Tom, or Shower as he is known to many of his friends, likes things that make you turn your head, be it architecture, urban interventions, street art or graffiti. Tom’s passion for the city lies within the scope of (open source) urban design and believes that we should be encouraged to have our say in how spaces are designed, used and developed. He is inspired by any creative individuals who desire to change, adapt and re-think their surroundings, with notable nods of appreciation to artists: Sweet Toof, Blu, Dondi White, Invader and Mark Jenkins, and writers and photographers: Scott Burnham, Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant, Tristan Manco & Roger Gastman.
Following in the footsteps of the fantastic VNA Magazine, comes Outside In, the product of an up and coming design graduate from Winchester University. Documenting street art, design and illustration, this non commercial art magazine is debuting today, Friday 17th, at 3pm British Summer Time!
Running as an edition of 155, with 55 special edition copies, the magazine boasts illustrative duo Static as its feature artist. Adding interviews and features with Miss Bugs, Lifestyles of the Poor & Unknown, Remi Rough, Dale ‘vn’ Marshall, Slinkachu and Ben Slow, I’m sure you will agree that for just £6* you can’t go wrong!
*Standard edition price… Or for all you big spenders, the two special box set deals offer you signed photos and hand finished prints by Static.
Check it out on the Oi website here. Personally I’m quite looking forward to seeing what Remi has to say and reading the feature on Slink.
Whilst this post is not necessarily street art based it does share the same premise, with regard to having the ability to change (and challenge) the urban environment outside of traditional top-down city planning policies. Plus I think it’s rather exciting and something that should be promoted in other cities, not just in New York…
In essence the project is a traditional design competition, but with one significant difference – entrants are encouraged to define their own sites and the locations that they wish to change – which themselves have been outlined with over 500 suggestions from local New Yorkers.
Open to; architects, planners, artists, designers, and students from all around the world, no matter who you are, the aim is to create a dialogue between professional urban designers and the actual people who use the city spaces.
Entries will be measured by a panel of judges and will be evaluated on how they address Connectivity, Beauty, Enjoyment, Accessibility, and Equity in the city. Plus an extra incentive to get involved is that the 10 best entries will receive $500 prizes! And all entries will then being included in an “Atlas of Possibility for the Future of New York” exhibited during the design week in September – bonus.
So all you creative people get involved and share an idea. But make sure your entries are in before July 14th 2011 as that’s when the applications process closes.
So I’m back from Hong Kong nursing about 130 mosquito bites, but luckily a lack of sunburn – there are some upsides! In between the usual tourist based things I managed to wander the streets in and around Midlevels for an hour or two with the aim of spotting a few pieces of street art. Here are a few of the photos that interested me for one reason or another. Enjoy…
One thing I love about street art is the interaction between an artist and the environment, re-thinking spaces and re-appropriating objects, to produce art in its rawest form. In 2009 I spotted these two fire hydrants, unfortunately they had both been buffed with a new coat of paint when I re-visited them but they were my favourite pieces in Hong Kong and were too good to leave out of this post.
Prowling the streets of East London at night, with the premise that death should be a celebration, Sweet Toof may well be the modern equivalent of Jack the Ripper, or so it may seem. But unlike Jack, Sweet Toof is not out to kill (or so he says)! Like his predecessor, this infamous character may have a penchant for top hats and disguises but rather than a knife, comes equipped with a spray can and roller pole.
As with Jack, Sweet Toof certainly leaves his mark wherever he goes – his trademark pearly white teeth and bubble gums, an ode to death but with a nod of appreciation to classical painting with a distinct Mexican undertone. For Sweet Toof, his work is not a product of a twisted mind but of a creative genius.
This month sees Sweet Toof open his first solo show in New York City at Factory Fresh. Before he flew out to the Big Apple I disturbed his last minute preparations to ask him a few questions…
I have heard you have been planning for a show in New York called ‘Dark Horse’. Can you tell me a little about what it’s about?
The show is a series of oil paintings, with sort of a street influence. And the name Dark Horse comes from the saying – “You’re a bit of a dark horse.” I like the expression, being a dark horse, it’s sort of keeping things under wraps. And sometimes if you’re being a dark horse you might end up surprising yourself and others. You just get your head down and do something a bit different, maybe it’s a bit of the unexpected.
But then also the whole horse thing is about transportation and going out on a painting mission. If you imagine going off on a mission painting, it’s like how to get away really quickly. Plus I’m into the whole Mexican Day of the Dead thing and there are a lot of horseback riders within that – the horse of death transporting the dead. But it’s generally about going on a mission, creating a stampede.
I started researching horses, looking at Muybridge’s photos and the history of horses, how they were used in battles, and the Trojan horse of Troy. Those sorts of elements allowed me to get into it as a sort of subject matter that embedded into the work.
So horses feature heavily in the pieces?
There are a lot of characters on horseback but that’s not the prime thing. It’s more about the getaway. You know, the modern day horse is the bicycle, so when you go out painting you would have your bike and your roller pole. And then it’s quite menacing, police use horses to almost intimidate people. It’s to create an atmosphere. But I’ve also used the experiences of painting outdoors, doing missions and the things that happen. And then I looked at art history and old master paintings and it sort of goes from there really.
Has New York as a city impacted upon the work at all?
It’s the skyline, the nitty-gritty nature, the lighting and the atmosphere. I’ve been once before and I’m really into the rooftops, the architecture of the buildings and those traditional water towers. I remember going across Williamsburg Bridge with a friend in his little old meter maid’s car, I looked at the whole skyline and I just found it really inspiring seeing all the lights. It’s pretty mad. Within the paintings I’ve got some little cityscapes and some water towers appear. And then there’s the whole idea of leaning over and doing reaches and stuff.
Obviously New York played a key role in the graffiti revolution but did the city and its early subway graffiti influence you too?
Massively. Subway Art and the classic documentaries; Beat Street, Wild Style, Style Wars. Most of the kids in England were really hit by that. But it was almost like once you had seen it you were cursed by it. Some of my friends managed to get away from it but I just became really addicted.
I love that whole thing of the subway trains moving through the city, just the noise of it and the atmosphere, the history of paint layers on top of paint layers, the buff, just everything. The aesthetics of it all seemed amazing. And then the mystery of all the names. We used to get up and write our names before becoming more character-based. Then I sort of came up with what I do now.
Would you note any of those early train writers in particular as highly influential for you and your friends?
I used to spend hours looking at Dondi’s whole cars in Subway Art. But also Seen, Lee, Mitch, Comet, Butch, and all the other people whose pieces you would see and be blown away by.
But really, it was just the things you got to see. Like a little cutting in a magazine, or maybe something on the telly. Back then we didn’t have the internet or any glossy magazines. It was little black and white photocopy stuff you had, or a battered up copy of Subway Art that would be tagged up and bombed.
But nowadays you can see anything at the click of a button, everything’s there. Maybe that’s helped the development of graffiti and styles, but I just loved the whole rawness when we started in the beginning, the freshness and all the break dancing and body popping, the whole energy of it all. And a lot of that energy came from New York. It wasn’t just through the art, but through all the dancing and Hip Hop music as that was obviously imported. I really fed on that energy and it came through in my painting.
Within your work, death plays a prominent role. And as you have already mentioned you are influenced by the Mexican Day of the Dead. Can you explain why death is so important to you?
When I was about 18 or 19 I experienced a lot of death in my life. I was from a small town and within a year about 10 or 11 people died in different ways. That sort of freaked me out but it was also sort of my first introduction to death.
It was friends drowning in fishing boats, car crashes, falling out of a window, burning alive in a fire, flying off a motorbike. It was a year of everyone dying who was the same age as me. It was just really freaky, especially when I looked at my school photographs and realised that half the people had gone. Death just became really familiar.
Plus I’m influenced by the Mexican Day of the Dead. They really celebrate it, and I think death should be celebrated, I wouldn’t want people to be all doom and gloom. The idea is quite fascinating as it’s all about the unknown.
That’s a pretty harrowing upbringing. No wonder you paint a lot of skeletons and teeth.
There is also the anatomy thing – that our skin is built over a framework underneath. All through art school one of the first things you look at is the structure of skeletons. I remember doing an essay on death and mortality in painting which led me onto Vanitas painting by all the Spanish masters, the symbology of the skull, and then different objects within painting, like daisies. You know, like the expression “pushing daisies.” Then little daisies started appearing in my paintings. It’s all generally about the symbology of objects, but I suppose that’s different to some of my street stuff.
On the subject of the street, you have become infamous for your teeth, hence the name. Can you explain a little about the pearly whites and bubble gums?
When you die your teeth are left. Not that I have killed anyone, but when someone finds a body that they can’t identify they will use dental records. So it’s almost like a little clue, it’s a bit fascinating.
But the whole teeth thing came from when I did letterforms. I used to put teeth within my letters, like within S’s. It’s a bit like Seen where he used eyes in his pieces. That was sort of the beginning. Plus you get those little candy sweets and I thought I would start doing those. Its just 3 colours and it came from there really.
Everywhere you go you see teeth. There won’t be a day that goes by without you seeing someone’s teeth. Maybe they won’t have any, maybe they will just have one, and some may be pretty mashed up. They are sexy, they’re aggressive, they are all sorts of things.
Do you think this content impacts on your style and your use of a range of mediums – linocuts, woodcuts, oil on canvas, screenprints and sculptural work?
I just think it’s like anything really. I love painting on the streets and I love doing a canvas. A canvas is just a portable surface, it’s light and you can carry it around with you. From painting, the obvious step is printmaking, like etching where you can get high contrasts. And when you look at different artists, you know, like Picasso, they always worked in painting, printmaking and sculptural work.
But ideas bounce between each different method. Sometimes I may do a painting and from that painting I will make a print, and from that print I may bounce back into a different painting. Or I may find myself doing some printmaking where I end up rubbing the ink away with a rag and that then may translate into an oil painting where I start rubbing around the paint. It’s like a visual language. When you do these different processes and different approaches to making stuff you create this language of image making and composition. So its feeds into each other, it all interlinks.
We have talked about your work indoors, but how do you approach painting on the street?
I quite like going out and not knowing things and just being spontaneous, and a lot of my work is done on the spot. Although I’ve done some walls recently with a friend, we planned things out a bit more and that’s nice. You sort of just look at the wall and see the maximum you can get out of it.
When I plan a wall, sometimes I will take photos and go away with an idea. But that idea may change to something else, so it’s always a little unpredictable. And even after it’s done you may think “Fuck I could have done this or done that in a different way.”
I heard that you left Burning Candy last year, but you mentioned that recently you have been working a bit with a friend. Do you prefer to work alone or in collaboration with someone else?
Yeah, I decided to leave last year, it just seemed right. And recently I have been working with [Paul] Insect, doing a few reaches. I like both – working on my own and going out with a friend. I used to love going out on my own and sometimes it’s safer I think, as you’re not looking out for someone else. But then again, sometimes it’s more risky as there is no one looking out for you. It depends, but obviously you just need someone that’s close and you can depend on and work well with. I like a bit of both really.
It’s been really great working in collaboration with people, but I think it’s equally as important to stand on your own two feet. I’ve been on loads of missions on my own and sometimes you just think “What are you doing?”, but I seem to feel more alert, I hear more, but may be a little bit more paranoid. And then funny things tend to happen to me when I’m on my own, like the time I thought someone threw a brick at me while I was doing a piece alongside a canal at night… it turned out to just be a big fish!
When you are out painting on the street you seem to use both a spray can and a roller pole, but which is your favourite?
I think maybe the roller pole, just because of the height you can get with it. And also, with a bucket of paint you have so much more coverage. It’s drawing on a large scale and it’s like trying to draw something with a mop. The control element is slightly different. With a spray can you can actually cut back and work into it, but with a roller pole I like the speed, and while it’s messier I think that’s probably why I like it. It feels more powerful in a way. Then again, with a spray can you can get fades and things you can’t get with a roller pole.
Do you ever feel the urge to go back to your roots and just go tagging for a night?
All the time. Although I do what I do, you see other stuff and you think “Oh I’d like to do that.” But I think you always return to your roots and you never forget your roots. I think that goes for style too and even the way styles progress, through the influence of New York and then the electro scene, old letterforms or maybe the stuff you saw on TV.
How do you feel your street work impacts on the city and public space? Is it about reclaiming space from the advertisers?
I’m not sure it’s really reclaiming space as I think that space can be anyone’s. You are forced to look at all sorts of advertising and that’s accepted. And if you have lots of money can put up whatever you want. Although if you go out there and do it off your own back, put stuff up, then it’s seen as vandalism, but that’s an argument people have had for years.
For me it’s more about making a head turn when people walk along. Making them ask, “Who’s done that and why have they done it?” Sometimes you don’t even know yourself and you go into a sort of trance but its nice to make people have a little chuckle, and some may start asking, “How have they done that, what were they thinking or what are they doing now?”
I suppose when I started I was a little more mindless and just put things anywhere, but then you get to the stage when you actually start looking at something. You think about the architecture, the space and the different parts of the space. I worked with Insect recently on a piece and brought animation into it. We started to think about how to use the space and how to max out the space, to do different things with the space.
That’s refreshing to hear as often an artist will never consider the space where their work is displayed. But, what is the piece you are most proud of?
I’m not particularly proud of any piece. I tend to look at them all and cringe and think “What am I doing?” I suppose I like things you can’t believe you got away with. You cannot be too precious with it because its outdoors and people may go over it, you need to let go. I think that also keeps the drive going though. If it was the perfect piece, something “Wow”, I think my vibe would be gone and I would just think that I have done it all.
So you’re always striving to better yourself?
There is always that hope that the next piece will be better than the piece you have just done. You have to keep the drive going. There are times when you think “What was I doing?” but that just adds to the drive to improve and the need to keep putting pieces on the street.
What do you think the future is for Sweet Toof?
To me painting is almost like a medicine – you have to keep it going outdoors in order to be able to work indoors. And as such I think what I have experienced from painting outdoors creeps into my paintings. I suppose I feel that I wouldn’t be able to make that work without going through the process of working on the street. Maybe there will be a time when I can retire, and just end up painting some watercolours and that will be it. But I think I will always end up doing cheeky little pieces outdoors.
So we can hope to see you collecting your pension holding a spray can when your 70 years old?
Ha ha yeah, going out tagging. It’s mad though, I’ve said it once before to someone that you become like a “Graffaholic”, you try and give up, and you try and do things the right way but there’s always that temptation. But there are times when the risks aren’t worth it when you have all this stuff going for you and you could lose it all. I suppose that does keep you on your toes.
Anyway, the future… perhaps I could just be really cheesy and say “I hope to take a big bite out of the Big Apple!” Ha ha, that’s the future!
Dark Horse opens at Factory Fresh on Friday, April 29th at 7pm and runs until May 22nd.
I feel I’ve gone rather Skewville crazy recently since Ad landed in London about 3 weeks ago. But personally I believe this is justified, as amongst the increasing flood of street art, the twins are still producing work that is not only unique but is constantly evolving, adapting and pushing boundaries.
Before his show at High Roller Society, Butterfly caught up with Ad, sat him down in front of some rather hot gallery lights and grilled him about his art. The video she has produced is great and well worth watching!
Skewville’s first solo show in London, entitled Slow Your Roll, opened at High Roller Society on Friday 18th March. Setting out to reclaim the gallery in much the same way as the streets, the show is not only an exhibition of Skewville’s unique style, but is a fantastic experience and example of what can be achieved when street art meets a gallery setting. This is certainly my favourite show High Roller have hosted and is one that should certainly not be missed. Here are some pictures of the opening night…
In the beginning, at a time when rebellion was in the air, graffiti was a call to arms. The late 60s and 70s saw disenfranchised youths, first of Philadelphia and then New York, take to the streets equipped with marker pen and spray can. Seeking to re-claim their city, in much the same way as the Situationists and their revolutionary politics in Europe, these youths not only challenged the geographies of our urban settlements but also influenced generations of writers, artists, photographers and today’s new breed of urban creatives.
Whilst the 1970s style wars on New York’s subways saw the evolution from tag, to dub and finally to end to end burners, the 1990s saw a new change, the evolution into what can be best described as street art. Influenced by the New York subway writers and early street art pioneers such as Fekner, Haring, Hambleton and Holzer, a new wave of artists led by Shepard Fairey, Barry McGee and Blek le Rat revolutionised the way art was produced and displayed to the public on the street. But before I get into any arguments about definitions, graff, street art or the hideously named ‘urban art’ – to me, street art marks a shift from letter to logo and into new forms of artistic expression; stickers, stencils, paste-ups and installations all sitting alongside their traditional graffiti counterparts feeding off the same anarchic roots.
This shift towards new means of expression was an important milestone as it was not the only change taking place in our cities, for the 1990s also saw the increased privatisation of our public spaces – perhaps shifts and changes that actually went hand in hand. With the aim of regenerating our city centres to draw back shoppers from the badly designed out of town shopping centres, authorities up and down the UK formulated new rules and regulations dominated by all seeing CCTV.
Now managed to exclude illicit traders, skateboarders, Big Issue sellers, tramps, beggars and vandals with spray cans, our city centres took on Disneyland style characteristics. They became spaces for just the middle classed shopper and the dazzling lights of advertisement. But as I said, this shift in city design almost went hand in hand with the evolution of graff into new forms of street art expression. It was almost as if city management promoted this new form of art on the streets.
Over the last decade, whist out cities have becomes increasingly privatised and commodified, street art has grown. A hybrid of anarchy, avant-garde practises and the undertones of subculture disorder, street art aims to restructure out cities away from the visual inundation of advertising and image juggernauts like Starbucks and McDonald’s. As Tristan Manco once stated, street art is “in flux between established ideas and new directions.”
However over the last few years, I suppose thanks to a certain stencil artist, amongst others, street art is becoming accepted (to an extent) – Although it must be noted that I say this statement very lightly. Nevertheless, we have seen an increasing number of shop and property owners embracing this raw cultural art form, a far cry from its roots in NYC where Mayor Lindsay claimed it to be vandalistic scrawling committed by kids with mental health problems. And there lies my question, has street art lost its way?
It’s a topic that I have been thinking about for a while, and only last month Burning Candy took out a massive wall in Bristol after getting permission from the building owner, and so it seemed the perfect time to consider the issue and write this piece. Does the increasing legalisation of many pieces of street art remove all their underlying anarchic, rebellious meaning?
The BC wall in Bristol actually provides a good topic of conversation simply because of its content. For one, it is well known about the BC members respect and passion for the roots of graff but more importantly, it is their understanding of each other and of the city. Their work always remains free-form, context sensitive and maintains its rapid reaction to what they see. While the work may be ‘legal’ it is certainly not compromising their unique identity.
To some, BC may not be to their taste, and others may make comparisons to other well-known crews or high profile street artists, but comparisons suck as no one ever agrees. However what can be argued to a conclusion is that this piece by BC is self-expression in its rawest form no matter how you look at it. It is ultimately the end product of a group of artists stamping their own identity on the city.
And you would imagine that the local council are not massive fans as it certainly does not fit into the traditional regeneration policies aimed as creating uniform, safe, clean spaces. BC’s legal wall for the Whitecross Street Party in 2010, for example, was definitely not loved by the Islington Graff Squad, and it was painted over as early as possible the morning after the festival finished!
So back to the main question – has the legality involved in street art removed its historical roots? Is there a time when street art can no longer be considered street? Has the new BC wall lost all meaning because it is legal?
The short answer is no, and certainly not the case with regard to BC. Whilst BC did gain permission for the wall, they have set out to re-appropriate the space in their own way, taking a fresh look at the city and re-personalising it, in a similar way to the Situationists and their quest to adapt their own city spaces. In fact, it could be said that their intervention almost becomes open source urban design or perhaps DIY design – but that’s a whole new topic for debate.
To me, street art makes you think or re-think. It makes you smile as you walk past, or makes you stop and stare, or it makes you completely re-think a space or even a city. Street art takes its visual queues from graffiti and the inundation of advertising, and takes its anarchic feel from the revolutionary politics coined by The Situationists, Dada, CoBRA, The Letterist International, and from the overarching increasing privatisation of our public spaces. As such, street art, whether it is ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ re-appropriates pristine lifeless city spaces and consequently, as with 1970s NYC subway graffiti, must still be considered two fingers up to the powers that be!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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