Norwegian in NYC: a Chat with Teg Artworks
After a few weeks in NY and traveling through Europe, Teg had a moment to sit down and chat with me. It was an amazing process watching him paint and an even more insightful chat to find out his motivations, his thought process and his game plan moving forward.
Teg is a young artist from the western coast of Norway whose art can be described as abstract and freeflowing. His art includes floating bubbles that immediately recall the fluidity of water with randomly structured paint splatters. At a glance, it is a beautiful jumbled mess of peaceful and soothing colors and shapes. For street art, the abstract style is not something that consistently works but I find his style immensely complicated as he shows a degree of layered chaos beneath what the eye views naturally.
Below features our chat in his words:
I'm just a normal guy from the street who is lucky to be traveling the world and enjoying throwing paint around.
This has been my second time visiting New York. The first time I struggled with being in the city as it is immensely bigger than other cities I’ve ever visited. This trip, while a bit less stressful, has still been overwhelming. Overwhelming in the sense of how helpful and warm the whole street art & graffiti community has been to me. New York has a reputation as a cold hard city but it has been surprisingly welcoming to me. I am very happy to have had the opportunity to leave my mark in the birthplace of graffiti and street art. Even more grateful for the people that came out and helped me.
Ending up at this juncture in life has been an unpredictable line of events. As with all things in life, things never happen smoothly or go according to plan but ultimately hard work, a bit of luck and perseverance will bring the goals closer.
I think it's easiest to define my journey in 4 phases.
Phase 1: The Toy
I see myself as a toy when I first started. Plastic, poorly put together and entirely disposable. Everyone wants to look back on the good old days with honor, and claim that they were perhaps a little more brilliant than they actually were. Now the 13-year-old in me would never agree on that, but yes, I was a toy. I did not start creating art because I had a good art teacher who told me I was gifted; in fact, I was never any good at drawing or painting. I started with graffiti because one day long ago my friend and I were threatened by an older kid to start. He basically said he would beat and bully us into it if we didn't. After many threats and for fear of being hurt, I went ahead with it.
When I met him again on the street, and he asked me "Have you started to write yet?" I replied yes, and showed him my schoolbook with tags on it. He eventually brought me to another painter where we eventually drank homemade wine and hung out. At one point, we watched "Dirty Handz 2 Back on Tracks (2001)” which has proved to have been inspirational to me. It taught me about the history of vandalism/street art which eventually led me and my friends to became a part of an “under crew” of their crew.
That was the start; underground bombing and many sloppy tags. A grimy rebellion with which I was a part of for many years. While many of our friends were out drinking, doing drugs and being up to no good, we spent weekend after weekend drawing and watching the same VHS graffiti movies over and over. This pumped us up to sneak out, hide in bushes and paint under the streetlights every chance we could.
The most beautiful part of being a graffiti writer especially after a night of painting illegally is the feeling of elation as I walk back home under the morning mist. There is this calm feeling as the sun rises and the smell of spray still lingers, on my clothes and hair. As the backpack hangs loosely on my shoulder (because of the empty spray cans), I finally see my street and I have one thought.
I am safe again.
Phase 2: Robin Hood
Together with some friends in 2009, I started an organization for troubled youth: "FASE". It was similar to a big brother program where we try to help the embattled youth. We received a lot of help from true everyday heroes in the culture department office, as well as goodhearted locals in Norway. We even had hardened criminals backing us, helping to drive kids back home in the evening. When it comes to charity and helping children, we could always count on help from the streets.
Our goal was to take the young boys away from the darker aspects of the street by bringing them to concerts, local events, hanging out or just playing basketball. Of course, we took them out to teach them graffiti. After some years the cultural office helped us attain an old closed fire station garage in a poor area as a base for our organization. Here we started holding graffiti courses to teach the youth of tomorrow and basically gave them an outlet and kept them off the streets. We held an open house twice a week so people could come to spray paint, skate and just hang out. It was always important for us that these events were free so we did not exclude those who needed it. It was unpaid work, but we received a lot of support, materials and a studio to grow this impromptu organization.
This is where I took Teg as a "legal" art name. In the garage, we started painting canvases and holding exhibitions with kids. We painted at hip hop concerts, festivals and jams. We had made something from absolutely nothing. Soon I was doing graffiti with good writers, and exhibiting in galleries with artists from diverse backgrounds. I was taken into one of Bergen’s largest crews "The WC" which mean “wasting colors”. Little by little, step by step, I developed my own style, and I will never forget the people who built me up.
JMZwalls - Bushwick, NYC 2017
Phase 3: In Between
In 2014, I moved out to a little island on the Norwegian west coast to take part in a yearlong art program. I had met the teacher at an exhibition and he was a well-respected street artist named John XC. I stayed there for 2 years. It was an idyllic break from the rest of society. A friend from my crew even visited one weekend and ended up staying as long as I did. Together we started traveling to paint around Norway and Europe with the home base on the little island.
I had a defining experience that really made me question myself and where I stood
during this art program period.
One day, on a neighboring island, I was on my way to pick up my girlfriend at the airport and had some hours to kill. My car was always full of cans so what else could I do? It was midday, but in December it's already getting dark at that time. I don't recall the temperature, but Norway is not famous for warm winters. I drove to an underground in the middle of the town center, to get a little shelter and light. Packed myself down in warm clothes and grabbed some cans.
It was a quiet small town, and it was nice to paint despite the cold. People passed by but didn't say anything. After about 30 minutes, I looked up and saw a police woman to my right, and two officers coming the other way. They had blocked down the underground area and were walking towards me.
I removed my earplugs, shrugged off my hoodie, turned around and smiled to the oldest officer, "So, you are here to have a cultural experience and enjoy the art?"
He was taken off-guard and fumbled a little, "Yes & no, what are you doing here?"
"I'm just painting, it was so ugly down here so I was thinking to freshen it up and make it nice down here. Is there a problem?"
"Ok, I understand. Yes, we have gotten some calls from people that there was a youngster doing graffiti vandalism here."
The police walked around and looked closer at the wall.
I took a step back and told them, "It's not finished yet."
I held up my phone and showed them a picture from a job I recently finished and said "It will look like this in an hour or two. You should come back then." I smiled as I said this.
"Nice. So, do you have permission?"
"Well yes, I think this is legal in this part of the underground. I'm not from here, but I heard it is the property of the local culture house."
(That's partly true, as a friend of mine had gotten permission to do an art project there, but that was 8 years ago).
The dance went on and on but eventually they allowed me to continue. I had to give them my information in case the owner wanted to report me.
After the police left and as I was approaching the end, I noticed that there were two older ladies standing watching me. They took pictures and thanked me for the work. Several people stopped and stopped to take in the work I did. A little girl came to me asking questions about the piece. When I was about to leave, one of the elder ladies gave me a hug and said thank you.
In the car on my way to the airport, I began to think. When I started painting the wall, the locals' response to me was with caution, stares, walking quickly past me, or calling the police.
When I was completing the piece, people stopped and thanked me. I went from being a criminal to an artist. Somewhere in the process there is a turning point between the fear of being arrested by the police and receiving hugs from the local community. Where is the line between vandalism and art?
I am in between.
Phase 4: The Artist
I am lucky to have been traveling more and more internationally this past year. This is where I feel most productive, constantly facing new impressions, stretching myself and learning about the world's different streets. Someone once told me that according to Einstein "insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I will try not to go insane, but continue to paint in new places, get inspired by other cultures and collaborate with new friends along the way.
Over time, I have developed my own style and trademark. The floating bubbles and splattered paint is m y unique style of painting. I'm a free diver and gather a lot of inspiration when I'm underwater. It's a chaotic but a graceful & peaceful world. A form of meditation and break from time and society. There's a freedom that comes with throwing paint. Perhaps this is where the movement in my art comes from.
Rooftop - Lower East Side, NYC 2017
It is easy to recognize my work and I often like to break with strong colors. I have strong opinions and believe in socialism, justice and gender equality. I am socially committed and try to stay active and attend demonstrations. This is me as a person and not as an artist and one of the reasons why I use an alias to divorce myself from my art. I want my art to awaken a feeling with those who pass by and see my work.
Give color to the passersby and leave something positive in our everyday life.
My main motivation for making art on the street is because it belongs to the everyday people. I hope to keep traveling and let others feel the freedom I feel from graffiti. That’s the progression of me as an artist, how I came to be and what motivates me.
Thank you for letting me tell my story.
Great Wall of Savas - Sunnyside, NY 2017