Written by Jacob Warren
Z4000 is an artist based in Brisbane whose style of graffiti can be referred to as anti-style or ignorant style because of its wild and “impulsive” nature. A strong philosophical parallel exists between this style of art and the school of Modernist Abstraction that dominated American art from the late 1910s through to the early 1960s. The fundamental correlations between these two seemingly unrelated ways of making art (Modernist Abstraction and Anti-style graffiti) are the disguised formal complexity of the work and the hidden technical virtuosity of the artist. Mural (1943) by American art giant Jackson Pollock for example looks like a random mess of deformed lines and incomplete shapes. However, the seemingly random formal elements of the painting (which colours are next to which and what line is over or under what) create an internal logic that vibrates the image between background and foreground, figure and landscape.
Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943, Oil and house paint on linen. Collection of University of Iowa Art Museum.
It is the technical mastery of paint and painting (in Pollock’s case, house paint) that can secure a formal logic and cohesiveness and avoid the failure of arbitrary lines and colours. At the infamous charge “A 5 year old could do that” we have to say fuck off they could, because what is mistaken as an unskilled and arbitrary placement of colour and form – admittedly suggested by the abstract mess of the picture – is in fact a learned unlearning, a disguised formal complexity and hidden technical virtuosity.
Z4000’s work is on the same wave-length. However, they claim below that anti-style graffiti requires no experience and no practice: that is, no skill. I would disagree and say that there’s a difference between a person new to graffiti with no technical skills or knowledge about how to use spray paint, or formal knowledge about composition or lettering, and a person who has mastered these arts and yet does similar looking pieces. Anti-style (sometimes referred to as ignorant style) imitates ‘bad’ graffiti yet behind its guise of random colours and lines sits the same formal complexity and technical virtuosity as in modernist abstraction. The pleasure and fun of anti-style is in hiding ones skill and disguising formal complexity. On the other hand an alternative reading is offered by Z4000’s insistence that art and graffiti can be done without practice and experience. You can just do something, you don’t need to have 4 degrees in painting before you can start expressing yourself as an artist, because what one inevitably realises at the peak of technical and formal mastery is that you never painted as well as you did when you knew nothing.
“The Afro-American composer and pianist Thelonius Monk hired a replacement bass player for a week long club gig in Washington D.C. The bass player felt comfortable with most of the tunes, but a couple were giving him problems. He practiced at home, returned to the club and did better. He continued to practice for the rest of the week, and on the last night he felt as if he could play it. After the gig he said to Monk, ‘Oh, by the way, that one tune – it’s really hard. Took me all week to get it together.’ Monk responded: ‘Shit. You played it better when you didn’t know it.’” (Franz Ehmann and Ihor Holubizky eds., Heterostrophic, 44. Brisbane: IMA Publishing, 2002)
JW: Do you think that there is a difference between graffiti and art?
Z4000: I think graffiti is kind of combined with sports and crime and art + calligraphy.
Art is just art, too big to define the meaning, but some people think that commercially successful art or popular art works is the only art and that sucks. Also I feel a lot of people have industrial designs/designer’s art and graffiti or art all mixed up together. They all look similar in some way but are completely different to me.
Given this, where does the phenomenon of 'street art' fit in? It seems to be neither graffiti nor art.
I reckon it fits in Anthony Lister haha
The term street art might be useful for court hearings.
What ideas of property and ownership does graffiti challenge and do you think that its challenge is worthwhile?
Well you can find out where is the good place to go to avoid those issues (to not challenge), also friend network is always helpful to get away from problems.
How would you describe your style and why does it interest you?
My style is relaxed & energetic. I'm interested in this because I'm bored and graffiti, and also art, I thought it doesn't need practice to do.
Do you think that city councils are 'winning the fight' against graffiti?
The surface level "yes" but core level "no".
They should spend more money on pesticides to control cane toads and Chinese elms. They are more harm to the environment than graffiti.
How do you think that the rise of street art has changed graffiti?
A little bit, Street art made graffiti writers to hate street art and contemporary artists and normal people to love graffiti.
Can graffiti be put into an art gallery, or are the two antithetical?
It is antithetical. Once the art works are displayed in the gallery, whatever types of art works you do, it is just art I think.
For you is the process the same in making art and graffiti?
Firstly I get inspired by op shops, Instagram, kids books, child drawings then I do art at home, spend some time then that's it. For graffiti, I get inspired by many things like above then I sketch on magna doodle and make stickers at home then bring the ideas or stickers to the outside.
Do you think that it's important for graffiti to be accepted in the mainstream as a form of art or not? How would its being more accepted as art change it?
If you wanna make money by graffiti, it would be important to be accepted in the mainstream I guess. But being accepted as art will turn graffiti into design that uses graffiti methods and done by spray paint, so they are just like Xmas decorations, but if you can get a pot of gold, why not? haha
How does music influence your approach to mark-making?
I listen to mid 90's Memphis rap cassette tapes, Acid house, and Chicago footwork / house. I like those people making music in simple set ups and not relying on equipment. Also hiphop album artworks like Pen & Pixel graphics and memphis rap tape's bodgy artworks makes me wanna do something, I can't imagine those over the top artworks.
Does your 'anti-style' approach to graffiti subvert graffiti itself?
I don't know if "anti-style" subverts graffiti because I don't consciously do "anti-style / Ignorant style". I paint a certain way because the materials I have like Export paint, someone's left over dregs cans, and home paints from friends' work and council pick up are suitable for the type of art. To do art/ paint I feel it isn’t necessary to have skills or years of experiences or a lot of equipment.
It's kind of impulsive and fun.