Who could not notice the depiction of British King Edward VII holding a selfie-stick in Olomouc? This painting appeared on a wall of a house next to the Museum of Art during the eighth year of the Street Art Festival in 2015, as well as the graffiti painting of Batman in the hospital area where the festival began. The two works swept the world via social networks and nowadays both sites are sought out by tourists. This year will be the 11th year of the Street Art Festival, so we have met with Tom Junker to find out what we can look forward to…
"This year's Street Art Festival is shifting yet to another level as Wild Drawing, one of the top ten graffiti artists in the world, is coming from Bali. The main mural will be created on the Passinger Mill directly in the centre of Olomouc. That will be really exciting and something worth looking forward to," says Tom enthusiastically.
But how does one organize an event such as the Street Art Festival? "It always depends on the number of sponsors and partners. There must be an interesting public space where murals can be created. And then, of course, plenty of interesting accompanying events, such as at Palacký University or the Metropol Cinema. There will be a lecture on Street Art by Pasta Oner (the Czech artist and writer). There will be an exhibition in the design hostel Long Story Short," says the organizer.
Over the years the festival has always been organised very professionally and has introduced many foreign artists. The resulting atmosphere is always pleasant and friendly – street art is simply a lifestyle not only for Tom but also for his whole family – his children love graffiti and his wife helps him with his organisation. "I'm glad I can meet friends from this community from within the Czech Republic and from abroad thanks to the festival. However, the festival is not only for people who are interested in graffiti. It is for everyone who likes art.”
Spray paints and platforms
Every year, the organising team tries to negotiate with its indispensable partners and sponsors "As far as spray paints are concerned, we have great support from Molotow with whom I have been working for many years. Another of the biggest costs is the rental charge for the access platforms – so we have been trying for years to find a partner to supply them but no one has yet appeared..."
A gallery in Olomouc may provide a venue to display various works of art during the festival week.
How do you become a writer?
"Graffiti artist" is an official English name. "Writer" here refers to people from the graffiti community – a person who writes on something, whom you could call the "marker".
"I was about ten or eleven years old when we, my cousin and I, found some spray paints for a Skoda and we sprayed in our grandfather's garage. He was very happy about that," laughs Tom. "There was not much graffiti in those days. I only knew about them from MTV and from Michael Jackson's music clips. For example, in The Way You Make Me Feel music clip you can see almost completely graffiti-sprayed walls on a street in the Bronx. In the music clip “Bad” the word is spelt out in graffiti on a subway... I enjoyed them the most. As little boys on the street, we began to write about our crew and we looked for other people also did graffiti. For markers and spray paints we had to go to Prague because in Olomouc you could not get anything.“
From a historical perspective, graffiti date back to prehistoric times when cave paintings could be considered public works of art. In antiquity, graffiti was found within the Roman Empire (examples of it are still preserved at Pompei, for example). Graffiti can be found in the form of anonymous scribbles on plaster walls mostly represented by swear words, amorous declarations or brothel advertisements.
The legend of the emergence of contemporary graffiti harks back to New York in the late 1960s where a certain Demetrius of Greek origin nicknamed "Taki" noticed an inscription "Julio 204" – derived from the name and street of the author 's address (204th Street in New York). Demetrius, a postman, enjoyed this joke and became the author of "Taki 183" signatures in countless areas. The New York Times reported on his intense activities in 1971 and Demetrius became a model for his followers in the creation of signatures (or tags).
A full-time writer?
Although graffiti could earn him a living, Tom prefers to create paintings mainly for pleasure: "I suppose it would stop me from doing it if I had to always adapt to the client or to the event. I try to paint a lot at independent festivals where one can create one’s own works. Of course, it can be very lucrative if you work for interesting clients. But I have a good job that supports me," says the writer. Tom works as a UI designer, creating applications for iPhones/iPads. "Sometimes I create websites but I prefer working on more sophisticated solutions for various start-ups around the world, so I travel a lot. Usually, when I travel somewhere for work I also find the time for graffiti.”
The first "Graff"
“I did my first graff back in 1996 – from today’s point of view, it would be a completely horrible work that I created on a wall. It was the first time we tried it – we did some sketches on paper and we spent about three hours on the spot because our spray paints did not work well. We did not even have proper caps for the spray paints, so it was all rather painful," says Tom Junker amusedly.
At that time novice writers had no idea about the preparation process. He and his friend would draw something in a notepad and then they would go out onto the streets. If they saw a suitable wall, they painted it. “Usually, I have some sketches I'd like to paint somewhere, or if I have a wall that is suitable for graffiti in size and format, then I think of something to paint according to the shape of the wall and I paint it. Nowadays, iPad Pro helps me greatly with the preparations – I have started to work better with colours thanks to my iPad. I used just to sketch on paper. I always had my sketchbook on me and, whenever an idea came up, I sketched it."
Every writer has his own style and palette of colours he likes to use. But everyone is changing and evolving as trends develop. This evolution is also followed by manufacturers of spray paints. Previously, only 16 shades were available, whereas now there are around three hundred. The above-mentioned Molotow company began to produce spray paints designed specifically for graffiti art. Soon after other companies followed suit. "It's not a very cheap thing, one such spray paint costs around 100 CZK. If you go out to paint on a Sunday, you can easily leave around 800 CZK on the wall, and the next day someone might come and paint over it...”
Exhibitions around the world
Although Tom Junker makes his living by designing applications and creating websites, he has already exhibited his graffiti paintings in various European capitals - for example, at the Sorbonne in Paris and in Hamburg. The latest exhibition of Tom’s works was part of a group exhibition at London's Oxo Tower Wharf Gallery. "It was such a hectic event – when I found out I could participate in this exhibit, I prepared four new screens. And, as I knew it was not just street art, I wanted to make my exhibition clearer so it was not purely static. Therefore, I combined my paintings with so-called augmented reality when one can view the picture over the phone and see the animation. It actually links to my work creating iPhone apps. At first, I painted the canvas, then I painted over it digitally and eventually made an animation from it. It works basically like a QR code – the application recognises the image and the animation starts. At the show in London, there was an iPad on a stand during the whole time allowing people to see the animation. It was interesting to follow the reactions of different people – it was most appreciated by older visitors and some people started to laugh when they noticed the animation. I received positive feedback from other artists who participated in this exhibition. Nobody had anything like it,” the talented artist says modestly.
Tom takes inspiration from all around him: "My children often inspire me. Little Betka had to draw a spider that began to amuse me and to appear frequently in my paintings. Recently, I was also preoccupied with the witch in Snow White that I was frightened of as a little boy. Many influences also come from music, most of all from Michael Jackson, – I listen to him all the time – and also rap, funk, soul and all these older things..."
Tom Junker's paintings can be found on walls around the world – from Indonesia to North America and in most European capitals. The most exotic destination where Tom left his mark was in Bali: "It was incredibly fun to paint in the jungle among monkeys that stole my spray paints and caps.” Maybe that is why he invited the graffiti artist from Bali to this year's Street Art Festival. We are already looking forward to the new mural that Wild Drawing is going to make. The Street Art Festival will take place in Olomouc, September 10th to 14th, 2018. For more information and the complete festival programme, visit www.streeartfestival.cz
One of the first graffiti he created during his childhood was with his cousin at their grandfather's garage when they found some Skoda car paint sprays. Today, Tom Junker (artistic name "Pauser") travels around the world, painting customised graffiti and exhibiting in various galleries. Learn more about all of Tom's projects here or on Instagram.
Big thanks to Amanda Martin for editing and proofreading the english version of the article.