Career Path: Calligraphy
An Interview with Spanish Artist Victor Kams
Victor Kams or Mr. Kams as most of the calligraphy lovers know him is undeniably one of the most talented and diverse artists in the world today. The Spanish calligrapher started out as a graffiti artist back in the 90s, but today he is more likely to use ink instead of spray cans. I asked Victor about his career path, the history of graffiti in Spain and his plans among others.
You started out as a graffiti artist. How did you encounter this rebellious form of technique (art)?
I started writing in 1992 when I was 12 years old. I used to see tags and graffiti murals throughout my town, and one day a classmate of mine was heading to school carrying one of those things that one could use to repair shoes, but we used it to write our nicknames on various spots all the way to school. After that day we never stopped!
Please, briefly tell us about the history of graffiti in Spain.
Graffiti in Spain started to be seen around the 80s — of course, it was influenced by the original graffiti scene of New York. Back then there was no Internet, and therefore getting info about what was going on on the other side of the world wasn’t that simple. Still writers managed to get fanzines and books like Subway Art or movies like Style Wars. These were like bibles for us in the early days. There was a huge boom in the 90s, around the time when I started, and everybody wanted to see their name on walls. I guess graffiti became a problem because of that phenomenon.
Many people consider graffiti vandalism. How would you convince them that it is actually a genuine and artistic way for someone to express her/himself?
I would never try to convince anybody about graffiti being an art form. The nature of graffiti is illegal, and it is vandalism in its core. The same way that companies and corporations use public space to put their publicity, writers want to put their name out there and let the world know they exist. Year by year it has evolved to be a respected art form — thanks to talented artists who have taken it to a whole new level: working on pieces legally, showing them in art galleries or creating big murals. However, for many others the soul of graffiti will always be an illegal rebellious activity: to inform the voiceless that they are bombing the system.
I really like what you’ve written on your Behance profile. ‘Any surface is a world of possibilities, creation knows no limits and neither do my brain. Constantly trying to unleash the storming ideas inside my head. Welcome to my playground, home of a dreamer, come and enjoy.’ It truly explains and shows how passionate you are about what you do. I’m wondering how you moved from graffiti to other art forms existing in the world of design and typography.
As I grew older I started to look more into the artistic side of graffiti, and then I began thinking of how I could do something related to what I loved the most, which was painting letters, and make a living out of it. As many other graffiti writers I went on to study graphic design, and that helped me see new possibilities. But only when I discovered calligraphy, I realised that that was my path.
You work as a freelancer. What was the toughest lesson you had to learn as a freelancer while working to make it as an artist in today’s world?
I could tell thousand of stories about my freelance experience. It’s not easy, since one has to learn how to deal with lots of issues: how to build a solid portfolio, how to find clients and how to deal with them, how to create a system of your own and make the clients understand and accept it. Then there is the accounting side of the business — dealing with the taxes and all. There is a lot more involved in it besides the actual design work, but after more than three years I can really say I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far, and I’m proud that I’m able to make all the decisions and control the whole thing.
You write on your website: ‘I am truly passionate about my craft and that motivates me to keep learning and developing my skills on a daily basis.’ How should we imagine you daily practice?
I chiefly focus on calligraphy, which entails that I need to practise a lot to really learn this discipline. I’ve spent countless hours reading books, copying guide sheets and attending workshops held by great calligraphers to improve. Nowadays work becomes my practice in many cases: if I work on a logo, I do hundreds of sketches. If I don’t have a project commissioned by a client, I work on personal projects like working on canvases or calligraphy pieces.
It’s obvious that letters mean a lot to you, but do you prefer any of your fields (e.g. calligraphy, lettering or graffiti) to the other?
As I mentioned above, calligraphy is what I do more today, but I enjoy all them. It is also great to go out and paint a mural sometimes or decorate the walls of a bar, a club or any other business. That’s what makes my work exciting! Everything I do might need a totally different approach than the previous one, and therefore it never becomes a boring routine.
Doing calligraphy, lettering or graffiti requires you to use different skills and follow different techniques. How easily can you switch among these types of work?
I have to say painting graffiti for so many years has helped me a lot in terms of adapting to other disciplines. I used to work pieces of large sizes, and I needed to use my whole body to create my pieces. When I started learning calligraphy, it felt like a natural thing to me. Since I had been writing and drawing letters for so many years, it was like the next step to take. That’s why I have evolved quite fast in this field, I think, because I was able to understand and apply the techniques without much of the struggle that usually comes with it.
Looking at your pieces one cannot really draw any conclusion regarding your preference in terms or colours, for instance. So I’d like to ask you now: Black and white or colours?
It changes, sometimes I spend months working with black and white pieces, and then I go into experimenting with colourful works for a while. I try not to get myself stuck with one thing; I intend to keep trying new ways of making my letters come alive.
I assume you mostly work manually. What are your feelings towards computers and software?
The computer is just another tool for me. I don’t have anything against computers, but I don’t like sitting in front of it all day. I just use it when I have to digitize my work.
Do you work at home, in your own studio or at a co-working space?
I have a separate space within the property where I live. I built my studio there, so it’s not exactly at home. It’s my workshop where I spent most of my time.
One can find your amazing and fascinating pieces of work on your social media sites, and I have to tell, it’s pretty difficult to choose any of them as a favourite one. So I’m curious what project you are the most proud of, and why.
It is hard to decide for me, too. I did a long project with a perfume brand. It was a big challenge. I customized 400 bottles of perfume with calligraphy — all handmade one by one. My whole studio was full of them, and the bottles where sent to more than 20 different countries. I’m not totally sure if it is my favourite project, but it was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever accepted.
What advice would you give to those who are fresh out of the university and try to kick off their career in the universe of letters?
There are a lot of calligraphy and lettering works or whatever you want to call it on social media nowadays, and — surprisingly enough — most of it isn’t that good. If you are fresh out of the university the chances are that you have not learnt much about calligraphy or lettering whatsoever. If you feel this is what you really want to do, go and find a professional who can teach you, and be very patient, because this isn’t something that you can learn in one weekend. You are definitely in for an everlasting learning trip. If you are in a hurry, though, my advice is to find something else to do with your life.
As you just said, sometimes it’s the best to study outside school from the best professionals. Have you ever had an intern or thought of hiring one?
I’ve had some requests from students of different nationalities who wanted to do an internship at my studio, but I don’t think I am ready to do that just yet. I won’t say I will not do it in the future, but, honestly, I still have to learn a lot.
Are you working on something right now?
Always! I am working a logo for a hotel spa in Switzerland right now, and I have a few different personal projects going on. I’m into tattoo art as well, so a while ago I decided to create tattoo designs.
Finally, I’d like to hear about the future. What are your plans?
To keep learning, working and growing as a professional and to enjoy life with my family! I have a baby boy on his way.
Photos: Mr. Kams