Artist profile: BAILER

Bailer has been a leading proponent of the Melbourne graffiti and public art scene for over a decade.

Actively contributing artistically for nearly twenty years he has dedicated the best part of his adult life to creating public works and supporting other creatives. Growing up with a graffiti addiction constantly painting letter after letter line after line he now wants to focus on progression. Pushing his style outside the boundaries and confines of the traditional graffiti structure Bailer hopes to continually increase the scale of his works and to paint them on new surfaces. 

Mid mural, Damo had the opportunity to go one on one with Bailer, to talk about the current lay of the land in Melbourne, what makes him tick, and also what pisses him off.

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Damo: Thanks for taking the time to chat today. I just was wondering if we could start at the beginning. Who or what is Bailer?

Bailer: I guess Bailer was a separate entity to myself. I think you build an ethos around the name that you create in the graffiti world, so for a while Bailer was a name that I tried to live up to.

This was quite detrimental to my life as I was doing violent and extreme things. You create hype around your own bullshit and then you have to live up to it. You do a few stupid things and your dirty washing on line gets aired down the grape vine. It got quite strange at one point, meeting people who would say shit like “You’re not Bailer, I know him.” Or “I heard he was 7 foot tall.” This that and the other. Bizarre really.

I’m at a point in my life where I’m sick of having multiple facets, divided up: a real identity, a fake identity, a graffiti entity, a business persona etc. I’ve been trying to simplify my life cutting out many of the negative aspects and focusing on art, music and health. I have been creating artwork, rap as well as graffiti under the same name instead of constantly shifting between split personalities. I guess that’s what it is; a projection of the creative self mixed with the ego.

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Damo: So you’re a graffiti writer and ‘street artist’?

Bailer: I think street art is a funny term. People painting in public often label themselves or get labeled a street artist. This is really just so that the layman can get a rough grasp of what you do without having to write them an essay. Street art seemed like a flash in the pan. I mean it’s always happened and always is going to happen but it’s a like a few people do it whereas graffiti art lots of people do. Mural art lots of people do. I don’t see that many people doing street art currently.

I wouldn’t really say I am a street artist, I’d say I was a graffiti artist that does contemporary art in the public space. I’m a guy that paints all the time and lives outside. I like Anthony Lister’s term ‘adventure painter’ because it seems to sum it up. You go on adventures and you paint shit. It seems to sort of encapsulate it better than any other label. Street artist to me seems like a stencil artist or poster artist or something like that.

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Damo: You’re also a musician, specializing in rap. How did you get into that artistic sphere?

Bailer: I was real young into break dancing, rapping and graffiti. In 1998 Bias B dropped his album and it became more acceptable for people to have their own voice in local hip hop; not being Americanised. The battle scene started to get more popular. My friends and I were smoking copious amounts of weed and listening to a Wu Tang and Cypress Hill, good weed smoking music.

I guess whenever we hung out smoking we would rap in the circle just as you would pass around the bong we’d also be rapping in the same rotation. At the parties you’d battle other people from other suburbs. Anytime you’d see people I’d always battle and I was really confident with my word play because I did it every single day. I was real cocky, you’ve got to be in rap if you’re battling people because it’s pretty fucking derogatory to each other. If you don’t have confidence you will get schooled. I wouldn’t want to go in a battle now. I know how hungry, fearless and dedicated I was. I would probably be head to head with some kid who just practices every day. I wouldn’t be able to stand there and take the abuse I would probably just snap and start strangling him. Battles are actually quite a horrible, cringe inducing scene to watch. However I started going in them when I was 17. I won Run Amuk battle at Cherry Bar and I won Big Day Out and a few other battles and I also placed in a few then I guess I kind of got over that scene. People talk about the things they’ve done instead of doing them in rap, whereas in graff you can’t do that. Someone can’t just say “I’ve done 10 pieces on every line.” If you catch the train and don’t see them. Your actions are more important, whereas in rap your words are more important, so I got sick of people talking shit, lying and stuff. I also had some issues in my life; some guy tried to kill me and that made me really aggressive and defensive, or defensively aggressive instead of being a victim again. Some people would shy away and become scared of the outside world after such a thing instead I became an aggressive person. So when someone looked like they were going to fuck with me I would strike first. That fucked my rapping as well because I started having alcohol, drug and violence problems. I went further down the graffiti rabbit hole and a few years later I decided to actually do a few songs with some friends on their albums like feature tracks on Nectar’s album and Pisces album and Selfish’s album and a few other guys.
I decided to do an album with Retayner because I think it’s more interesting to have two different voices. It would be even more interesting if we had a band but we don’t. Now I’m trying to work on another song with Retayner and a few of my own things just for fun. It took me a long time to pull myself out of my aggressive, depression, issues with substance abuse and risk taking behavior. I have the energy to make some music right now so I’m going to try and do it.

Damo: Someone tried to kill you?!?

Bailer: Yeah when I was a teen someone tried to stab me in the throat with a broken bottle. Luckily I ducked and he got me in the side of the neck instead. Then he bottled me over the head and stabbed me in the back, and fucking smashed another bottle on my face. I kept knocking him to the ground and him and his mates would come back with another bottle and bottle me again and I’d knock him to ground again. He was angry I knocked him over and he couldn’t knock me down. I had to get 14 stitches in my back. I could put my hand in the wound to my second knuckle. I was like ‘what is this on my back? Fuck there is blood and fucking gristle over my fingers.’

It was a street fight over some neighbourhood bullshit. Who is from where, that type of shit; you know kid’s shit? The strange thing is that a few days earlier I just won Big Day Out rap battle and I had brand new clothes on. As part of the prize I got to go to Globe and pick out heaps of clothes. I went and got all this new gear and I remember walking through the park wondering why the fuck are we going this way, we don’t need to fucking do this shit anymore to go kick it with the people hanging in the park. My instincts were correct. I tried to tell my friends let’s just go to the bar. They convinced me we should just say g’day to the crew chilling. Anyway I remember looking down at my fucking shoes, thinking if only I had Nikes on I could run away from this known psycho with the broken bottle and get a big pole, or rip a picket off a fence or something instead of just getting shanked and fucking punching him. I didn’t think it affected me that much at the time as I thought I was pretty staunch. In hindsight I realize it affected every aspect of my life. It was only years latter that I realised this traumatic event changed me as a person, I went from being the guy who stayed sober and sharp for the battles only having a drink if I did well, to an aggressive, wasted serial pest. Borrowing and breaking things and getting up to all kinds of risk taking stupid behaviour.

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Damo: Where do you draw your inspiration from now and was there a particular style you look to as a beginner?

Bailer: I used to be a very intelligent young man, soaking up information like a sponge. Reading the paper everyday, watching the news, reading many books. I think I’m a borderline brain dead retard now from all the paint fumes! I struggle to remember things so I think most inspiration happens subconsciously. I don’t tend to glean from other artists work. I like movies, I like books; I don’t really like art that much for someone who strives to be an artist. I mean if it’s really good or something new I’m into it. Going to the gallery puts me to sleep half the time. I’m more about participating than being a punter. It is the same with sport, music, everything really. The people viewing the artworks are more interesting. Staring at the strokes making their pseudo intellectual masturbatory comments about the artist’s intentions. “Bernard look here. You can see that he has used a textured flourish of deep green pigment. It must be his repressed sexual fantasies about Kermit the Frog.” Yeah, yeah, yeah….it’s just paint mate calm down.

Inspiration. Inspiration comes from people that are bosses at what they do: Tarantino, The Cohen Brothers, Dennis Hopper, Clint Eastwood, Morbius, H. R. Giger, Hunter S. Thompson whatever I don’t know. It’s pretty male dominated isn’t it? Maybe I am searching for a mentor? Like Clarence Worley, dreaming up Elvis Presley in true romance. Guiding him, helping him make the important decisions (to kill Drexil) “I like you Clarence, always have, always will.” I draw a lot of inspiration from music/lyrics as well. From Psycho Realm, to Joy Division and everything in between. I must say that the people you paint/hang with inspire you more than everything else really. With out you even noticing. So shout outs to ID, ACM, AWOL, Mic Porter and all my other peoples.

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Damo: What about when you were starting out as a young writer, were there people you were looking up to?

Bailer: Yeah definitely, there were graffiti artists, CI crew,TGC, KSA, FMC, Inpak was one of my favourite painters; mad burners with charos. PUZLE of course just an all-time boss, DASH style master, KAB; Kab had these ridiculous pieces (that I mainly saw in magazines as he is from Adelaide). Runs, Dorps, 

SEVER from overseas – he was fucking sick. SNARL as well KoC. The internet popped up and you could look up crews like PbP had a website and they had old stuff which was cool because I didn’t see much of their stuff in real life because it’s all the way out in Belgrave. When I started it was really localised. Just the stuff along the lines like GYRO and Great pieces, SDM, Dvate, Iree, Jumble, Trim. Drastic, Dmyse, frame, BICEPS- Kiiiiiing!!!, Voter, Hyase, WCA were doing crazy productions on the lines and legal walls. RDC, Jorz, Shem, Prowler. TSF, Berko, Jerz, Kareems. Dipher, Cduce, Ewoc, Copy.

TRANCE and RENKS. I definitely looked up to RENKS a lot, he was like the style master, him and TRANCE. TRANCE passed away over 10 years ago. You can look at his pieces and they’re still dope. Dudes wouldn’t even paint that way now. They were ahead of their time 10 or 20 years ago. He was doing some cool shit.

RENKS stuff now has gone a bit anti-style because I think he’s probably pushing against this whole popularization of the art form. But I think the popularity of street culture has always been cyclical. It was pop in the 80s, they had graffiti stickers in fucking weetbix packets and people painting in the city square and the Kylie Minogue Locomotion film clip. It was on Countdown etc etc. Then the popularity fades and its cool to paint again because not every dick head is trying to do it to be cool. But it comes back again and right now with social media I guess graff and street art are at a saturation point, so some people are trying to fight against that commercialisation by doing anti style or capping legal work etc.
Renks stuff used to be so technical, he was a style master. He looks like he’s leaning back towards that and his letters are taking more shape again, its dope to see him going hard painting again. Renks, Trance, Giro and Puzle were my favourite writers.  Also Phibs and Dmote. 

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Damo: What’s been your most difficult piece you ever attempted and completed?

Bailer: I don’t really know how to answer that. I don’t know if there is any such thing as a difficult piece, maybe a difficult spot. I mean painting isn’t really difficult you just let the paint do all the thinking. It can be difficult to replicate an image but that’s not really painting to me its too rigid.

The most difficult spot to paint probably this yard in Prague where we got swarmed and surrounded by guards with dogs and batons drawn. We all went back to back and put our fists up then legged it when we saw a gap in their defenses. Lots of difficult missions; lots of falling off roofs, climbing up spots, getting seen painting on the roof top in the middle of the day by police and getting handcuffed in the middle of the city is embarrassing when you’re not a kid anymore.

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Damo: Do you prefer a particular medium because you’ve got your song writing, fiction/non fiction writing as well as your graffiti writing?

Bailer: I think the easiest thing for me is writing. Writing not even lyrics, but maybe a screen play, book or stories. For me that is the thing I can do without trying. Painting can frustrate the fuck out of me. Graffiti doesn’t, graffiti is like a release without having to think or try. Painting on canvas the constraints of it and the fact that it’s going to be hung on someone’s wall puts this invisible boundary of difficulty around the object. It’s like it’s on a pedestal and it’s to be revered. I might paint a 20 metre mural in the middle of the city and not give a fuck what anyone thinks about it even though a million people are going to see it yet one person hanging my canvas on their wall freaks me out. It’s weird. I don’t care what people think of my public art at all. I mean it’s nice if they like it, but I don’t want to pander to the public. I think my next phase is going to include some public artworks done with a graffiti artists attitude. Not street art but large installations done without permission. I paint just a bit like Dadaism; freeflowing expression with a blank mind. I don’t fully plan it I have a rough idea sketched up then the rest just sort of happens. With canvas I guess I just have to get to the point where I can just do that, but I’m more about that adventure painting shit. Maybe I can knock down some walls I’ve painted and exhibit the rubble.

Damo: You’re known for supporting younger artists, why is that important to you to be supporting that young blood?

Bailer: I used to have a job as a youth worker and a still do youth work here and there. I don’t know if I am knight in shining armor though, I’m a bit of an asshole sometimes. I mean sometimes I’m trying to help the young kids; sometimes I’m trying to chase them around trying to give them a back hand.

I think people need to see the pathway to their salvation or their own destruction is in their own hands. If you listen to some old crony telling you how fucking sick this is and to do this and that to try impress him you’ll wake up ten years later and realize your life is shit. There are so many fuckwits that will fill young men’s heads with lies about how to be a cool dude. They are probably lacking a father figure and they listen. I know because I listened to some dude and I looked up to some dudes and they were good people at the time but a lot of their life choices lead them in shit directions. When you’re young it’s cool to be a baddie, to make poor self destructive decisions. When you’re older it’s certainly not and people don’t really tell you the truth when you’re young, they tell you what to do and what not to do, they don’t bother telling you the reasons why.

If I’m at youth work, I don’t say don’t do drugs kids. They are bad, I’ll say if you smoke bongs every day you’re going to have bong breath, the chicks aren’t going to like it, you’re going to have acne, you’re probably not going to be very active, you’re going be boring, you’re going to brain dead, you’ll probably still be living with your mum when you’re 30. But you know, weed is fun smoke every now and again but if you do it every day you’re a loser. If you drink water all day you probably die, if you ate sand all day you die. If you do anything… you eat McDonalds all day you’ll be a fat piece of shit. Even with graffiti you can focus on certain aspects of it or you can let it help you stay out of being a piece of shit or you can open the door to be a piece of shit. You can hang out with the guys that want to ruin everything, do burgs and do other stuff and you can meet them through graffiti or you can use graffiti to empower yourself to do art instead of fucking drugs, crime and shit. It’s all relative; I’ve done a bit of both.

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I think it’s just good to try and get young people thinking about style and letter form and respect instead of just going out without any skills and ruining other people’s work or going out with some skills and still ruining other people’s work. You used to have to be more accountable for your actions. People would ride the trains all day putting up tags. You would eventually run into the other writers doing loops, so if someone was there on the train that fucked up, it got sorted out. It made people aware to not do stupid shit but I guess if they’re not doing stupid shit just to avoid getting beaten up and they are probably a bad person anyway. Now people can paint, take a photo and put it in on Instagram, there is no accountability. I think a lot of them go around and ruin shit and don’t respect anything, fuck this, fuck that an older dude told me it’s cool to do this. To me it’s like you pull their card and they get scared and ask why are you getting mad? Man it’s the way of the world.

Damo: What are your thoughts on young writers capping walls?

Bailer: I’m not going to lie there are a whole lot of shit street art murals out there. Painted by people who have never done anything illegally on the street. I don’t like a lot of them but I don’t go and ruin them. I mean you don’t go to the art gallery and if you don’t like a painting ruin it, you don’t go to a gig and you don’t like the band just take their albums and snap them in half. It just seems fucking rude – people think it’s okay to ruin shit because it’s a different style to what they have been conditioned to think is cool. If it’s shit and someone paints something better over it cool. How do you decide what shit is and what’s not? Everyone has a different opinion. Someone might have asked for something to be on their wall. I personally think if I ever had a problem with an artist I don’t ruin their shit, I just confront them. I don’t know it just seems fucking stupid. I guess its part of the scene though. I guess some people are trying to prove how street they are pushing against the popularization of the art form by ruining what they see as sell out artwork. I just don’t like people deciding what I can and can’t look at. Especially if its an amazing piece of artwork painted by someone who has paid their dues, has been in the game for 20 plus years. Is there not a point when an artist can decide to push their creativity over their vandalism? Say if they are in their mid 30s with kids trying to exist in this world. I don’t think it’s thought about that deeply though. It’s more like “fuck street art.” Then the wall is capped.

It’s like the Ketih Haring mural in Collingwood. That was done in 1984 when people weren’t really doing much in Melbourne, except for gang graffiti and political scribblings. Renks and Cherokee did throwees over the mural. I don’t understand. That mural was there probably 10 years before Renks began painting and probably 25 years before Cherokee. The piece by Keith Haring has been hugely influential to so many people. The fact that it doesn’t fit with their aesthetic and ethos so they ruined it astounds me. Especially since Renks used to paint such experimental style, has done art shows and does graphic design. NOST painted a massive ballsy street side stomper over the woman’s mural on Smith Street and everyone whinged about that and lost their shit online. The woman’s mural had been ruined for ten years, it had 15 throwies along the bottom of the wall and all the paint was fading away, it looked like shit. I know for a fact a female writer contacted council and said “You should get a bunch of female artists to redo the mural” and they said “Oh we don’t have the budget for it.” Then for Women’s Week they paid a male artist to paint a big mural of a woman. For Women’s Week they paid a man to paint a mural? Yet they couldn’t be bothered restoring the woman’s mural but as soon as a man (NOST) went over it all the women complained. I’m confused – that NOST piece was brilliant over that destroyed wall. Every one sooked about how he’s defaced art. The art piece was defaced already. That to me is a different kettle of fish with someone going ‘I don’t like that’ and doing something straight over it when it’s not even touched yet.

It’s all part of it I guess. You can’t control public art when it’s in the public space.
I just get cut because I like looking at a nice piece of art as opposed to a ruined piece of art. If I’m walking around and this nice piece I’ve seen for a year (or 32 years in the case of the Keith Haring) now has a great big throwie through it and ‘fuck art’ written on it. I feel personally attacked; it makes me stew inside and makes me angry. The other day I saw a younger writer that had done it and I strangled him. I shouldn’t have done it, I made him cry and shit. I’m a fucking full grown man. The girl I was seeing at the time broke up with me because of my aggression issues. That’s how much it affects me- – I see it and walk around thinking in my head when I catch up with this cunt….fuck. It full on affects me. Why am I making it affect me like this? Fuck it let them deal with their own shit it’s their own crap. I feel like it’s a personal attack. For three years someone slashed all my art and never left a name so now when I see someone else slashing I attach it to them like it was that prick. So all this pent up aggression becomes channeled onto a worthy adversary. After I strangled that goose I realized it was in front of a lot of people and I lost a lot of respect from a lot of them. What am I doing? They don’t know the back story they just saw me being a bully to this clown. I should just probably let everyone deal with their own bullshit.

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Damo: I’m going to make a note to never piss you off!! I know you have strong thoughts on the next matter. What are your thoughts on the current scene in Melbourne?

Bailer: There are different scenes. There is the train painting scene, bombing scene, there are the old guys with kids so they paint only on the weekend scene, there is the street art scene, the gallery scene. There are all these different scenes; it’s not one big happy family. Dudes like myself somehow navigate through all of them, participating in each but never committing to one.

There is a little popularity contest scene that’s going on all around the world. If you have enough followers on Instagram you get treated like a star, that one scene seems kind of retarded. The whole people making money out of it thing? That’s always been around. In the 80s MERDA and Lems painted billboards for Big M, Duke painted for the Sydney Olympics, VAYC sponsored lots of legal walls, People painted for film clips and what ever else. Now its so popular with mural festivals around the world, it seems that people all try to paint with the popular peeps to try and get some of their followers. The annoying thing about this is that often artists get picked for their popularity and local legends who have been in the game pre social media often get overlooked.

I don’t want to compromise my artistic ideals to do what I do but if I paint one thing for one dude and it allows me to paint three things of own that week I kind of figure it’s ok. Some people get sponsored by a paint company because they are really good at painting or they are lucky, they make the right connections they are good dude. I’m not that guy. I just hustle hard so I sponsor myself. Sometimes if there is something that I don’t want to paint I’ll get someone else to paint it and I will take a cut. I think people are making assumptions that people are cashing in on this. They are not… I’ve been doing this for ten years and it’s not like we’re making a lot of money, we’re fucking artists. I had to do a few other things on the side sometimes. There are obviously a few people making money. They are the people that have become successful famous artists and have exhibitions and sell work for big money but even then the gallery takes fucking half the money. There are definitely a few people making money, but the majority of people are still broke as fuck artists. I think that is one of the reasons there is that street art, graffiti art hatred. When I was young I fucking hated street art, I fucking hated it. You paint for another 15 years and you start to think “maybe I’d like to paint something different. I’m getting fucking bored of painting my name over and over again.” It’s fine for someone that paints one piece a month to just do that. But if you paint every fucking day you start to feel like a brain dead retard if you’re just pumping out the same shit over and over again. If you’re a weekend warrior okay just drop burners, do 20 or 30 a year and do that for the rest of your life.

Something that the people who hate street art might not know: some of the most successful street artists in Australia were graffiti artists and they just changed to painting something different because they got bored and creatively outgrew the constraints of graffiti. They were dudes that went hard as fuck in the graffiti scene, painted a lot of trains and now they paint street art. I was tossing that idea up, do I keep doing graffiti or just quit and paint a new style under a new name like Bankme? (laughing) I just didn’t want the duality thing. I don’t want to split my personality into multiple facets anymore. My graffiti and art can be one thing, why does it have to be separate, a street artist, a graffiti artist, a human? I’m a guy that just paints and some of my stuff is letter form and some of it weird fucking shapes and some of it is pictures of stuff.

I don’t know why everyone needs labels. I guess it makes it easier for everyone to digest it if they know what it is they are eating. People do like to be spoon fed. Look at the fucking companies making money they just know how to tell dumb bogans to inhale their fart. If you went into public and painted a pretty picture over and over again and paid someone $10,000 to promote you then you’ll probably be famous in a month.

Damo: What do you want to be known for graffiti, art, rap, writing, music?

Bailer: I don’t really care. I just want to get more walls to paint. I don’t particularly want fame I don’t give a fuck about that. I just know in this world you need some fame to get noticed then you get more opportunities to paint bigger, better spots. It’s fucking stupid but it’s a game so I’m playing it. I’ve watched other people play it and get to do what they want and be exactly who they want to be, I’ve watched others play poorly and not succeed. I watch other people not play it and whinge their whole lives and become bitter old bastards. Of all the puritans ‘real artists don’t have Instagram’ “I’ll never sell out.” That’s cool, have fun living in your mum’s garage. That attitude is fear of failure. If you put on an art show you want it to sell out right? In the words of Mayonaize (graffiti, tattoo, script artist) “You have to sell out to eat out.”

I personally would like to write a screen play and make some films or do some comedy or write a book but fuck me graffiti just steals my life. The next thing for me is bring out this book I’ve been working on, hopefully bring out some music and continue painting. I’ve been working on a script with a friend Carl Allison to make a pilot for a web series. Hopefully we film that this year as well. I have been working on my fitness hard, training 4-5 times a week and surfing. I’ve got an exhibition at the end of the year. I’ve got a new art space, and I want to hold some group exhibitions there as well. I’ve got a lot of plans and I want to do some more graff again. I want to do some big stupid shit with fire extinguishers too! I just want to stave off the stupidity and depression with creativity it’s the only thing really; drugs, alcohol, womanizing they are all good escapes but the only thing that really makes you feel that you are moving forward is creating something.

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