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kwest working on large mural sculpture

KWEST Crafts World’s Largest Graffiti Sculpture

Graffiti wording is one of the most recognizable aspects of street art. Highly stylized letters and words have become an intrinsic part of the street art and graffiti culture, so much so that learning to letter properly is often seen as an important stepping stone in any artist’s career. It’s a place where people can start to experiment with their own true style and many artists end up creating a definitive signature that is the result of everything they’ve learned about graffiti lettering, often very early on in their career. You can see it on most street art, in fact, a small but perfected signature of the artist on their piece. No matter where their work has gone, that small homage to the graffiti letter will always remain.

But such widespread popularity has made graffiti lettering an often ignored or reviled aspect of the street art scene. Indeed, many people can list off examples of lettering that they would consider crude graffiti, not art, scrawled to announce graduating classes, love, or simply to write profanity in a certain way. It appears on bridges, in subways, and all over, and most people would prefer to ignore it.

Enter Canadian street artist and graffiti lettering lover KWEST. The Toronto-based graffiti artist has mastered the art of lettering, as anyone in Canada’s largest city can attest. His beautiful and distinctive renditions appear all over the city, from Kensington Market to GO Station rails, and is some of the most accomplished work in the entire city.

So when KWEST (pronounced “quest”) was invited to a European music festival that has a large dedication to art, he decided to take what he does best and make it so no one could ignore it. The result is his biggest project to date, a series of graffiti letters made from wood that looked like they were scrawled in Toronto, but were actually freestanding at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark.

The process of putting together what has been called “the world’s biggest graffiti letter sculpture” started in a warehouse near the festival, where KWEST and his team were given hundreds and hundreds of pieces of wood to make the letters. Working together over the course of a few days before music lovers showed up to the festival, they carefully carved, cut, and sanded the pieces into the perfect shape. The entire process looked like the team was making an abstract skateboard park more than graffiti letters and it wasn’t until they were up and painted that the project began to take shape.

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KWEST does all of his graffiti writing free hand with spray cans and he wanted to give that style to the letters, but also give them considerable depth. So, with the help of some of his friends and co-artists, they decided on a colour palette that gave the pieces an even larger, more pronounced look. The result was a sculpture that commanded an audience, impossible to ignore and breathtaking in scope.

graffiti street art by soten at urban art festival

Artist Highlight: Soten

The world of graffiti has often focused on pictures over words, and that has caused an important part of the industry to die away. The art of graffiti writing is rarely seen beyond tags these days, or as complementary pieces to pictures and murals. But for one Danish street artist, the art of graffiti writing is more than declaring your graduation year. It’s about harnassing something different in the artform and bringing it to the forefront again.

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Growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark, Soten was met with adversity when it came to his artform. But despite being a wonderful European city, Copenhagen was notoriously strict about graffiti, and Soten had to get creative about expressing his creativity. But Soten has since seen a shift to more tolerance, and he gives his peers the credit over himself. “Thanks to the big work of a smaller group of writers and today,” he said in an interview with Molotow, “You see more and more big walls in the city and with a increase of halls of fame the general public are getting more and more tolerant towards graffiti.”

But there are a few, he says, that would rather graffiti stays illegal in Copenhagen. Not for the usual reasons, however, but for a taste of the glory days. “The biggest tolerance problem in Copenhagen is these young… [kids] with a closed group of old schoolers who have left the game years ago or maybe do 2-3 pieces a year,” he explains, “[They] try to preach bullsh*t about how graffiti should be kept illegal thing. Instead of letting the whole movement grow they try keep graffiti down for the sake of they can sit and reminisce about when they where the boss.”

Soten thinks, graffiti should be free for anyone to do, and people who want to keep the movement attached to its illegal routes aren’t helping the industry or the artistry. They are, according to Soten, holding the entire medium back.

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But Soten’s more than just a political figure for the street art scene in Copenhagen, he’s also a talented graffiti writer who’s travelled the world doing art for all kinds of projects. His writing ranges from scrawls to full 3-dimensional experiences, and they’re probably best described as traditionalist with a hint of the contemporary. Soten’s style is obviously influenced by the brighter colours and effects of the L.A. scene, but he also infuses it with a more recent English minimalism in much of his quieter work.

Soten’s distinct style and love of writing shows a marked change from the usual picture-focused mural work that happens in today’s climate. But that doesn’t mean graffiti writing is inferior, and artists like Soten are proving that everyday. His work reminds us that there is much about street art that’s still misunderstood, and artists need to preserve and forward the more obscure aspects of the craft to renew enthusiasm and keeping the artistry alive.