Tizer is a British American graffiti artist. Known for his blend of graffiti and character based street art. Active on the London scene since the late 80’s. He has built a reputation as one of the most prolific and versatile artists around. His artworks constantly evolving and developing.
As an artist Tizer only began to take an interest in graffiti after moving to the UK as a child. Originally from Omaha in Nebraska. It’s still possible to catch some hint of the accent. Starting out with tags, he developed his style through throw ups and character based art before focusing on letters. His work now is some of the most recognisable in the London scene.
Interview with Tizer
British Drinks and Dodgy Names
As a name to write, Tizer was inspired by the once popular fizzy drink. Feeling unashamedly British and wanting to identify as such, he needed something that said that on the streets. Tizer was a British soft drink and so fitted the bill. This was however not until a number of other names had gone by the wayside. Telling me his first name ‘Rebel’ he both cringes and laughs at that one. He then wrote ‘Pesos’ as some of his friends also had money inspired tags. Then ‘Famine’ because he was skinny. Tizer cringes at that too. Certainly the most un-PC of the lot. He reminds me that this was of course the 80’s. Not a period universally known for its subtlety of language.
Like many artists from his generation, Tizer was influenced by the growing hip hop movement. Back in the 80’s graffiti was very much seen as being the artistic representation of that culture. Something he wanted to be a part of it. Growing up with his brother ‘Shucks’, the two would always draw and felt that they could be a part of something wider. Still no more than kids at the time. Hip hop was a movement that itself was invented and evolved by kids. It was something he could easily associate with.
It was a piece from the artist Futura 2000 under the Westway that really started the interest. Travelling from South to West London just to take a look. Futura 2000 had been touring with the Clash and at that point he was part of the show. Joining the band on stage to paint whilst they performed and sometimes rapping with them. Originally from New York, Futura is still seen today as a pioneer of the graffiti and hip hop movement. The fact that the young Tizer and Shucks traipsed all that way to see a bit of graffiti in what was then quite a derelict area was not lost on the two boys. “After that we starting looking at graffiti… we started trying to read it and realised that people were travelling the city to put their tags up or to write their graffiti”.
At this formative stage it’s clear that Tizer feels that the study and practice of art and graffiti was a kind of education for him. Misunderstood and written off at school as being a problem and difficult child. He would in his 20’s eventually be diagnosed as dyslexic. A condition widely understood now but in the early 80’s not known about or appreciated at all. “I was constantly told at school, because of my dyslexia, that I was going to be a failure and that I was going to be in prison by the time I was 17 and that I was a piece of shit and I never believed that”.
Graffiti as Education
Creativity and a perhaps unconscious exploration of graffiti was a way for his curious mind to both escape and explore. “For me it was a positive way for me to constantly learn about art” he says. The study of calligraphy and ancient writing he says helped with the development of his tags. Skills in perspective, colour design, character design and how to add scenery and background were all learnt on the street. Still, his schooling was hard and it’s hip hop culture that he once again ascribes to his being able to overcome this. Skateboarding acted as a way for him to get his aggression out whilst graffiti was something that made him want to educate himself. “It gave me self pride and power.”
Constantly drawing, the young Tizer would then work to master different forms. His sketchbooks filled to the brim with drawings. Each in a different style he wanted it to appear as if someone different had drawn on each page. Even now he shows me sketchbooks which brim with ideas and artworks. The idea being that at any point he would be able to turn his hand to any style.
“It was a confidence boost for me, when I had none” Tizer says of the times that people would see his work around the city. Though only a small group would know who he was. “I always did graffiti for my friends and it would make me happy when they would say they’d seen me here and there”. Still very much an underground movement, he like many writers of the time, would be very careful not to reveal their identity too widely. “I would never tell anyone that I did graffiti. I would never tell a girlfriend or anybody because they could ring the police and get you arrested”. This background speaks to the undercurrent and general attitudes of the time. It also speaks to a prevailing mistrust of authority which, given the hostile environment of the time, was quite prevalent within the subculture.
Now Tizer himself is often seen as a mentor for younger artists. At only 47 he is nevertheless regarded as an elder statesman of the craft. Looked up to and respected both for the time that he gives and for the journey that he has been on. Certainly the group of artists, all essentially kids at the time, who were active in the graffiti scene during the 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s, can lay claim to be the trailblazers for today’s street art einvironment. “We restarted mural painting” says Tizer. It was “something which had died in England”. The re-emergence of sign-writing too can trace it’s roots to public murals and graffiti lettering.
Brixton in the Eighties
Graffiti, street art and the culture that has developed around it has in some ways proved to be a universal leveler. Growing up amidst a time of uncertainty, Tizer says how he was terrified of nuclear war. The eighties were a time at the height of the cold war and Brixton, where he grew up, was home to a number of anti-war murals. The most famous, Nuclear Dawn by Brian Barnes, has recently been renovated and is grade 2 listed. Tizer would see this mural often and aspire to one day being able to create works on a similar scale. Constantly the young Tizer and his brother Shucks would also be taken on marches by their mother, an artist and passionate activist. Anti-war, anti-racism, anti-fascist, this was London and Brixton in the mid-eighties.
When talking to Tizer you get a sense that graffiti is much more than just a job or a hobby. Rather it’s a passion, something he has to do, that it is such a core part of who he is. It’s what drives him. As an artist Tizer is truly prolific and perhaps this is why. He tells me about painting during times that have been hard for him. Escaping in the form of a letter, he finds freedom in it. Focusing on drawing a line to a line or filling in areas. “It gives me a few hours or minutes to myself” he tells me “In many ways it’s like art therapy”.