On the bus to school, it’s easy to be overcome by an absent mind and be left sitting in a hazy cloud with few distractions. The combination of never-ending fatigue and that nagging feeling of dread for what’s going to be nothing more than a dull day of classes, soon becomes a faint memory that most adults will quite happily forget. Though for any school kid who cares to look closer, it’s possible to find something that can quite easily burst this bubble. Scratched windows and drippy tags on shutters from the night before make up the tapestry of a small world in London that, for a kid who knows what they mean, can quite easily cure the boredom of sitting on that morning bus.
For Will, before he knew anything about graff, it was these tiny details, and thinking about the stories behind them, that made his trips to school a little more exciting than it was for your average kid waiting for their adulthood and a fixed salary. Starting out as just an observer, growing up and thinking about graff for Will was never about the finished piece or legal wall, more ‘why would some-one go out and risk getting arrested or climb a bridge to write their name 30 times when the majority of people aren’t gonna understand it?’
Like any school kid with a good imagination, Will’s curiosity got the better of him and he found himself growing up with these writers, surrounded by their stories.
‘What interested me was the people behind the tag’, and tying these people together as much as by what they paint, is a web of stories that can at times border into mythology.
‘I always wanted to meet the most prolific and the most dangerous person … the thing is, I’ve met very few writers who live up to their crazy stories but there are a few. They’re just an odd bunch of people. Writers are weirdoes. They’ve got this crazy obsession and no goal. The only goal there is, is self-gratitude. It’s like a video game that you can’t complete. You can play forever and ever and ever. The only difference is you might go to prison or you might lose your job or your girlfriend.’
While swapping stories has maintained some of the aura of London graff, Will’s efforts to capture what started off as a childhood curiosity has extended into a broad document on this subculture. With Crack & Shine International, his omnibus on writers from all over, Will was able to take his interests far beyond the spectrum of London graff and allow people to catch a glimpse of these cloak and dagger figures and the stories that surround them.
Spending time between London and New York, where his dad was working, Will experienced a transatlantic life when he was younger. Even at the moment he’s doing the same, having recently finished his work on gun crime in Chicago titled Chi Raq, he’s still always shifting around. ‘I’ve always been back and forth but I completely think of myself as a Londoner. I grew up in London. I went to school in London and all my family and friends are in London’ he assures me. ‘I’m very English… I drink lots of tea and like marmite.’
Though whilst his Britishness is unquestionable, there was another quality of his that really stuck out as our conversation progressed. When speaking about his time in the States, I began to ask Will about subculture. Initially seeing it as being central within his work, I tried to establish its definition at the start of our conversation. Looking to his connections to London, where historical ties to the word exist extensively, to the time he’s spent out in the States, where subculture became a product that was sold to the world, some regional differentiation also came into my attempts to explore the term.
Yet Will expressed himself against such easy categorisations in his work, and answered with a clear and unaffected sense of honesty.
‘You know what … it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m just interested in people.’ Will’s ability to see people as they are, is perhaps more central to his work than acting as a documentarian of subculture. He documents people and, when speaking to me about a little film he made about an old football hooligan called Jela, I really began to see how this was clear.
‘The thing that interested me about Jela is he’s proper London; he’s proper East London. Usually these people who’ve grown up there find it hard to adjust in this new East London… people from these areas will get proper stale when graphic designers and people like me move into their area.’
Jela, both subject and friend to Will, embraces every side to East London. ‘He would go down to Brick Lane to gallery openings and start talking to anyone’ says Will, ‘but at the same time he goes up to Upton Park and sells badges on a Saturday and still mixes with all his old hooligan mates.’
When speaking about him, Will emphasized the importance of Jela’s outlook. Through everything he’s gone through, be it a junkie, being put in a coma fighting, or losing his dad when he was five, he still views life in a positive light. For Will to see these qualities in Jela, to see Jela as existing above the historical and cultural ties of a rapidly changing area in the capital, really acted as a marker for me to understand Will’s ability to capture people above all else and, instead of a flat subject bound by any definition, to show them on the level.
Still in the early days of his career, Will seems to have already put a bit of distance between himself and the world of graff.
‘At this point in my life, I’m more removed from it then ever before.’ Though perhaps in many ways still after the most prolific or dangerous person, Will’s childhood curiosities are still nestled in his outlook and I think that whether he works in London, the States or somewhere else, his capacity to still spot these characters and observe their qualities will remain unswayed.