SMUG goes beyond artistry

Artist Smug speaks about the mural of Ferns Francois he is creating on the side of The Vault in Lynn for Beyond Walls and how he got into his work. (Spenser R. Hasak)

LYNN — Just call him “Smug.” His real name doesn’t matter to him, and he’s not at all interested in sharing it with anyone else, either.

“‘Smug’ is all you have to know,” says the 37-year-old artist who grew up outside of Sydney, Australia and now lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

Smug  is one of this year’s crop of artists whose work will adorn the sides of buildings this summer as part of the continuing “Beyond Walls” project. This is the third year artists have flocked to Lynn to lend their brand of beauty and culture to the city. As part of today’s program of street festival events, there will be a walking tour of the 46-piece mural collection that helps define the project.

This is Smug’s first experience with “Beyond Walls,” and the first time he’s ever been in Lynn.

“I love it,” he said. “I love America, and I love Massachusetts. Lynn’s great, and so is Salem (where he’s staying while he completes his project).”

He’s been drawing ever since he can remember, though he’s never had any formal education.

What got him into graffiti and painting with spray cans, he said, was the hip-hop culture that exploded throughout the world just when he was coming of age in the 1990s.

“I’ve always drawn what sparked my interest,” he said at Thursday evening’s “Meet the Artists” forum at Centerboard. “I’ve been drawing my whole life.

“I was sort of a rebellious kid, and hip-hop appealed to me. It strengthened my community, and you could say it created me as an artist.”

And this brings up another point that Smug would like to make — that of definitions. Specifically the difference between “graffiti” and “street art.” To him, there isn’t any. It’s all the same thing.

“I don’t believe in boundaries,” said Smug, who has been painting professionally for 20 years. “And I don’t think things need a label. Art is art.”

And to him, the term “street art” is an attempt by some people to monetize what he does. And he does not like that.

“I see myself as a graffiti-artist,” he said. “If you’re using spray cans and you’re painting on the side of buildings, or walls, it’s graffiti.”

The murals in “Beyond Walls” are commissioned, and Smug says he has made a decent living parlaying his talents as a graffiti artist through projects like “Beyond Walls.”

“If I were single, and just living out of a backpack, I’d be doing very well,” he said.

However, he is in a committed relationship, has a place to live in Glasgow, “and I do fine.”

For all his rebelliousness, though, Smug’s specialty as a graffiti artist is portraits. Not caricatures, but intricate, true-to-life portraits.

“I like the technical difficulties of doing a portrait,” he said. “I consider it a challenge.

“People see a face and they immediately attach themselves to it. They can form their own story from it almost immediately.”

His project involves the Vault building on 23 Central Avenue, one of many old buildings in Lynn that have been converted into apartments and condominiums.

“I found this man and I asked him if I could draw him, and he said yes,” Smug said of the portrait he has chosen to draw on the building. “Everywhere I go, I try to find a portrait to paint,” he said. “I try to capture something, an emotion, anything. Just a little piece of humanity.”

When told that last statement sounded almost profound, he smiled.

“Well, you can put that on a Hallmark card now, can’t you,” he said.

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