Check your neck – Skewville rolls into London

Skewville - 'IXNY-A'. Photo by Skewville

During the build up to his upcoming solo show at London’s High Roller Society, I caught up with Ad, twin brother of Droo, and half of Brooklyn based Skewville who have been pushing the boundaries of street art for well over a decade with their iconic sneaker art.

After learning that his favourite colour is Vermillion Orange and that he doesn’t care if you buy his art because his mum likes it and will always give it a home, we sat down and had a chat…

Shower: Hey Ad, welcome to London.

Ad: Yo, Yo!

So your new show is titled Slow Your Roll – can you explain a little about its meaning?

I wanted to play off the gallery name. High Rollers is kind of a pun off of actually doing painting, but the truth is that everyone in street art thinks they’re a gangster or a big shot after just doing something for a year or two. So, kind of the idea was sort of to tell everyone to check their neck and to slow your roll, as a lot of people haven’t put the time in on the streets or even in an art career. Going back to that whole Mr Brainwash thing, you shouldn’t just be able to pop up on the scene and become big time. For me and for Skewville it’s just a way we have developed our style, kind of seeing what everyone else has done too, and soaking it all in. It should take your whole lifetime to develop what you’re doing.

The truth is though, we have been doing this a long time, me and my brother, and in the beginning when we did shows with our sneaker art and that kind of stuff no one actually gave a shit. And then later on street art became popular and then everyone wanted it, so then it came like I’m not just giving you stuff if you only want it now because it’s popular.

That certainly makes sense. With regard to London, is this your first solo show in the city?

In London? Yeah.

And how do you view the street art scene over here? Does it differ to Brooklyn?

When I was here in 2004, I thought that the street art that was here was pretty amazing. But I guess that’s because I was pretty new to the scene back then. ‘Cos in New York there was just a load of tags and you get a couple of good pieces, but when I came to Shoreditch I thought “Wow,” I was amazed at how bombed the streets were. But now the problem is that’s it’s all that same kind of style and not much has changed.

YO... Skewville introduces himself to the locals. Photo by High Roller Society

Currently London is witness to an ever increasing level of buffing thanks to the upcoming Olympics in 2012. How does your street work fair when it comes to graffiti removal teams?

That was the whole thing why we first started putting up sneakers. We were doing graffiti in the 80s when it was actually cool but then it kind of died out. Then in ’99 when we first started, it was actually Shepard Fairey’s 10 year anniversary, and I think there was only WK, Bast and a few people out on the street. There were a lot of posters and stickers, and the streets were already cluttered with a lot of stuff, so it was just about coming up with this new media space and new outlet to put stuff up. And it was also just mimicking that New York style of throwing up sneakers. The beauty of our stuff is that it’s kind of untouchable; you can only get it if you climb a pole or you have to just wait ’til they fall.

Are you still throwing your sneakers up now?

Yeah, but after 10 years and over 6000 pairs I’ve kind of slowed down a little bit, but its still something I do everywhere I go no matter what.

Do you have any for this visit?

I only bought a couple of pairs here because I know there aren’t a lot of wires and I always pack my luggage with as much weight as possible. So this trip is more about the show than the sneakers. And it was mostly because I knew people only cared about the sneakers so I wasn’t going to just give it to them!

When London Dogs Fly. Photo by Shower

You mentioned that you have been throwing up for sneakers for over 10 years, but how long have you been producing work for indoor shows like this one?

We started back in 2002. My girlfriend wanted me to move in with her and I was like, “I’m not moving to the city unless I have a space that we can do something with.” So my girl found this spot and we moved in there and had our first show. ‘Cos before that I did try to approach different spaces to do art shows and I just got rejected. So that was the whole point, we just started our own space to show our own shit stuff and not have to deal with any of the politics. And then from having that show the response was “Oh you’ve done your own art show, oh cool, now I’ll do an art show with you.”

So it’s really all about making a name for yourself. Once you have done that everyone wants in.

Yeah, which is what I can’t stand about this whole scene. ‘Cos there are a lot of talented people but because no one knows them they don’t get the respect they deserve, it’s often a vicious cycle. That’s what sucks about the commercial side.

Studio comforts. Photo by Skewville.

A lot of your work is quite sculptural, for example your iconic Blah Blah Radio pieces. Was this a bi-product of the move into producing more work for a gallery setting or has style always been a part of Skewville alongside your sneakers?

It’s unfortunate that Droo can’t be here because he kind of developed that 3D style. I think we were just doing sneakers on the street from about ’99 until 2004 and then when we were doing more shows people were just calling us ‘The Sneaker Guys’. And I’m friends with Mike De Feo who’s ‘The Flower Guy’ and he hates being called that, and we do too because we’re artists that do twenty different other things.

So my brother started pushing towards the sculptural stuff. I went to school for advertising and design, and my brother went for architecture, so when we started getting to do more stuff he started branching out into doing sculpture, 3D letters and all that other stuff.

Do you find yourself viewing exhibition spaces such as the street and the gallery in different ways? Does your work differ depending on which it is to be exhibited in? Do you even feel that your sneakers sit well in a gallery setting?

No, I don’t think that the sneakers work inside and that’s my whole problem with street art. Street art is art on the street. And the point of the sneakers was to make something that kind of blends in the urban setting. So you kind of do a double take. I love it when people say “Oh I see your sneakers and they go sideways, then I realise they are fake.” It’s kind of like a shock to see that but if you saw that in a gallery it wouldn’t have the same effect, plus you will never see some real sneakers just hanging in a gallery.

I think as we’re doing more shows we’re trying to keep the inside art completely different from the outside. So many artists will just do a silkscreen run, plaster it on the street and then put that same image straight into a show. This was street art, and in fact Shepard Fairey’s mission statement in the beginning – the whole point of putting stuff on the street was to counteract the advertising because the streets were cluttered. So you put up your art to counteract it but what’s happening now is that everyone is using their art as advertising so they have pretty much shot their own revolution in the foot.

This all made me want to do what I do on the street less and less, and kind of develop my style. All the stuff you will see in the show I started to develop way before I was putting up sneakers. So when people see this and say, “I really like your new work,” I say, “No, this work is way older, you just never gave a shit about it back then.”

I suppose it comes back to that whole ‘once you’ve had a show you can have another with us’ mentality.

Yeah exactly. But I was going to say before, that if everyone loved the first show I did and it sold out, I would probably be an asshole and just be doing the same stuff. So it’s kind of just my reaction to how New York treats New Yorkers.

Just a reaction... 'Whatever' by Skewville. Photo by Skewville.

Do you think that that mentality consequently impacts on style?

Basically back in the day if you did letters and you kind of copied someone else’s style you would get your ass kicked. So back in those days, even though we were still in the graffiti realm, it was more about trying to be original and kind of trying to branch off. But today, everyone is just cutting stencils, everyone has that same kind of look, and everyone bites Swoon.

With regard to your own unique style, what and who are you inspired by?

I always hate to give people credit for stuff, but I guess I’m always influenced by others. In the beginning I used to do a lot of graphic design stuff like my posters for the sneakers. They were very graphic and someone said that they looked like Shepard Fairey, so literally the next day I stopped doing that style. For me, it’s more like if I feel I’m too influenced by something and someone sees that in my style it kind of makes me not want to do it. So I think I’m more influenced by the anti-influence of style and what not to do. ‘Cos someone might think that that’s a compliment to me, that I look like Shepard Fairey, but that’s not a compliment, that’s more for me to kind of check my style.

But just growing up, in 1984, me and my brother got Subway Art and that was the day when we started doing graffiti. So obviously as kids being about 10 or 12 years old you copied everything, but that’s how you were taught in school, to just learn how to do stuff. So I was definitely influenced by Subway Art and then also I was hugely influenced by Espo, Cost and Revs and even Shepard Fairey. Just seeing that stuff on the streets and thinking “Wow, this is actually really cool.” And what was good at that point was that it was kind of really underground and that’s what really influenced me.

Skewville's unmistakable style - 'IXNY-B'. Photo by Skewville

But I think if I was a kid now I wouldn’t really want to be a street artist today as its just way too saturated and everyone does it. I would probably really shy away from it which is actually what I’m sort of trying now, to get away from it. But you can’t ever do a show in a street art type of gallery and not say that you’re a street artist. So it’s this kind of catch-22 thing where you are labeled a street artist but what the fuck is a street artist?

You certainly know the revolution is dead when your mum starts telling her friends “Oh yeah, my son is a street artist.” And you’re like “Fuck, that’s not the whole point of this.” The whole point of being in graffiti scene is to go against the grain and that’s what street art should have been. And now it’s all about making money, flying to London, doing swanky shows and sipping tea!

Within this unique style certain words such as; Hype, Yo, Fresh, Beef and obviously Brooklyn, crop up on a regular basis. To me they almost become a modern take on the traditional tag but how do you view their use?

I guess it is kind of that, like a tag without trying to use the same word all the time. It’s great that when someone sees a “Yo” they be like, “Oh that’s Skewville.” And I didn’t invent the word “Yo,” and I didn’t even invent that typestyle, but it’s just so funny that someone’s like “That’s a Skewville font.” I think, “Ok, you obviously weren’t around 20 years ago when everyone was doing block letters.” So, I think it’s just our whole mentality of just changing stuff up and actually getting excited that now my tag is “Yo,” “Fresh,” “Beef” and all that stuff.

BEEF!! Photo by High Roller Society

Can you explain a little bit about the use of materials in your work?

My brother uses a lot of metal, but I think I have always just stuck with wood as the whole sneaker project just started with wood and it’s just a nice material to work with. Not too many people use it, but I think if a lot more people started to use it and if more start to screenprint straight to wood I think I will probably not to use it.

Which piece are you most proud of, inside or out?

The one I’m going to do tomorrow, but I don’t know what that is yet. I dunno, it’s hard ‘cos every time I’m finished with something I hate it. Like the Beef piece, once I finished I was like “Ahhh I should have done the X’s in white” or changed it up a bit. I think any artist that falls in love with their art is dead.

Skewville beefs up London. Photo by Shower

But I think the sickest thing I ever did was put up a set of sneakers in front of the Hollywood sign ‘cos that took 3 days to actually find the road that goes up there. And when we finally found it, there was a telephone wire at the bottom of the hill and from it the only word you could see was “Wood.” And that was of kind of perfect.

But actually the best one was in Dublin in front of a castle. It was just crazy to find a telephone wire in front something like that. It was my friend from Dublin that just drove us round to show us the neighbourhood and I saw the wire and I said “Just STOP,” and he said “There is no way you’re throwing sneakers here.” In my mind I wrote down what the street was and where it was, as it was about an hour out of Dublin. So he took us back into the city, and then I knew he went on vacation, so me and my girl took the train back out there just to take that shot. And then he saw the photo and was so pissed at me, that I had disgraced his castle. But I was never going to find that again. That’s kind of the problem with this project though: There needs to be a wire; it’s kind of a random thing.

Skewville sneakers in Hollywood and Dublin. Photos by Skewville

I would be surprised if you had passed up a spot like that! Finally, what do you see as the future for Skewville?

Wow… the future. I think I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and see what happens. I just hope I don’t get rich and famous ‘cos then I’m going to be an asshole and probably wouldn’t be doing an interview for Vandalog!


Slow Your Roll opens at High Roller Society on Friday, March 18th at 7pm and runs until April 24th.

Photos by Skewville, High Roller Society and Shower