Following his declaration of war on graffiti last spring, Rob Ford quickly became a favourite subject of the local aerosol-artist community, including SPUD, the masked, anonymous crusader whose depictions of the mayoral mug have made him something of a spray-paint rock star. This month, his work (which he also does on traditional canvases) is on display at two different art shows.
Can you give me an update on the current state of the mayor’s war on graffiti? It’s been almost a year since he picked up his power hose.
Oh, they’re keeping up with it. Still buffing and getting rid of stuff. As a story it gets boring after a while and the media move on. Especially with a mayor like we have, who is always pulling something or getting involved in some blunder.
Is it fair to say that the mayor’s anti-graffiti crusade has been a rallying cry for the city’s street artists?
It certainly sparked a pushback and it’s produced a lot of great artwork, just based on Rob Ford as a subject and a muse. A lot of people want to make a statement about our current leader, but they don’t have the outlet or they don’t have the balls. I figured, I’m doing my art on the street all the time anyway, so why not focus it on something to make a statement?
Are you in favour of all kinds of graffiti? I could certainly live without the tags and bombs and giant penis outlines.
I see what you’re saying, but I am in favour because that’s the roots. That’s how people like me start out or at least can start out. Everyone’s story is different. Some street artists went to OCAD.
Can you at least see how some of the more scribbly stuff makes it harder for people to be sympathetic to your cause?
Definitely. But you have to understand that as a graffiti artist you’re often working illegally, so the whole mentality is get in and out—put my piece on the wall as quickly as possible.
What is so satisfying about spray paint?
Mostly it’s about time. If you’re going to try to paint a mural with a brush, it’s going to take you about 20 times as long. There is also a certain effect that you can get with a spray can that is different from what you can get with other tools.
And it’s pretty fun to shake up a new can and let loose.
Yeah, it’s fun, but the real rush is from painting a wall that you’re not supposed to.
So would something be lost if, for example, Rob Ford said, “SPUD, I have this wall and I would really love for you to paint on it.”
Were you always a rule breaker? Were you the kid who got in trouble at school?
I don’t know. I don’t like to talk too much about that.
You mean your life outside of SPUD.
Yeah. I have to watch what I answer because I don’t want to accidentally give any identifying details. What I’m doing is illegal, and, of course, there are lovers and haters out there.
So were you in disguise at the show opening?
Well, first you should ask me if I was even there. I was. I don’t know if people knew it was me.
Well, was there more than one person wearing a mask there?
How do you know I was wearing a mask?
I guess I don’t. When you’re not in the mask do you still go by SPUD or do have another life as some mild-mannered accountant named Melvin?
I do have another life, but this is my true focus. My full-time job pays the bills, but that’s it. Why would you want to kiss someone’s ass rather than doing what you’re really passionate about?
So somebody might be reading about you in the newspaper and they don’t realize that you’re the guy who just brought them coffee?
Okay, tell me about your show and the 20 Ford-inspired paintings on display. Did you just re-do your favourite graffiti work on canvases?
Some of this stuff came first and then I would do the graffiti version after. It’s basically the same, although with the paintings I obviously have more time to pay attention to detail. I want the mayor to come here so that I can ask him, “Is this art?” After all, it’s hanging in an art gallery.
I gather you invited him to opening night.
Yeah, I invited him, but he didn’t come.
Do you worry that nobody will want to buy your work because they don’t want a giant rendering of Rob Ford’s face on a worm body looking back at them in their living room?
I get that, but it’s not really a concern. If you do want to buy it, that’s great, but I didn’t create this work to make money. I see it as a part of our city’s history and the history of local graffiti. Once Ford is out of office, you’re not going to see stuff like this.
Banksy or Basquiat?
Pizza or poutine?
Favourite local politico?
None at the moment.
Dawn of the Dead.
Late nights or early mornings?
Brittany Murphy, RIP.
Biting my bottom lip while concentrating.
“Censored,” an exhibit of SPUD’s Ford-inspired artwork, is on display at the Don’t Tell Mama Gallery (108 Ossington Ave., #OSS) until March 31. His work is also showing in “Fordmania,” an exhibit at Atomic Toybot (978 Queen St. E., #LES), until April 23.