Saturday, January 10, 2009

Painting the Town: Oner signs and the City

Spending your Saturday nights down dingy alleyways furiously rubbing your hands to preserve some feeling in them and covering your jeans in paint whilst hopping over puddles, isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Stepping out of the back door of Cathays Community Centre at Cardiff City Kingz b-boy battle on 6 December, there was a group of people for whom these conditions were a night on the town. They had assembled to use their numb fingers on paint caps to cover the entire back wall of the centre in their pieces. Many had been there all day. Several went long into the night finishing their work.

Much of the paint that covered that wall by the end of the evening had a common origin. Oner signs is regarded amongst many writers to be the only place to buy quality spray paint in the city. It has been an integral part of the scene for its 12 year history, supplying and connecting writers. When Kieran Jones, also known as Ron Oner, from which the company takes its name, started the business it was just him, in a garage, with only four quid for paint. Today Oner works with global brands such as Marks and Spencer’s and Topshop, supplying signage and materials for their local stores.

The business has however always served a much wider purpose than just selling signs. Many of the graffiti writers in the city have become connected through the shop. This was a conscious decision of Jones’s to support the small dedicated scene of writers decorating Cardiff’s streetscapes, “To be honest with you selling paint originally was a labour of love you couldn’t survive by selling paint alone unless you were wholesaling.” Not that the decision to make the companies workshop a stopping point for all those seeking quality spray paint wasn’t without it’s draw backs, as he explains, “It does get distracting and you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. We like to support the younger people coming through and they get to meet the older painters when they come in to buy paint.”

This same openness allows graffiti art to reach a wider audience when Cardiff firms come in to pick-up their signage. This is a fact not unnoticed by writers in the city as one writer, simply known as Monk, explains, “They’re quit
e accessible to the general public as well as writers. It’s a good thing to a certain extent because people have to go there and they get to see what graffiti is all about from another person’s point of view because the people who own the shop are graffiti writers.”

These writers also provide a valuable resource for another aspect of the business; its community work. Oner are involved in around 12 projects a year painting and running workshops across the city. “We give the kids a brief history of what we think is good graffiti” says Jones, “and hopefully they take something away from it as well. Then the adults, because the kids are involved the adults are involved, [see it and] it tends to put graffiti in a slightly better light because they get to speak to someone who is not just vandalising.”

One of the writers involved with Oner’s graffiti workshops in the city, Craig Jenkins, who writes rarebit, is very aware of the fine divide between the legal and illegal side of graffiti, “I try and get that message across and edge them towards the more productive side of it rather than scribbling on a bus stop for example. If I had a criminal record it would stop me getting any youth work from it.”

Having been involved with graffiti in Cardiff since the 1980s Jones has seen it evolve, “It goes through fits and starts the graffiti scene in Cardiff. You’ve got the core writers who’ve been there since day one and they tend to push new writers as well.” He has seen graffiti move from crews to individuals and from younger to older writers as the city’s many students provide a fresh influx of talent. Jones is clear what’s needed to push writing forward in the future, “This is where that bit of battle comes in,” he says, “because people are always going to want to better themselves and better the next graffiti artist. If we can keep more people coming through battling each other then it’s certainly good for the scene.” No doubt Oner Signs will still be there to provide the paint as well.

Kieran Jones reminisces on one of his more memorable graffiti battles in the 80s.


AD said...

Good article!

Alex_M_Cullen said...

RAREBIT, nope. never seen even a tag, sorry but even legit writers have the buzz and want to paint something walking home from Tiger-Tiger.......depending what your into, of course.

Tag-One said...

Haha! the first picture was of my spray paints while painting with onersigns! South East represent!

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