Change is inevitable but you can’t always wait around for it if you want to find success. For Toronto based graffiti and lighting artist Kizmet, taking matters into his own hands was key. While the general population was taking its time to decide whether or not graffiti art was for them, Kizmet was carving his path through the underground arts and music scene and making a name for himself. From the streets to the big stage, Kismet is a prime example of taking initiative and not being afraid to put in the hours and it shows, big time. Read through the interview with Kizmet below where we dive into his early beginning, what gave him the courage to pursue his passions, what he’s excited for in this ever changing world of art and much more.
Hey Kizmet! For those not familiar, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey I’m Kizmet, and who am I? That’s something I like to let people figure out themselves. Maybe this conversation will help [laughs].
And figure out we shall! What’d you get up to today?
I was in my studio most of the day. There are a bunch of pieces I’m working on so that’s keeping me busy.
You’ve talked a lot in the past about how your studio space in Toronto is really your comfort zone. What are the keys to a great studio/work space?
When I used to do a lot of music, I always wanted a space where I could have all of my stuff and get everything done there. Now, with art, it’s the same way. Kind of like in the Shedders Lair in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where all the kids are just chilling spray painting, blasting music being creative doing karate and there’s like some dude just offering kids cigarettes. Everyone is just doing their thing. That’s what I want minus the encouraging kids to smoke[laughs].
The key for me is that I could be there at any point, day or night, doing whatever I want and nobody gets mad. Like if I play a drum set at 4am in the morning nobody is going to call the cops. It’s like having a clubhouse. I can get work done or if I wanted I could watch a film on a projector screen or I could play drums or me and my studio mate can Jam or play video games on the big screen.
Who inspired the faces that we see prominently across your artwork?
I haven’t really shared this formally on many platforms so this will be a first actually. I often don’t talk about the context of my paintings personally. With street or graffiti art, the artist is often anonymous and so the viewer needs to create their own interpretations of the works. That’s what I want for my work. That being said I have always had meaning behind the works so here it is.
I’m huge into Sci-Fi. So with the faces, I wanted to create a new reality that would change over time. First they wore glasses, then those came off and you saw there weren’t any eyes, and then the faces multiplied and the narrative kept on changing. And in the end it turns out these faces are a robot tricking you into falling in love with it. It’s all about coercion and one the original presented concept turning out to be one big lie and everything is a connected story.
Damn! That’s wild. Did you know when you started the faces that it would turn into that huge story over multiple years?
At the time I started doing these I was in this transitional phase with my art and so I started creating these faces and actually built this entire story and knew where I wanted to take it from the beginning. I knew I’d be able to get better over time as an artist which would allow me to develop the characters further and keep making them better so that when it came time to talk about it, it would all be ready.
Did you also plan on using them for live events or was that part decided afterwards?
Ya so the idea was to be able to bring them to shows/events and tour them around. I’ve always been really big into music and events so I wanted to be able to bring my work there. Also the impact of bringing work to music festivals and seeing people interact with it in person there is amazing. Its something you don't really get in a gallery or just with a mural on a wall.
There’s also a ton of elements that you can play with too like with smoke and lights which is epic. How big is that for you?
I’ve been doing light murals for a little while. It’s really crazy about how light interacts with colours. It’s not like normal colour mixing. You get these wild combinations of mixing light with paint and what colours will turn into what when certain light hits it and you can play with different elements and make these pieces really come to life. You can make it so stuff is hidden or morphing and people trip out watching it. Sometimes I make the transitions slow so you don’t even realize what’s happening in the moment until the image has completely changed colours.
Going back to your roots now. What was the evolution of going from graffiti to this experiential art like?
I kinda always knew that this was going to be what I make my living on. The whole tags and street bombing thing is really just advertizing to get your name out there, but I knew to make a living I would need to put more thought into conceptualizing. For me it wasn’t so much of changing the art style but it was me being more serious and that led to the transition which has been a good one.
Was there a moment or turning point where you knew you’d be able to make this work out as your career?
I got kicked out of high school for some graffiti shit and went to a new alternative school where there were tons of artists. The head of my new school, John Morton, told me “this is a democratic school. If you want to paint the school, cool. Make a proposal and maybe you'll even get paid for it. Just let us know how and when you want to do it and if everyone is ok with it, you can do it.” I was so shocked.
I presented it to the school and everyone was hyped about it. Now I don’t even think there’s space left because the entire place is painted up. The school got covered. Once people found out it was cool to do, everyone went nuts. It started in the hallways, the stairwell, the lunchroom and then it just got everything. They even painted the outside of the school. It looked sweet.
That introduction of a safe space where I could have an idea and it would be approached with an open mind was what showed me there might be a long term opportunity with this.
That’s an insane story. Maybe hard to top but do you have a “greatest story of all time” from your tagging days?
Honestly all the days of tagging were just insanity. If you were somewhat tapped into that culture back then you’ve probably had some crazy f**** up experiences. Like everyone is nuts. The lifestyle of being out super late, running from cops, tons of partying, is kinda crazy in itself. I would tell these stories to people that were not part of that culture and they’d all just think I was lying. The stuff is truly unbelievable.
Are there any stark differences or changes that you’ve observed with graffiti art and culture over the years?
The biggest thing now is street art is very accepted and also highly funded. Back in the day it was so criticized like once I was painting a garage for someone and the neighbour came out with a baseball bat and was threatening to beat me up because he thought I was tagging.
Recently though I was doing a garage for someone else and the neighbour there came out and was like “what about my fence? I want a mural too.” I was shocked. I thought he was going to be pissed off but he was jealous. He literally said “I’m a taxpayer and I should have my fence painted too”. [laughs].
Why do you think things have changed so much like that?
I think it was that the city really got behind it. They finally accepted that you can’t fight graffiti because you don’t know who it is and it will NEVER go away.
It used to be that if someone tagged on your business, you had twenty four hours to get rid of it or you’d get fined, so as a result business owners just started commissioning murals to get around the rule. Then programs funding murals came around to deter people from just aimlessly tagging. It’s been a slow transition but a good one. I also just think some people need some sort of authority or what they consider a validated entity to say it’s ok and then they’re quick to accept things.
Any tips/tricks that you’d give to young artists of stuff of the trade you wished you knew when you started out in graffiti?
There’s this whole starving artist mentality that leads to artists getting taken advantage of by these big companies and corporations who don’t pay well and treat the artists poorly.
I think it’s important for artists to know that it’s completely ok to walk away in the middle of the job if you’re not getting the respect or being treated properly. Protect yourself and your representation. Don’t let money control everything you do. I know some artists take jobs and feel like shit after because it was a terrible experience but they wanted to be able to say they worked for that company to feel validated. That’s just so not how art should be.
No matter who you are - and I know it’s easier said than done - but stand up to these big corporations or anyone not treating you fairly. Until people do this, nothing will ever change. Once you do this and you start prioritizing yourself, you’ll actually open so many new doors. These great clients and jobs do exist. Be patient and protect your values and you’ll find them.
Lastly, what keeps you inspired to continue creating and what are you looking forward to next?
The DOCD (Department of Civilian Dance) parties we’ve been throwing, like the raves, have been challenging me to keep being creative and force me to always one up myself and that’s awesome. It’s a pressure that I put on myself but I know if I do so, I’ll keep creating and getting better to the point where I’m surprising myself. That’s the best feeling like “holy s**t, I made this?” [laughs].
I’m also really inspired by all these new faces that are doing great work and that I know are going to be huge. We’re close to a point where everyone can really thrive together as things change. It’s a really exciting time in Toronto right now. It feels like the renaissance of DIY culture and I’m super stoked for it.
Check out Kizmet's Instagram to find out about upcoming events and see more amazing work coming from Kizmet and keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.