PHILLIP SAUNDERS: Toronto Street Artist (Interview)
During my time in Toronto I was enthused to find a piece of culture on it streets that resonated with my exploration and discovery of what black means to me. An amalgamation of afro-futurism which pertains to the education of self, community and black artistry. Kensington market, an area on the edge of gentrification, satisfied this urge and while venturing through this community, Pattie and Super-malt in hand, I was in awed by the murals adorned on its streets. The street art both romantic and surreal, but inherently black and futuristic, I later learned was by the artist, Phillip Saunders. We were lucky enough to meet with Phillip to speak on his influences, the beautification of Kensington market and his endeavour to represent black people. Check out the interview below:
A lot of people confuse Street Art with Graffiti and place both under the umbrella of vandalism, as a Street Artist what is your view on this perception and on Graffiti?
First of all I’d like to say that Graffiti is definitely an art based off of language and the manipulation of typography. Graffitis reputation of vandalism stems from its core value of free expression; whether you’re on the block, on the trains or on shop windows. It’s about dominating space with your expression. Street art has stems more from fine art, exploring figurative art, contemporary design or portraiture. Where these two art forms connect is the use of aerosol paints. Street art has more mass appeal due to the broadness of its context, where as graffiti has a niche audience that connects to that raw self expression and the evolution of the style.
How do you think gentrification impacts street art and graffiti?
I believe it impacts the graffiti artists more, as gentrification pushes out graffiti with the street art. They pay for the street art to replace it. But I believe in collaborating with graffiti artists, I see the good high-level work as abstract art and this is the way that I pitch it when approaching communities. The collaboration of street art and graffiti can make the graffiti art form more accessible to those who do not understand the culture.
How has your exploration of human history, psychology and philosophy informed your art?
Generally I’ve always been inquisitive about what and who is God. As a black person you can become disenfranchised to the christian faith because of the depiction of the ‘white Jesus’ figure and because of this I began to look for god in other religions. My work seeks to reveal who is the God for black people and there lies my study of these subjects. But this relates to my personal work in my studio.
What have been the responses to this personal project?
A girl approached me at my show and asked “Are you afraid that your work could perceived as anti- Semitic?”.
Why is that?
The series that i’m working on is called the Hebrew nuances. It depicts black life in a way that is ambiguous in time but connects black people to their Hebrew heritage. The series shows the black people that the black jews are who are the disenfranchised western blacks today. Its very subtle because there is nothing in my pieces that staples the scenes in a specific time period.
Who is inspiring you at the moment?
Now it’s gotten a little bit more difficult as i’m in a place where I want to represent my people and educate those who don’t know about this lineage and history that is sitting there as a gold mine for us. If I could refer myself to anyone who is relevant to my work it would be Henry O Tanner. He was a black biblical painter, who despite the racism he received continued to deliver amazing work and power to black people in faith.
Kensington market has become your stomping ground and you’re regular commissioned to do murals, how did this relationship develop?
I used to skateboard for 9 years and was sponsored, but I got injured. I came to realise that the level at which I was skating at wasn’t smart and thats when I became more invested in developing my art. So I decided one summer to pitch ideas, I was super humble with my approach and I offered my ability in new ways such as floor murals. It caught on and then I came up with an idea of a beautification project – I also enlisted artists like myself to paint here too as apart of the project.
What advice you give any young self taught artist who might aspire to have a career like yours?
Develop the fundamentals and stay keen on studying that. Don’t worry about anything else. Don’t be discouraged in your development of this, because if you continuously perfect this you will become undeniable and sound. It’ll become the foundation to which you can explore your personal style.
You can find more from Phillip Saunders on his instagram @ahayahisone and view his street art in Kensington Market, Toronto CA.
Interview by Daniel Bailey
Photography by Gloria Obianyo