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RUBEN ‘Shattered Dreams’, Woden Drains @2003. Photo: KIOSK

“Yeah, well, I started when I was about 12/13 years old, early 90’s. I would go to Sydney to visit family. I’d stay at my Auntie’s house in Auburn, which is on the main line of Sydney, inner West. My dad always sent me to my auntie’s house whenever the school holidays came around just to keep me away from Canberra, where I’d likely get bored and ‘get up to no good’ with my mates. At the time I was into basketball.  I would travel to Darling Harbor to this popular outdoor basketball court at the time. I’d go to the courts whenever I was off work. It was from here I’d catch the train from Auburn to the City and look out the windows of the train and see a gallery of pieces, throw-ups and tags on the main line. This was probably 1993-94. I bought a disposable camera at the time and take photos of the pieces along the lines. 

My aunty was very strict in general and at the time this is what I needed. I’d work with my uncle all week, on a recycling truck. The truck’s ‘garbo run’ included suburbs Kings Cross, Newtown, Summer Hill, the inner city etc so I was exposed to the graffiti around those areas. I realized this really appealed to me. The whole Sydney graffiti scene inspired me, to be fair.

After the holidays I’d come back to Canberra and study the graffiti. Back then there wasn’t much graffiti magazines, well that I knew of during the time. I wasn’t in the graffiti scene, so I didn’t know too much about it. I was curious and fascinated as to how they did it. 

I then noticed graffiti in Canberra when I hung around Woden Interchange after school. I would see so many tags around then. From here I began to hang around my older cousins and they put me in touch with writers that were established in the local graffiti scene. The whole underground lifestyle opened up for me. I learnt how to tag and what types of spray paint and markers to use and where to get them. It was insane!  

RUBEN, Woden Drains, around 2009. Photo: Jack Crash

(When I first picked up a spray can) I was with a mate at Fadden Pines drains. We used paint buff to roll the angular wall so the shoe paint could sit on it, instead of being swallowed up by the bare concrete. It was a simple piece from memory. I remember we used Tana and Tuxan shoe paint. I painted a B.I.C crew piece, pronounced “BIC” Crew, like the pen brand. The name didn’t mean anything, I just loved the name and how I wrote it. Actually, EBC was another crew who were up at the time and I loved the way they drew their C letter at the end of the tag like a ‘swoosh’ so I copied it and put the C at the end of the BIC tag ha ha! By now I worked out the types of nozzles used for fat caps and how to make clean lines with no overspray. The idea of having clean pieces was a thing back then.

Funny fact: the location of my piece was further up from the old Hall of Fame in Isabella Plains. I went to a school not too far away from there. Looking back now I reckon the hall of fame, or what was left of it at the time, played a part in my discovery of graffiti. I used to ride to school and look at the graffiti, I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was ingrained in my memory from then. Back then all I wanted to do was emulate the graffiti on the tracksides I saw in Sydney. And try different letter styles! I was really into Graffiti for the art rather than the lifestyle to be honest. 

Back in the late 90’s I developed more of an original style because I learnt like many writers during the time that originality is key and biting (copying) was wack! My state of mind towards graff changed overtime and I found myself recreating old NY Sydney subway art letters. I followed the Sydney scene and its love for New York Subway Art. I believe my style did  ‘360 degree turn’! At first it was all about original style but this method wasn’t fulfilling, so I moved onto the next style. This was a development over a long period of time! I’d test myself to paint many style pieces like, Euro (simple graffiti) and 3D shading graffiti. I tried other styles from LA Gang Graffiti, Wildstyles, Semi-Wildstyles, Straight letters whatever flavor!

RUBEN, 2021. Photo: Thomas Edmondson.

My first crew was BIC which was just myself and another mate and then I hit my straps, getting down with ASN that was made up of established writers at the time. I was only in year 10, and still a kid so this was a great achievement for myself. In the ASN era I learnt a lot and had already travelled to Sydney and done a few things up there. It was an eye-opener on where I needed to be with my style! ASN stood for: Assassins, Akshun etc. Ha-ha all 90’s, Wu-Tang Clan inspirations. The crew was made up of myself, WEPON, SHRUB, AYRE, DOPEZ, MEKS, GAWS, CLOAN and DISK. Some of the guys in that crew went on to do big things in Australia and the world. Some moved to other cities, but I stayed in Canberra.

Later ASN formed with PLS and other writers/hip hop heads into 4SE – Four Story Empire. It was a Hip-Hop crew so either you were doing one of the four elements of hip hop or just be down. The crew consisted of MC’s, DJ’s, B-Boys etc. and they all partied hard. Good times back then!  This crew was deep in it and were behind some of the biggest Hip-Hop shows/nights during the early 2000’s period. Shout out to CIECMATE, STUE, MEKS and DIAL.

I was also down with TCB crew (Taking Care of Business) through DISK but I didn’t know much of the Sydney crew members so that was brief. TCB was a well-known crew in the early 2000 with train kings like Banos, Scum and Rkoe killing systems on the east coast of Australia. From there a few 4SE guys and a few Sydney/Melb writers formed TKP (TRUE KRIME PASSION/THE KRUSH POSSEE). My brothers MORE and RKOE created the crew.  A crew I represent till today.

What kept me going all these years is my friends and pushing myself, flipping my style whenever I was bored. That’s how I reconnect with Graffiti. During my career I have fallen in and out of love with graffiti, whether it be through politics or just feeling ‘drained’ from the scene! But my passion has and always will be there. I always go back to it, its habit. To me there is no better feeling! A perfect day for me is just going out and painting. Killing time, listening music and producing something! that’s my thing. Other people like to fish or play golf as a hobby but I like to do Graffiti!

I believe Canberra hasn’t had the recognition it deserves. It might not mean much to some but it’s something I take pride in. Recently we’ve been recognised, but for a small city we have a variety of distinctive styles that have been influential.