Ask any graff writer today about time spent in front of a school easel and more often than not, they’ll recall the experience as having been restrictive, uninspiring, or just plan boring.
Ironically, paint-stick maestro WaxHead voices a similar complaint. Like a lot of those frustrated kids, he doesn’t like being told to stay inside the lines.
There is no mistaking a WaxHead piece. Working predominantly with oil sticks, his raw, highly original works are intentionally unlike traditional spray-can graffiti. Since he prefers the quiet of tucked-away locations, finding his pieces isn’t easy. His Dr. Seussian illustrations are morose, but also humorous. They’re entirely worth tracking down.
WaxHead began the way many graff artists do. “I got my start doing tags while going around my neighbourhood,” he told us.
He lived in the vicinity of a rail line, and at an early age he was struck by the amount and quality of rolling-stock graffiti. He began dabbling. “I didn’t know many people who wrote at first, so I mostly did it on my own,” he said. “Then slowly I got to know more people.” He’s since become enmeshed in Toronto’s graff community.
Graffiti has become a sort of addiction for him. The fact that his pieces impact people—friends and strangers alike—gives him a high. Because the street is his canvas, feedback is important to WaxHead. “I enjoy it when [people] take something away from the work or talk to me about something they saw on the street,” he explained.
Realizing his creations couldn’t hold a candle to the works of conventional graffiti artists, WaxHead intentionally set about distinguishing himself through his own unique style. “[I] wanted to do something different, using features on a face the same way a graffiti artist would use letters.”
Instead of an aerosol can, his chosen medium is the oil stick—oil paints hardened into a crayon-like stylus. The waxy consistency of the sticks, combined with his predilection for drawing caricatures of human heads, led to an obvious choice of graff name. As for technique, WaxHead keeps it simple. “I like combining lots of very small lines or strokes to make something big and complex.”
Even though he considers himself, “an artist with vandal tendencies,” WaxHead’s output isn’t limited to graffiti. As spring turns to summer, expect to find him selling his screen painting in Kensington Market.
“Some people realize that I do street art,” he said. “I’ve gotten mostly positive reactions.”
WaxHead believes graffiti benefits public space by adding colour where none previously existed. In his words: “Grey walls are boring and stale.” Part of the human condition, he adds, is the need to “mark where we have been.”
To the critics, WaxHead is unapologetic: accept it; graffiti is here to stay.
WaxHead admits receiving encouragement from a handful of teachers; still, high school art classes were a bust. “I didn’t like everything they were teaching so I just used their material to do my own work.” As for favourite artists, he cited Frantisek Kupka, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Showchicken. Though WaxHead disparages his art class education, he would one day like to try his hand at instructing youngsters himself. “I really enjoy kids’ reactions to my work and art in general. I’d like to work with kids more and help them develop their own style.”