Story by Carrie Hedderwick | Photos by Jason Williamson and Fiona Mine
In 2001, when Burngreave was in the midst of the New Deal regeneration, a Messenger reporter spoke to Jason Williamson, aka Izal, about his work as a graffiti artist. The article reported that many officials thought that graffiti was the sign of a run down area, and that these signs had to be eradicated so that the area could become ‘orderly’ and regain its ‘self respect.’ However, to many, graffiti are signs of life – decorative, clever and intriguing. Graffiti expresses active resistance against the monotonous concrete. That was 2001 – so what has changed?
Jason continues to refine his talents, transforming grey slabs with outbursts of colour and is now joined by many more artists. The graffiti movement took off in the late 1960s in New York City when spray painted names and nicknames started to appear on buildings, postboxes, subway tunnels and finally on subway cars. Now street art is found everywhere – from Tokyo to Paris to Pitsmoor. Much of its rebellious underground essence is now part of mainstream culture.
The name ‘Izal’ derives from the famous toilet paper manufactured in Chapeltown for decades. In the Second World War, Izal produced sheets of toilet paper overprinted with cartoon illustrations of Adolf Hitler. These were popular with customers, but frowned upon by the government because they didn’t consider it ‘The British thing to do.’ Inbuilt resistance from the bottom up!
Jason/Izal has lived in Pitsmoor all his life. His mum was a home help and his dad was a steelworker and bus driver. Jason was always into drawing, but school did not recognise or particularly encourage his talent. Some years ago, he did a course in graphic art design, but a lot of his skill is self-taught. As well as his own work, he has collaborated with Kid Acne, been involved with documentary films, done a set for a Bollywood break dancing movie, and produced backdrops for gigs. He has worked on community projects at Highfield and Pitsmoor Adventure Playgrounds, decorated a local café and has had work displayed galleries including the Weston Park Museum gallery. He also enjoys running street art workshops with kids.
Busy developing different styles, Jason is currently into Aztec art forms. He also has an interest in tattoo art. With commissioned work he can earn a bit, but prefers the freedom to do his own work, even if it means he has to do a range of jobs for a regular income. As well as work, he currently volunteers at a charity shop in Crookes. He has now set himself the target of getting back into education and would like to enrol on an art course at university.
When I was researching Izal I came across an enthusiastic review by Fiona Ferett who describes graffiti as a ‘whole different world, populated by hugely talented people.’ One of Izal’s ‘King of his own Castle’ pieces features prominently in her blog. Have a look, and keep your eyes open for Izal’s ‘tag’.
If you or someone you know ‘belongs to Burngreave’ and would like to be featured please get in touch.