Atome is one of the most famous Australian writers, and he has painted all over the world during his long and colorful career. I finally caught up with him long enough to ask a few questions and gather a few of his favorite flix.
This interview was conducted via e-mail in 1997 by Susan Farrell. All text © copyright 1998 Art Crimes and Atome, all images © 1998 Atome and the other artists, as marked.
You've been writing since you were ** or so? What's kept you enthusiastic about painting? How did you get started so young?
I caught the train to school everyday. Started doing something without even knowing exactly what it was that I was doing. I continued and then suddenly realised what was happening around me. At first it was all a personal little amusement thing on the way to school and then suddenly it exploded.
Anyone will tell you, the developing and discovery stages of anything are the most exciting. In writing, striving to achieve a certain level and then maintaining that level is what keeps you on your toes.
Admittedly it has been the ability to continually travel and share more and more fun times that keeps me going. Sometimes I reach a point where the 1 or 2 junkies that I continually have problems with in Sydney make me stop and question the value of being involved. If it weren't for the people who surround me, and those who are close to me overseas, maybe I would have stopped along time ago.
How long have you lived in Australia?
Far Too long.
Has it been beneficial to come up outside of the US and the US Influences?
Yeah most definitely.
Beatstreet, Subway Art, Style Wars and Spraycan Art reached Australia and fueled a fire that was already burning. With that, thousands of more kids started bombin'.
You must remember that, apart from the above and a few movies that showed pieces in the background, Australian writers had no other exposure. There were no gallery shows. There was no physical contact with any New York writers.
This in turn caused a bigger need to create and innovate. By the time Phase2 and Daze got here, they were well surprised at the level reached in Australia. The better writers were far more innovative than others outside of New York. There was real innovation going on. It was clear and obvious that Australian writers were achieving more in terms of styles. Some of which, believe it or not, have also been big influences to some of Europe's BIG NAMES.
What's it like for writers in Sydney?
It's pretty much the same as elsewhere, in that most of society hates it. It's a combination of them not understanding it, mixed with the usual media propaganda. That's not to say that it deters writers from doing the do, it just makes it a little more stressful at times. Along with that, you have the usual problems -- graf politics, crossing out pieces, beef, and all that other shit which ultimately just breaks everyone down.
After the Vandal Squad disbanded in late 1996, more and more kids have been getting out there and destroying shit. 1997 saw the most graf on trains in Sydney in a long long time. Shit is running. It's dope. A lot of younger kids are just going ballistic. Dream, Kink & the Rek Crew, Clue etc. etc.
So far this year, it's all just escalated a little more, with more trains being bombed, more writers emerging, and all in all just a lot more pieces.
What do you think about the hip-hop scene in Australia? Any good music coming out of there these days?
There is a lot of good Hip-Hop in Australia. It just doesn't get out there -- outside of Australia that is.
The other usual problem is that those who are given the opportunity to voice their opinions and represent - are usually just monkeys. I mean that's the case here in Sydney. The music side of this culture is misrepresented by people who want to be down as opposed to the people who are down.
It's wack in the sense that these people doing all the talking are not Hip Hop heads. They are merely using the tool of Hip hop (or Rap) to send their messages. Meanwhile the real B.Boys end up trying to Re-explain that the opinions and attitudes expressed by that certain CULT Group are not any indication of where Hip hop is In Australia -- let alone Sydney.
What's up with trains there?
Trains will always be the jewels in the chest. Everywhere. Regardless of time and conditions, I think they have been, and to an extent will always hold the true essence of writing. It will always be possible to do a train sometime somewhere. Yeah definitely the authorities are always scheming on anti-vandalism tactics, but just look at New York and the old saying of "where there's a will -- there's a way" becomes very much apparent.
Here in Australia, it has been very much the same as elsewhere. There were big boom periods where a lot of trains were being done, high-quality pieces and a lot of them. Right now in Sydney, there is massive surge by the up-and-coming writers of today to demolish the system.
They are doing A LOT.
Personally nothing beats painting a train. Nothing in writing that is. To be in a yard surrounded by steel, painting in the darkness with a thousand emotions running through your body is an experience in itself. How I wish we could all stay young for longer.....
As for freights... people in Sydney do paint them, but by no means are they as big a deal as in the U.S. I guess here they're just another alternate surface as opposed to a scene within a scene. They're definitely not trains though. Never have been never will be.
How important are trains now?
As you get older in you definitely become a lot more morally aware. There become a whole lot of issues that are always on the tip of peoples tongues. Especially when you step into the public arena.
My answer to all of that is a (very) general one: the trains are the sacrifice. They were back in New York, and they will be and to an extent have been - everywhere else.
The trains allow for total and ultimate freedom of expression. As crazy as that may seem considering the extremes that some go to, not to mention penalties associated with getting busted.
Personally I see the painting of trains as being the test, the educator, and the experience within the experience. There are times when the excitement and the real feeling of being a visual terrorist are so strong that you just crave for nightfall, you know. And then, there are those times of real near-death experiences -- which cause you to question everything -- its worth - your worth -- the whole thing.
But again, I wouldn't change it at all. painting trains is such an important part of the culture for so many reasons other than being hardcore and or being "up".
In many ways the trains are where you put your skills to the test, break society's rules and laws, and reach an understanding of what it is really like to be a writer.