quite drunk but that was a year or so before I actually got into the street art thing. You’re kind of scared but it’s more just that exciting rush of doing it.  I went with a couple of mates and when you have a couple other people with you it sort of helps when someone’s looking out.  In the early periods I think I was more relaxed because I wasn’t thinking too much about it, but there is that nervous excitement for sure!

As you do more street art it seems like it almost becomes more of a brand and people start recognizing your work, is there more risk involved in getting caught?

I guess. The way my work has evolved, the brand that is ‘Meggs’, the art name that is known is separate from my fine art and I kind of did that deliberately. A lot of the street stuff, which evolved into more graffiti painting or character based stuff looked kind of different and was always unsigned, so those in the culture knew, but I never felt that would be a link that would put me in any risk. Definitely stuff like paste ups and stickers, yes, but I don’t feel like it’s enough along the lines of the public damage vibe to authorities to care and we’ve never had any trouble.  We involved ourselves in legal projects now and lots of community based stuff as well which probably helps our profile and now Everfresh as a whole and myself, Meggs, are recognized as more legitimate artists rather than someone that the cops consider strictly graffiti and would want to track down.
Was that a conscious decision from you and the Everfresh crew to be recognized as acclaimed artists rather than graffiti artists?

It kind of evolved a bit naturally as we started to do more legal work and a few different group murals, we started to get more recognition and then more opportunities came and for sure individually as artists we’ve all wanted to ideally make a career out of what we love doing.  We’ve pushed that aspect for each of us to become more legitimate artists in our own right.  We’ll always have graffiti.

And is that because you still love that thrill of the risk?

I guess so but personally I don’t want to take as many risks that can get me into any legal trouble as I’ve got more to lose as far as overseas visas or court costs or anything hindering what I’m doing professionally.

Over the years I’ve noticed the progression of Everfresh (the crew that Meggs is associated with) and the community are more accepting of street art. You see it on t-shirts and not just “gangsters” in a stereotypical term, have you noticed that’s contributed to your success ?
As a whole the culture’s becoming more socially recognized and that benefits us, especially when you’re making a career as a fine artist. It’s a bit of a double edged sword sometimes.  That commercial aspect can take away a little bit of the kind of spontaneity or anonymity, that kind of excitement. On a whole some ways I think it’s good, there comes more opportunities to produce public art and as you get older and you start thinking of making a living and making money and all that sort of thing, getting more opportunities to do that and producing more public art is a good thing for the community.

And now street art is being displayed in galleries and it’s interesting to see that transformation. In the early days did you get a lot of criticism from the public because you were a street artist?

It depends. The guy’s in Everfresh and myself straddled that gap between graffiti and street art, so we’ve done a bit of everything from tagging to pieces to characters to posters to stickers to stencils to big murals and stuff so generally the public opinion is still pretty divided in that when you say street art they’ll be more accepting because it’s image based stuff or it’s things they can relate to and like to look at. If you say graffiti a majority of people still say “tagging is bad, we hate tagging”, but I think that’s shifting a little bit now as more quality public graffiti is building so people are starting to become aware that there’s more facets to this culture and you can’t just have a black and white view on it. We’ve always had pretty positive responses from any public projects we’ve done so that’s a good thing but there’s probably a lot of unspoken stuff you wouldn’t advertise that you did, it’s just for that rush that I’m sure a lot of people wouldn’t have liked.

By creating art outdoors and in public spaces it is prettyshort term and most likey be covered up or removed or the effects of nature will take its toll.  Do you see that as an advantage to keep your art fresh and new? Is there anything you miss?

One thing I’ll miss is the train lines that I used to travel along. The Belgrave, the Lilydale line through Richmond station, that canyon to Camberwell, I had some great stuff up there but all that area got buffed and the city lost of a lot of graffiti history in those spots so it’s a real shame that happened.  As for other street work goes, I guess you could look back and wish a few of things had stuck around but ultimately the stuff that I want to stay permanent is commissioned, larger scale works anyway, the other smaller stuff, yeah I’m always
prepared for that to be transient and as long as it’s documented you’ve got something to look back on.

Do you document all of your work?

Most of it, yeah. With the technology now you can just get your phone or digital camera straight away.  It’s always been a key thing in graffiti culture because everyone’s always been aware that this stuff doesn’t last and if you want records of what you do they take photos.

What I like about your art is the use of colour, like all graffiti it stems from the bright but limited colours available on spray cans. Is that the origins of your inspiration?

I guess so, but it’s probably more my education in graphic design. We went over a lot of colour theory and the natural sense of colour.  It’s definitely influenced by such things as a graffiti culture, but sometimes you just see certain colour combinations that just work.  When you first start out you experiment with a lot of different colours and then as you mature you hone that down to understanding more selected colour palettes.

And what about the subject, I noticed you have themed exhibitions?

For each of my solo shows I’ll have a specific theme in mind so I’ll build a body of work around that theme.  I like it so the whole space is based around one thing, in between that when I produce paintings I’ll have little ideas that will probably stem from the larger themes but didn’t quite fit or things I just want to paint, so I guess there is the underlining duality theme of personal emotive influences in my work that
is about expressing distress or frustration or energy to express, which is personally how I paint and it all sort of reflects on pop culture trends and society and how I see different social events and the vibe.

I think you absorb it as an artist, I try to paint stuff that relates to me personally.  I try to be honest in my work and my personal interests.

And this space that we are in, which is your studio, also houses a lot of creative people who also work here. Do you feel inspired here?

Yes, I think definitely in the beginning years. The studio is now structured differently, people are more separated in their areas, but initially Everfresh was a communal table and everyone worked around each other and that was definitely a major developing and learning period for me.  Now we still share a knowledge of the basic stuff like painting techniques, new materials or how someone’s doing
something.

I think it’s important. I like having my own room to paint but I find it’s really important to have that creative group around you.

Your whole career, particularly with Everfresh has been about the creative social aspect…And you’ve got a network outside of Australia, you’ve travelled all over the world with your art, which is incredible, what’s coming up for you?

I don’t know, I still feel like it’s still in the beginning stages. More travel; the travel part is actually becoming a more important part of what I do. It’s definitely pushing myself further and it’s necessary to branch out into new areas, especially in the USA,
my contact base is really growing and there’s potential for more exciting projects happening there so I’m going to Hawaii for the Pow Wow event and then a solo show in White Walls in San Fransciso in July and then another solo show in Melbourne.
Melbourne will always be my hometown, so even if I’m not based here I’ll always be coming back to do shows, producing and making projects happen, working more graphics with snowboards and t-shirts.

You can follow Meggs on twitter
@HouseofMeggs or check in at
HouseofMeggs.com