An installation by Phibs @Outpost 2011 Festival, Cockatoo Island, Sydney, Australia.

Graffiti and Street Art is evolving from its illegal and perhaps misunderstood beginnings. Once seen as an act of rebellion, its presence in the urban landscape is now celebrated. One Sydney graffiti artist epitomises that transition and he is not looking back.

Up-close with Phibs

Phibs got into graffiti as a schoolboy. “At the time it was more about associating with people that I felt like I clicked with,” he said.

At the age of 17 Phibs had a few run-ins with the law over tagging trains. He went through the court system a few times over property damage charges. “Feuds amongst artists are also common,” he said. The titanium plate in his cheekbone can vouch for it. But that did not deter his passion for the art. “It’s in my blood. My parents are creative people,” he said.

Phibs then decided to take things more seriously. His trademark “phish”, as in fish, artwork was seen all across Sydney, from Bondi to Erskinville. Legitimate work started to pour in. “I want to continue with my craft in a more enjoyable and beneficial environment,” he said. In collaboration with the NSW juvenile system Phibs conducted art workshops for kids at risk. “Graffiti makes them feel like somebody. It was very rewarding to be part of it”.

“I want to invigorate people’s imagination,” Phibs.

But for Phibs that still wasn’t pushing towards what he wanted to do. He moved to Melbourne and joined Ever Fresh Studio. The city of Melbourne is known for its iconic graffiti laneways. “ A lot of stimulation there. Huge diversity – stencils, posters – and that helped me a lot in refining my skills,” he said.

After Melbourne Phibs was ready for his next endeavour. “I want to get bigger and bigger. Walls with big impact,” he said. Phibs went to Hawaii and collaborated with Meggs, a renowned Melbourne street art artist, on mural installations. He also showcased his own work there.

Earlier this year, Phibs’ artwork went on display at Ambush Gallery together with the work of his old friend and fellow artist Beastman. “There’s an audience for this art and people are acknowledging the skills and depth involved in it,” he said.

Despite his elevation to gallery status Phibs still loves taking risk. “You get a buzz when doing something you shouldn’t. I don’t plan to stop anytime soon”.  Earlier on he apologised for having to reschedule the meeting. He was up late doing some ‘work’ at a train trackside.

Democratic form of communication

Dr. Samantha Edwards, a faculty member of School of Humanities & Communication Arts at University of Western Sydney, says that many well-known artists are breaking the traditional boundaries. “They are now performing their crafts across many different media – art galleries, sanctioned or semi-illegal spaces and commissioned murals for bars and clubs”.

A graffiti in Granada, Spain.
A graffiti in Granada, Spain.

Dr. Edwards, whose background is in archeology, wrote her thesis on how graffiti transformed places and experiences of the people close to it. Her thesis “was an attempt to transcend the dichotomy between art and vandalism,” she said. There’s a lot political graffiti in places where “there’s a lot of tension, a lot of unrest, a lot of violence,” Dr. Edwards said. “We need to see graffiti as something of social consequences. It is a valid and probably one of the most democratic form of communication”.

Photos by: Fairuz Ibrahim

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