Cyrus Smith, "Sun Storm" 2007, oil on canvas
Its "dumpster pop" and post-formalism with influences ranging from Basquiat to Banksy.
Cyrus Smith creates art out of anything and everything and it speaks to you (literally) in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way that shows the confidence of a man who is a master of his craft.
Cyrus has been turning heads on the national level, with nods from The Globe and Mail, Macleans, and The National Post, while receiving critical praise here in Winnipeg.
Scene approached Cyrus to ask him about graffiti, his motives, and what exactly is public space.
We've heard rumors that graffiti artists communicate to each other across city lines by tagging rail cars like the hobos of Depression lore. How much truth is there to this?
In a manner of speaking, yes there is truth to that. Train cars provide a platform for independent artists to share their work across provincial and national boundaries. Consider it a very manual form of social networking.
In your opinion, what constitutes public space in regard to creating art?
Public space is exactly that, a communal shared environment that we all 'own'. Within the context of art production, public space becomes yet another avenue for self motivated individuals to have their voices heard free of the confines and subjugation of the gallery setting. The work becomes free to interpret on several levels.
How does Winnipeg's graffiti scene compare to others across Canada?
Much to the chagrin of our municipal council there is a growing graffiti culture present in Winnipeg. The city however is small enough to make it seem like it does not exist through the concerted efforts of Take Pride Winnipeg and other such active organizations.
The initial graffiti boom in a contemporary sense came to Winnipeg in what is considered the "Second Wave" of graffiti popularization, getting a footing near the end of the 1980's (Thanks largely to documentaries like Style Wars, and due in part to the graffiti discovered on freight trains) We differ from other larger cities in Canada because it's becoming easier to control here. The lack of legal wall space coupled with a large budget and astringent laws make a relatively successful mix for containing the "problem". Not to mention a lack of persistent youth.
Toronto is a good example of nurturing the unknown. The laneway walls behind a large majority of Queen Street West are dedicated to large spray painted murals. Writers come from all over the world to paint there and the resulting work is world class.
You work across multiple platforms, but if you had to choose just one medium, which would it be?
As hard as it is to settle, I would pick good old-fashioned oil painting. There really is nothing like smearing around that colored goop. It has such a physical presence on the canvas, making the process of painting for me a sculptural experience.
Words and phrases often have a prominence in your work; why not just let the images do the talking?
I find text to be a rewarding inclusion in the work I do. On one level, text can provide a context (or contrast) for certain scenarios within the painting, but it can also become a compositional tool in terms of placement or color balance. When the three work together it's really something. That said, I make a lot of work that has no written words whatsoever.
What inspires the presentation of your work?
A lot of art requires the quiet and calm setting a gallery can provide, a place that seeks to eliminate any distraction from the art. Alternatively, certain pieces are better suited in the public sphere. Out in the bustle of the urban jungle, a properly placed piece of art can create for the individual a dialogue with their environment. I make both kinds of work.
What can we expect from your 300 paintings for Folk Fest?
Well there will be a lot of gems. I always have different running themes each year that I draw from: space, sunburns, mosquitoes, etc. This year I am doing a mix of themes including social networking, coolness, food, and 2012. I am also trying a new approach to the installation, but you'll have to go see it in person to find out what that entails. This will be my 5th year working with the festival.