Art Foolby Nadine Theron, images by Eduan Kitching / 11.10.2010
Jared Pereira, better known by his tag JESTR has been calling himself a professional graffiti artist since he was only fifteen, when he landed his first sponsor; who lays on clothes and money for paint. While other kids were watching TV, Jared was earning a steady income, flirting with the law and rapidly becoming a Pretoria icon.
Scrawled across his cap is Afends, the name of his Australian sponsor. A string of heavy wooden beads hang around his neck, similar to his big wooden earrings. An assortment of beads and bracelets cuff his wrists completing the picture of bohemian deviant. He radiates precision. “Can I offer you tea, coffee or water?” he asks me politely, twirling a cigarette stub delicately. I sink into one of the odd camping chairs at the townhouse he shares with two friends. He speaks into the dictaphone: “Hi, my name is Jared Pereira, I’m a freelance airbrush artist by profession.”
Originally from Johannesburg, Jared’s parents moved to Pretoria in 1999. He started going to Waterkloof House Preparatory School where he met, Alex Coetzee, who largely influenced his artistic career. “We started art together, we started drawing together, we started graffiti together,” Jared says.
“You know in primary school how everyone writes their names in tipex on their space cases? People always asked me to do theirs so I researched different fonts and different ways to write things. Playing around with it and it became graffiti.”
Later Jared and Alex attended St. Alban’s College, a private, Catholic, school for boys.
“We were the anti-establishment types because we always had long hair, we always used to sag our pants and I didn’t even have school shoes until like grade eleven. I used to wear sneakers.”
At the start of high school, they started “Word of Art” – the school’s graffiti club.
“St. Albans believed everyone should be ‘well-rounded’. Play sports and join a club or society, which was like your cultural side. But they were all shit. Chess club and bridge club. None of it was cultural at all. So Alex and I were like fuck this and we started the graffiti club. We used to get a budget for spraypaint from the school, like R5000 a year!”
Jared and Alex’s first commission was to paint a kid’s bedroom. From there more and more offers, eventually it turned into an income. “My father’s an entrepreneur so I’ve always been well-educated on how to run a business. He owned a vegetable store like all good Portuguese. That’s how it started. Marketing my way up, doing whatever jobs I had.”
JESTR was just a silly name he chose while I was really, really young “And then I started getting known and then it was like oh fuck I can’t change it now”.
Then the big break came…
“I got commissioned to do Electric Sandwich at Cool Runnings in Hatfield. These guys who own a company were there. I got horribly drunk cause we had bar tabs and the two of them are absolute party animals so they got horribly drunk too. They were like ‘Yeah what do you do?’ so I said ‘I do graffiti, I’m doing the graffiti outside.’ And they were like ‘Yeah dude! We love your work, why don’t we have a meeting sometime this week!’ We got together, smoked a jay, I showed them some of my work and yeah it was really chilled out. I did a commission for them and they offered me a sponsorship.”
Though Jared does mostly legal work, run-ins with the law are unavoidable. He was arrested at sixteen.
“In my opinion the best graffiti artist in the country is Rasty from Joburg. Every year he organises a graffiti jam called Rasty’s Wall where he gets artists from around the country to paint a wall. In 2007 it was at Melville Primary. The wall was legal, all arranged. So forty writers from all over the country rock up and everyone’s busy and the next thing there’s five cop cars. A black Mercedes pulls up and this lady from the DA gets out and she starts shitting on us. We were like: Sorry no, we got this wall legal. She’s like you guys better scatter or whoever’s left will get arrested. Fuck this they can’t arrest us all so we carry on painting and they just started cuffing people. Took us down to the station. It was all over the papers.”
Passing matric is tough enough for the average teenager, but being a sponsored artist and getting high paying commissions was distracting. “My average was pretty average. Even my art mark was average.”
But he got into the BA Information Design course at the University of Pretoria. But why bother studying when you’re already earning a living doing what you love?
“I don’t know how to use a computer. I know how to check my Facebook and emails but that’s about it. It’ll broaden my horizons a bit. If you stick to a traditional medium, sure, there’s a whole lot you can do. But there’s so much more you can do if you add a whole other dimension to it. My lecturers tend to give me a bit of shit when I have to travel for work but that’s not a big deal. I’m passing varsity and I’m learning what I need to learn. For me the key interest in varsity is to gain actual knowledge. It’s difficult but it’s all right. I mean this is my passion, it’s what I do.”
And while he struggles to focus on a university education, his graf career is exploding. Jared’s crew collaborated with a crew from France battling with some of the biggest names in South African graffiti culture, painting one of the pillars in Newtown as part of Joburg’s Back to the City campaign. Strangely enough, a lucrative spin off to graffiti is body painting. “It’s actually my main form of income.” He recently painted some hardbodies for Sexpo, the TopTV launch and the Windows7 launch. If he keeps up like this, the JESTR just might be king.