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Graffiti: illegal or legal, it still rocks

Local spray paint artist Jarus takes graffiti around the world

Uh oh! An Avatar in Regina! / Robyn-Tocker
Uh oh! An Avatar in Regina! / Robyn-Tocker

At times a controversial art form, graffiti nevertheless has a large presence in urban centers. The art shows up in alleys, on train cars, on dumpsters, on bridges, and really on any surface that a person can reach with a can of spray paint.

While the work can be offensive, and is definitely illegal, even staunch opposes cannot attest that graffiti can’t be beautiful. Often, spray painters make drab concrete come to life with bright colours and cool letters or scenes.

One Regina-born artist, who goes by the name Jarus, has dedicated his life to visual arts with spray painting being a focus. He began drawing as a child, but found a passion for graffiti in grade nine. Bored at school, he and some friends would go out at lunch or during a spare and practice graffiti.

What really ignited his love for spray painting was a family trip to Los Angeles. On the way, he had picked up a copy of Juxtapoz Magazine, which happened to be featuring graffiti.

“I remember getting into L.A. and seeing the same graffiti that was in the book that I was reading on the way there,” Jarus explained.

This experience had a huge impact on him as seeing graffiti everywhere in a big city is very different from seeing it on freight trains in the prairies.

Since then, Jarus has mastered painting with spray paint. Uniquely, he has managed to keep elements of graffiti in his legal artwork, painting murals and on canvas with spray paint.

“Before I got into graffiti, I was already a painter. I was into drawing and painting way before grade nine, before I started to dabble into graffiti. When I started to do graffiti, they were separate,” Jarus explained. “Eventually, I got really good with spray paint and started to figure out ways to bring the stuff that I was learning with painting and drawing into spray paint…I feel like I kind of engineered my own techniques.”

Jarus, though, you may be surprised to learn, does not necessarily support graffiti.

“I don’t really defend [graffiti] because it is vandalism when people do it illegally. When you paint on other people’s stuff, it is illegal.”

However, he says the prosecution of graffiti is another issue.

“Just because it is illegal doesn’t mean you have to prosecute it to the full extent of the law. Because if they’re not harming anybody, it’s not necessarily such a bad thing,” Jarus explained. “Also, just because it is illegal doesn’t mean it discredits it as art. The art form of graffiti, or whether or not it has artistic value, is completely separate from whether or not it is illegal. Just because it is illegal doesn’t take away any of the merit it has as artwork. Graffiti became a phenomenon; people started to develop their own [style]. At first, people were just writing their names, and then people got good at it and started experimenting with letters, and an entire art form evolved just from that. For me I don’t really do a lot of graffiti anymore, even though I started doing graffiti. For me, I just paint. I spray paint a lot. I’m still using the same tools. The art form of graffiti that is made of letters, I don’t necessarily defend it, but it does create its own art form.”

Graffiti, then, is a lot more complex than it seems. Unlawful it may be, but it is also inspirational and is developing into something larger than intricate lettering. Many alleys (just look at the alley behind Slow Food Pub and the Running Room for an example) are covered in graffiti that is much more imagery than lettering.

“It’s still graffiti-style art stuff,” Jarus said of his own work. “It comes from the birthplace of graffiti. The letters are created doing it illegally, but even if you do those letters legally, the art of graffiti is still there.”

This illegal lettering has sparked artistic expression all over the world. One of the most amazing things about travelling is seeing the street art in a city because it can reflect so much about a place. More and more, people are appreciating this graffiti-style of art, and I would venture to guess that it would be unusual to meet someone who would rather see grey concrete than a colourful spray-painted mural. As both a canvas and mural painter, Jarus said painting on the larger scale has its challenges.

“Painting in a really large format can be really tricky because it’s easy to get your head around what’s always in your field of vision…. On a huge wall, you can’t see the entire wall in your field of vision, and it can be really difficult, especially when you’re right up close to it, to compare proportions,” Jarus explained. “I have to stand back a lot and imagine that the wall is a small canvas. When I see the entirety of the wall, I keep that vision in my head as I get close up, and I imagine what I just saw as I’m painting. So I have to constantly go back and forth. Otherwise it’s easy to get lost and make something really out of proportion.”

So who is this mysterious, traveling, Jarus, and how did he come up with his pseudonym?

“Long story short, it’s named after somebody I went to elementary school with,” he explained. “Also, some of the bigger stuff that I was painting at that time started to get more attention on the Internet and all over the world. Before it was easier for me be like ‘I’m not really feeling this anymore’ and switch names, and just try new stuff. Whereas at that point it kind of solidified one name.”

Jarus keeps the pseudonym to protect himself from his younger days of illegal graffiti. Today, he travels the world, legally, to paint murals. Jarus has painted murals in Regina, Nunavut, all over Mexico, and in many more places. He just recently returned from a month trip in Europe: hitting major cities like Copenhagen, Berlin, Barcelona, and London. The highlight of the trip, he says, was Barcelona.

“The spray paint company that I’ve been using as a kid, their head quarters is in Barcelona. So that was kind of surreal.”

One of his favourite and most frequented places that he has visited is Mexico.

“I really enjoy every time I have been in Mexico because people are really accepting and cool about it. People just get really excited about it there.”

Usually, Jarus has the freedom to choose what he paints when he travels, though he will sometimes pick up a commission along the way.

“When I travel, generally, it’s to paint my murals and do my career stuff, but sometimes I’ll take a job or a commission along the way. So, if I’m in a city for a month, I’ll try to personalize murals the whole time, but maybe there’ll be one that’s for a job. Like when I was in Mexico, I did one for Mexico City’s Harley Davidson store.”

“When I do get to pick things, I try to pick things that are relevant to the community or people that I have met along the way. So like I’ll paint my Mexican friends in Mexico. That way, even if it’s not obvious, the conceptual thing I have in the background of what I’m painting, for me, it’s a little story. I can look back on paintings and be like, ‘That’s who I was hanging out with’ or ‘That’s what I was doing.’ For me it’s like a little timeline.”

Jarus’ adventures with spray paint can be followed on Facebook, Emmanuel Jarus, or Instagram, Young Jarus.

About laura billett

I grew up dancing and have never been able to stop. I have been addicted to reading and dreamed of writing for as long as I can remember and am always looking for new inspiration, adventures, and a good laugh.