CTK Reunion in Amsterdam!

At the end of January this year, I got an e-mail from Shoe (Niels Meulman) about an ARTE Creative documentary that was being made, which wanted to tell the tale of how the style-writing culture travelled from New York City to Europe, in the beginning of the eighties. He explained to me that the two guys doing it, René Kaestner and Lars Pedersen, who are also known for their I Love Graffiti blog, wanted to be able to interview Bando, myself and him in Amsterdam, and have us also painting a wall for the occasion; so yeah, it sounded good to me, and I was down from the start.

We both got talking to Bando, and tried to work out when would be the best moment between the three of us, and the filming schedule of René and Lars. We finally agreed that the middle of June would be optimal, and made our travel arrangements accordingly. Bando, Shoe and I threw around a couple of different ideas for what we could paint, but in the end we went for the essentials; baby-blue background and silver letters, like the SENSHOEDEEN piece the two of them did with Colt, in Paris, early ’86…

 

 

In the meantime, I got talking some more with René and Lars, wanting to know if they had included the UK in the documentary; but it seemed like they had no connections. They had already a fair amount of experience in moving image, operating under the name Red Tower Films; so I thought I’d find out how adaptable they can be.

Given the time when I started out in London, and the names of those who I remember as already existing back then, I thought that they had to try and get over to the UK; so  I hooked them up with Pride, hoping that he could get Zaki on board, as they both started before me. There were other names too though, like Snake, Can Man, who had painted the hoardings in Covent Garden in 1984 even before Scribla and myself did; and they had more skills than I did, for sure. It was through an old friend from those days called Ariane that I managed to put René and Lars in touch with Snake; and he might also be helping out with photos, as he has an extensive archive of his own shots from those early days of the Covent Garden scene.

The other writer who had to get a mention was, of course, 3D from Massive Attack. I had always wanted to know how the hell graffiti ended up in Bristol, because I liked the dude’s letters and his Wild Bunch flyers from the mid-eighties. He also had some paintings in the windows of some agency in Soho, back in ’84, and those also represented a level to aim for. I see myself as being indebted to those who came before me and inspired me, while also seeing it as my duty to transmit the culture to those who came after me in as open and free a format as when I started out; though of course the New York City roots will always represent the foundation of all that came after. There’s no escaping this.

So I got in touch with Steve Lazarides, Bristolian born and bred, and close friend of mine since that time he came over to Paris in February 2002 for a Banksy show at Surface 2 Air, when those guys were based on Rue de l’Arbre Sec. He got 3D to e-mail me, and we got the ball rolling from there. 3D’s manager fixed a date for the film crew to go down to Bristol and interview him on home turf, and we now had an added element to the documentary that would reach a much wider audience; as opposed to being a “writers only” format. So we had some key elements of the beginnings in the UK sorted out, and I was glad I managed to make this happen; not for my own sake, but because the story itself must be told; and I must thank those who agreed to give their time for it. I wanted to get Goldie on board as well, but he’s too busy touring with his Journeyman project since a while. As for how 3D got into it, you’ll have to wait for the documentary to find out…

I found it a little odd that there wasn’t that much done about Paris either, as it truly was the crossroads of Europe in the mid-eighties; but René and Lars explained that there will be another episode in the future, where other countries with early scenes will get their coverage as well. It is difficult for me to imagine the mid-eighties without the likes of Jay, Ash, Skki, or Lokiss… Italy also doesn’t appear this time around, so let’s hope we see what legacy was left by the Arte Di Frontiera event in 1984. I would also guess that Paris does get a mention of sorts, given that it is where Bando, Shoe and I met in July 1985…

Anyway… time slipped by, and soon enough, I found myself on a six and a half hour train-ride to Amsterdam; trying to minimise flying as much as I can, and enjoying the changing landscape, the people getting on and off along the journey, and sketching away or catching up with some reading; namely Le Monde Diplomatique. I arrived in Amsterdam Centraal at 5pm on June 14th, and grabbed the ferry to NDSM Wharf, where Bando and I were booked in at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, along with René and Lars, who were catching the setting sun with their camera-man Aris, as I rolled up with my luggage.

 

 

Bando and I had adjoining rooms on the eighth floor, but he was still stuck in a stop-over in Frankfurt; having arrived there from the Dominican Republic that morning. The view was nice from up there, if you could make it out through the security grill on the windows. I guess there are fewer and fewer hotels wishing to take any risks on how mankind has regressed to the levels (depths?) of stupidity that we have to deal with today…

 

 

Though Shoe had caught a cold on the flight back from Greece (which reminded me of Miss Van’s flight from Barcelona to Hamburg a few weeks earlier), compounded by hay-fever, he did show up a little after I myself checked in, and we got talking a bit about how we would juggle with outdoor filming and the interviews, along with what the weather report had in store for us. That didn’t go on too long though, because we instead went off on a wide range of graffiti-related subjects, and about the filming they did in New York and in the UK, until the sun went down, it got cold, the mosquitoes came out; and I was getting really hungry.

Aris had gone to check up on his equipment or something, and we moved indoors and sat at a table, and carried on talking, while Lars went to explain the reason for our moving in to the guy at the bar. Bando finally showed up, acting as usual as if we’d only parted ways the day before; when Shoe and I in fact had not seen him since our one night only group show in Amsterdam on June 27th 2014!

 

 

Once again, the conversation drifted from the planning for the next days, to a whole range of other topics from the near or distant past; but we were so much into it that we didn’t check that the waiter had misunderstood that we wanted to eat, then found out that the kitchen was closed… The take-away and delivery options that came up on iamsterdam looked SO grim (the website now seems defunct!) that Bando and I, the only ones who hadn’t yet eaten, opted instead to make do with the Walnusswecke and Studentenfutter that I had packed in my luggage for the trip. It’s actually quite incredible that such a cosmopolitan city as Amsterdam has so few options for decent food after 10pm. Breakfast would be our next meal then…

 

 

After the long-awaited breakfast the next morning, Bando and I got our stuff together, as did our hosts, and we walked with Lars over to Shoe’s Unruly studio, with Aris filming us along the way, after fixing me up with a mic; while René drove their people-carrier slowly alongside us. We have no idea what will eventually get used, but they have a hell of an editing job on their hands in August!

We got to see the wall that we were going to paint, along the way, which helped in giving us ideas of where we could go with our sketches…

 

 

When we got to the Unruly studios, Shoe was still feeling knocked out from his cold; so he sorted us out with paper to sketch on, and went for another nap, while Aris set up. We got into some sketching, before Bando was first up to be interviewed; so René put the questions to him, while Lars hung in the background to take some shots with an iPhone. They usually roll with an extra photographer, but he had another engagement somewhere; but it all went fine, and I took some shots of my own.

 


 

When Bando’s interview was done, and Shoe was back with us, we went down for lunch to a spot nearby that shall remain nameless; as much for security reasons as for the straight out of the freezer crap that they sold as food. We were obviously not having much luck with eating up until then, and Shoe remembered a little too late why he never went to this place…

After “lunch”, we did my interview, which I obviously could not take any photos of, before we called it a day, and retreated back to the hotel. We freshened up, while Aris backed up all the day’s footage; after which René and Lars planned to try and help us all forget lunch (and the fact that Bando and I missed out on dinner the night before!), by making a dash for Pllek, less than a five-minute walk from the hotel.

Though it was looking pretty busy, there was a waitress who actually knew her job, and sorted us out with a table which was probably not the best place, right next to the stairs; but given how crowded the place was, “beggars cannot be choosers”. So we finally sat down and could talk about the day’s work, and have another think about the next. As luck would have it, we had a lot of time to talk, because the food took ages to come. That said, when our patience was beginning to wear dangerously thin, the dishes finally came out; though René had gone outside for a smoke by that point…

 




 

It felt so good to be actually eating something so far away from what we had experienced up until then; so peace returned to our table, and the conversation flowed freely, on into the late evening. We then walked back to the hotel, and sat in front of the projected fireplace, chatting over a last digestif (I opted for an alcohol-free beer), while I did a couple of sketches for René and Lars, before we called it a night…

 


 

We started off with Shoe’s interview, the next morning, when we got to his studio. We had already seen the paint that was in the back of the people carrier, and had our sketches sorted out from the day before. The reason why I am not posting these is that there will probably be a limited edition print made from them, so you’ll have to make do with what you see on the finished wall. One thing I must say about the interviews I had heard, was to be able to find out more about friends I have known since 1985. Back then we were just too young and caught up in doing our thing, in order to stop and ask ourselves any introspective questions about when we started out, or what scene existed already back then in our respective cities. I was especially curious to find out more about Shoe’s links with Dondi, and Bando’s trips to Amsterdam, after Pride and I had last painted with him in Paris, September 1985. Mutations in his and Shoe’s style really sped up around that time, leading to the letters that he had developed by 1986; the ones that really caught on all over Europe…

 

 

Once the interview was done, we headed over to the wall, allowed for Aris to set up, while Shoe and Lars (or was it René?) went off to get a scaffolding tower from the Neef Louis antiques warehouse, who are the owners of the wall. There is a small waterway that runs along the wall, and they had placed beams to span this gap, and screwed plywood boards onto them, so that we had something to stand on. The structure could take our collective weight, along with the equipment, so our only worries were what to paint on the surface that Shoe and his assistant Jerry had primed using a compressor a few days prior.

In order to make filming easier for Aris, we were going to start in turns, with Bando going first. Since Shoe had contacted him about this project, he had been going on and on about being rusty and so on, being fully (and literally) immersed in his cave-diving projects; but all that “stage-fright” was over within minutes, once he had a can in his hand; and the whole process kicked into gear.

 



 

Shoe had paced the wall out into our three sections, then had to go and sort something out, while Jerry went to get some snacks and drinks. I therefore had to leave him the space in the middle; trying to allow him as much room as I can, even when I didn’t quite know how squeezed my own one-liner piece would be. With regards to complexity and legibility, I took the long road on this, but I thought that our very different styles complemented themselves well enough. Yes, there’s always a sense of competition somewhere, but it’s more to do with competing against oneself, in order to be able to contribute as best as one can to the whole group wall. Soon enough, there was no time for me to take any more photos, as I knew that my piece would take the longest; so I just got on with it…

 


 

It cannot be said enough, but, had it not been for Shoe and the Calligraffiti that he set into motion, there would not have been such a resurgence of lettering in the wider field of “urban art”, which has seen a lot more figurative work this last decade or more, as well as the arrival of artists with an academic background. Calligraffiti has got a lot of youngsters who are maybe not so good in figurative representation to be able to have their voices on the street, complementing the tags that are already there and reigniting the pursuit of style where it had been on the wane. As far as our immediate situation went though, it was simply good to have Shoe around to drop his brush-strokes here and there on the wall; bringing it all together, and keeping it strictly lettering. Bando and him had been trading the appropriate slogans throughout the day.

As we neared the end of the painting, Delta showed up, and it was nice to have another crew member around, as these little reunions are few and far between. The sun had come out before we started taking photos, and a group of youngsters turned up, having checked what was going on, and actually having a clue who these older dudes painting were…

 



 

So we took all the shots we needed, packed up all the equipment, then Bando, Shoe, Delta and I went over to have a chat with the guys at the antiques warehouse, which is actually quite a treasure-trove, besides being the place where Shoe found that “thing” with which women used to beat the dust out of the house-rugs.

We then had to move quick, to see what the film-crew needed to pick up at Shoe’s studio, before leaving Delta and Shoe and heading back to the hotel. Strange how things go, as we grow older and have our own projects, priorities, and family-commitments to take care of; that we don’t see the time going by with old friends, or the geographical space that separates us; until we meet at moments such as these, or like when I hung out with Shoe in Los Angeles for Art In The Streets at the MoCA in 2011. The reason I mention this is that Delta pointed out that he himself had in all this time not passed through the Unruly Studios. Go figure…

The restaurant where we were going to eat was near to Shoe’s studio, and Bando and I had stayed in the adjoining guest-house, back in 2014. I think that René and Lars were determined to end the stay on a high note, with regards to how food had been so far. However, before we were going to dinner, we went to visit the Street Art Museum Amsterdam, where we were given a private tour by its curator, Peter Ernst Coolen.  We all met up outside of our hotel (Shoe and Delta having coming over on their bikes), and went on to have a look at a vast space (you can see on the link), with lots of huge paintings hanging everywhere; many being from Latin or South American artists,  some from Eastern European or Russian maybe, but a LOT of figurative or photorealistic imagery that just felt a world away from our own universe.

René and Lars had initially planned for us to paint there, but Shoe suggested, and rightly so, that we were not comfortable being associated with any cultural structure that wasn’t our own; but Peter came to the wall to watch us paint, and we graciously took up his invitation to have a look at what he had been working on, and hear his story.

Writing is what brought Bando, Delta, Shoe and I (as well as Lars and René!) to the place where we were standing at that place and time; and writing is basically what mainly interests me in the street. It is based on A-B-C-D, and therefore gives access to anybody who can write, regardless of any art education; and all you need is some form of marking implement that is either improvised, stolen, or eventually bought; but it was traditionally stolen.

What you also needed of course was the drive and the nerve to want to write your new-found name wherever you went, applying whatever style you wished to it; though generations of New York City writers had churned countless possibilities around, and a slew of different styles became the common foundation for all tags and throw-ups. Innovating and finding new variations with as much swing and flavour was the challenge set to future generations; but it is only by continuous research into the past that you may just find that your own innovation had been done by some near-anonymous writer years before; somebody who didn’t make it to Subway Art, Spraycan Art, or any of the books that came out these last years.

It’s a case of live and let live on the urban art scene for me; but I don’t want to hear anybody talking or writing stuff as if to say that what is happening today would have happened anyway. It is writing that made generations of youngsters want to put their names as high up on buildings as they could, as far down in the tunnels or on the bridges, in building hallways or on pavement level store shutters, bollards, fire-hydrants, post-boxes and so on; and all over the inside and outside of public transport rolling stock.

The artistic relationship that the youth of today have with the architecture and urbanism that surrounds them would never have developed to such a depth, had it not been for writing. So let’s give credit and respect where it is due, and put all of today’s happenings into their proper historical and cultural context.

So we evidently turned down the offer to be part of the museum (I think it was I who had to diplomatically break down it to Peter), as it would dilute our work, to some extent, by mixing it up with unrelated art-forms, and artists who have no idea from where what they are doing actually came from. There are other eventual exhibition spaces and events better suited to our culture which have not even been thought of yet, because we had too many bullshit jams and bullshit fanzines in the mid to late nineties to muddy the waters.

Anyway… With that behind us, it was off to the Cafe Modern, where Shoe had booked a table for us, and Peter would be joining us a little later. It was way easier to get there by bike, because of roadworks that were sending us into a long one-way diversion; but we eventually got there, to find Shoe and Delta already chilling at the large round table near the main entrance. Delta got busy with René or Lars’ book, while Shoe wandered off after a bit to check the place out. He pointed out that Cafe Modern had changed since he was last there, and was rather irritated, wondering if this meant the end of a dining experience that he had always enjoyed, along with the hospitality that was habitually afforded to him; namely a table and a glass of chilled white wine when he would walk in. That said, the four of us CTK guys were just happy to hang, while we traded stories with the film crew, and later talked at length about different graffiti-related issues of today and yesteryear.

 


 

To Shoe’s relief, familiar faces that he knew from the restaurant finally showed up from the kitchen, and things started to roll right… well; almost right, for me. I had stopped drinking alcohol since January 2016, and I tend to dread that moment when I have to ask what alcohol-free beers are available. Jever Fun is absolutely NO fun whatsoever; so I knew what was in store for me beverage-wise for the evening. The others had no such issues to worry about drinks-wise, as the snacks and then the dishes started showing up;

 





 

I guess that the food alone at Cafe Modern made up for our first night (when we didn’t eat), our first lunch (like, what was THAT?!), and the long wait at Pllek the previous evening. It was incredible to think that so much had gone on in such little time, but the filming was over, the interviews done, and René, Lars and Aris could finally relax just a little.

Given the fact that Peter Ernst Coolen was also with us, the conversation had wandered to what Urban Nation, another “urban art museum”, was doing to Berlin; pretending to be supporting “street art”, when in fact it had hardly any contact with any Berlin artists or activists from the scene. I mentioned how it was also a pity that Carlo McCormick and Martha Cooper had also been taken on board by this rather dubious organisation, giving it a sense of credibility, while the international artists they invited to paint added another layer of legitimacy to what amounted to cultural Neo-colonialism in my book. I know, I’m a little opinionated, but I can’t let fraud slip in front of my eyes like that. It’s a pity that we stopped vetting “outsiders” to our culture when they would show up on the scene, like we used to back in the days; whether they were journalists, curators, collectors, or whatever.

We moved on to wondering about the next day, and finally left the restaurant, at which point Delta and Peter made their way off home, and Shoe stayed behind to find out what changes had been going on at Cafe Modern since he had last been there. The rest of us went back to the hotel, and planned to meet at breakfast, as they were all leaving the next day, apart from me.

René and Lars had wanted to paint, having finally got all they needed done on this trip, so I found out that they had already been out in the morning, using the remaining silver across a couple of the containers outside the Street Art Museum next to the hotel. Lars was still waiting for some friends from Melbourne to show up, before they would paint along the side of the “museum” building.

It was time to say goodbye to Bando however, though it seemed pretty much certain that we would come back again in 2018, probably with Delta joining us, and have fun painting together once again. René and Aris were off to the jam in Eindhoven, and Lars’ flight would be in the early evening.

 

 

I went back to the my hotel-room, and waited on Shoe to give me a shout, as I had assumed that he would have had a late one at Cafe Modern. Well… he forgot that we were supposed to meet and go to the art store, because when I eventually called, I found out that he had gone and got stretcher-frames for the two paintings that had been drying on the floor of his studio, while we were doing the interviews.

So I walked back over to Unruly, as I also had to pick up some art materials I had brought over, in case we were going to make some works on paper for the on-line gallery. The filming schedule had dictated otherwise though. I took some photos along the way, and checked up on our finished piece as well.

 




 

Getting to Shoe’s studio, I found him stretching those two paintings, and we planned to go to lunch, after dropping the paintings off at Galerie Gabriel Rolt, for a show that was going to open a week or so later. I got all my stuff together, then off we went; first to check out Paul du Bois-Reymond’s show of pencil works on paper at A Juan Project, called All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, then to drop those two paintings off, before looking for somewhere that serves food after 2pm…

 


 

Once again, things were looking pretty grim around the corner from the gallery, but we somehow stumbled upon a place that was looking pretty empty, but they were serving; Fa. Pekelhaaring felt like a Bingo! moment;

 



 

I checked the time, and it then seemed almost impossible that we were going to make it to Peter van Ginkel; the only art-store still open, though we only had about twenty minutes before the 6pm closing. So Shoe was going to give it his best shot…

 

 

Whenever I travel, I like to visit art-stores; the older and more traditional they are, the better. I primarily look for different types of drawing and aquarelle paper that I don’t already have; the material that’s easy to take back home and to the studio. Shoe showed me some of the type of paper that Paul du Bois-Reymond uses, though I didn’t find some of the rougher and heavier ones that I had seen at his show a little earlier. We had only got there about seven minutes before closing, so I was rushing up and down the aisle where the shelves carrying the paper are, and I had to make quick decisions. I eventually walked out with fifteen sheets of paper the richer and € 104,18 poorer!

I gave Delta a call, as we finally sat back in Shoe’s car, and he told us that he was still working, doing some graphics in the stairwell of a new office development a little way away from the art store. I had felt pretty bad for missing Delta’s A Friendly Takeover show in Brussels, as I had family-commitments that I simply could not walk away from in time to catch his show.

Though I met Delta a little later than Bando and Shoe, I had ended up hanging out a lot more with him in the 1990s, and the huge difference in everything that we’re about made for a lot of complementarity as well. He was the one who suggested to me that I should try using pastels, so a great deal of my indoor work in the last twenty years has been influenced by that little suggestion alone. So yeah; there was enough time to catch him, and Shoe was also up for driving out there…

 



 

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon outside, but super warm in the stairwell; and Delta and his assistant had to get this all finished before the offices opened again the following Monday. They had the skylight open, through which you could feel the hot escaping from the space below.

Shoe and I also checked out the terrace, from which there was a lovely view on the canal below, and people enjoying the early summer. I won’t go too deep into my thoughts about the eventual rising of sea-levels, due to the climatic changes that our planet is going through; but these beautiful moments in our busy lives must be cherished for all that they have to offer. Enjoy them while they last…

 



 

It was time to call it a day, to say goodbye to Delta, his assistant, and for Shoe and me to go back into the city, driving back past the Citroën 2cv specialist’s collection we saw on our way in, then through what had seemed like a park with lots of trees on either side. I had asked Shoe on the way there where would be the oldest and least touched part of Dutch countryside to be found; as it is a small country, and the proximity of everything doesn’t seem to allow for wilderness. He mentioned something about a national park, which I think must mean the Veluwe. There’s apparently also a museum there that is worth a visit. I would like to check it all out one day, maybe on the next trip that we had promised to each other, to paint again with Bando and Delta; and why not get a couple more of the Dutch CTK contingent on board?

 

 

Niels dropped me back off at the DoubleTree hotel, after what felt like a full day, and I guess I am only thanking him right now.

The evening meal at Brooklyn, the hotel restaurant, was really nothing to write home about; supposedly a truffle gnocchi that was nowhere near hitting the mark. I guess that our afternoon lunch and the night before at Cafe Modern would anyway never have been topped. I let the waiter know about the blandness of the meal, for which he thanked me, so that he could pass on my feedback to whoever would actually do something to improve on what got served. That wouldn’t be too hard to do, should they actually bother.

I checked out of the hotel the next day, went to the where the ferry docked, and realised that the next one would be in about half an hour. Given the sun and the heat, I went back to chill in the hotel-lobby, until it was time to roll again, grab the ferry back to Amsterdam Centraal, and wave goodbye to what had been some fun days with some old friends, courtesy of René and Lars, along with Aris, the “camera-guy”. They will be editing throughout August, and we should be seeing the end result on ARTE in September. There might even be an event thrown for the launch in Paris.

 

 

Thank you for reading, if you got this far. I don’t do short story-telling much, even if it was just three and a half days in Amsterdam; but I also want to make sure that what really went down is actually written somewhere, before some opportunists start claiming that it went otherwise.

Until next time…

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Three Of A Kind in Hamburg

In early January this year, I got a message from my friend Christoph Tornow in Hamburg, about the idea of doing a show. I hadn’t heard from him in quite a while, after he had stopped with the Vicious Gallery, where I showed in November 2010, and gone back to being the very skilful ophthalmologist that he is.

He, along with his partner Isabella Augstein, had opened a new gallery called Golden Hands, and wanted to have a group show over the summer; choosing Miss Van and Dave Decat alongside myself. As Isabella and Christoph wanted just a few paintings, not too large in size, this was an ideal opportunity to show again in Hamburg. Furthermore, I had not met Miss Van since she had become famous for her very distinctive work; and I was also really interested in meeting Dave Decat; whose illustrations had been chosen by WIP for the Carhartt Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer 2005 campaigns over mine, back in Spring 2004. I was curious to meet the individual behind these idiosyncratic images of characters not seeming to fit in with today’s definitions of supposed “cool”…

 

 

Ever the procrastinating perfectionist, who more often ends up finally throwing caution to the wind and letting movement and spontaneity dictate the execution of what is in my head; I had been asking Christoph about what my co-exhibitors were preparing to show, as I wanted to complement what they were doing, so as to optimise the diversity of work on display. As you may have learned from my Préludes… show in November 2016, I always see the opening of a show like the first night of a theatre-piece, or a live concert, and keep on working right until the very last minute.

I decided on four paintings using pastels, along with white acrylic and binder; two lighter pieces on cotton, and two darker ones on linen. These last two capture the notions of line and movement that are so dear to me, while the first were experiments with lighter and warmer pastel tones against a white background; A Bird In The Hand Is… being another tribute to The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, while Blaming June was a little nudge and wink to Flaming June from Sir Frederic Leighton. As the show was opening on the 8th of June, I found this little play on words appropriate.

 


A Bird In The Hand Is…

 

Blaming June

 

No Time To Talk and Check!

 

As usual, I was the last of the three artists to show up at the gallery, the day before the opening; with my paintings unmounted and all rolled up, and my stretcher bars disassembled and packed together. This allowed me to travel by train from Berlin to Hamburg, then re-stretch all the work on site, while Isabella, Jovanka and Christoph in particular were getting a little nervous watching the guy they had paid to hang the show moving slower than a slug. He first showed up without any of his own tools, expecting the gallery to have everything on hand!

As I stretched my paintings I got to know Vanessa (Miss Van) and Dave up close, and we traded stories and opinions on a wide range of topics that are tied to trying to make a living out of our art, while dealing with the dilemmas of compromise and self-promotion. Of course, we were never going to agree on everything; but it is always good to be able to exchange like this with other artists, in order to work out who is the person behind the images before our eyes, and where we ourselves stand as individuals among all those other people who are also out there trying to make a living from expressing themselves…

 

 

We were taken out to dinner by Christoph, that rather wet Wednesday evening, to a rather crowded little place called Cantina Popular, where the food was really good, despite how noisy the place was with all the people eating and chatting at the neighbouring tables. I explained to Vanessa, Dave and Christoph that the loudness of the chatter also had a lot to do with the music that was coming over the speakers, especially when the instruments (horns mostly) were near the same frequency as voices in conversation…

 

 

It was cold and raining when we went back to the car, offering to share my umbrella with Vanessa, while Christoph and Dave seemed pretty oblivious to the weather. I realised that I should have brought a zipped hoodie or something to wear under my light jacket. Oh well… Vanessa, having arrived on a two-and-a-half hour flight from hot and sunny Barcelona earlier that day, had it worse; and by the time we ended up back at Motel One on Am Michel, where we were staying, we were glad to be in the warmth, and chatted into the small hours.

I had a bit of a walk around the next morning, despite the rain, as my ageing Knirps umbrella kept me dry. I had lunch alone at a spot just up the road from the gallery called Marblau; as I knew that we had an interview planned for 17h00, the opening right after directly after, and will be really hungry by then.

 

 

I showed up at the gallery at 15h30, and helped Isabella out a bit, while also touching up the two lighter paintings with a white that I had made a little too translucent. It kept receding into the cotton when it dried, and looked like it could need a little more punch, under the gallery lights. I was also waiting for my friend Khashayar Naimanan to show up, along with his partner, as they took a last-minute decision to come to the opening.

Dave showed up, and explained to me that Miss Van had come down with a cold; having gone sightseeing under the rain that morning, as she had not been to Hamburg before. Dave himself had gone record-shopping; always remaining true to his roots in the metal that he likes so much.

A little while before 5pm, KP Flügel and Jorinde Reznikoff showed up, to take Dave and myself to FSK Hamburg radio studio, which thankfully was just over the street; a remnant of the old, humble and charming Hamburg architecture that was hidden behind newer developments. As they popped a few questions our way, the time seemed to fly by in there, and I got to know yet more about Dave’s world, while I recounted my own history in an abbreviated form; but we simply did not have that much time to insert more music into the programme, or get to the end of all we wanted to say. Our combined and very different histories would take a lot more time to explain to the audience. You can check the interview here on Golden Hands’ website; but KP and Jorinde also asked me whether or not I would be interested in coming back, before the show ends on September 15th, and do another interview about growing up in London in the early Thatcher years.

When we got back to the gallery, I had only a short moment to change out of my painting clothes, before the public started showing up. I had some quite interesting conversations with a few different people, as the evening went by; keen to talk about what’s behind my work in general (and not about any piece specifically), and dispel some of the myths around who I supposedly am, and what makes me tick. It’s always interesting to hear their own interpretations of my work, and also to compare how the male and female audience view the way I treat eroticism and sensuality in my work; especially so when it comes to those who have been following my work for some years.

 

 

Khashayar had showed up a little earlier, so we spent quite a while talking; as well as with another friend of mine, Kal Touré, who had moved from Paris to Hamburg years before. There were more upmarket-looking people present, as opposed to the usual crowd that we are used to; but this maybe had been how Isabella and Christoph thought that the evening should be, so that the visitors actually had space to step back and contemplate on the work. The alchemy behind the three artists chosen for this show seemed to be working; and I liked how our work really contrasted and complemented one another…

Miss Van did make it over to the opening, and I caught her talking to some of the guests, though she also had a big cup of warm tea to help her along the way. As it always goes with openings, the artists don’t get to see each other much, as they are all engaged in different conversations with other individuals, or groups of people.

 

 

Dave had told me something about wanting to catch a band that was in town that night, and that we’d eventually catch up again later when it was all over. As for Miss Van, that was the last I saw of her on this trip, as I think that she may have called it an early night…

 

 

Having not seen the time fly by, I wanted to know where would we still be able to eat at around 10pm. Luckily for Khashayar and myself, one of the guests called a spot that was near the gallery, and reserved a table for us. We were lucky to catch last orders at the Trattoria Due Enzo & Pasquale on Großneumarkt, before Dave came to join us, really happy that he had made it to the concert, and seen (and also heard of course!) the band that he was anyway going to see again in Brussels the following Monday. Once we were done eating, we walked Khashayar and his partner to their hotel, and then strolled back to our own, as it was also a nice dry night; a real contrast from the day before. Dave, having missed dinner, went off on his own at some point to find a kebab or some other late-night food…

 


 

I woke up the next day, checked out of the hotel, and took all of my belongings with me to the gallery, where I had an interview lined up at 11h00 for a magazine called Gude Zeit; while my friend Kal Toure waited to go to lunch, and Dave showed up in between. The three of us went back to Marblau, as Isabella had left me the keys to the gallery. It was nice to be able to sit back, and have a three-way conversation coming from very different perspectives. Kal went off to a meeting after, while Dave and I walked back to the gallery.

 

 

I had wanted to add yet a little more white to A Bird In The Hand Is… and Blaming June, once lunch was over and done with, because the white had once again receded; so I set about that, using up the time until the taxi would come and take me to the train station. Khashayar dropped by, and took some photos on his phone, while I worked away, until it was finally time for me to go…

 

 

I hope to be able to make it back to Hamburg before the end of the show in September, as I’m really keen on doing that radio interview for FSK Hamburg, and I would like to take photos of the pieces using my tripod; before a couple go off to buyers, and I won’t see them ever again. The following paintings, along with the other pieces, are on view until September 15th…

 


No Time To Talk
h120cm X w80cm
Dry pastel and acrylic on linen

 


Check!
h120cm X w80cm
Dry pastel and acrylic on linen

 


Blaming June
h120cm X w80cm
Dry pastel and acrylic on cotton

 


A Bird In The Hand Is…
h150cm X w110cm
Dry pastel and acrylic on cotton

 

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Misrepresentation; again…

I recently had one of my paintings from the Préludes… show loaned out to the Völklinger Hütte Urban Art! Biennale 2017, for which I was understandably quite happy, though it would not have been my piece of choice.

When Nicola Chenus gave me a copy of the thick catalogue from the event though, I must admit to have been very disappointed with the résumé that was written about me. I guess that most critics, journalists, or ex-writers with an axe to grind, still end up making statements based on their own view of the world around, relying on the confidence that they have in their own sense of perception and objectivity.

However, when it comes to certain genres, they fail to recognise their own limits, and are here in total ignorance of the socio-cultural context that is key to my thinking and my work. Just because a painting is called They Used To Do It In The Clubs does not necessarily mean that, “Today, Mode 2’s work points in the opposite direction (to my futuristic figures of the eighties): retrospection, nostalgia. Firmly figurative work shot through with muted colors takes a hazy look back at a golden age. The days of ”Crime Time” – even if they only ever involved smoking a few joints in a club – have passed.

Since smoking has been banned in many clubs, it also brought about the disappearance of joints, spliffs, or whatever some people call them. This in turn brought about a change in the kind of drugs that people would take when they would go out clubbing; for those who feel as if they need to be out of their heads to have a good time.

Music seems to have gone quite a few steps down in the order of priorities, as far as why people choose to go out; as if going out to a restaurant was not so much about the food, but instead how the place looks, who else is going there, or is it somehow an “in” spot where you will be able to show off to the rest of the audience as you sit at your table.

There is all this talk of people getting turned off of clubbing, but given what is motivating them to go out, it is not surprising that the novelty wears off at some point, and it is these particular factors that I try to touch on with my work; looking forwards as opposed to looking back. There is no point losing any time on nostalgia, as that is all in the past; but there are lessons to be learned from changing times, when we’re trying to redefine a more wholesome future. I guess that the author of the piece does not have a vision or understanding of going out and partying that goes out this far; but that should not give him the right to impose his own narrowness of mind on what he (or she) sees around him (or her). Maybe they should have read what I said about my photos in the piece I wrote about the Préludes… show of November 2016.

When such misrepresentation has become the norm, you find yourself having to run twice as fast and twice as much as what is going on around you in order to somehow repair the damage that they have done to the wider public’s reading and understanding of your work.

Whatever happened to curiosity and an open mind that doesn’t make assumptions based on prejudice? Who knows? Everybody’s an expert these days. This is why it is so important to talk directly to the public, whether on shows, or this blog; even if it seems that very few would would give up the time to read my blogs all the way through; or go on to read the interviews in the links. I may use a lot of words, but I do not say anything for no reason. It’s a complex enough world out there, and it’s not with short sentences that we will make any sense of it all.

I don’t consider myself as having a massive on-line presence, and maybe I should try to post more regularly here, instead of spending time on other social media; but I guess that the only thing I can do to counter the misrepresentation that we have seen with this “Urban Art Biennale”, is to tell my own story, on a platform where the public will eventually come across the truth; as opposed to lazy and biased journalism…

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Préludes… at Galerie Openspace, Paris

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Since the end of summer 2015, I had got talking with Nicolas Chenus, from Galerie Openspace, in Paris, about the eventuality of having a solo show at the new place he and his partner Samantha de Longhi were going to open. After a lot of difficulty deciding which gallery would be best suited to the way I work, and my understanding of the culture, I had decided to roll with them both, as they were younger and closer to the culture than the other main players.

As most of those who have organised exhibitions with me eventually find out, I have never been comfortable with the idea of delivering a full collection of paintings for a show a month (or even two weeks?) in advance. A gallery opening is for me like a live performance that I’m rehearsing for, similar to a concert or a theatre piece, whereby you don’t know what can happen in the weeks and days leading up to that first night, and whatever you have prepared beforehand may need some tweaking. Truth be told, the pieces that I’ve felt most comfortable with, or representative of my way of painting, have been done live, in front of an audience; or else they were done on the last couple of days before a grand opening, like The Bridges Of Graffiti, pavilion that I co-curated with Giorgio de Mitri of Sartoria, for the 55th Venice Biennale in 2015. I enjoy the spontaneity of complete improvisation, vibing off of the atmosphere of that very moment, the energy coming from the place, the music or the people. I wondered if Openspace would go along with my way of working…

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We had a first shot at getting to know each other on Doze Green’s Arclandia Dreamstate show, where Taku Obata and I had the honour of standing at either side of Doze for an amazing collection of paintings that he produced. It was just a shame that the show happened barely a week after the Bataclan attack, with the gallery-space being just a few hundred yards away; so Paris was still somewhat under shock when the show opened. I was only there on the night preceding the opening, dropping off and finishing five works on paper, to complement the three paintings I had contributed. I left by taxi in the early hours of November 21st, to fly to Venice for the finissage of The Bridges Of Graffiti show. Nicolas and his partner Samantha agreed that I would have a solo show at their gallery a year later, November 2016, and I had been thinking on and off about it since then.

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We met again on the 12th of August 2016, when Samantha and Nicolas showed me the scenography of how they thought the space should be filled; the amount of paintings that would fit into each of the four rooms, and the sizes that they thought would work best. I myself had only seen the space when Doze had been using it as a studio, so I chose to put my trust in the knowledge they have of the whole place that they had invested so much in. They had already done a series of shows in there, so they had more first-hand experience than me on how the rooms work from one to the next, and how the visitor would walk through.

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By mid-September, I had decided on the title of the show, Préludes…, through which I wanted to explore these special moments that precede something good that we have been waiting for, anticipating, dreaming about maybe, or even fantasising over. I had already begun sketching out an idea that had been in my head for a few years; the memory of queueing up for these parties that turned out to deliver even more than our own expectations, because of the positive excitement and almost palpable electricity in the atmosphere outside the venue, as people gathered outside, hearing the dull thud of the music coming from inside.

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While in Moscow for Faces & Laces in August 2013, this theme had already come up as a backdrop to my participation in the group show at Gallery Agency Art.Ru; whether from a music and nightlife perspective, or from one based around eroticism. This time, I wished to explore this theme of projection and anticipation in a wider spectrum; ranging from the perspective of when we would go out to particularly promising evenings; like that time when my Gilles Peterson was playing at the Panorama Bar in Berlin, and my friend Jonathan Rau put Something In The Way from 4Hero on, as Ebon Heath and I got into the car, along with a couple of girls that were with them. No; it was purely about that tune right there, and the promise of the music to come that night.

Producing the first painting that would be used for the flyer, or that would somehow announce the intention of the whole show, was something split between two directions; the “rendering” of the first sketch I had made, or something more immediate, less time-consuming; something closer to the “action-painting” that for me brings music and dance into what I do. I needed something that would loosen ME up in my studio, as a preamble to the whole body of work that lay ahead of me. Syncopated Symbiosis set the ball rolling…

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From that moment on, stretcher-bars were knocked together to the different dimensions of the paintings that were going to fill each room, while I sketched at any moment when the flow would be there; at home, in the studio, or on public transport. It was particularly annoying when the feeling would come while on the bus, as the rough ride was the last thing you’d want when trying to lay down a visual rendering of an idea that you had in your head, something that you had decided to explore under different perspectives.

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A couple of the paintings would make use of photos from my own personal archives, as taking snaps has been a part of my life since I used to hang in Covent Garden in 1984; eager to document the incredible thing that we were collectively living at that time.

The photos I end up choosing for a painting are not so much to do with any nostalgia or sentimentality about a particular person or place, unless of course we can blatantly identify who the characters are, such as in Crowd Control; a celebration of the Sunday nights Co-Op sessions at Plastic People on Curtain Road, London. The two girls on Last Train Home are as anonymous to me as they are to whoever is looking at the painting, because, ultimately, it is the scene and the act that count, and not the actual identity of whoever that real-life person may be. I guess I could have drawn a replaced their faces with one out of my head, but why bother going to the trouble, if the photo in itself does the job?

One day, I will probably make a book of all my photos of going out, where the only captions would be a place and a time maybe, as it doesn’t matter whether or not people are famous or unknown, whether I actually knew them or not. The anonymity makes us all equal in front of the lens in some way, and makes us focus more on the actions of the moment instead…

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When it comes to the characters that I actually draw out of my head, themselves being the interpretation of so many people that I’ve seen under so many angles over many years of observation; the result becomes an unintentional mix of faces that some may find familiar, whether they are one-offs or recurring types that become part of my figurative vocabulary.

The actual body shapes and movement are somehow akin to the letters of the alphabet, or to the different musical instruments that would make up a jazz trio, a classical ensemble, or a solo instrument; depending on the theme and its complexity. From the torso representing the kick-drum, right through to the fingertips expressing the higher frequencies from wind instruments, strings to cymbals, the body itself becomes an instrument with which I compose within the four corners of a piece of paper or a canvas.

It is also a metaphor for how we break up the letters of the alphabet at particular points, shaping them to a different rhythm than those imposed by convention or the whole plethora of fonts we have at our fingertips, and aligning them in our own dynamic sequence as we execute tags, throw-ups or even pieces.

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As we look at tags and throw-ups in particular, while walking down the street, anywhere in the vicinity of public transport, outside club venues, inside pub toilets, or anywhere else for that matter, writers can feel whether it was done from the wrist, the elbow, or the shoulder, depending on the size. For throw-ups, or the large tags done with fat caps, we can also feel how the writer had to move along the ground in order to complete the mark that he (or she) left.

There is no need to intellectualise in any way, the same way somebody steps into a dance cypher, or when we hear the first few bars of a good tune that hits us in all the right places. There is a beginning and an end to each act, each move, each tune, and it’s this rhythmic flow that I try to emphasise through the way I deal with lettering; one line taking us right the way through, the way one would execute a dance step, or a piece of music. We feel this, period; and, if you haven’t actually got down and tried this for yourself, you can be a respected art-critic or other member of the cultural intelligentsia, but whatever you may have to say would be pretty much irrelevant to us. As the old jazz adage goes, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing“; or style, flavour, soul, or funk.

I wanted somehow to be able to have one room where letters would be present in the show, because they are an integral part of my work, and have taught me about more abstract notions of rhythm and dynamics to how I draw figures as well. So we managed to make a space for them in the smallest of the four rooms…

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So how I compose with the human body in movement, how I try to make you imagine your own music to the dancing or party atmospheres that you see, how I attempt to suggest the sound of of the ruffle of clothing, somebody’s breath against your skin or against your ear, the tumbling of hair, or the music of wet flesh coming into contact, are also approaches to drawing and painting that somehow draw a parallel with the hidden language of the tags and throw-ups that we see; the size of the line left by the can of paint suggesting the type of cap used and the noise as the paint came out, the mat or gloss surface of either a wall or a pane of glass, on which a marker would either squeak or make a brushing sound, the smell left behind by fresh action.

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With these elements as a kind of toolbox from which I build and compose my images, whether they be figurative or letter-based, I set about preparing and producing a large collection of new pieces for the show; some of which would end up being shipped to Paris unfinished. Others yet were still merely pencil sketches in my blackbook, or on a few loose leaf sheets of A4 photocopy paper.

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It is worth noting at this point the level of faith that Nicolas and Samantha put in me, as I had taken them far out of their own comfort zone; even when they themselves have a pretty much continuous gruelling schedule. I thank them for allowing me the freedom to be myself, the space and time with which I can manage my own self-imposed pressure. I spent the majority of my time in Paris at the gallery, apart from when I went to get some food, or else the numerous trips to the art stores; Sennelier on Quai Voltaire being always a pleasure to go to.

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I guess that, somewhere along with what I mentioned at the beginning of this post, regarding how I see a gallery show opening as a kind of performance, theatre piece, or a live concert; something about the excitement of the urgency in this is the only thing that might be vaguely comparable to when I used to go out and paint, knowing full well that we only had limited time to turn out something that would have made it worth the risk of being caught. Family-life and an intolerance to spray-paint has seriously curtailed adventures of this kind, as it also has to partying like I used to. It would seem as if there may be fewer parties worth actually going to anyway; but yes, I do miss going out when I’ve been too quiet for too long. I’ve therefore tried to transform my gallery-shows into some kind of ersatz, though it’s all still very much a work in progress…

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Chris Courtney
filmed my week in Paris, as I went through the final build-up to the show, which opened on Saturday 26th of November. This footage was normally going to be edited as a short film which would be on view in the smallest of the gallery spaces, alongside the lettering pieces; but it took on a life of its own, and was only released a few days ago, at the beginning of January 2017.

I have been around for rather a long time, and I have had my hands in many different activities within and without of the Hip Hop scene, so Nicolas thought that, for a solo show of this importance in Paris, it was worth going to the trouble of giving his public a better insight into what I am about, and my particular way of working. As I have subsequently discovered by the questions put my way from different on-line street art blogs, it is incredible how short most people’s attention-span is, and how quickly they forget the other important events that I have been part of these last few years. It’s a pretty scary thought, when you feel that you have to make very long answers to what look like simple questions, because you have to put everything into the historical and cultural context that seems to be lacking from from the way people think these days. I have tried to keep this recap as short and to the point as I can, and will add the links to the interviews I am doing over the next few weeks. Anyway…

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Chris also got to film me, as I improvised a sequence of bodies dancing on the ground floor walls. The paintings would then be put back in their designated places, with these new characters adding another subtle layer of shapes and rhythm that would act as a backdrop to this nightlife-themed first space. Should you be on Facebook, you may be able to see some footage of the end sequence here.

It was while doing this that I was reminded of why I like paint to music, improvising to the sound and filling up the space as I go along, in much the same way as I did in at the Biennale in Venice last year. I realise that I can best express the movement that I want to depict, to a level of abstraction even, on larger surfaces, such as the Movement painting I did at The Bridges Of Graffiti.

Préludes opened on November 26th, then shut on Saturday 17th of December, it reopened on the 4th of January 2017, and goes on until the to the 28th. I will be present at the gallery on Saturday January 21st, where I will be signing a limited edition digital print of one of the paintings. Parallel to this, Niels Shoe Meulman will be signing his latest book, Shoe Is My Middle Name; so we’re looking forwards to a little bit of a CTK get-together on this double-bill.

Should you want to see more of the paintings from the show, I won’t be showing too many of them here, as it’s always better to go and see them in real life. However, should you not be able to make it to Paris before January 28th, the catalogue of the work on show is available here as a downloadable pdf; and you can also find Galerie Openspace on Facebook.

You can read up a little more about the show on the following blogs, with a special mention for my interview en Français by Nicolas Gzeley for Spraymium Magazine. Should you have time on your hands for a long and more in-depth read covering everything from the show to my opinion on other issues regarding culture, there’s the Widewalls interview which was published just after Christmas.

Here are links to the remaining blogs that are currently on-line:

Arrested Motion
Wankr Magazine
Strip Art Blog
and
Princesse Pépette

 

 

 

 

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“Transitions”, at Galleria Patricia Armocida, Milan

Sorry for having been away for so long. Life is made up of lots of work, having to handle other projects which do not necessarily pay, while also having to take care of the Chrome Angelz page on Facebook, which was not my initial intention. Let’s not forget that spending time with one’s family is more important than the rest all put together. Anyway…

I thought I would take this occasion to remind those of you who are not already aware, that I have a show on at Galleria Patricia Armocida, in Milan, until Saturday 7th of May 2016; my first proper solo exhibition in quite a while.

Opening_02_PHCARLOBECCALLI-153Opening night, ground floor of the gallery

Patricia and I had been talking on and off about this since a few years, but it’s not until our meeting last year at The Bridges Of Graffiti (something else I SERIOUSLY need to write up about!) last 7th of May 2015 that we actually managed to fix a date for early this year. She had seen the three new paintings that I had on show, a deconstruction of my interpretations of dance and movement separated into the elements of line, light, and movement; the three components that usually make up the foundations of my paintings. When we met again at the finissage of Bridges on November 21st, we set down the basic framework of what this Milan show would be about; even if that initial idea was to evolve from that point on.

Line-and-Movement-DSC00812“Line” and “Movement” at The Bridges Of Graffiti

I guess that, since first making a flyer for THIS!, the Monday nights at Bar Rumba, in 1997, I found a way to express what I felt to be the ideal party atmosphere, where DJ’s play tunes that work like therapy on us all; inspiring, enlightening, uplifting, and empowering the crowd. I already had some experience in this field when dealing with the Battle Of The Year posters, in the mid-nineties, then every single year since 2000. Dance has therefore played an important part in my work since a long time.

Writing, dance, and music have therefore always been an integral part of my life, though I devoted my output more to the graphic form of expression. Flow, shape, volume, ambiance, rhythm, and dynamics are the factors that I wanted to manifest through these new paintings, as I continue to explore these threads that differentiate our culture from all others. Critics, collectors, curators and buyers alike have never really grasped this particularity to the culture, for the most part (How often do you see them on the dance-floor?); but they are still allowed to speak with authority about what they don’t know, while conveniently dismissing what would be too hard to explain. That, however, has never stopped my contemporaries and myself from exploring our uniqueness further; each in his or her own personal way. I therefore decided to call the show Transitions, as I continue my quest along this path of discovery and self-discovery.

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“Transitions”. No, they are not for sale!

A line can be traced through a tag, a throw-up, a dance sequence, or a piece of music; all those representing different forms of expression. I chose to show how this can also be applied to the figurative work that I do, as the characters have always been a part of my work, and that they were the main reason behind the fame and recognition that I got in this culture. I cannot, however, dissociate myself from writing, and my characters are somehow expressing the rhythm, dynamics, flow, and harmony inherent to writing one’s name, as a tag of a throw-up, except that I am trying to give the same flavour and dynamics to a torso, four limbs, a head, and a pair of hands. Should you be interested in seeing more of the lettering that I do, look no further than Unruly Gallery, who hold the majority of my archives of lettering paintings.

After the Line comes the Light; the element that we use to give volume to throw-ups, pieces, or characters. It can be seen as a literal reflection all that is around us in everyday life. It is the manifestation of reflected light from different surfaces giving off different colours to our eyes. In the semi darkness of a club though, this becomes much more subtle, yet more important to us, as our eyes struggle to make out what is where, between the ambient light, that is falling softly on people, and the silhouettes around us. Like I said about Plastic People, and also places like Bar Rumba back then, I prefer the places with subdued light, as it means that those who are self-conscious can also come out onto the dance floor. And another thing; the less we see, the better we hear…

Movement in painting is about as close to dance as you would get, because I’m trying to convey the dancing through the articulation and the torsion of the characters, their limbs filling the space, and the angles of their hands, the tips of their fingers, the tilting or rotation of their heads accentuating the flow of energy going through them, punctuated by rhythm, akin to composing music; something I wish I had made time to do in my life. I guess you could go from the main parts of the body being the bass, right up to the finger-tips being the treble or the high-hats, muted horns, strings or keyboard…

La Ronde canvas sketch
Pastel sketches of “La Ronde” on linen

Bringing us right back to the letters then, I remember doing a workshop with some youths in Dakar, Senegal, back in April 2013, explaining to them that they knew what A-B-C-D looked like. So, in order to give their letters style, they should imagine how they are reacting to music, on the dance-floor; their eyes shut, with their limbs shaping out the best moves they have in their mind’s eye, through feeling, and through rhythm…

Here are some photos from my short stay in Milan, and from the gallery and show opening. I’d like to thank Carlo Beccalli for use of his shots on the opening evening. Should you wish to view photos of the actual paintings, please contact the gallery.

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Finishing-Touches

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Old Tram at Porta Genova

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To Each Their Own
Flyer Reverse Side

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A short film for “A Song For Someone”, by U2

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I was asked at the end of July whether or not I was up for making a short film for one of the songs on the upcoming U2 album, so here is a link to it on the band’s news channel. You will also find there all the other film projects that were done by artists such as Todd “Reas” James, or Vhils from Lisbon.
Should any of you wonder what my motivations were, with regards to this project, here follows the short interview from the agency coordinating it;

1. What was the inspiration behind your film?

As soon as I heard that U2 were apparently (or partly) inspired by the mural culture of Ulster, with regards to this film project, I knew that I wanted to go back to Belfast or Omagh, and do an actual public mural, as opposed to doing something in the studio.
By the time I went to the listening session of the song I had been assigned, the only people in my mind were those of Omagh, the ones I had spent a good bit of time with twelve years before, whose stories I had heard, and whose views on the long conflict had really brought home to me what life is like for ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives, in harsh and extraordinary circumstances.
I like Belfast, and loved my first time there in ’97, when the youngsters’ faces looked so fresh and positive, as a lasting cease-fire was finally in place. That said, I had developed an even tighter connection with Omagh, since I went to do a commemorative painting there in spring 2002, for the victims of the 15th of August ’98 bombing. It was, along with work I later did in Cape Town, the most humanly enriching project I had done in my life. I had always been wanting to be able to do more for the town, and this project gave me the opportunity.

2. How did your approach differ from your other projects? Did you face any unique challenges?

Whatever U2 were going to throw my way, musically or lyrically, I chose to only see it through a prism representing my own views on the conflict in Ulster, and what I could do to propose a public platform that would help in triggering dialogue, debate, discussion and so on, between those who would get to actually see the mural in real life, in their town; a hopefully welcome break in their routine and the general status quo.
I had thought about doing this in Belfast, where I had also done cross-community workshops in ’97, ’98 and ’99; but the Peace Wall, running parallel to the Shankhill Road, would have posed some problems, with regards to passers-by who may make the wrong interpretation of my intentions.
McGinns store is familiar to me, as my old painting had been fixed on its outer wall since 2002, visible to everybody driving or waling into the town along the Dublin Road; so this was the best vantage point I could get. I had to talk the owner, Colm, into accepting to take the risk on the project, and he of course said “yes”.
Respecting the non-disclosure agreement, and having to basically lie to some of my friends there was almost a heart-breaking experience. It is so difficult trying to push something through that you hope will do people a lot of good, while actually having to lie through your back teeth to them; in order to keep the project under wraps. The ordinary people of Ulster, on all sides of the divide, have been lied to and manipulated by politicians, extremists, and paramilitaries, for decades; so the contradiction of trying to do something good for them, while having to lie to them in order to achieve that good, made me think that I was no better than the other people who may have deceived them in the past.
On a more practical day-to-day level, the challenges with Northern Ireland are always the same; the first being that of finding a colour palette and a narrative that does not exclude anybody from either side of the political divide, especially when you are searching for a debate-provoking theme. The other main issue is the fact that the weather is rather unpredictable; “sunny with scattered showers” being the usual feature, so the elements would definitely have their word to say in the proceedings.
With the short time available in which to do this, and the fact that the contact with the animation team only happened a few days before we got started, it was always going to be tight; especially as both sides were doing their best to accommodate each other, even when they didn’t have a clue about their respective working methods. I had to think about animation, and had to draw a sequence in seven steps, something I had never ventured into doing before. I had to pitch to Marcus Lynam, from Hoop La, what I wanted to convey with my interpretation of the song; and I had to make Richard Donelly (who filmed most of the sequences, and brought many of his own ideas) get an idea of how I work on a mural of that size.
We basically ran out of time on the project, with regards of the film-crew ending up with a finished mural, but that wasn’t really a problem, as the sketches in themselves, and all the action filmed, had provided enough footage for what we needed. I went back to Omagh a few weeks later, in order to finish it off.
Finally; interpreting the lyrics that I had heard into a stand-alone narrative that would be made-to-fit for Omagh, was a huge challenge in itself. However dark things may have been or may still be, in some isolated cases, I had to transform all the elements that I had into something that would somehow be positive and hopeful, though I also did not want to have everything seeming too literal…

3. How did it feel to participate in a project like this?

    As I set out to with the idea of a mural in Northern Ireland, then one in Omagh specifically, I could only feel totally engaged and very positive about the project. I am happy that I did get the song that I did, and that I could make it work with the intention that I already had in mind, but ultimately it is the fact that, from a song that the local population had not yet heard, and from a group that many probably know about, I managed to push through something that touches a certain chord with part of the local community, and that they could somehow convey this to the others around them.
Although I had “Bloody Sunday” and U2 circa 1984 in mind, when I heard the song, I guess it falls more into a “With Or Without You” mould. Still, the lyrics were open enough for me to transform it into the general idea that I already had in my mind. That said, I have spoken only to very few people about the significance behind what I painted, and where it all ties in with the actual lyrics. I’ve actually remained pretty faithful to the words themselves, but chose to absorb them through a certain historical and socio-cultural filter.
I had a lot of debates with Colm McGinn, and Ciaran McClean, the only two people locally who knew about the project, and I tried to deliver as well and honestly as I could, for the trust that they had in me, and the hope that the end mural would be something positive for Omagh in general; as it states at the very beginning of the film.
Ultimately, the time that has elapsed between when Marcus Lynam handed in the last edit of the film, me going back to Omagh to finish the mural, and the final public release of the film, has given Omagh the opportunity to appropriate this mural for itself, before a wider audience get a piece of the action, and it gets carried off on another new path.
If people want to actually see the finished mural, they will have to take a plane then a bus to Omagh, and remember to keep on looking left, as they come around that last bend of the Dublin Road, towards the town centre and the bus station…

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Rap History The Jam #4 Biel/Bienne

I hadn’t been to La Coupole since Summer 1991, for a jam called “Hip Hop Reality”. Since those days, they had a ventilator installed, which meant that I could paint the piece that is usually finished on the stage, in the venue itself, during the party.

I had been contacted by RosyOne and Dj Nerz about this gig since a while already, but, being still down to support Hip Hop, I also ended up doing the poster and flyer, when Nerz proposed this to me.

2014_04_Rap-History-The-Jam#4_Poster

I got there on Wednesday 15th of April, was given the key to the venue, so that I could get in the next morning. At La Coupole, it’s the same two old stretched canvases that get used either separately, or else together, for the stage; so I had to paint over the graphics from the previous show. It was funny to see David Rodigan’s name on one of the panels. That takes me back to my childhood days in London, and his Saturday night show on Capital Radio.

 

I just improvised the piece from that point on until late afternoon, leaving only what’s within arm’s reach, and what wouldn’t cause too much paint-fumes, for that evening’s live performance. DJ Babu’s “sound-check” was just what the doctor ordered, when the clock was running down at the end of the day;

 

I went back to the hotel for a nap, as I was to come on and finish the piece live at around 01hrs30, as my man Dee Nasty was finishing his set, before Babu and Rakaa came on. Dee Nasty had played some tunes that I hadn’t heard since listening to LWR back in ’84, on some strictly vinyl tip; then Babu and Rakaa came on to take matters further.
Mirko Machine came on after them, by which time I was considering calling it a night, as the place was hot and sweaty and smoky, despite the ventilation system; but also because the dance-floor was just covered with plastic beer cups and too wet for the b-boys. Can’t win ’em all, but at least it would have been nice to see a wider variety of moves on the floor. Such is the particularity of a multi-use venue like La Coupole though, which is the only one to really give a stage to alternative music in Biel. A big shout-out to those who made it happen then…

I didn’t see much of Biel, just the venue and the walk to and from the hotel, and the final stroll to the train station on Friday lunch-time…

 

…and here’s a mosaic of the painting sequence;

Rap-History-The-Jam-P1080038

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Escape The Golden Cage, Vienna

 

It is just over a week since I got back from Wien (Vienna), where I took part in a group show called “Escape The Golden Cage”; organised by Sarah Musser and Raphael Weinberger.

Breakfast at Palais Kinsky

The show at the Palais Kinsky is now entering its last week, so; if you want to catch some paintings by Anthony Lister, Ozmo from Milano,  a “telepathic installation by Brad Downey, or else the likes of Xoooox from Berlin, click here for the full list of participating artists.

I had only been to Vienna twice before, so, despite the fresh spring temperature, it was nice to be there again, meeting my friend Sydney, who co-organised the “Klimt Illustrated” event I took part in last August 2012.
The Ring hotel was maybe a bit more luxury than I had been expecting, and would have gladly stepped down a category or two, in order to have free internet. That said, there was enough space to work calmly on other stuff, such as the flyer for the “Get Wet” event in Paris; the first floor windows were that soundproof!

First floor view from The Ring hotel, Vienna

I was first in Vienna for a jam, back in ’99, hanging with Delta and Atome, when we got to witness the last solar eclipse of the 20th century. Apart from hanging out painting, there wasn’t really that much time for much else.
I was there again January 2012 for our annual Battle Of The Year Partner Meeting, when I had put a little time aside to go and visit the Museum Quartier and the collection at the Leopold Museum; being a big Egon Schiele and Klimt fan. Not much time for sightseeing and museum trips this time around though, as I found myself with a little more on my plate than i had bargained for. So no visit to the Secession for me; only an outside view on my way to lunch :-(

Secession, Vienna

My only consolation was to be found at a historical old restaurant called Zur Eisernen Zeit, on the Naschmarkt, which became my daily canteen (thanks, Sydney!); sometimes for lunch and supper!

Zur Eisernen Zeit

My original plan for this show was to get some paintings shipped over from London and Hamburg, make one new piece, then do a live performance on a large canvas, the resulting piece from which was to be made into a collection of twenty very special bags. When we found that the costs of shipping from London would break the budget, and the connection with the guys in Hamburg failed, I found myself with a rather slim selection of works to put on show.

Having brought my new painting over on the enjoyable nine-hour train-ride, and re-stretched it over its frame, I realised that there were to be three separate openings to Escape The Golden Cage; Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday.
This called for a re-think of the performance, and I decided to go for something stretched out over all three evenings, and that I would produce something that would not be made into bags, as originally planned.
Between this, the preparation of four new works for a show in Hamburg, and working on that Get Wet flyer on the side;

Get Wet 31 Mai 2013

…my time was spent looking for materials for the performance, and catching shots of some store-signs, as I have been doing for some years with a friend of mine.

Mobelhaus Marek

Parfumerie Wien

Still, I enjoyed the actual event, met and hung out with artists I had either never met, or else only seen their work on the street, and I also got to hear some nice music from the DJs that played there; especially on Wednesday evening.

Palais Kinsky Keller

So yeah, if you just happen to be in Vienna, take a moment to go and check out the exhibition at Palais Kinsky before it finishes at the end of the week, or else check out the Escape website for more photos and news.
Enjoy… :-)

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Been away for a while, truth be said…

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster of a year since last summer, with loads of different events and whatever. It will, for the most of it, eventually be uploaded, in order to let you know about the type of jobs and projects that I say “yes” to and end up doing.

That said, the main reason for not finding (or making) the time is due to the fact that since last June, I had been working on a project for a festival which would have taken place end of this June 2013; with a small line-up of very talented individuals in different fields; many whose names you would be all too familiar with.

Due to the fact that I lost faith in the willingness of our hosts (at the prestigious venue where it was to be held for two very intense weeks in South Germany) to ensure the right conditions, I recently resigned from what I felt would have been a small milestone in the evolution of the culture. F**k the pay and all those hours and days and weeks and months spent; if it ain’t right, don’t get involved in the first place, and never be scared to back out.

I was much happier going off to Dakar, Senegal instead, for much less money, a couple of weeks of intense activity and stress; but at least that feeling that you were sowing seeds on fertile soil, despite the hardships of others there and the crap deals signed by generations of corrupt leaders to foreign “investors”.

As for the idea of the event I resigned from; it’s not dead yet, and I’m speaking with some people closer to me who can probably help to make it happen…

I know I get pretty quiet for a while, but I’ll drop by and catch up every now and again ;-)

laters…

Some trees are held as being sacred in Senegal, and no level of "human progress" is ever allowed to remove them...

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Mode 2 on 12oz Prophet

I know that I’m not often posting news these last months, but it’s been a busy summer, and soon enough there’ll be a few different posts regarding what I’ve been up to.

That said, I have also been giving some time to my 12oz Prophet blog, as I’m under the possibly mistaken assumption that I can reach more people specifically from the writing community there.  In the end, you also get very little feedback there, as most people are not into sharing their opinions and reactions to even the most interesting posts that you can find on that website.
It’s a little sad really, as we seem to have lost our ability to open up and share; to let people hear what WE think about some particular given topic, or a posted image of one kind or another…
Still, that won’t stop ME opening my mouth, or rather typing away on my keyboard.
I might copy and paste my posts and comments onto Mode2.org, at some point…

Update: Please note that my page on 12oz Prophet has since been deleted. Oh well…

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Mode 2 at the Flow Festival, Helsinki 10th of August

Just a short late night post to let you all know that I’ll be showing some work, old and new, at the Make Your Mark Gallery, as part of the Flow Festival; here in Helsinki.

The opening for the show is this Friday 10th of August at 5pm, and I’ll be back again at the venue on Saturday at 2pm for a live performance in the garage, which will go on until about 8pm.

Should you be in the vicinity, you only need check the links above, in order to find me!

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Fine Wine, Fine Art at Cave Fin Bec, June 21st, Sion, Switzerland

It’s been a while since my last post, but it has been a busy few weeks, since my last post in June, and it doesn’t look like calming down as yet. Can’t complain when there’s work, or the opportunity to travel and meet some special people…

Right after finishing the painting at the 4 Pillars gig, on Wednesday  20th of June, I was on an early flight the next morning, going to Geneva, from where I took a train to Sion, in the wine region of southern Switzerland. My contact there, Issam, had presented this quite well to me, and it seems as if a lot of preparation had gone into it, but that did not stop it from being a nice surprise…

It had been previously arranged that I would be expected to start painting just a few hours after my arrival, having first the pleasure of meeting our host Yvo Mathier and his wife Yvonne, then some of his team, as well as being introduced to the rest of the crew.

It was then time for a group lunch together, as well as some of the local wine; before we came back to grab our pre-selected colours and get down to what we had come to do…

In no particular order, the other writers were Askew 1 (NZ), Demes (CH), Esow (J), Faith 47 (SA), Jasm (CH), Revok 1 (US), and TRD (CH). It was therefore nice to meet new faces, as well as a couple I already knew, and to get down let off on a lovely sunny day, in an unbelievable setting of the Cave Fin Bec.

Our “canvases” were made up of a stack of around a hundred wooden wine boxes forming a portrait format, the end image produced by each of us ending up on the labels of the bottles which would then be sold six to each box.

We painted throughout the whole afternoon, with Demes, Jasm and myself painting on late into the night; but through all the hard work put in by everybody, we were opening this rather unusual exhibition to a selected number of guests who languished in the beautiful sunshine before streaming into the newly rebuilt cave the very next evening;

There are six wine types in all, that the eight artists selected to their taste, or to whichever they thought would suit them best; but you’ll just have to go and visit directly the Cave Fin Bec website if you want to find out a little more about all the wines.

I must thank all the team who made this possible for writers like us to be able to travel to such a beautiful area as the Valais region of Switzerland, to be looked after with such hospitality, and to allow us to express ourselves on such a well thought-out project. I left there with memories of a great time spent in a wonderful setting… :-)

You can check out my involvement in this project in the following gallery;

 

 

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Live performance this Wednesday 27th of June in Sevran, Paris.

I’ll be painting this Wednesday 27th of June just north of Paris, a five minute walk from the RER station Sevran Livry, on the Place Gaston Bussière. Hopefully the weather will be on my side, but my friend organising this has been building some kind of rain-protection, just in case.

You can get to Sevran Livry on RER Line B going towards Mitry-Claye.
You can find more details in French about this jam right here. Sonic from NYC will also be painting on the 29th…


View Larger Map

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Tonight… The 4 Pillars expo

I have already posted this before, but, should you have forgotten about it, there’s a little double-bill this Thursday and Friday at Underdog Gallery, Arch 6, Crucifix Lane, London, SE1 3JW.
I started painting directly on the walls yesterday, and finishing off my stuff for 6pm this evening. Watch out for wet paint!
I must unfortunately fly off early next morning; so I’ll be missing out BIG time on Friday…
The artwork will stay up for a while, until it gets sold or auctioned off or painted over; but Friday’s gig will definitely only be a one-night affair.
I’m hoping to catch up with some of you guys on this evening anyway…
Bye for now; and until then :-)

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The Chrome Angelz preview

 

A big “thank you” to all those who managed to show up and get in, last Thursday evening. The Outsiders gallery is indeed not a very big space for such a show, and it was just as hard to squeeze the crowd in there, as it was trying to get all of our work onto the walls.

In the end we had to democratically settle for three pieces per artist, so, with regards to my part, that was only half of what I had. I myself didn’t even get a chance to see what else Zaki, Pride, and Scribla had produced for the show; though I knew that there would only be three pieces from Bando.

Many of you seemed to have really enjoyed the “historical” section upstairs, which got me thinking  that we must get back in touch with Andrea Caputo (All City Writers), and get a TCA book out at some point. Given all the fake-ass publications, reference books, and coffee table books that we’ve had these last years; he’s the only guy that I would trust for such an endeavour.

With regards to the new work that was on show, I myself wanted to introduce some of you (for those that didn’t yet know) to the “one-liners” that I have been playing about with, for the last three years or so. The principle in itself is quite straightforward; an image or a lettering made up of one continuous line, but it’s the significance behind this that I’m trying to get at.

Whether it be a dance move, an MC freestyling, a melody or programmed beat sequence, a tag, a character, a throw-up, or a full colour piece; the backbone to it all would be that one continuous thread binding it all together as one, from beginning to end.

This line, this time-line, this flow of moves or progression of beats, is what we recognise within the culture as being the one common denominator that holds us together, where we can, upon seeing or hearing, feel whether somebody is on-beat, whether somebody or something has flavour; whether or not it has soul.

Though we have always strived to remain open-minded and progressive, with regards to what influences us, as well as trying to stay ahead of what is going on around us in the world; we can still recognise that deep down there, beneath and behind, there is that rhythmic and dynamic pulse of some writer, dancer, Mcee, Dj or musician who’s giving us goose-bumps, whenever he or she does his or her thing.

This, in my opinion, is one of the main elements that differentiates us from all other cultural trends, fads, movements, and revolutions that took place in the 20th century; ours being probably the very last one. Our blueprint gave us the wherewithal to sample just about anything that all other cultures had offered us up until that point; but sampling back then (unless something was a blatant tribute to its forgotten originator) was only half of the story.

Whether you decide to redefine the letters of the alphabet in your own way, break down some well-known or obscure tunes and restructure them in the studio or on the turntables, flip anything from Capoeira and its origins to the Russian Red Army Ballet into a new dance move, or even decide to take all the music you heard and make the music with your mouth (Biz); we took it all, flipped it and remixed it!

Art critics, buyers, and all those journalists and sociologists writing and talking on our behalf don’t know what they’re on about, but, as they don’t want their audience to see that they’re blatantly out of their depth, they use their words, writings and opinions to dictate who’s hot and who’s not within our culture; denaturing the natural and organic evolution that we should have taken, while conveniently forgetting the instigators, innovators, and originators who brought new notions of rhythm, sound, shape and dynamics to art and culture, full stop.

Every now and again we hear that one of these pioneers has passed on; Rammellzee, Kase 2, and Stay High 149 in the last year alone. Their voices, their knowledge, and their living memory and definition of what this is all about gone forever, while those that don’t know keep on talking and writing and dictating…

Speaking of which, we should not even begin talking about the record industry, the biggest pimp of the 20th century, which absorbed and perverted the vocal and musical aspect to all the various cultures that came to the fore during those hundred-odd years. Rap? Please… That word or name or definition used to have a meaning for us during our youth; but in this day and age….? The record industry, along with a lot of short-sighted, selfish and foolish MC’s made it a lot harder for many of us to be able to pick out what still feels good; and after having to listen to a lot of people just spouting whatever negative sensationalist shit that sells, I just stop searching, and rely on thicker-skinned friends of mine to guide me to what still makes me feel good inside.

Funny how back in the days we would be getting off on “Techno Scratch” by Knights of The Turntables, alongside “It’s Yours” by T La Rock & Jazzy Jay, “Fresh, Wild, Fly, and Bold” by the Cold Crush Brothers, or “Summer” by the Fantasy 3, back to back; but it was all music to us, however diverse. And, strangely enough, we were perhaps more open to diverse influences then, than we are today. We wanted each next tune to be as different as possible from the previous; and that’s what felt exciting, inspiring, and ultimately enlightening and empowering.

You know what, though? Some of us thrive off of being receptive that way, as opposed to boxing ourselves in. The strength and richness of The Chrome Angelz as a crew was the sum of these very different individuals who managed to put their egos to the side, and thrive off of their collective diversity. I’m still vibing off of ’84-’85 today, but I don’t live back then; because back then we were definitely living for the future, and, no matter what’s going on with the world today, the position of opposition that we had then, is what still drives many of us on right now

 

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The Chrome Angelz in London…

Just a quick one to let you know that Bando, Pride, Scribla, Zaki and I will be showing some old and new work at the Outsiders gallery Greek Street, Soho, London, from the 15th of June until the 14th of July.
We’ll also be having an archive section with lots of old material from our private stock, so hey; drop by when or if you get a chance…

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Edinburgh 1996

My friends Chris and Brian e-mailed me the other day and told me that they had posted up a feature on a collaborative piece we did, along with Echo 156, a good few years ago…
You can check out the who feature right here.

By the way, you may have noticed that I haven’t been back here in a bit, but I’m very busy preparing other stuff. See you again soon… :-)

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The Call to Covent Garden

I may have said in some interviews that I had heard about Covent Garden in 1984, through an article in Melody Maker music magazine. I was wrong.
The article was actually in another music magazine called Sounds, dated the 14th of April 1984. I was in my fifth year of secondary school, looking forwards to revision before sitting my “O” Levels; but suddenly I was faced with an alternative form of education which seemed more important and relevant to life, as well as the development of self-expression.
I consequently had to re-sit a few of my exams, but hanging around that whole summer had been more than worth it; a life-changing experience even…
I haven’t looked back long enough over the pages, to see who I can recognise as having been there when my brother and I got there, but they were all a world of inspiration to me; and I wonder where they are today…

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New hand-finished screen-prints at Outsiders

This gallery contains 6 photos.

I’ve been kept busy at the Lazarides studio on the river, hand-finishing three new prints, running each as a signed and numbered edition of forty. After a good few long days with the brush and paint, I’m pretty certain that … Continue reading

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Backjumps Junior Issue 4.2

 

Back in August 2010 Adrian Nabi did another Backjumps event, which we were very proud to be part of; us “artists” all being fathers and whatnot…

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