justART! AESO

Interview by Alan Ng and Alex Strum
Words by Cornelius Suen and Alan Ng
Photography by Alan Ng

Location: Halifax

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There are only a handful of traditional graffiti artists living in Halifax today and AESO is one name that everyone should know as he has been leaving his mark across the city for well over a decade. AESO is a passionate graffiti artist who has lived the life of a true graffiti artist. He grew up leaving notable tags in hundreds of locations and painting along the infamous railroad tracks laid out across his province. Brought up by arguably some of the best writers across Canada, AESO can still deliver, to this day, work that is appreciated not only by people within the graffiti scene but even by ordinary individuals. People with even a minimal understanding of street culture know that AESO’s work is beyond exceptional.

In this interview, justalilhype! got the chance to observe AESO complete a tag from start to finish at one of the only legal standing walls in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Afterwards, AESO brought the crew to the historical location where he spent a lot of time in his younger days as a graffiti artist and showed us a glimpse of what it’s like to tag in one of the best spots in Atlantic Canada. Furthermore, AESO shares with us his stories as a graffiti artist, explains the reasons for an almost non-existent Halifax graffiti scene, and emphasizes the importance of understanding the street codes of graffiti. While there are only so many graffiti artists from Halifax, AESO and many others who are able to utilize what they have in terms of geographical constrains can still make a name for themselves, not only in their own region, but across Canada as well.

Can you introduce yourself to our readers?

I am AESO and I am from Halifax, Nova Scotia. I’ve been writing for sixteen years now, starting when I was in grade four. The Halifax graffiti scene is virtually non-existent; all the good writers have pretty much left. All the writers that inspired me, like FATSO, DABS, SECTR, and COP94, have all left Halifax.

How did you get your graph name? Did you pick it yourself or was it given to you?

AESO kind of came from an old girlfriend of mine. The name is derived from Aseop, the famous Greek mythologist responsible for Aseop’s Fables. I love Greek mythology and I thought that AESO was a cool name with simple letters. The name has stuck with me.

Tell us about your graffiti style.

I am more of a freestyle graffiti artist. I don’t paint from a sketch. Instead, I paint from the top of my head. I have probably only painted twenty pieces, tops, from sketches. I think that this sets me apart from most graffiti artists.

Tell us about your favourite piece from your repertoire.

I have many favourites. I did one five or six years ago on the train tracks here in Halifax but it got burned by some toy writers who had no respect. That’s one of the problems with the Halifax graffiti scene. People don’t know the rules of the game, like “learn before burn.” They think they can just go over whoever they want. I have some pictures of that piece I can give you. I didn’t give it a specific name. It’s just an AESO piece.

Tell us a bit about painting around the train tracks. It seems like a popular spot.

People have been painting there even before I was born. It is an extremely chill place to write. The train workers don’t care if people painted there and they actually liked seeing the productions that were going about. In the early nineties, you could not find a space to paint there because there were so many beautiful pieces already up and you were bound to get into trouble if you painted over another person’s piece. People like hanging out there as well. You can go there to hang out with your friends and have a beer. The cops don’t bother you there.

What got you into graffiti?

I have to say SECTR and FATSO were the two main writers that got me into it at a really young age. I always looked up to them. DABS is another writer who really inspires me. He writes in Asia now and he is doing some really big things.

Where do you see the Halifax graffiti scene going?

There are mixed feelings regarding the scene. Murals are the big things now that people are trying to get down with. There are a lot more commissioned murals going up. As a street painting scene, we are bust. There are a few writers here that still do it and still go hard, but as far as the scene goes, there isn’t much here besides legal murals.

We understand that you used to live in Montreal and that you have done some traveling. How do you like the other cities that you have been to, in terms of graffiti? What kind of aspects of graffiti have you learned from these other cities?

Living in Montreal was different, way different than Halifax.  It’s a lot easier to paint there versus here, where there is a large police presence dedicated to catching graffiti artists. There are real writers in Montreal and a real scene there. Here, there is just a lot of childish stuff going on. Montreal has a far better graffiti scene.

These days, the line between street art and graffiti is constantly getting blurred, especially with the works of artists like Banksy. What keeps you staying true to graffiti?

In terms of Banksy and art like that, it doesn’t really exist out here. Graffiti to me, here in Halifax, is a hobby. I love doing it. I always have and I would love making money off it, but I don’t really get a good vibe from the street art here. Piece wise, I just like painting canvases or the odd train.

What are the essential tools that you bring with you when you go bombing?

Caps. Any type of paint for fill but I like to use Montana preferably, who doesn’t. I can flex with any type of paint because I never had access to Montana as a kid, unlike the youngsters these days. Using Montana is almost like cheating because it’s the best paint in the world.

You have a lot of business owners wanting murals in Halifax despite the graffiti crackdown. How is this changing the scene?

In this city, since there is no scene really, murals are a bonus. The city is worried about staying clean and tag free so murals is a way for me to get my name out there and to get the city looking good at the same time. I am always game for murals.

You mentioned that there is an unwritten code of conduct between graffiti artists. What are some of the most important rules?

“Learn before you burn” is what I was always told by the older generations. If you are not better than someone, do not write over them.  A piece goes over a throw-up, a production goes over a piece, it’s just showing respect to your elders. I have been painting for sixteen years and young kids have been going over me. It’s like me going to an art show and tagging over a Picasso piece. People will not stand for it.

Do you have any advice for the up and comers?

Practice your sketching and your drawing. Find a place where you can practice without going over other people’s stuff. Don’t copy others. Be original.

What do you think about the advent of new technology evolving graffiti art? For example, people can now scan their vectors or use graphic softwares to scan their designs onto t-shirts.

Graffiti has come a long way since I started. All the power to the people who want to create clothing lines with their designs.  If you are good at what you do, do it and go hard. Utilize what you can utilize.  The real shame is that people don’t understand what good is any more, they just go out and copy whatever. As long as you can stay original and creative, use whatever tools you have at your disposal.

How would an illegal street artist start generating money from their craft?

Be good at what you do and promote yourself in a legal way. If you do illegal street art and people can match what you do to a legal piece that you have done, you may get into trouble. Tread lightly!

Tell us about some of your commissioned pieces.

Some aren’t running anymore because the buildings have been torn down or repainted. Commission wise, my pieces seem to last and people don’t really go over my stuff. I have done many types of businesses and received nothing but good responses all around.

What is HYPE?

When I am HYPEd about something I am usually stoked about it. HYPE is a state of mind that comes and goes.

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