A day in the life of Neil Uchong, Karachi's trending and adroit graffiti artist.
After surreal moments of being a sort of superhero, I wake up to reality in the morning to big Siberian beady eyes wishing me good morning – a reminder that I need to feed my cats. Later, in spite of already having fed the fluff balls, there are moments of me sharing my breakfast with them. This is followed by a cup of coffee and a quick scroll through my schedule for the day, in which I have a meeting at one end of the city and a commissioned project to do at the other end. Yes, even graffiti artists are organised. It’s better that way and a lot gets done more efficiently.
The following hours are spent going through inventory and then an early run to the paint store to purchase the required spray paints for the day. Alas! That perfect shade of blue is not available and I have to buy some extra transparent cans to make my own colours. No worries, where there is a will there is always a way and life shall carry on. A quick load up into the car and I am on my way to give life to a generally drab wall. On my commute, I pass loads of city walls that are desperately calling out for some colours and I wish more people would come out and add some to these otherwise sad facades. I target my locations and set them for another time. At the moment, I need to be on time to meet my potential client and I am stuck in early morning rush hour traffic.
I am finally there but the client is nowhere to be seen. Why, oh why, can’t folks be on time? I see my watch ticking by for the next 15 minutes and eventually she walks in fashionably late. We do a quick overview of what she has in mind for her company’s lobby wall. It’s a great idea that would add a lot of value to the space. We then come to the dreaded part: the money talk, which in this particular meeting seems to be like the meme featuring Life of Pi on one side and the guy with a bucket on his head on the other. Obviously, I am not waving my hands about doing magic here. It has taken over 20 years of experience to get to this point. We go back and forth and finally she agrees to my terms after I explain how the mural will add a lot more value to the venue. By this time, I am running a bit late for my commissioned project and head out in a rush. Sit in the car, buckle up and bolt off.
Its 11:30 a.m. and I have to reach the other end of the city. I hope I am greeted by green lights along the way. I turn up the volume and think about what and how I intend to execute the next graffiti mural in order to keep the piece relevant to the branding of the venue, and give it impact so people who walk by will notice it and maybe hire me later. I finally reach the venue. It is a new upscale restaurant in DHA. I am greeted by the client and we have a run through over the graffiti piece and then with another cup of coffee, I start unpacking my paints, set the nozzles and then stare at the wall as if I just took a psychedelic pill as I envision the look and feel of the graffiti.
At this point, I am usually left alone and I strap on my gas mask and get on with the initial outlines, take a few steps back, cut and rectify anything that seems out of place and repeat the process until I am fully satisfied with what appears on the wall. At this point, I scramble through my container of gold (my graffiti nozzles, which are not available in Pakistan and are very expensive to import) and get on with the fillings and blasts of colours. Now come the tedious half shades, highlights and details. The part I am known for but the process that can take anywhere between a few hours and a few days, during which there are possibilities that I will forget everything around me, including meals.
When done, it’s time to gladly collect my cheque from the client over a celebration meal, which generally comes with an invitation to the launch event, and then I am off to home with the remaining paint. Oh wait, I remember passing by that sad wall on the way here. It’s dark, it’s quiet and I have some paint left over. Let’s brighten up that wall, hopefully without getting caught, and then go home feeling accomplished.
After a warm shower, I hit the sack and edit the pictures of the graffiti I did today and plan what time tomorrow I will go back and click a few photos of that wall in the street that made me feel 100% true to my roots as a graffiti artist.
Always be true to the art and the art will be true to you.
Neil Uchong is a Karachi-based graffiti artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.