Saifar Nisar is a graffiti artist who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Graffiti, Salt Lake City and an artist of Pakistani descent may seem like an unusual combination, but that's what America is all about!  Saifar is also a restaurant manager, but is committed to his art  He creates beautiful images on board, canvas and paper.  I wanted to discover the motivation behind graffiti art, so I asked the guy who calls himself, "Basha."   

MICHAEL: First of all Saifar, many, if not most people despise graffiti.  They call it flat-out vandalism.  Is graffiti art?  Does it have any redeeming social value?

SAIFAR: Most people don’t like what they don’t understand, graffiti being one. Plus those people are uptight as hell. Graffiti art is about getting your personal message and name out to the world and graffiti artists are doing that by any means possible.  We are doing exactly what corporations and companies are doing everyday … getting our name out and putting it everywhere. We are constantly bombarded with company logos and brands telling us to buy, buy, buy. Graffiti artists are just trying to get their art and message across and the difference is that we are not selling anything.  Instead, we are giving everyone some truly unique art.  Graffiti is art, without a doubt. We give free art to the world, art with vivid colors, styles and messages reflecting our feelings and we risk a lot for it as well. Graffiti is one of the only true free artistic expressions left in the world. 

MICHAEL: Yet many would argue that graffiti defaces buildings, bridges, trains, buses and other structures that are created by, lo and behold, other artists, designers and architects!  I love your work, some of which I own on canvas and paper, but so much of the graffiti that I saw growing up in NYC was done secretly on public property.  Is this not still a problem?  Shouldn't the person who cringes at the sight of graffiti on a public structure have a right to be angry rather than characterized as "uptight as hell"?

SAIFAR: Like I said before, graffiti art is about getting your name up and your message out, by any means possible. Graffiti art is about spontaneity and recognition, be that a canvas in an art gallery or a building or a lovely bridge. I believe graffiti is only a problem when it’s used by gangs to tagg up neighborhoods and people get hurt. That is not what true graffiti is about and if a person cringes at the site of graffiti then people should do something about it because graffiti isn’t going away. Making legal walls available to graffiti artists to paint will help keep graffiti off a lot of structures. Graffiti artists need a place to paint and exercise their artistic abilities.  Helping graffiti artists find a place to do that will help people with cringing problems.

MICHAEL: Making legal walls available for graffiti is interesting and controversial.  I've certainly seen graffiti art in art centers.  Yet, doesn't this put it in danger of becoming too mainstream and losing its edge?

SAIFAR: Graffiti will never lose its edge, because the majority of it will always be illegal and done for fame without anyone’s consent. We obviously don’t have a problem with painting where we feel. Legal walls are just a way for a graffiti artists to get really creative and take their time with a lot of detail in their artwork. They help us get out our names and art even more, plus it provides the public with murals and free art. Graffiti has made it into mainstream because it’s cool, period.

MICHAEL: So, given what you've just said, which do you think motivates graffiti artists more ... artistry and expression or the desire to be seen as cool and edgy?

SAIFAR: That depends on the artist. But for me, it's both.  I've always been a good artist and a bad ass.

MICHAEL: Oh, Great answer!  But honestly, Saifar, you live in Salt Lake City.  How much of a bad ass can you be in Salt Lake City?  I suppose being a graffiti artist is "bad" enough?

SAIFAR: Have you ever been to Salt Lake City?  It doesn't take much to be a bad ass here. That's why I like it here.  It's a good, laid back place for doing graffiti and getting known.

MICHAEL: The word "Basha" appears frequently in your work and your website is  What is the significance of that word?

SAIFAR: Basha, is my graffiti artist name alias. All graffiti artists have an alias name they use to do graffiti.  I chose my name in 94’ when I first started doing graffiti in high school.  Basha simply means “King” in Urdu and Hindi. I liked the letters and especially the meaning so from then on I became known as Basha, and Basha I am.

MICHAEL: Some people question whether graffiti artists are "true" artists.  Can graffiti artists work in other mediums and genres?  Impressionism?  Abstract Expressionism? Figurative Realism?

SAIFAR: All graffiti artists are true artists because we can work with any medium, create art on any surface, under any pressure. Graffiti artists are very versatile and unstoppable.  Every artist has their area of expertise and style they like to paint. I love graffiti, that's why I am a graffiti artist.  Right now I am not interested in doing any other kind of artwork because it seems boring.

MICHAEL: Most artists paint well into old age.  Will you be an old man, standing on a ladder or bridge still doing graffiti?

SAIFAR: No, by then I will be a renowned graffiti artist with canvases and pieces in galleries and museums.

MICHAEL: Nice.  Thanks Saifar.