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Phil Botha

Another Kak Graffiti Piece

by Marjorie Parker / Images by Justin McGee / 08.02.2012

Philip Botha is not an easy interview subject. He is too notorious, too impatient. Too tired of tolerating journalists who throw words around with little regard for consequence. He is in one breath an idol and a scapegoat the next, ready to face damage by attack or ignorance. Maybe that’s cyclically perfect, fair, for a graffiti writer. It’s like this when people write about graffiti. They either use words like ‘gang’ and ‘scourge’ or they fetishise it, imposing all this ideal fiction and limited knowledge on a sub-culture which is too unknown and varied – aesthetically and morally – to make for a neat little article.

Community Service is Philip Botha’s first solo exhibition. Billed as, “an examination of community and environment, and what it means to better an environment”, it seems pretty righteous. We talked to Botha about his work, beyond the press release.

Graffiti Artist

Mahala: What are the most annoying questions you get asked in interviews?

Philip Botha: Does your mom know you write graffiti? What’s your favourite surface to paint on? Is it art? Etcetera etcetera… your typical I-work-for-Independent-Newspapers-type questions.

Tell me about your background as a graffiti writer and artist.

First of all, thank you for calling me a graffiti writer instead of a graffiti artist. Second, I have been writing graffiti seriously for over 12 years. I messed around before that, but at the end of 1999 I said to myself, “I‘m gonna be famous,” and graffiti would be my vehicle. Back when I started writing, it was only me and a couple of friends. We didn’t know anything about graffiti in the rest of the country. I had a friend whose parents could afford a computer and web service and I started searching. I found all these writers in other cities, it made me feel like I was part of something unique. I was already a skater, but I was just another person on a board. Writing graffiti made me someone. I would overhear people saying, “Did you see that ________ tag up there”… or down that road… or under that bridge… it felt good. I was finally making my mark.

Phil Botha

As an artist, I have been drawing my whole life. I dropped out of school to attend an art college but I never found my niche. Writing graffiti became my medium, so now, as a gallery artist, I’m fusing my interests, going beyond graffiti, mixing it with other skills. I’m trying to create something I’m happy with and that the public – even the gallery-going public- will like and want to own.

Are you a vandal?

No. Vandals go out with the intention of fucking stuff up. Like jocks go to clubs or sports events looking to fight.

People who know of you will want a comment regarding the last few years of your life and graffiti. What do you have to say?

I did it properly, served my time, now I’m moving on.

Phil Botha

Explain your exhibition.

It looks at outdoor visual elements we are confronted with every day: adverts, flyers, whether they’re for a party or event, penis enlargement, abortion or some other bullshit, and covering them in text. Quick phrases that I guess you could call street idioms. They are a mixture of graffiti and sign-writing. It’s also a dig at illegal advertisers (like those doctors promising to help you win back your lover or win the Lotto) who aren’t arrested for vandalism when they cover the streets, yet graffiti writers are. You’re telling me you’d rather see, in big, bold letters, SAFE ABORTION, on every street pole – than some person’s urban signature? If that is so, you need some professional help, not me. So, in a nutshell my exhibition is covering illegal advertising with art, and not the other way round.

Why exhibit? Why take it into a gallery at all?

Well, I’ve always wanted to grow. If you consider yourself talented and you want to broaden or diversify your audience, you can’t keep doing the same thing. I’m not saying that I’ll ever stop graffiti, I’m just doing something else with it, taking it in a new direction. What I put in galleries isn’t necessarily graffiti, it’s just my art. Graffiti will always belong on the streets and the trains.

Phil Botha

How do you feel about graffiti?

It’s a love-hate relationship.

“Street Art”. Discuss.

Street Art is the commercial name for people doing public art. I think someone not actually involved in it decided to add the word ‘street’ to make it seem more tough, to give it more cred. Public art is exactly the opposite of what I’m doing: it’s taking art that is usually in the galleries and moving it into the street. Also, most ‘street artists’ are failed graffiti writers.

What needs to be said to correct the general public perception of graffiti? Does it need to be corrected?

There’s nothing you can say to correct it. I can’t remember ever reading an article on graffiti that was accurate. Everyone will always have a different opinion, so rather do interviews or articles on particular people’s views on graffiti. Don’t write it as fact. I recently read an article on ‘graffiti’ in a Sunday newspaper – it was basically a piece on 2 artists that was labelled as a story on graffiti. It should have rather been called ‘a piece on 2 artists.’

Phil Botha

So, what’s next?

The 96% Project. It’s a mission to show appreciation for the average guy on the street. Through large-scale text-based murals showing short motivational – I know motivational is a cheesy word – messages, I want to substitute brainwashing billboards with phrases that appeal to an individual rather than a market. I’ve completed a few, now I’m looking for further funding and always, more walls.

Phil Botha

Phil Botha

Phil Botha

*Community Service is up at the Main Street Life Gallery, 286 Fox Street, Johannesburg. Follow Philip Botha on Twitter: @diehonest

**All images © Justin McGee.

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RESPONSES (34)
  1. WordWallah says:

    So sad, but not surprising, that he had to leave Durban to make this happen.

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  2. word up says:

    Nice to see your style has evolved. But I don’t get it. Why do people want to be famous?

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  3. Thierry Guetta says:

    Heard of FecalFace.com?

    There is no style, it’s all just a series of one-off copies from various sources.

    Fucking SA ‘artists’. Get original!

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  4. dylan says:

    “haters”?

    please bruh nobody even knows who you are.

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  5. bumrush says:

    thierry who is original these days? international artists copy each other all the time but cos they not south african its ok… dylan nobody knows who you are either oh and if you have read the newspaper in the last 2 years you will no exactly who he is…

    anyway keep the negative comments coming im sure hes loving them!

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  6. Mr Brainwash says:

    Plagiarism worked for me. But then it was kinda intentional.

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  7. bumrush says:

    im interested who is he copying i have been on fecalface its just that typical street art shit?!

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  8. cnut says:

    Botha is just another Louis Carreon ‘rich-boy-wannabe’ Banksy clone… however without the talent!

    And some wonder why ZAF ‘artists’ get reprimanded for being clones!

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  9. brave anonymous mahala comment stream prick says:

    Jesus, Mahala you must have the most moronic reader base in the world. Referencing BANKSY in this thread, are you people serious? Hahahahahahahahahahahaha.

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  10. cnut says:

    You have no idea who Louis Carreon is then I see… nor understand the comparison…

    Fail!

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  11. CHARLIE SHEEN says:

    I have met him a few times and know for a fact he doesnt come from a rich background oh and to use banksy is retarded as there is no stenciling or anything at all banksy esque about his work!

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  12. Louis Carreon says:

    I can see in the background his work has a similar style to mine with the random markings and drips etc although i dont use abortion posters etc i also use rough imagery and characters where Botha uses neat text… I would buy one!

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  13. ángry hipster says:

    Philip Botha is one of the most famous graffiti writers to ever come out of Durban, he has moved on and grown as an artist, putting his work out there for both positive and negative comments, have you?

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  14. cnut says:

    Louis… rich-boy ‘street’ artist is the correlation…

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  15. groupie says:

    I think the only comparison between Louis and Philip is that they are both good looking 😉

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  16. Marjorie Parker says:

    @cnut Reverting to 1. ‘rich-boy’ and 2. street artist as your ammo when people call you on your irrational, aggressive trolling means you are, let’s see- 1. ignorant about Philip Botha and so shouldn’t shout the odds on what you suppose of his background and 2. more concerned with name-dropping than reading the interview (see: street art.)

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  17. Thierry Guetta says:

    Perhaps I was a bit harsh yesterday. I think the bullshit intro para set me off. ‘Idol’? ‘Notorious’? Then further on – twattery like ‘street idioms’, ‘….you need some professional help, not me’

    Sadly the work is a second generation, diluted copy of what has come before. No time line, no consistency. Each piece is different because it’s a copy without the context. For people who have been exposed to this kind of thing for years, the influences/biting is apparent. ‘Haters make me famous’ – fucking hell. That comes off a chef’s apron available at Mr Price.

    For this guy to pretend like he’s the new kid on the block is a bit lame. Nevermind the fact that an ignorant fawning audience does not mean you get to be notorious.

    I’m pissed off because Durban has a thriving art scene that is being overshadowed by this type of shit. Contact Artspace or The Upstairs. I don’t fucking live there and I know the town has a lot more to offer.

    And cnut, you meant “Faile”.

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  18. Marjorie Parker says:

    @Thierry ‘Idol’ and notorious’ are references to terms used for Both in other articles.

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  19. Marjorie Parker says:

    Botha, I mean.

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  20. lore says:

    have you been to the exhibition? although the pieces are different they all have text on them which i guess is the theme? i dont think the writing is spose to be original they are all things that have been said or twisted a lil, hes just making stuff that looks cool, i bought the kak serious artwork i like the saying and it will look good on my wall! also see http://www.community-service.posterous.com for the press release this may give you some background oh and this show is not in durban its in joburg and being someone who is a follower of an fan of graffiti and street art there are many talented artists in durban but durban itself is a shithole with a terrible gallery scene, where only “typical graphic designer types” thrive and most of them like a lot of capetown illustrators have that same played out jon burgerman character style! i like that botha as he says in his press release has taken a bunch of things he likes and combined them into his own thing so hes admitting to combining his influences which others wont do!

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  21. goema says:

    “Also, most ‘street artists’ are failed graffiti writers.”

    Come on man, get off your high horse. You been doing this for 12 years and you havent even defined your own style. After 12 fucking years? really?

    Your shit looks like pretty much any ol teenage writer with more than a year or so experience could pull off.

    Now if you were as skillful as say http://www.seakone.com, then you could go around making large statements about graffiti.

    You need to go sit down my boy.

    Oh and dont go oh this dude is a hater. I dont know you i just read this article. You not kanye or someone. People arent hating on some half assed artist.

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  22. pamela anderson's left tit says:

    seriously some of you here really need to learn a thing or two. i think before yall could even type a comment do your research. Joke of the day (develope a skillful style like seakone)

    since when is art a judgeful thing (expression) come on seriously i think you can learn a thing or two istead of being a corprate robot.
    a big well done to phil he did it. i can see the effort he has put in it and the messages stand strong. ( the forth to last photo is a perfect picture for most of you.
    keep up the good work phil and lets see your next project

    ps banksy is a wanker

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  23. seakone says:

    I’im sure if you have read the interview or even the press release it clearly states this is not a graffiti exhibition, its a combination of all the things he likes and is also sending a small message so I think the moral is read the article/interview properly before making silly comments! Oh and here is the link again in case you care to read it.

    http://www.community-service.posterous.com

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  24. Whatatwat says:

    Have seen this Botha bro around – giant self inflated ego , graffiti jock is what I’d call him.
    Trying to jostle the kids to be the big dick.

    Honestly don’t see the depth in this art.

    Maybe he’s trying the “see how my intentionally supa crap art is a commentary on the shocking state of societies social ills” type of artistic expression.

    Or maybe he just has nothing meaningful to say.

    As an earlier poster stated : “Your shit looks like pretty much any ol teenage writer with more than a year or so experience could pull off.”
    Couldn’t have put it better.

    His fawning groupies may attack at will , they are a self immolating spectacle , proving the point counter to which they aim for.

    Huck it mutha truckers

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  25. Condomise says:

    Isn’t graffiti supposed to be provocative? This is just meh. He’s an average artist with an overblown impression of himself.

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  26. snatch316 says:

    A lot is being said in the comments here wow.
    Its funny how this guy could do community service, get arrested for painting a legal wall etc yet on that same wall there are abortion posters…put up illegally. And those “doctors” keep on living their sweet lives.

    The message is loud and clear, stop trying to wannabe art critics and look at it at face value.

    Before I met phil I was told that he has this ego and makes kids look small etc etc etc. Yet from day 1 he has treated me with nothing but respect and always offered a helping hand…
    Pretty messed up fellow ay?

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  27. moses says:

    everybody has something 2 say and half them don have the talent u possess .do ur thing bra ,keep on making our streets more bearable to walk through im a huge fan of Ur work.and to all them haters out there, it aint like the guy is going around writing jou ma Se p### on the walls .u critics with no qualifications!!!!

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  28. Phil's Mom says:

    “First of all, thank you for calling me a graffiti writer instead of a graffiti artist.”
    So in other words he is not an artist and he knows it, more of a vandal.

    Your messages get lost in your shit work.

    Why fuckin buy any of his work, when you can make it yourself in 30 mins.
    12 years of no growth, what a fuckin nostalgic loser.

    Yeah now your a famous failed graffiti writer, go back to doing your real community service for vandalising Durban, it did more service for the community than your kak expo.

    There are many good writers/artists in SA, Phil your just not one of them, Yeah you been writing as long as them but a far behind, clearly!!

    Please stop vandalising canvases, it would mean so much to me

    Love (a concerned) MOM

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  29. Phil's (High School) Art Teacher says:

    Im very disappointed!! You have learnt nothing I”ve showed you!!

    Here are some sites I think you should consider:

    http://www.artschool.co.za/
    http://www.art.co.za/training.htm
    http://www.michaelis.uct.ac.za/
    http://www.cityvarsity.co.za/
    http://www.designschoolsa.co.za/

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  30. philip botha says:

    thank you for all your comments i really appreciate even those who hate and diss i appreciate yours the most @philsmom if it really is you please give me a shout i havent seen or spoken to you in years!

    jealously makes you ugly
    haters make me famous

    ps more exhibitions coming where you can hate or buy which ever you decide!

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  31. wow says:

    You poor lil pussies who dont have any talent or balls to put your own work out there for public scrutiny all are brave from behind a keyboard, this artist weather you like his art or not did what most of you talk about doing he actually did it!

    Now he gets personally insulted?

    You people are clueless, I know Philip calls himself a writer instead of an artist i think mainly cos he writes graffiti he doesn’t paint character’s and if you have seen the latest pieces he has done all I can say is fresh, I have also seen some of the community upliftment walls he has done with his 96% project and I hope he gets the funding to keep doing them.

    As for his personal attitude I met him years ago and he was a dick to me, but people grow up and the last time we met, he was very polite and asked how I was, we ended up chatting for ages. All he wants to do now is make art and paint he has no time for beef and toys he is willing to paint with anybody and is always willing to offer a helping hand in growing the scene!

    You cant hate on that but I’m sure you will!

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  32. react says:

    Phil definitely lives this culture, he has always played with a very strong game plan. Whilst I may have not always agreed with his way of doing things he has pushed the scene like some dawinian grandfather clock, weeding out the weak and consolidating the strong. Its good to see his work out there and I really like some of those pieces. As for not showing in Durban I can understand as the market is a little shallow in the pockets.

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  33. react says:

    … DBN writers need to work harder to build the scene & create some interest …

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  34. google101 says:

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