spiritual language | in conversation with DEFER

Artists all around the world strive to reach perfection. A masterpiece can’t be considered one unless it ticks all the boxes of the conventional rules of art. Even the simplest of actions, such as writing, becomes a matter of discussion whenever lines, shapes and dimensions differ from what is considered the ‘standard’. While these statements might be true for most people, DEFER breaks this canonical mould and embraces the beauty of imperfection.

Alex ‘DEFER’ Kizu is a major pioneer of the Los Angeles street art scene, who extensively contributed to the emergence of the art movement since the first generation of graffiti writers. Whilst he grew up on the West Coast, where graffiti art was just becoming popular amongst teens, DEFER’s curiosity sparked once he came into contact with the surrounding hip-hop culture through music videos, cultural murals and tribal graffiti. He says that the reason behind this form of expression came from a need to empower himself through his signature (or tag) as a teenager living in poverty-stricken LA.

Unlike other street art artists, DEFER works without any sketches or stencils as he lets his mind take over entering a ‘Satori’ [enlightenment] phase. “I’m not thinking, [I’m] just doing automatic painting, gestural, abstract at times. That’s the ultimate state. It’s almost like a meditation prayer,” he says. His peculiarity and innovation, however, reside in an elegant but rebellious line work that honours his Japanese heritage. Although he’s never learned how to write in Japanese, the style and calligraphy of the latter are a clear influence in all his artworks. “Once I attained what I like to consider a flow state, I started seeing some of the Japanese calligraphy coming out naturally. It was almost innate, like a part of my spirit.”

Then, it comes as no surprise to learn that his first solo exhibition overseas is titled Spiritual Language. Creeping in from the large windows of Woodbury House, the private art gallery in the heart of Mayfair, London, the intricate pattern of letters is the undisputed protagonist of the exhibition. On each canvas, words seem to flow and crash into each other like waves at sea, entirely engulfed in vivid shades of warm and cold colours. One in particular, titled Reign, captures the attention with a bold contrast of bright red and pitch black as if a conversation was bottled up and then spilt all over the canvas. Others offer an exciting visual game in the form of an Easter egg hunt for hidden words, which DEFER says are scattered around the multiple paintings.  

Pushing the boundaries of tradition, Spiritual Language opens up new horizons to graffiti art creating a hybrid form of lettering that takes the elegance of Japanese calligraphy and transforms it into limitless abstract forms. “When I think of lettering or words, I think about structure. Sometimes I’m obliterating the letter form, which is like speaking in babble and that’s impossible to decipher,” says DEFER. Splatters and brush strokes appear here and there between letters making each piece unique to its own. Some even pay homage to Jackson Pollock who truly inspired DEFER to ‘unconsciously’ paint with freedom of movement. “I want to capture the imperfections of life. If there’s drips or something’s crooked, I’m not gonna fix it because life is imperfect and so is every conversation,” he says.

However, this is still a new concept that opens up a discussion on whether or not the contemporary street art movement has a place in art galleries and museums. For DEFER, it has already transcended different genres and its past beyond the general idea that the art community has labelled it with. “This is not just street art. There’s definitely roots and connections, but it’s like life evolved. We don’t stay in certain grades forever. We grow out, we grow up, we expand.”

As DEFER prepares to showcase his collection to the British public, he claims to bring a unique form of language that is representative of the indigenous, tribal side of LA’s street art scene. “Ultimately, I would want people to be inspired by this kind of style. You might not be an artist but I think executing any kind of vision has the opportunity to create inspiration.”

Spiritual Language exhibition will be open to the public from April 28th to May 25th. For more information, visit Woodbury House.

photography. Chris Sinclair-Birt
words. Gennaro Costanzo

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