Last week, talented photographer and good friend of mine Juan Angel made me an offer I couldn't refuse: to invade renown urban artist and designer FLIPS' home studio for a collaborative interview and photo shoot. Experienced in everything from graphic design to graffiti, FLIPS has taken over Toronto with his art: on stickers, on canvas, on walls, on tattoos, on sculptures made entirely out of blunt remains. How much love and drive for creativity can fit into one individual's brain never ceases to surprise me, but I managed to pick the artist's brain and get a glimpse into his thoughts on - not only arts - but the social and cultural scene of Toronto today.
When did you move to Canada?
I’m originally from Bulgaria and moved to Canada in 1996. Two years later, I moved to Toronto and have been here ever since.
What has made you stay?
My immediate family is here but, for the most part, Toronto’s just a city that has always inspired me and given me a lot of things to look up to and live with. Culture-wise, there are people from all over the world… I mean, I come from a little farming village with a population of about 200 people so you walk down the street and everyone knows each other. You can’t go to the store without having a billion conversations. It’s cool because there you only knew Bulgarian people and here my circle of friends pretty much extends to every nationality there is. It’s dope because through that, through sharing their customs and culture, it’s helped me grow into the person I am. I love the city for that.
Can you remember your first graffiti memory?
Writing on my mom’s kitchen wall with a marker when I was about three years old. She got super mad. (laughs)
What’s the biggest difference you find when translating your style onto different surfaces?
I grew up doing graffiti and the thing that I’ve learnt the most about it is that art can go on anything. Graffiti showed me that it wasn’t about where you put it, but more so what it represents. For me, the canvas doesn’t really matter which is why I paint less walls nowadays: I paint more, I do more tattoos, digital stuff, restaurants, kid’s bedrooms… anything you can do art on. Clothing, stickers… For me, it’s about putting yourself out there without thinking about the surface which is why I’m so experimental with other mediums.
What’s the most important thing about maintaining this artistic variety?
It’s something new and something that you can always branch off further. It’s all under the same umbrella, it’s all your touch of creation. The different outlets are endless and it all comes down to being able to create and to keep creating. For me, it’s like a gift. The gift to create is the biggest thing I admire about artists and creative individuals. Not everyone has it, so you got to keep using it.
What advice would you give to emerging creatives?
Real simple, just keep doing it. You never know what you’re capable of until after you’ve done it. The more opportunity you create for yourself to do new things, the more capable you become at working on bigger projects and collaborations and such. At the end of the day, you just have to make sure that you’re staying true to what you believe in. A lot of the time when you’re collaborating with other people they’re going to ask you to get out of your comfort zone, which is fine because you need to add experience, but don’t forget what you want to do in the first place. So many people get caught up in that work cycle where their creative energy is drained by the everyday hustle and bustle. For any emerging artist out there, you should be putting as many hours as you can into your craft and anything else you should see as a slowing down to your pursuit of happiness.
It’s a fine balance to keep.
For sure. It’s not about art, it’s about life. You got to be able to balance it. Happiness for me is where the art is and where those creative circles are; the energy that’s brought together through that drive to create. It’s cool. Especially in graffiti, if we go back to that… looking at a wall you see a reflection of your community, a reflection of your peers, your adversaries, your rivals or whatever and that’s the mirror of society. It’s all about facilitating that inspiration to create and bring people together through it.
Would you change anything about Toronto culture?
It’s hard to name a tree before it’s fully grown. I mean, there’s so much potential and the city is pulling in so many different ways. What I really like about Toronto is that there are no real problems with anyone...we have an open market that everyone can have an equal share in. The potential here is on the verge of becoming great and the city has yet to define itself which is actually the city’s main quality. It’s a city of all cultures. You can see it in our festivals even: we have the Greek festival, the Italian festival, the Portuguese festival...Hip Hop, Caribana, Gay Pride. All these things bring together a new acceptance of the world. Especially with the state that the world is in right now! I like to think Toronto is a show of how everyone can live, work and chill together, you know? And I think it’s the role of the artists to capitalize on that. The only thing I would change would be to hopefully see more funding in the arts. The creative scene is usually the first to get cut, politically, budget-wise and things like that… realistically there are opportunities out there and I just wish that there were more.
I mean, even looking out of my window today, everything looks grey and dirty. Graffiti and especially urban art bring this flare to the city that give people a new interest in their surroundings which I think is the main bridge in building community. Curiosity leads to understanding. That spark has to be created, especially in the youth. I do a lot of programming with various schools in the west and east ends, after school programs and I can see the kid’s willingness to learn. All these things are tied. The more you put yourself out there, the more you realize how you can make change, create all these other opportunities for people and no-one else will bring up your city. Let’s get it Toronto!