There aren’t many female graffiti artists around. Put off by the macho crew culture, the unwritten rules governing who can paint what and where, and the general swagger of artists trying to one-up each other, they tend to gravitate to less aggressive mediums.
“I’ve always refused to believe that I wouldn’t be able to do something because I’m female,” says 28-year-old artist Nardstar, who was listed by Huffington Post last week as one of 25 women pushing the limits of street art around the world.
Nardstar, the daughter of well-known journalist and editor Ryland Fisher, says her father always pushed her to challenge norms. But her fearlessness when it comes to taking on a male-dominated industry can probably also be attributed to the fact that she used to hang out with boys as a teenager.
And it was thanks to her b-boy and rapper friends that she first picked up a spray can. This was the first time Nardstar had played with art – although she acknowledges that she has always had a creative streak – and it was more a statement of rebellion than self-expression. “It was about being out at night and painting on surfaces that we weren’t supposed to touch.”
Developing a style
That changed when she started to take note of what other artists were doing. Her observations made her appreciate graffiti as an art form, and encouraged her to take her own work seriously. “A spray can is hard to handle; it takes so much practice. You have to paint and paint and paint, just to be able to make neat lines.”
Ironically, the more she became involved in the scene, the more she wanted to distance herself from it. Eventually the ongoing competition around style and profile, and the enormous egos that grow alongside an artist’s prominence, forced her to take a break. It was only after teaming up with fellow artist Mesi, whom she met during a fine art course at the Ruth Prowse School of Art, that she started to paint again – this time concentrating on the pure joy of the exercise.
Having turned her back on the hard edge of competition, Nardstar has focused on developing her style. This has grown out of how she initially styled her letters; in the early days of her career, she used to paint her name over and over in different locations. This evolved into painting animals (which she finds more interesting than people), yet she has remained true to her signature style: bold blocks of colour, with increasingly intricate detail.
Painting all over the world
She’s more comfortable with the label of graffiti artist than street artist, she says, as her work carries no political message or call to social consciousness: it’s simply art for its own sake. But it’s not static. She derives immense satisfaction from experimenting; seeing how she can apply her style to new mediums and situations. So she recently opened a studio with fellow artist Fersyndicate.
The idea is to offer a graffiti-related mural, illustration and design service, an aspiration that arose out of the realisation that most commercial graffiti are poorly executed. The studio also powers an online store, and Nardstar is eager to see other graffiti artists becoming involved.
Apart from that, her aim now is to paint in as many places around the world as she can. “I want to keep painting as long as I can. I’m doing what I love. I never wanted to end up in an office. So although I studied design as a back-up plan, I knew I didn’t want it to become my career. I suppose in a way I am still rebelling.”