Street art as survival

Artist behind Jerm IX wants to release his feelings, not inspire

A poem by Jerm IX posted on Princess St. in downtown Kingston.
A poem by Jerm IX posted on Princess St. in downtown Kingston.

Jerm IX, a street artist whose work decorates downtown Kingston, hopes he can help people truly see the environment around them — and not simply look at it.

I first noticed his poetry this summer. Wandering down Princess St., I saw a white paper with black-stenciled writing plastered on an electricity box. Intrigued, I stepped off the sidewalk to read the note.

It was a poem. “I’m at the intersection of nowhere and lost,” it began.

At the time, I was on my way to the bus stop after a tough opening shift at work. I was tired and wanted to be left alone. I walked with my head down, feet dragging. Seeing the poem helped me step outside my bubble of fatigue and solitude, and see the street as a quiet and appreciative observer.

I took a few seconds to read it — standing away from the bustle of people on the sidewalk who had somewhere to be — and reminded myself to breathe. The poem was signed “Jerm IX”.

The Journal sat down with Jeremiah, the man behind the thought-provoking street art plastered up and down Princess St.

When did this all start for you? What pushed you to begin making street art?

Jeremiah: I got interested in street art in London in 2001. I started photographing it, going to Toronto. It wasn’t until I moved to Vancouver in 2004 that I started doing it myself. I started officially in 2005. I moved back to Ontario in 2010 and I’ve been decorating cities all over Ontario since then.

When I lived in Vancouver, advertising drove me insane. The ads were everywhere, every day. We’ve lost the small time feel, even in small towns. I just feel like we’ve lost the ability to connect with our environment. All the messages we’re conveying in the public have to do with someone’s agenda.

So, when I see something thought-provoking in public, it changes my day. I’m trying to give that feeling to someone else. It means everything to me when someone messages me and tells me I impacted them, or even that I just pulled them out of their day for a split second.

You’ve explained the external motivation behind your street art. What does it achieve for you personally?

Jeremiah: Besides street art, I also make hip-hop music. But I started street art because I always needed a healthy outlet. As a teenager, I was a young offender.

I lived on the streets, I committed crime. I had so much emotion and nowhere to express it. It’s all about release in my life. Although I’m giving street art to the community, it’s definitely a selfish act for me in that I’m doing this mainly for myself. I need this form of release to survive.

Some of the works I’ve done are actually suicide notes that I wrote when I was younger. I needed that release, to put them out there.

Why street art? Why not paint or make sculpture?

Jeremiah: I chose this stencil letter font because it almost has an authoritative feel to it. It doesn’t have an aesthetic value, there’s nothing artsy about it. I also dabble in spray paint and stickers. I do all the mediums of graffiti.

I probably created about 5,000 pieces in Vancouver over the course of five years, and I’ve probably doubled that across Ontario.

Street art is accessible. It gets people to challenge their environments in a way that other forms of art don’t do.

How do you think you’ve progressed as an artist since 2005?

Jeremiah: I don’t know if I’ve progressed as an artist as much as I’ve progressed as a person. A little while into making street art, I ended up being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The street art has helped me be more positive and seek help.

I’m trying to put a few more messages out there that convey a positive feeling, in the hopes that someone can see that and feel even a second of hope.

As far as the style is concerned, it’s not changing. It’s kind of set in stone. I’ve had my work published in books about graffiti and become renowned in my own way. It’s just me and my stencils, you know?

What do you hope someone on the street who notices one of your pieces takes away from it?

Jeremiah: I don’t care what they take away from it as long as it takes them out of their day for a brief moment. If it can catch their eye or even notice it for a moment.

I want people to challenge their environment. I don’t want people to recognize their environment by the ads plastered everywhere.

It’s not even that I want to inspire people. I just want to get it out of me.

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