Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Ryan Goldade and Amie Nguyen
Photography by Alan Ng
The justalilhype! Crew caught up with Zion, the owner of Bombshelter. He started off with the goal to create a studio and has been able to transcend his passion of street art into a physical creative space where graffiti writers are allowed to come hang out and purchase the latest inks. Aside from answering questions about the origins of his projects, he also speaks upon his views of the public perception on graffiti and discusses upon on what he argues to be true street art.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m Zion, owner and proprietor of the Bombshelter. More than that, designated ambassador of the entire core street culture to make sure people get to meet everyone and we can unite and be one.
Tell us about the origins of Bombshelter.
Bombshelter is an old idea from myself and an old crew member from Hamilton where the two of us were walking across the city to each other’s places and we’d have to walk through snow storms. When we met up, we decided to get a studio spot and with that vibe we were like, “We should call it the bomb shelter.” It took all the resources we had and we build a small spot in a studio warehouse space. Right away, any writer who was passing through Hamilton had a place to stay.
Recently the store front has switched over to Montana Colors, but you’re still very passionate about Bombshelter. What are the connections between the two?
Bombshelter is still just what it is. It’s pretty much just a cross collabo. Right now, what we’re doing is giving Montana the facade. We are the organization. We are the ground level core spot. Each one of us is part of the Bombshelter family. Montana is the one that said they are ready to sponsor and fund our movement before any other company did so properly. We’re a part of the Montana family so that makes this the Montana shop. It just means room for growth.
What should someone expect when visiting the Bombshelter store?
We’ve got a lot of people from the States and the Golden Horseshoe [Southern Ontario] as well as the rest of Canada that know when they come here they have a resource spot. We’re more like a hostel, a day hostel for writers who come. They can come here and sit down and meet other dudes. That’s what this place is more than anything; it’s the central hub to the core community. Anyone that’s part of our community or has that communal vibe inside can feel comfortable.
The public stereotype of graffiti is often negative. What are some of the problems that the public has given you?
None. Anyone stuck in that mindset of ‘fear what you don’t understand’, that’s their problem. The internet is here and you can look it up. It’s a household name now to know who Banksy is. We’re not here to appease anyone when it comes to the negative or the positive. We’re here for those that are positive, you know? Like, come and be a part of it. If you are to go out and bomb, it’s best for you to go where they have cans for just a dollar.
Travelling across eastern Canada has definitely opened our eyes to graffiti. Tell us about your views on the Toronto graffiti scene.
It’s way past just being graffiti. Because Toronto has too many cultures, the art form is very multicultural. Some people come in and do murals traditional style and you’ll have guys come in to buy paint to spray on a canvas and different mediums. It’s less to do with a graffiti culture and more to do with young artists that are living their lifestyle and financing themselves. It’s this that we support. It’s far from being graffiti and being pigeon-holed in.
Tell us about the product selection in your store and how you came to select what you carry.
There are so many different spray paints that are good for their own reasons. When it comes to Montana, they have been the pioneer of paint that was made by writers for writers. Therefore, we feel comfortable in that relationship with them because it’s the same energy that we have and put out there. Also, Krink, a former graffiti writer from the old school, we used to have to make our own paint. He’s made his own as started marketing them. Everything has been beautiful, his product is great so we stick behind that.
Graffiti has progressed and has grown from its original essence. Where do you see graffiti and the technology going and how to do you maintain that true essence?
Graffiti is an art form that came from disenfranchised youth in New York (even though it’s actually as old as prostitution, let’s just say NY). It was a way for the youth to express themselves to one another. You can spray a train and let someone know on the other side of the city that this is you and you have mad style. It was meant to be something that doesn’t box you in because it was a way of communicating outside of the box. Now, everything goes in circles. I feel that right now, graffiti is inside of its own box. There are a lot of rules and regulations as to how it’s done. That keeps the art form pure for many people but at the same time, creative people of the future utilize the tools to bring it somewhere else. You have dudes like Blu that did the animation. Like, that shit isn’t graffiti but that shit is nuts. He uses rollers but he must have used spray paint for the lines. Who else is outside of the box? Banksy? He’s using stencils. That brings up the point of the whole stencil art movement. Then you have the entire sticker art movement. Right now it’s like, never mind graffiti, it’s the art form and where a new person will take it. Christians wait for Jesus and artists wait for their next messiah.
Art tends to go in cycle. Where do you feel graffiti is going in terms of its cycle?
Graffiti is recognized for what it is. I don’t like to use the term ’cause it means so much and yet it means so little.
Street art then.
It has no term right now, you know? Put it this way. A guy that writes, “For a good time call Jane, 416-…”, that’s graffiti to the general population. A little Nazi kid that goes into a cemetery and paints a swastika on a Jewish gravestone, that’s graffiti. It’s outside of the term. We don’t want to use the term. The art form that comes from a spray can or a marker, where do I see it going? That lies in the people that have a strong sense of their history and their foundation. Where it goes? I have no idea where the arrow lands once I pull the bow. Just like Jedi, as a b-boy, the most he can do is teach someone the foundation. He can’t go and teach them how to have style. That comes from within. That’s the soul of the culture.
Is that what you, who is someone of the older generation, would like to pass on to the new comers?
Yeah, hell yeah. If anyone asks about graffiti, the first and the last thing is that it’s about style. Usually in graffiti, just like anything, when someone starts, they want to go with style but they end up looking super whack because they have no foundation.
What does the future hold for Bombshelter and Montana Colors?
When it comes to Bombshelter, we’re looking for more of a community presence. It would be great for us to have our own social club similar to the Free Masons, etc. We have our own brotherhood and fraternity too. We would much rather work amongst ourselves than have the corporates infiltrate. So for Bombshelter, it’s that. As for Montana, the growth that we’re working on right now is Montana World which is unifying all of those that are part of the Montana family and getting more multimedia. I don’t want to get into it but web, print, TV, even podcasts. Mostly and mainly it’s about sharing information.
What is HYPE?
From my own personal side, through the faith and culture of Ras Tafari [Haile Selassie I], there are two personalities to everybody. There is HYPE and there is humble. I’d much rather stay humble than HYPE.