Tim Hans shoots… Word To Mother

Word to Mother 1

While on a recent visit to London, Tim Hans photographed with seven artists for our continuing series of photo-portraits by Tim. This week, we have Tim’s photographs of Word To Mother, along with an interview by Shower.

Also, Word To Mother has been as he puts it ‘analogue’ since we met him. In a small attempt to contribute to the digital world, he has got himself an instagram. Go follow him for regular updates on his work – @wordtomother.

Shower: I expect you have been asked this on numerous occasions but where did the name Word to Mother originate?

Word To Mother: It was never supposed to be a name. I started writing Word To Mother next to my pieces in about 2003…I like the expression, it’s affirmation of the Mother’s and classic Hip Hop phraseology, perfect! Illmatic is also one of my favourite albums so I guess that had a part to play in it all.

I started using Word To Mother as a name when I wanted to make a distinction between the fine art I was producing and everything else. I like the anonymity a pseudonym allows, it means the art is at the forefront and I am somewhere in the background.

S: Your style is very distinctive, your characters tend to be warm and welcoming with a strange complexity, and are usually found juxtaposed against stylised typography. What influences you and this style?

WTM: I have never knowingly tried to construct a style, it’s an ongoing process that is continually changing…I just try and do me, not look at what others are doing for inspiration, but to outside sources; architecture, sign writing, vintage cartoons, nature…

My strongest works are produced when I’m not thinking about what I’m doing, the images almost draw themselves. You can see by the weight of line in my sketches when a drawing is going to work. If the line is heavy then I’m not chilled and the drawing is forced. The best stuff is super fine and is like a subconscious wandering of thoughts.

S: On the subject of characters, Disney and other cartoon varieties feature regularly, which is your favourite and why?

WTM: I don’t have one favourite and the list is endless so let me just give you my starting five:

Early Mickey Mouse

Sponge Bob

Marvin The Martian

Big Bad Wolf (early Disney)

Ren and Stimpy

S: Do the influences differ between your gallery work and outdoors?

WTM: I have no interest in producing what I do indoors, outdoors. They are two separate things to me.

S: Which came first, indoors or out? Which do you prefer and what keeps you painting outside?

WTM: I’ve always drawn, so working inside came first. Working outside started with graffiti in the late 90’s. If I’m painting outside it has to be fun, and trying to replicate what I do in the gallery, outside, just stresses me out. If I’m painting outside it’s going to be letters but I don’t refer to myself as a writer or street artist, just an artist.

Word to Mother 2

S: If I was describing your art I would say that much of it is illustrative. Would you agree? And have you ever had any professional training to achieve this style or are you self taught?

WTM: I love to draw so I would agree that my work is rooted in illustration. I studied illustration and animation 3 years full time, before then I was like every other small town youth that thinks they can draw…I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. Those 3 years were imperative in deconstructing and rebuilding my drawing. I wouldn’t say that anyone taught me how to draw but that course guided me in the right direction.

S: The first thing that strikes me when I look at one of your pieces is the exceptional level of detail. How do you go about starting a painting to achieve this depth?

WTM: I’m always intimidated by a blank surface, so I begin with loose mark making and tags to create a base to work on. Then it is just a case of building layers and layers of tones, pattern, characters, text etc until the piece comes to life.

S: Your art tends to be found adorning weathered surfaces using a range of mediums – wood, brick, plaster, spray cans or paint brushes. Do you find each piece is dictated by the surface you paint onto or do you look for surfaces with the content in mind?

WTM: I love weathered objects, stuff that is decaying and has existed with another purpose for years, then adding your story to it. When I am painting on these types of surfaces, I try to retain as much of the existing qualities as possible. I’m always on the lookout for those little gems to hoard in my studio. Some stuff I get way too precious about, I have objects and panels that I have had for 6 years that are still yet to be worked on as they are so beautiful already…this is now becoming a problem as I am relocating to a much smaller studio and am going to have to let go of a lot of things. Also, the cost of shipping heavy objects overseas is crippling financially. As a result, my new works are going to be on canvas…you have to adapt with the times…this recession is bullshit.

S: In some of your pieces I have seen nods of appreciation to fellow artists; Sickboy, Ronzo and Roids come to mind, and you have also worked in collaboration with Sickboy on a few projects. Do you enjoy collaborative work and do you feel it brings anything additional to your solo pieces?

WTM: I know the painting you are talking about, it had a section of tags in it which shouted out a few of the homies…it was based on the gallery front on Redchurch street where they buff over all the tags in the same colour…

In terms of collaborating, I have to work with friends. I’m a perfectionist so it has to be a certain way….Sickboy and I moved to London at the same time and were introduced by our friend Stella Dore. We are complete opposites but somehow it works. I am a massive fan of what he does and we both love the same things visually. Whenever we work together it is a succession of sleepless nights and too many jazz woodbines but we always laugh ’til it hurts and end up with something we’re proud of.

S: I rather enjoyed your recent edition of ‘fuck you, pay me’ baseball bats? Is there a hidden story of personal experience?

WTM: A decade of self employment in the creative industry.

S: You seem to be a big fan of tattoos. Are any of yours self designed or influenced by other artists?

WTM: I love tattoos and am lucky enough to own work by Thomas Hooper, Saira Hunjan, Josh Sutterby and Frank Carter to name a few.

T: Do you tattoo others yourself? If not, then would you ever consider a change of career?

WTM: I have been known to tattoo friends but I am certainly not a tattooer. If I wasn’t painting I would consider it, I think it’s a great career for someone that loves to draw. If I were to do it I would stop making art and concentrate on it fully, it is an ancient craft that demands a huge amount of respect.

S: Finally, have you got any specific plans for the future?

As I mentioned I am in the process of moving from my enormous studio to a much smaller space. It’s a shame as I am having to part with a lot of things that I have accumulated over the years…Once that is done I am going to be concentrating all of my energies on making my largest paintings to date for my upcoming show in the incredible new White Walls Gallery space in San Francisco. I’m hoping to work with the incredible Angelino Milano again this year on a bespoke run of screen prints. I haven’t shown in London for a couple of years so 2014 will see another solo show with the StolenSpace family… Other than that I’ll be drawing as usual.

Photos by Tim Hans