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--- 6 MIN read

After Anti Style

Originally published in Homemade Issue 001.

You know Causr. At least, if you’ve walked through any part of Toronto at any point in the last 20 years, you’ve seen the word “Causr” written in graffiti somewhere. More likely everywhere. It’s the tag that belongs to a brilliant artist, and about 10 years ago, that artist did something that blew my tiny little aerosol-infused brain. Causr did a messed-up piece. On purpose.

Piece by Causr

Until that point, that drippy uncentred point, Causr had been amongst-if-not-the most progressive Canadian graffiti writer ever. Crisp, calculated lines. Inventive, flowing letters. The king of what… the king of style, to quote the legendary Kase 2.  

Causr would easily sit atop our country’s Mount Crushmore if we had one. Which we don’t. And shouldn’t. Why I think all this might be important to some–and do remember the tiny little aerosol-infused brain–is because the shift from progression to regression in any art form is seismic. It doesn’t just challenge the concept of progress in creativity, it challenges the concept of progress itself. 

It challenges the concept of progress itself

Piece by Causr

And why I know all this is important to me is because I chased Causr’s style for a decade–in the way my daughter’s previously loved scooter from Facebook Marketplace chases a Tesla–only to have this stranger’s simple step back totally fuck my shit up. It made me question nearly everything. Why did Causr do that janky outline and an inconsistent drop shadow? Is that the letter R? Should I be chasing whatever is happening here? Do people like me? What is this? And, if an art form regresses, where does it go next? While all equally important questions, the following will focus on that first one and those last two, though not in that order, again, because brain. 

Piece by Causr
Piece by Causr

A subgenre of a subversive culture.

The what is fairly easy. What Causr was doing would later be known as anti-style, a subgenre of a subversive subculture that first hit the literal streets of New York and Philadelphia in the 60s. 

For the first five decades, the progression of graffiti was undeniable yet predictable, tracking in a linear fashion from small, stylized signatures known as “tags” to elaborate masterpieces known as “pieces” to city-block-spanning multi-person productions known as “productions.” Apparently, the appetite for novel nomenclature waned over time. But progression didn’t. 

 Technicality became currency. Evolution bested subversion. And by the 2000s, the world was seeing an absurd level of artistry in graffiti tags, pieces, and productions all over the world. Jaw-dropping stuff really. Banksy was selling million-dollar works to Brad Pitt. Revok was suing H&M. I even got commissioned to do some murals, one where the payment was a Nintendo 64. So yeah, things had gotten pretty polished. Like, Nintendo 64 polished. This leads us to the why. The anti part of all this. 

For an art form that was firmly rooted in anti-establishment, it had become quite established. This likely led to some inspired artists finding new ways to be anti. To reapply rawness and grit to the form. To make it fun or arresting once again. For a quick illustration of the chasm in this spectrum of style, you can comparatively scroll through @antistylers and @mad_stylers on Instagram. And of course, this is not original to graffiti. We’ve seen these regressions across all sorts of arts.  

A production by Tenser, Steam, Smug, Elicsr, and Ryan Smeeton

So yeah, things had gotten pretty polished.

Visually speaking, there are dozens of movements in this mold. Primitivism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and unsurprisingly Anti-art are all examples where artists rejected some aspect of previous and popular works or ideas or movements. But it’s not specific to the visual world. 

Punk music is in many ways an anti-establishment movement or ethos but it’s also, on a more aesthetic level, a rejection of technicality and polish. It was DIY, detuned, and detached from the mainstream. A middle finger to what some viewed as the over-produced rock music of the late 60s and early 70s. There’s even a sorta-thriving anti-comedy movement. Norm Macdonalds’s Moth joke got a lot of love lately, but beyond Norm we have Tom Green, Tim & Eric, David Wain etc… Individual motivations may vary, but there certainly are parallels to punk in play, with artists looking to challenge expectations and how above ground the forms have risen.  

We can even look to fashion, with stuff like normcore or homeless style. The latter seen on the likes of D. Zoolander. But we can also probably quit here as the why feels fairly consistent and is likely applicable to those pushing the anti-style graffiti movement. It appears that when anything anti-establishment becomes established, some people naturally, and as I type this I realize also obviously, try to re-insert some degree of anti. This now takes us to the question of where all this might lead.  

A style throw-up by Teaser

To answer the where I decided to hit up three experts in style. First up I Slacked Amin, my boss/mentor/friend/CCO. Amin is definitely the most stylish person I know and would probably deny being three of the four things I described him as in the previous sentence. In addition to providing me with the earlier Derelicte references, Amin really identified movements like this as trends, something that “will be hot until it is not, skip a generation or two, and then come back again with a vengeance.” Then he referenced Back to the Future Part II and dropped a shrug emoji. 

Next up, I texted my dear friend Kyle. Kyle is a Lead Designer at a global tech company, a wildly talented artist, and the person who’s taught me more about graffiti than anyone or anything. He’s a purist of progression and doesn’t exactly love the anti-style movement, but does love what he believes it represents. And where it may lead the form. Kyle enthusiastically reminded me that graffiti is sub sixty years old and as a result, he believes that “as the artform becomes more mainstream, we will see a different breed of artist enter the fold and experiment with new styles and techniques that no one has ever considered. Anti-style is just the ugly tip of the evolutionary iceberg.” 

Finally, I Telegrammed Tease. Tease is my idol. The type of person I’d download a new messaging app for. Part of why I idolize Tease is because they aren’t just all city, they’re all world. Truly. The last time I went to New York, Tease’s work was waiting for me the moment I exited my Uber. When I went to a wedding in Ho Chi Minh, a Tease sticker was stuck to the table at the first pho spot I hit. Even in Cannes for an advertising convention thing, I spotted a damn Teaser tag dripping down over an Aperol Spritz poster. What I’m trying to say is… I’ve been to three cool places. But also, Teaser gets up. So, I Telegrammed Tease to ask where might graffiti go after this regressive movement. And Tease just straight up didn’t answer. This is the other part of why I idolize this enigma, but it’s also probably the right take. A who-knows-who-cares type of thing. 

Who knows who cares

What I do know and care about is that if something built on any aspect of anti-anything loses its anti-ness, becomes established, or rises above ground, you can be sure that some individuals will look to reinstate it in some way. For those looking to spot shifts or even lead them, this may be useful, even if obvious. As for me and anti-style graffiti, it’s still not my cup of Krylon. As the audience and the artist, it just doesn’t land for me. It doesn’t defy the things I think need defying. But, at the same time, after clicking through this hole that maybe didn’t even need clicking through, I have way more respect for it. And considering I’m still chasing Causr’s styles from nearly two decades ago, maybe I’m just a few years away from adding some anti to my style. 

Written By:Max Sawka

225 Wellington St WToronto-ON / M5V3G7

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