[Given St.ART Mumbai’s ability to bring our favourite sub-cultural expression to the forefront again, we couldn’t resist digging up this interview with Mumbai’s most notorious, anonymous street artist. In case you missed it, we got an incredibly articulate Sonali Gupta to trace the journey of one of the city’s most unusual harbingers through her New Yorker’s eyes, as she simultaenously uncovers hidden truths about both his cracked canvas and his art. Introducing Typer...but never in the flesh.]
Witty. Bold. Fresh. Satirical.
Andheri-based graffiti artist Tyler stealthily sweeps through the streets of Mumbai’s popular sectors, publicizing his image without intent; forcing people to pay attention to the art of stenciling. For the sake of conformity, I will refer to Tyler as a male throughout this piece, although I haven’t been able to confirm whether Tyler is, in fact, a male.
I first came across Tyler’s work one afternoon on my way to Pali Hill. Winding up Pali Market road I stopped the car, to the dismay of my fellow travelers, to take a photo of the block letters neatly printed on the busy corner. “Never Forget the World is Yours” *Terms and Conditions Apply.
I was pleasantly surprised.
“Art is more important than the artist.” - Tyler
My frame of reference? New York City. Live in Manhattan long enough and it won’t be long before graffiti becomes a comfortable, familiar friend. I made the move to Mumbai 8 months ago and it’s been an interesting transition. A city is a city, but this place felt like pure chaos. Mumbai doesn’t let you wallow in the larger issues for long though, especially when your senses are assaulted at every street corner--fragrant agarbatti, incessant honking, tasty bhel, heavy humidity and of course, our topic at hand, walls and walls filled with polychromatic graffiti. Street art is the loud backdrop to Mumbai, a no-holds barred expression of its canvas city’s emotions.
Enter Tyler, the enigmatic graffiti artist has made quite an impression on the streets for those who notice his subtle digs at all. Tyler’s approach is one of intrigue--he prefers to remain anonymous. What’s no secret however, is this notorious graffiti-er’s Fight Club obsession. Tyler’s pseudonym is inspired from the cult-classic’s nihilistic character,Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Even the parking lot of Phoenix Mills features Pitt’s face stenciled in black; his sinister grin mocking mall-goers as they snatch up sales of the day. Modern day materialism and anti-establishment are running themes throughout Tyler’s work. M (McDonalds) for Murder or ‘Evolution of Man’ as a shopper are evidence enough: Tyler has a point of view and he’s not afraid to share it.
Stencil and spray. Stencil and spray. This may in fact be Tyler’s daily mantra. At least that’s what he proclaims in his New Year’s Resolution message:
Driving through Lokhandwala’s Backside/Backroads, it’s hard to miss this one which I recently discovered has been removed.
200 feet down the lane you can find this message as a semi-replacement:
Turning the corner to head towards the Lokhandala Gardens, another Tyler spotting.
He combines humor, imagination and a lack of self-seriousness in his street art. Political messages are ever-present, sure, but what I love most about Tyler’s work is that he knows his audience and he’s doing this for the youth. His work speaks volumes as a young resident of an overpopulated city who hopes for change; making his art relatable to all of us.
Early on, it was hard to differentiate between municipal markers, advertisements, and graffiti. Perhaps it is all one in the same. Tyler’s recent series deemed ‘visual pollution’ calls out to advertisers to cool it with the poster boards of Bollywood filmy types and smiling women.
It’s as if Tyler himself is exclaiming, ‘enough of this bullshit! stop infiltrating our streets with this garbage!’
”The only people who still believe that skills are needed to be an artist are college professors who teach art and people stupid enough to believe they need college to be an artist. You’ll need to suffer to make any real art. All we need is a good internet connection.” - Tyler.
I was happy to know I wasn’t alone in feeling the walls were getting too crowded. I noticed how Tyler chooses wall spaces that get action; busy corners and low walls similar to what I would see in the lower east side. Small spots in Bandra where groups of college students lunch, possibly intended to spark conversation. A wall near Bora Bora show signs of a faded Tyler tag. Driving back from Andheri to Bandra, Tyler proves that all is not lost in the dark of the night. I spot a mini truck parked outside Gujarat Research Society yellowed by the street light--a large stencil of Pitt’s face yet again, this time with the added caption of ‘Artist’ written in Hindi along with a phone number. Another busy corner. Intentional placement or happy accident?
As I continued to trace Tyler’s work through Mumbai, I was reminded of the New York City’s East Village. Walking by the same brownstone everyday on 8th Street, I always took notice of the tall lime green brontosaurus graffitied on its backside. If I somehow turned the wrong corner and found myself lost in the middle of the village, the dinosaur was my north star. Graffiti becomes part of the neighbourhood in this way, representing a landmark of sorts. A similar landmark can be found in an homage in Soho, one I call “Abuela”--spanish for Grandmother. The art covers the garage door of a automobile shop and is a huge display of affection towards someone who lost their Grandmother. It’s street art like this that reminds me it’s not always about being hipper than the next or provocative. Street art is an expression of self.
I had a chance to catch up with Tyler (only virtually of course) and pick his brain on art, danger and off-the-cuff moments of street art:
I. Why do you persist in keeping your identity secret? Because art is more important than the artist.
II. How much do you think about current affairs in India when you’re sketching? Political satire or just plain humor?
Street art is meant to be humorous and too much essence of current affairs in street art makes it boring. It looks great in an already disturbed society like ours.
III. Has the current watershed election inspired you to change direction at all? Politics is a subject that can be played with anytime. I am not focusing on politics.
IV. Does the danger motivate your art in any way?
I don’t think anybody likes to put themselves in danger for making art. But street art is far more challenging compared to other forms of art. A street artist is not only thinking about how colorful or perfect his work should be, but also how many seconds are left before the next patrolling cop car shows up.
One Night, I was painting a sexy slim ballerina dancer skateboarding on a wall, but because of lot of wind and continuous cop movement I was unable to hold the stencil properly which resulted into a fat ballerina dancer. It looked way funnier than I visualized.
V. How do you respond to being crowned ‘Bombay’s Banksy’?
Banksy is a force of nature. I don’t know if I should take that as a compliment.
VI. The most unusual place you’ve stenciled that you don’t think many people would have noticed?
I have painted under a bridge that is open to mangroves in the suburbs. There is a squatter who lives under this bridge and I am sure he had no idea about what I was painting as I was in knee deep trash.
VII. Who do you admire in the street art community and why?
Vlady, July 1 and many more.
VIII. Who are you speaking to when you make your designs?
Stupid design for stupid people
IX. Do you believe art is an arsenal? Yes. Art is like the space. Still so much left to explore.
Street art culture embraces individuality, shunning ‘commercial’ artists and opting to remain cool in all its underground nature. Being a graffiti artist comes at its cost--late nights, running from the cops making sure to lay low and step lightly. Abandoning unfinished work due to police patrol or welcoming unexpected changes, like the skateboard ballerina, is the name of the game. It’s dangerous. It’s illegal. It’s often considered vandalism. One thing is for certain, Tyler isn’t fazed in the slightest and he won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Keep running, Tyler.
Words: Sonali Gupta Image Credit: Tyler