SKAM, known by friends as Jay, has been apart of the Toronto graffiti scene since the early ‘90s. His work can be seen around various neighborhoods like Parkdale, Kensington Market and Little Italy. He started off tagging like most other graffiti artists but now he is commissioned for his work. His work can be seen on the sign and exterior of the Queen and Spadina pop-up restaurant, Come and Get It.
Three years ago SKAM opened up Homebase, a shop that sells paint supplies, clothing, accessories and art. Homebase also doubles as a gallery space and offers services for art and consulting. SKAM shares his story and his thoughts on street art in Toronto.
How did you get started?
I got into from being into hip-hop music and being an artist all the time. Being into art from day one and going to high school and college and always liking and loving visual art as well as hip hop culture. Graffiti is the visual aspect of hip-hop culture.
I grew up in downtown Toronto. At first it was tagging and putting my name up everywhere. This was in the nineties and there wasn’t much support for it but I finally got recognized it and now I make a decent living out of it.
What’s it like being a “professional graffiti artist”?
I never thought I would make any money off of it but years later. I’m a professional graffiti artist. It’s cool. I love it. I’m proud of myself because I made this for myself. I made my dream come true. I basically made this whole thing.
Now that you are commissioned for your work, how do you feel about the act of tagging, which is often on private property?
Unfortunately, you have to kind of do it to pay your dues. You have to go out and tag, it’s part of the game. I don’t respect people who tag on other people’s property or churches and stuff but if you don’t start with that activity, you get clowned on. You got to make a name for yourself on the streets.
How does graffiti positively impact a community or our city?
It educates ignorant people and people who don’t know about the art form and open their eyes to the beautiful art work. What I don’t like is that some people that get commissioned…the companies and the people that are hiring them don’t know what good graffiti is. They hire people that have been doing it for a year and have no street cred or work.
Do you feel like they’re not genuine?
I just hate it when I see a graffiti ad and you can just tell that it’s a fake graffiti artist. Sometimes people say I sold out or something because I get paid to do graffiti but I paid my dues and I’m known.
What do you think about Rob Ford’s large scale plans to remove graffiti around the city?
It doesn’t really affect me. The stuff I do is not the stuff that he wants to get rid of. I’m beyond that in my career as an artist. I think he’s pretty ridiculous spending that much money because it won’t be removed. Graffiti is here to stay. You would have to have a police ban on every single corner and put corners and even that won’t stop graffiti from happening. That’s also what I like about it. It’s going against the system, and being free and not being a slave in society. It got me over a bunch of negative things in life.