prolific graffiti artist Sickboy discusses the past, his current exhibition and the pieces he hopes to ‘Make Last Forever’
Bristolian street art pioneer Sickboy has set up shop in Soho. Laying out a multimedia visual diary and bold technicolour of comprehensive new works. From his infamous coffins, slogans and temple shrines, to a fascinating ‘Table of Contents’ filled with his prized possessions, curiosities, and treasures lost and found.
Entitled ‘Make it Last Forever’ the exhibition celebrates a poignant embodiment of the artist’s inspirations and creative endeavours thus far. Depicting a multi-disciplinary body of work which hopes to outlive its creator and a demonstration for just why Sickboy’s pieces sell out so quick and rake in so much cash!
Your current exhibition ‘Make It Last Forever’ is your first gallery show in London. Was there something specific about this current collection/body of work that prompted the exhibition, or made the timing right for a solo gallery setting?
SICKBOY: You’re right in saying that it’s my first gallery exhibition, but previously I have always produced my own shows outside of the gallery system as it were. When I was asked if I wanted to do a show at ‘The Outsiders’ it took some deliberation, but their reputation for producing exciting shows with some great artists meant it was time to step up to a new challenge. The body of the work coexists with a site-specific install that took months to prepare. I guess you always try to bring something new to the table and I am happy with the results and how the show is being received.
How does the experience, or rather outcome of your work differ when you’re creating for a gallery setting, rather than for the street? Is there one which you prefer over the other?
For me street art and graffiti is about exercising your creativity in a totally different way to in a gallery. Usually I spend less time and act impulsively, it feels like a dance in front of a wall and expressionist in that sense, you go from painting on a smooth primed canvas in a studio meticulously creating detail, to spraying outlines fast and free over cables bricks shutters and steel. If things get stuffy for me in the studio, painting outside clears my head and graffiti taught me a lot of what I know and I try and continually respect that.
In “Make it Last Forever” you showcase a variety of mediums and span of your work, including paintings, sculpture and installation. Do you feel like your work takes on a different mood or characteristic within each?
For me the narrative is taken through every medium. My installs are 3D versions of my paintings and the sculptures I make are elements from my vocabulary of symbols which I try to bring to life.
Along with being mostly self-taught you spent some time training in fine art at college. Could you ever see your work transitioning from graffiti artist back to fine artist?
When I was at college I spent 99 percent of the time either painting in halls of fame, staying up all night sketching outlines to paint on walls, or travelling round Europe painting on walls. It was a great time but it took over my life. A lot of my tutors didn’t get me, but one guy really gave me confidence to mix my extracurricular with my course work and I was able to bring my work into context.
“Make it Last Forever” centralises around your “Table of Contents”. A sort of collection of lost and found curiosities, travelling souvenirs, patches and unobtainable collectables which you have found or been given over time. What is it about an object which attracts you to collect it, or that makes it a treasure for you can’t part with?
I am mostly attracted to logos and characters, some comics with a psychedelic edge and my long standing favourite thing to collect is records from the 50’s onwards, although in terms of visual inspiration the 70’s LP covers are the strongest influence for me.
You were one of the first artists to use a logo rather than a tag with your red and yellow temple logo. Where did the idea for your “Temple” come from? Can you remember where your first one appeared?
In 1999 I visited Barcelona and had a bit of a realisation in which I decided that all the graffiti there blurred into one. But the guys there who we’re using logos such as La Mano and Xupet Negra stood out bold off the walls. I had been writing the name ‘Phet’ before Sickboy and as soon as I returned home I wanted to switch things up.
My temple logo came out if my love of ornate architecture and I chose the colours red and yellow to try embezzle the image into peoples subconscious, it was coming from a positive standpoint rather than aggressive, which at the time I thought graffiti was representing more and more. Everything has changed since then, but for me it was a time to experiment with my practice.
Having been so prolific and such a big influence on the prime time and beginning of the graffiti scene, how do you feel you have seen street art evolve since then?
It’s global now, more so than ever. Pre Instagram we had Flickr, and pre Flickr we had fotolog and before that graffiti magazines and photo trades. I guess the more the internet has been utilised the more the game plan has changed. You don’t need the graffiti medals to be a king anymore, you can just hammer it out in the internet.
If you have substance you can spot this sort of cheap route to fame that alludes authenticity. But as you might see in some cases, some serious money and fame and publicity stunts have been made through clever use and abuse of online platforms. I don’t hold any grudges against any of the above, it’s all a natural evolution.
Coming up in Bristol, how do you think the original scene and sort of more visceral vibe that took place there, compares or differs to London and or other cities around the world?
I have been thinking more and more recently about what Bristol means to me. When I moved there in 1997 it felt like a special time for graffiti, like a second wave. ‘Walls on fire’ run by Inkie and Banksy had been on, and great artists like TCF that moved down from Hull were making amazing burners across the city.
The city seemed focused on doing big productions and after meeting my good friend Dr.Dog aka Spam also from Hull we created the AAGH crew which was focused on breaking the rules, the graffiti rules. Most nights were spent sketching till sunrise, it was blessed.
Do you feel yourself and other artists from that era such as Banksy, opened a lot of doors for recognition, popularity and acceptance of graffiti in becoming a commercial art form?
I see the whole culture as its own ecosystem and everyone is playing their part, big or small. There’s no point being part of a subculture that bends rules unless you’re up for opening doors yourself.
Do you see elements of your work/style in some of the artists and crews that are on the streets today?
I wouldn’t say elements of my work specifically, but like any art form there are trends going on. Kind of does my head in when everyone’s stuff looks the same, but that makes the individuals pop out.
You have mentioned in interviews in the past that you were inspired by early artists such as Picasso and architects like Gaudi and 1960s avant-garde architectural group, Archigram. Is there someone when you were starting out that you looked up to, or someone/ a specific artist / where you draw inspiration from today?
When I started I really looked to my friend “Sish” from Manchester as having a great handstyle. I always was and still am really into how you should be able to hone your craft through its simplest denominator.The balance and flow of letterforms for impending hit with a spray can is still the most impressive thing for me. I think San Francisco artist Barry McGee hit the nail on the head by doing the whole side of a museum just using a red can in deluxe tag perfections.
In terms of canvas and gallery work I still think Picasso is King.
There has been a lot of controversy recently about what is public when it comes to street art. With walls, doors and other buildings featuring artists work being removed for resale, or ‘preservation’ as they like to say. What are your thoughts on this?
I say stop looking for a free financial leg up and let the art stay where it was made, If it’s your wall specifically I guess the decision is on you. What happened in Cheltenham recently to the Banksy piece that was saved by a local businessman was interesting.
I am sure the increased footfall for local business and honesty of preserving the pieces in its original spot will outweigh any short term benefits an auction would give.
You were tipped in 2008 by leading financial press as one of the most bankable artists of the graffiti movement. How does that feel? Has that influenced your work at all?
It was flattering to have that written at the time. I have tried hard to let my prices rise honestly in tandem with my focus and time itself.
I am not looking to change jobs in 5 years time so it’s important for me that things don’t blow out of proportion.
As well as having a studio in Barcelona, you have been in London since 2007. Where is home now? When you’re in London where do you go to feel inspired or creative?
Home is between London, Bristol and Barcelona, when I’m in London the most inspiring places for me are just in the streets. I love the multicultural aspect that gives.
Where do you go to relax?
Sauna vibes for thinking. On the Overground when it’s quiet, or with my girlfriend.
Is there a dream location in the world or a gallery where you would like to see your work one day?
I am planning a huge install in a warehouse over the next couple of years if I can pull that off I’ll be really chuffed.
Finally of all the pieces which you have done or are yet to do, is there one which you hope you can “Make Last Forever”?
For every show I do I usually have a favourite and for my show ‘Make it Last Forever’ at The Outsiders the painting is called ‘A Lovely Cloak of Worry’ has all the elements I need in a painting for it to be exciting to me. So it would be nice to think it would be around in years to come… let’s see.
SICKBOY: Make It Last Forever
The Outsiders Gallery | Now- 30 August
Words by Tracy Kawalik and Sickboy
Photos By Tracy Kawalik, Purple PR and The Outsider’s Gallery