Interview with a Street Artist.

This file should be cross referenced to the file on Street Art, found under Articles.

The following in-depth answers were provided by Brisbane Street Artist ‘Subway Suds’, or ‘Suds’, or ‘Sudsy’. The questions were proposed by Max Darby. I found the answers not only really interesting, but often totally unexpected, and so enlightening. I know you will enjoy reading this interview.

Graffiti artists usually don’t title their works and prefer viewers to draw their own conclusions and interpret works themselves. Hence, these works are not titled nor dated although Transporters appears on one of the works.

The Transporters by artist Subway Suds

The following websites provide further information on the artist and his work.

Artist Subway Suds

How long have you been working and when and how you first got into it? What name do you want to be known as?

My grandparents were from Ireland. I was born in the UK, then immigrated to Australia in 1980. I have lived between Western Australia and Queensland on and off about 7 times. I first got into writing my name on walls in 1986 when I saw several youths painting a KISS piece on the train lines in Wynnum. I was hooked pretty quickly but didn’t understand the rules like most beginners.

I am known a few different ways – Suds / Sudsy to my friends / and sometimes Subway Suds which was a lyric I wrote in a song in 1994 that stuck with me from people referencing it. The name Suds came about in 1990 after 4 years of vandalizing aimlessly under other aliases without direction or reason. I was an extremely aggressive kid who was abused and bashed and lived in a state of poverty being the eldest of 5 with no dad around and mum worked nights as a nurse so I was pretty much brought up my brothers and sisters. My mother remarried an evil weasel who gambled and drank and smoked every penny in the house. He abused several of my family but only bashed me but I suffered a lot of mental and physical abuse that I have taken a long time to heal from. His name was Fred, he used to fill the sink up with scalding hot water from the kettle and force my hands into the water watching my face until I’d crack. He must have gotten off on it? That sensation of the boiling hot soapy slippery ‘suds’ between my fingers made me insane with rage, even the thought of it. I remember sitting in science class trying to think of a new tag to write that would represent my rage, my destruction, and it became a flag I could wave and earn my respect with.

Once I realized hip-hop culture was about representing yourself and your style through various tangents of this strange artform I wanted a name that felt right, one I wouldn’t be embarrassed about and one that would become me. Things have dramatically changed for me these days as has the meaning of Suds which is now a very positive name synonymous with positivist, quality, and community.

How important is ‘style’ and the ‘recognition of your own style’ by others, especially other artists?

Style is everything. You have to be original otherwise you’re just another sheep following suit. Your style has to be a reflection of your personality as it is your identity. If you want to stand out you have to own – your own letters.

Most new breed writers these days (like most genres) who prefer to follow trends that fade quickly, drain their creativity, and leave you with nothing once they get dated. An example would be like ‘Southern Cross tattoos’. In 10 years they’ll regret it. I see no substance in copying other people’s art. You can judge a writer’s strength by viewing their style, you can instantly spot a free thinker. I believe we all start out emulating other people’s graffiti when we are amateurs, but we find our feet, learn how paint works, and eventually grow into our own style that keeps developing and maturing.

I’ve seen writers go full circle and fade out so many times over the last 20 odd years, not mentioning any names from Brisbane, but their fall from grace is almost faster than their rise to fame.

The things you mentioned on the phone about support for people who perhaps are not having things easy in life…and those working and living on the street – I think this is very important. How does it impact on you?

I have always had a big heart for the streets and the youth. I feel it is a duty of mine to help those in dire need. I have worked in the youth detention centre, child safety, and multiple group homes. I get to impact on the youth that slip through the cracks of society. A lot of kids I work with in residential care have just got out of ‘juvy’, been kicked out of foster care, or mostly been removed from their family by child safety because their parents are failures. Geez? Ring any bells?

I find that the hardcore kids are usually the most caring underneath when you peel back the layers of defense and anger. I worked as a nurse for 3 years from 1994 to 1997 with disabled people and the elderly. I was forced to be selfless and see the bigger picture. I have found my freedom in giving my life away for others. If you cling to your life in the pursuit of happiness you’ll never find it. The richness and feelings you get from seeing results in damaged people heal from your hard work with them is incomparable to anything I know.

I have always believed in God heavily and don’t ever remember not knowing him. Even throughout my most violent and destructive years I always called on him. I believe he healed me of violence and hatred. Although my temper still boils I have learnt to use my mind to conquer now even though I am the most capable physically than I have ever been. I did violence for a job and found myself always gravitating towards it from it being driven into me. I was a bouncer for a while and working in the jail desensitized me to it even more to the point when there was a riot I would see it all in slow motion and find it somewhat calming? I found myself having no emotion towards hurting people? That all changed over time as I matured and opened my eyes. My 2 children and my wife are a great I inspiration and reason to be a better man. I have proved everything to myself and achieved all the dreams I had as a child, I am now creating new ones all the time to challenge myself.

I was homeless several times throughout my life, in the early 90’s as a teenager running around painting and robbing and then in 1999 – 2000. The last time was the hardest as I was a grown man, it occurred from an altercation with my father and I had nowhere to go. I had a full time job too. I didn’t spend a cent of my wages, it lasted just over 2 months and I ate at work in the kitchens, I saved every penny to obtain a flat and furnish it just before my son was born. So I relate well to homeless people as it can happen to anyone and at the moment you least expect it.

Some of the things you said about not wanting to mislead young people or to be held responsible for leading them astray seemed really important to you. How important?

I get asked a lot by the council and various agencies to run “GRAFFITI WORKSHOPS” for them. I will occasionally if it is not on a wall. Some may find this strange as I still do a lot of graffiti on walls and am heavily involved in the artform. The reason I turn most of them down is I see them all trying to whore our artform out to chalk up a notch on the ‘cool’ factor. I feel a duty of care as a youth worker and father to not lead these kids down the paths I went down. I had a lot of heartache and trouble with the police growing up, mainly for incidents revolving around or directly involving graffiti-related activities. If you are in a graffiti crew you will no doubt run into conflict at some point. You take on all your associate’s problems because of that banner you represent and work under. For me now a crew is about like-minded artists and friends collaborating as a unit to produce great works that you could not achieve solo.

When the council provides legal walls for the kids I will do as many workshops as they throw at me. It’s like saying to the kids “Here ya go, this is how you chop weed, this is how you roll a joint, BUT DON’T GO SMOKING NO POT NOW OK!!!” It doesn’t make any sense. They are setting them up to fail as it’s easier now for a kid to sneak out and do graffiti illegally than to go and obtain a legal wall. I don’t want to be the one to kick start them off so when the police knock on the door of that kids parents and say they’ve nabbed their kid for graffiti. If they wanna go that route that’s fine, I did it, but I have a conscience now and want to steer youths to make something of their lives.

Artist Subway Suds

Apart from ‘art-making’ skills and techniques what other things are needed?

I know so many graffiti writers worldwide that are my age and older even in their 40’s who have spent their lives dedicated to graffiti and now realize they have no qualifications, work in a factory in a dead end job and it’s too late to get those years back. I would encourage people in the graffiti scene, or looking to get into it, to step up their business game and use it to make money. Everyone wants to get paid doing what they love and let’s face it job satisfaction will determine their career longevity. I have worked with graffiti/hip-hop magazines for years now. I recently released Australia’s first graffiti coloring book called Akromatism. I also distribute my own graffiti ink called Dr Def Ink. I have worked with a lot of graffiti paint companies in sales and advertising and have even been sponsored by a spray paint brand. Being sponsored is not glamorous at all, it is a lot of hard work despite the outward appearances. I guess I got tired of heightening other peoples brand profiles for little return and decided to do my own … I find a lot of satisfaction of being in control of a quality item that is pure and ego free.

The processes of working…that is how you work, how you apply paint, time required to work etc.

This question would take a novel to answer properly, maybe several. It is like naming all the roads in the world … I am sorry to be vague but my work is so varied and graffiti is one small piece of the pie in all the types of work and the styles I do. I began drawing a few commissioned ink sketches of houses for sale/rent in 1986 when I was in grade 6. I helped my mum make costumes and beaded wedding dresses as well. Sounds funny I know, but it is harder than you think.

It’s been a melting pot of styles (and jobs) throughout my career. If I could give any advice on working to any aspiring artist who wants to make a living from what they do, it would be to keep organized and keep track of your path by doing your GST/tax, keep good bookwork and receipt records, learn how to switch channels to act as a sales person without compromising your creative abilities and worth.

Look at your art enterprise as a business that will work in an upside down pyramid of growth by doing 3 things –

1. Under promise and don’t over commit. Work within a framework and achievable service delivery.

2. Over deliver. Do a better job than first agreed on with the client, this makes them feel like they spent their hard earned cash well with you, and

3. Value add. Add a little cherry on the cake, so to speak, one that you didn’t quote for that they didn’t pay for. It plants them with a seed of recommendation for you and your work. Humans, more often than not, don’t remember word for word what the people they’ve met have said to them, but rather remember how you made them feel, so become an engineer of good memories through your services. You may not get famous, but you’ll gain deserved respect.

Where do you get your ideas and do they address specific topics and themes rather than just the aesthetics of how the works look/appear.

Well I remember winning a school art competition with my pencil drawings in grade 6 and from there someone saw my work and commissioned me do draw black and white ink sketches for 2 real estate companies in Brisbane. They were for promo brochures etc.

I have always drawn directly related topics and themes for people whether for work or for fun as far back as I can remember. It creates smiles 99% of the time. I once painted a mural in 1997 in a dementia ward were I was an assistant in nursing for the elderly. I only lasted 6 months there, it was a very sad place at times / lots of dead bodies. The mural was of an elderly wizard type guy saying “happiness is found along the way, not at the end of the journey”. The head matron was a right bitch and had it removed within a week.

In 2006 I was involved with the RPA (Republican Party of Australia). That was a trip? I did a nicely pencil drawn sketch for their propaganda which depicted the queen behind a colonial jail bars setting looking out over the Endeavour ship and written in old English as a banner said “Free the queen, so we can be free…“. This was based on a comment made by Amanda Vanstone during the YES/NO vote regarding Australia becoming a republic. I got asked to be the convener of my area by the RPA based on passion I think, my people skills and self motivation. I politely declined as I felt I was not ready. As for my graffiti, often on walls we tackle a specific or combined theme/s and utilize backgrounds, characters, and related objects to express that theme with an original twist.

Occasionally I’ll address political or religious and spiritual concepts. I have had quite an experience through such things. For example I have processed a lot of unlearning regarding what I was told about God and our origins, the bible and it’s many interpretations. I was brought up as a Catholic, I went to many Catholic Private Schools before my mother became single and gradually we ended up living in poverty where I attended State Schools and was ultimately expelled from 9 schools in total and ran away to Perth to get my act together in 1994. My mother led me through a barrage of Pentecostal churches that were more likened to a sect or cult with all the spiritual abuse and brainwashing. In my teens throughout my religious roller coaster I suffered a lot of spiritual damage through misinformation, manipulation, and that powerful devils tool called the “guilt trip”.

The thing is, I don’t ever remember not knowing and speaking with God at any point in my existence? I never needed anyone to convince me or ram it down my throat that he was real or about his personality. I already knew him as a son knows his father. You just get to know each other better as time passes through open communication and bonding as well as being guided by discipline through lots of mistake making. I also believe shared trauma by people causes them to draw close to each other in times of need. And I think I’ve had a lot of trauma for my age which has lead me to be near God for the most part. I have a picture in my head of a pyramid, God is on the opposite side, you can hear him calling out but it’s easy to ignore his advice when ya can’t see him, so occasionally he’ll make it rain then flood so you’ll have to climb to the top of the pyramid to not drown which inevitably leaves you with no option but to face God at the point of the pyramid and ask for his help, then he’ll be like “see dude, that wasn’t that hard to talk to me hey geeza?“. Then we promise we’ll talk more often and make promises to behave that we won’t keep. Then he’ll vanquish the rising waters back down and we’ll quickly fall back into egotistically thinking we run things until he sends another reminder notice.

If anything – I’ve gained an understanding that grace and love are the most highly underrated gifts that can be both given and received for free. Hahahaha!!! Our creator who has many names also has a sense of humor, look at us? Unfortunately it can be a curse as much as a blessing to be born with certain spiritual capabilities as you’ll see and hear just as many beautiful beings as you do demons. If you have the Internet, Google “The book of Enoch” and study it well, you’ll find some explanations therein of why we are the way we are.

The relationship between you and other artists…how do you see each other, support each other?

That question is a two edged sword. You have both friend and foe. The volume can vary depending on how you tread the earth. Your tongue will steer that walk whether positive or negative. I support those who are true to me and reward them in all ways accessible to me. I find the more I bless people the more success I have? It’s a strange thing? But to dance like that you must not expect anything in return, give unconditionally. It’s a conscious choice you have to remain vigilant to repeat.

How do you make decisions about what kind of work you do and about choosing spaces to do you artwork on?

I tackle all sorts of weird and wonderful spaces to paint. Some used to be illegal and high up on a rooftop, in or on railway property, of which I paid a huge debt to society when busted in 1994 and 1995. I have children now so I am required to remain unrestrained by complications as such that can be synonymous with painting without permission. I have a man dungeon now where I run the arms of my business from. It’s like a cross between an art studio / packing room / manufacturers chaos / library / paint shop with a bench-press?

In the outdoors I have loved the challenges. I am sure that somewhere someone has written my life like a ‘tragic comedy turned light at the end of the tunnel type story’? I had various career choices and always worked several jobs at any one time, bit of a workaholic I be but I had  always managed to fit in murals and graffiti into what I was doing. I had to leave school twice to support my mum financially and repeat 2 years of school as a result. I worked as a Chef from 1997 to 2007, crossed over with shop-fitting / labour / dry-cleaning / nursing / but I have always facilitated art and youth workshops since 1993 and ended up being asked to visit the local Youth Detention Centre to do a mural with some of the older lads in the medical centre. It went so well that they asked me to come and work for the centre. I sat the 6 week training course and was employed there as a youth worker/officer for just over 2 years. It was the weirdest time ever. It was often very hands-on with ‘restraints and physical action’ if you get my drift?

One good thing came from it, I guess, by the time I left that place I had a mural on every single building and unit. I got heaps of the kids there involved with art and I still have respect and great rapport with all the kids I worked there with. There are kids in bad situations, but more bad parents. I was then a bouncer in pubs and clubs for a time. That was good with the live gigs, I got to do backstage security for Sting and Fergie. The pay was never good for ‘biffing on’ but fun to say the least. I still get asked to cover private minder shifts occasionally for the right price.

I have and still work a few casual shifts in residential care for foster kids and children that have been removed from their families. It’s cool, I get real results and help a lot of kids. It has been a fast ride and so varied from when I started out vandalizing everything in sight as a youngster, especially railway property, getting charged for it, until one day I ended up being personally sought out once again by Queensland Railways to work for 2 years on mural contracts as lead Artist running the ins and outs of their community art program in schools? Full circle huh? My youth working experience came in handy in that job. We painted so many train stations and subways, all legally and paid for? The connotations of the name Subway Suds has had many transitions and rankings. It always felt unorthodox and weird for me working for the Government. During employment through the various departments I had this heightened sense that it was in some scene out of Mission Impossible or a James Bond spy film. Deep in the belly of the beast … luckily I found a way out.

The internal politics of jails, community services, and railway organizations are thick with hypocrisy, lies, and pencil pushing “let me s*#t on you so I can justify my insignificant small minded existence so you don’t make me look bad cause your so way too good at you job!” nobodies. I found everyone around me would claim my work as their own be it rapport, design, concepts, or my river of successfully completed paperwork and red tape victories. Over the years I’ve learnt ‘a lot about a lot’ none the less. That’s a long answer to this last question, but to answer in short form – I’d say – think outside the square to work with what you’ve got and where you are because space can be more than a wall or a canvas, it can be human … or not… but cannot be determined or defined as you see it from one angle, more so to be free you gotta be like a fluid … it fits into any space and comprehends all by being a mirror …

Thanks for all of that Sudsy. I appreciate the enormous time you took to reply to my questions and so will those who read it, especially art teachers and students.


Artist Subway Suds

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15 Responses to “Interview with a Street Artist”

  1. max says:

    There are many more files on Street Art on my website to check out Fay. Max

  2. Fay Paleologoudias says:

    Thanks for this great resource (Street Artist Interview) – I will definitely share it with my students.

  3. Uncle Mick says:

    Awesome interview and insight into a true artist and beautiful human ya work brother keep it up

  4. pot seeds says:

    We still desire that politicians and authorities legally allow good street art work to proceed. Thanks for your great blog file.

  5. ROMS says:

    nice interview thanks….ROMS

  6. Great interview and great guy.

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  11. Flows Flawless says:

    amazing read! thank you for sharing, not only your story, but your artistic ability with the world!

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  14. sove says:

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