London Art Spot: Hunto


Italian cubist street artist Hunto has ventured into oil paints for the first time and is about to kick off a week long exhibition at Cre8 Gallery in Hackney. He’s called London home for a while now and was happy to give us a bit of insight into his work and the way London inspires him creatively. Read on to find out about why his show is called Bella Mia, why art is important to him and his favourite London discovery (which sort of ties into his exhibition…)!


LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
HUNTO: I’m from the south of Italy and I’m known to some as ‘young boy’. I’ve been based in London for a few years and my reasons for being here are many, not just for art.

LLO: In what ways does living in London inspire your creativity?
HUNTO: London has many cultures who mix together. That mixture inspires my work. Different faces, shapes and colours excite me.


LLO: You have an exhibition this week at Cre8 Gallery in Hackney. The title is Bella Mia. What does this mean and how does it tie in to the work we’ll see in the show?
HUNTO: Bella Mia is a term of endearment in Italy, which simply translates to “my Beauty”. This show at Cre8 Gallery is a reflection of my love and passion for women. It’s a show about love and experience men have with women. My work attempts to show different personalities, characteristics and cultures of the opposite sex.


LLO: What can we expect from the exhibition? What will the opening event be like. 
HUNTO: The exhibition will showcase another side of me, which I’m still developing. Coming from a graffiti background, displaying in a gallery setting in fairly new to me. The opening will be a surprise to many as people are used to seeing my work in the streets.


LLO: In this show you’re using oil for the first time. How do you feel about the results? Will you continue this way in the future?
HUNTO: I am using oils as I want to develop as an artist and to free myself from the graffiti tag. The result was as I expected, leaving me satisfied that I am finally evolving. In my mind, I always knew I would make that transition but will always respect my roots. The future for Hunto…. only God knows! Maybe I’ll sing one day.


LLO: Tell us about your background as an artist. Are you self trained or formally taught? How long have you been painting? Why is it important to you?
HUNTO: I’ve always drawn since I was a child. Graffiti was introduced to me in 1996 and since then I have never looked back. Before friends would tell me I should try using cans and to work on walls, so from then I trained myself and developed various styles. Art simply helps makes me happy and keeps me from trouble.


LLO: If you had to describe your style of art to someone who has never seen your work, what would you say?
HUNTO: Colourful, vibrant, static. Really, I want people to make up their own minds.

LLO: What is the story behind the name Hunto?
HUNTO: It’s a name I liked the sound of and when I used to do lettering I liked the way the letters stood next to each other.


LLO: Why is colour so important to you?
HUNTO: Colour reflects my personality.


LLO: Tell us about another London-based artist that is doing something you admire.
HUNTO: I respect all artists!! i don’t judge or comment…

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
HUNTO: Anywhere that has women.


Thanks Hunto!

Pop over to Cre8 Gallery to check out Hunto’s show from November 21 – December 3. It’s open every day from 11am – 6pm. The gallery is also hosting a cubism art seminar on November 28 from 6-9pm. 

Listen to a Londoner: Garry Hunter

GH_with_cover_image_of_NameRank&SerialNumber_showing_GreatUncle_John_Gaffney_KIA_1944Photo: Garry with image from NYC show celebrating John Gaffney the Great Uncle he never knew, killed in action during Normandy campaign

If you follow the street art scene in London or anywhere else in the world, you may be familiar with Garry’s book,  Street Art: From Around the World with the ROA rat on the front cover. He’s just completed a second volume titled Urban Art: The World as a Canvas. Having spent many years as a photographer, on many different levels, Garry is now heavily involved in the street art scene, bridging artists in the UK with international opportunities and bringing artists from abroad to paint in the UK. He has his own studio space in Trinity Buoy Wharf which is exactly as he describes below (and I speak from experience) a wonderfully cluttered mess of art and memories, a cave of ephemera. In his interview, Garry tells us more about his connection to street art and how the scene has changed in recent years, the fascinating history of his family and connection to the Docklands and the story behind his own arts group, Fitzrovia Noir.


LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
GH: I was born and raised in South Shields, a town that the Romans called Arbeia ‘Land of the Arabs’ as even when they arrived, the ferry across the River Tyne was run by boatmen from the Euphrates. This testament to the cosmopolitan outlook continued with settlement of Yemenese sailors in the 19th Century and when I was growing up my Egyptian neighbour, Mr Aziz used to drive Jimi Hendrix around during his early tours of the Newcastle area, his manager being the local former-Animal Chas Chandler. In the early 1970s the town had the largest settlement of Muslims in Western Europe, hence Muhammed Ali visiting the mosque to have his marriage blessed. I have a vivid memory of him standing only a few feet from me dressed in an immaculate white suit when he came to Gypsies Green stadium, now the finish line of the Great North Run.

My great uncle Bill cycled to St Albans in the 1930s and never came back, so my mother used to visit him regularly after the war. She got to know London well on day trips from there and used to regale me with stories of the bright lights of theatres and crowds of busy people, although I really just eventually ended up here without a real intention, like so many people.

My actual first published photograph was in 1982, when I sneaked into Rik Mayall’s soundcheck at The Jesmond Theatre in Newcastle. He not only shared his cans of Brown Ale with me and allowed me to take pictures, but introduced me to a very young Ben Elton and also Jools Holland who was then hosting the anarchic Tube music programme that was filmed in the city. They all said I should move to London, which five years later, I did. In the meantime I toured with rock bands and learnt why roadies wafted thermometers around on lighted stages prior to gigs; this was to balance the temperatures between stage and dressing room, so guitar strings did not expand and go out of tune. I can’t really talk about the more decadent side of the business that I experienced, as I wish to maintain the privacy of those people who became good friends of mine and gave me opportunities I had never even dreamed of.

The miner’s strike of 84/85 hit North East England badly, with my own father then working at a coal pit. As soon as it was over I left my job as an exhibition printer at a local photolab and moved to Suffolk to live at the haunted Claret Hall Farm that housed the Lodge Recording Studios in former barns. I had cut my teeth on ‘live’ rock photography and here honed my skills on more art directed conceptual image making for record sleeves and promos, dodging police raids on the management’s ever-relocating amphetamine factory.

I then hitch hiked to art college in Swansea, South Wales, sleeping under my portfolio on a partially shrubbed traffic island in Bristol. Two and a half years later I arrived in London a week after the big 1987 storm, squatting with a Clapham Old Town cadre of washed-up aristocrats, who had spent their inheritances on Class A drugs and still squandered their meagre dole money on designer trousers. I got a job with a right wing photographer in Soho, who almost put me off the business as he made portraits of Freemasons in aprons with (non designer) trouser legs rolled up. After then working at a ‘glamour’ studio in Hoxton and printing exhibitions for the National Portrait Gallery, I met by chance an Armenian who would become my mentor – photographer and raconteur Peter Mackertich, and we are still friends after 25 years, working together on fine art projects where he uses Speed Graphic plate cameras and ‘blaster’ flashbulbs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Ancestors by Sciutto – East India Dock

LLO: You spend a lot of time in London’s Trinity Buoy Wharf, the “Docklands most exciting arts quarter”. Would would we discover if we paid you a visit?
GH: I discovered the Wharf quite by chance about twelve years ago and was immediately enchanted by this hidden gem, which once found must be revisited, or the ghost of former resident Michael Faraday may send you lightning bolts. I did a few exhibitions during Open House in then-vacant Container City spaces and then when Boiler House 1954 became available I remortgaged my flat to fund the initial projects I wanted to do there. I have since been supported by both the Trust and Urban Space who manage the site, allowing me to invite artists from France, Iraq, Luxembourg, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand and Venezuela, as well as working there with UK practitioners such as Ben Wilson (AKA Chewing Gum Man) and William Alexander who makes vehicles from cardboard, reflecting the upcycling ethos of the wharf, where many studios are made from old shipping containers.

The most recent addition to our growing collection of permanent work is a piece by Irony that celebrates the natural beauty of an enigmatic non-celebrity, caught in the breeze that gives the Wharf its nickname of Windy Corner.

Over the weekend of 28/29 September, we are exhibiting work inspired by the tattoo genre in the historic Electricians Shop at the Wharf, built in 1835 when many sailors would be returning from the South Pacific with freshly inked skin. We have artists from Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, New Zealand, the UK, the US and Venezuela looking at interpreting ‘flashes’ (or tattoo designs) into other media and onto other surfaces. The gallery has just this week been refurbished with spotlighting and a brand new entrance from Orchard Place. I like the way the architect has kept the historical details but has opened out the extended area with large glass panels to maximise daylight.

My own studio next door has been described as anything from a man-cave to my deconstructed brain and I think it’s somewhere between, put most succinctly by Antarctic Expedition Ops Manager Tris Kaye as ‘all of this knowledge’. Many pieces are gifts from artists I’ve worked with, other bits that I’ve rescued from derelict buildings, amongst hundreds of books in a sea of ephemera. There are works in progress, others coming in from or going out to an exhibition and ideas sparked from serendipity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Ancestors by Sciutto – East India Dock

LLO: Why are you attracted to the Docklands?
GH: I grew up by the foggy North Sea, where Tyne Dock nearly died in the early 80s, only to be revitalised by the constant Nissan transporters now coming out of the old airport site. Rather than sending coals to nearby Newcastle for export the area is now making cars to send to Europe.

My father was in the Merchant Navy from 1948-55 and sailed just about everywhere apart from the Panama Canal and Japan. These were the pre-container days when cargo ships were in ports for weeks, offloading, cleaning and loading, giving plenty time to explore New Orleans, Kingston, Odessa, Galveston, Caracas, Port Said, Adelaide and a hundred points between, so this sense of adventure was embedded in my psyche from an early age. On my mother’s side, her paternal grandfather was captain of the SS Effective, a Victorian steamship that he once navigated down to Genoa to have family portraits taken by renowned photographer Sciutto (pronounced ‘shoot-o’ perhaps part of the etymology of the word for a photo session?) I still have these original prints which I’ve here put on a maritime metal bollard cast in North East England and still at East India Dock, which in its heyday might well have secured the vessels that my ancestors traveled on from Durham.

(NB Sciutto made many famous images including this one of legendary Italian stage actress Eleonora Duse.)

My father would have visited East India Dock when it occupied a much larger area (the surviving nature reserve is only one of the smaller entrance docks) but was always more interested in smuggling paint ashore in Italy or dodging rogue traders in the Suez Canal. My first book Trip_Transporting Grain looked at these journeys, revisiting locations half a century later, the title referencing the Marshall Plan voyages that my father made from North America and the act of carrying grain within camera film.

LLO: International connections seem important to you in your work with artists. Talk a bit about how you’re bridging UK artists to other parts of the world and vice versa.
GH: I’ve established some great links with motivated people in Morocco, who are helping to bring artists from there here and UK artists out there. This has great potential, as do some other locations in Europe and Latin America, which I can’t talk about yet as they’re still in early stages of development.

By_Irony_at_Trinity_Buoy_WharfPhoto: Street art by Irony at Trinity Buoy Wharf

LLO: As well as helping to give emerging artists a voice, you have a history as an artist yourself. Tell us about your work as a photographer. What stands out as one of your most memorable experiences? I worked in photography exclusively from 1980-2005 and went from originally wanting to be a documentary photographer, to getting breaks into the music business, onto abstract experimental studio work for massive corporations, then to public sector campaigns for the NHS, NESTA, the Film Council and creative documentation for galleries like Hauser+Wirth, Gagosian and Modern Art, which bridged me into fine art practice.

One of my most memorable assignments, six years ago was a UN mission into Niger to create imagery for an advocacy program on maternal health. After photographing at a hospital in the French colonial capital of Niamey, we drove across the Sahara to Zinder, an ancient crossroads where slaves were traded until relatively recently. We met with the Sultan who decreed that girls could no longer marry aged 12, and now had to be 16 adding that this would be raised to 20 ‘if they were a bit skinny.’ Fistula is however a serious problem and we met many young girls suffering from this avoidable condition but can only hope that their treatment is successful and others can be protected. I was so heavily bearded and suntanned after this extended period in the desert, that when trying to leave from the international airport, my passport was seized while officials checked my temporary resemblance to an Al Qaeda fugitive on their wanted list.

I lived in New York from 2004-07, exhibiting my first solo show Name, Rank and Serial Number picking up an award for the accompanying book and half a dozen others for my fine art work and abstract experimental advertising imagery for big corporations like Sony, Cable&Wireless and Pfizer. When I got back to London I felt I needed to move on and set up Fitzrovia Noir with Lucy Williams, a specialist in community arts outreach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Inside Garry’s studio

LLO: How has the advent of digital photography affected the art form as it is today?
GH: I used to love the alchemy of large format image making using cameras with extendable bellows and film formats measured in inches, pushing chemical technology beyond the norm. Whereas it often used to take me days to produce one finished image that had exposures of minutes using projectors and mixed lighting, now it’s instantaneous. I lost interest in photography that resembles a colouring-in book, where the process is concentrated in post-production.

I spent a month at BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize) in 2010 shortly before it closed due to MoD cuts. There I created ‘textographs’ which describe photographs not taken, that were then framed like prints for the Annuale Festival of Independent Practice during Edinburgh Festival. This was an experiment into whether a photograph is still worth anything like a thousand words, promoted by research I did on cognitive uses of the brain, facilitated by The Disconnected Mind project led by Professor Ian Deary at the University of Edinburgh.

On the positive side I have rediscovered documentary photography and this features strongly as a strand of my curatorial practice and in the books I write and illustrate.

STORM_Waterloo_signed_editioned_print_20x24_C-typePhoto: Original  image on 10×8″ format transparency

LLO: In 2008, you set up Fitzrovia Noir arts group. Tell us about this group and why you chose the name.
GH: When the 250 year old Middlesex Hospital in Fitzrovia was sold and demolition began, I thought it was extremely important to celebrate this iconic teaching institution that had cared for so many Londoners from Prince Monolulu to Peter Sellers, hosting the laying in state of Rudyard Kipling and having treatments for a cholera epidemic supervised by one Florence Nightingale before she left for the Crimea.

I added Noir to the neighbourhood name to signal our interest in the darker side of life, whilst also referencing both of my grandmothers, one who had the maiden name of Black, the other who had a French side, with milliner cousins running a shop in Paris. The prefix ‘Fitz’ was used to denote a child conceived out of landed gentry wedlock and added in front of existing surnames in Ireland, so this also relates to a distant relative who I’m told was a baron, but I’m not sure if he was a real bastard…

We like places undergoing transition and exhibited our Responses to Conflict & Loss group show as site specific changing showcases that specifically responded to the three venues: St Pancras Crypt which was a WWII air raid shelter; Space2 Gallery in Peterborough, once used as a Cold War nuclear shelter and the University of Hertfordshire Galleries that had the de Havilland aircraft factory on its site. We have also exhibited in an old pithead on Tyneside, a former grammar school in Chelsea, an empty shop in Edinburgh and look forward to a 13th Century Château in the Ardèche next summer and possibly a French colonial abattoir in Casablanca in 2014 too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto: Inside Garry’s studio

LLO: You’re the author of Street Art: From Around the World with a follow up book out this month. What can we expect to see in the new volume?
GH: The last book was an introduction to the street art practices of stencil, paint, poster and 3D, citing notable artists. This new book goes under the skin, examining the concepts behind the work and looking at the pioneer artists of the 1960s and 70s including Kent Twitchell in Los Angeles and Ernest Pignon-Ernest in Naples, featuring previously unseen archive photography by Peter Mackertich and specially taken photographs by Doralba Picerno, Sheridan Orr and myself that look at urban artists’ work in countries lesser known for such activity including Canada, India, Korea, Morocco and South Africa.

LLO: How did you get involved with the street art community?
GH: I’d taken an interest in graffiti since an early age, being something of a practitioner myself and getting caned at school for misuse of a pen. My great friend Cathy Gibbons in New York opened my eyes to emerging practices, as did visits to Berlin and I got to know some artists very well as collaborators when I set up Fitzrovia Noir.

An ongoing project I first formulated in 2006 has finally broken through after much immersive research and changing hurdles imposed by funding authorities. The core idea is to look at the street names on the postwar council estate where I grew up, which honour writers like Ruskin who had a social conscience and deep interest in the visual arts. The next estate celebrates Ruskin’s friend Turner and many other famous painters such as Landseer and Rembrandt, so this really is a new look at ‘street art’ where I hope to engage current residents in a program of celebrating people from the area, who I feel have been neglected. I was six years old when my father took me for tea to meet Lord Blyton, a campaigner for miners’ rights who carried on living at his council house nearby and is still the most impressive Lord among the many I have since met. My concept is, I am happy to say, the central theme of a successful consortium bid called The Cultural Spring that will see a two million pound fund to promote the arts in areas of North East England that are much more in need of ‘street art’ than say, saturated Shoreditch. I have a strong desire to get Lord Blyton properly recognised locally, as well as many less famous people who make huge efforts to improve the lives of others.


LLO: How has street art evolved in the last decade and how do you feel about the changes?
GH: I think the main problem now is corporations want a very big slice of the pie and I was told only yesterday that ‘community volunteers’ from McDonalds in branded overalls were spotted painting over work on Sclater Street, in readiness for who knows what thinly veiled subliminal messages. Some blame does lie with the self appointed keepers of certain walls in Shoreditch, who speak of strategy and branding for their artists – this is public art now, without any real message apart from a big bold statement that says ‘I own this wall.’ There is hope though – watch this space.

Photo: Garry’s latest book: Urban Art, The World as a Canvas

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery and why?
GH: To discover Fitzrovia in the late 80s was a revelation, an area right in Central London that few had heard of and had very affordable studio space after the property crash. I had three studios there over twenty years and lived there for most of that time. It’s been ruined now through overdevelopment and I’ve lived in Dalston for the last year, loving Ridley Market and especially the superb food that comes out of the tiny Kashmiri Kebabish at No 5. They’ve even cooked for a President of Pakistan.

Garry Hunter has a book signing for the newly published Urban Art : The World as a Canvas on the Opening Night of the Heroes and Villains panels on Thursday October 3rd from 5pm to 10pm, upstairs at The Bell, Middlesex Street E1. All welcome. Signed copies are also now available from Graffik Gallery, 284 Portobello Road W10 . 

London Art Spot: Martin Usborne


Remember those powerful images of lonely dogs starting out of car windows into dark and rainy nights? That was one of Martin’s photography projects. Now he’s put together another series, this time focusing on East London with the result a collection of books on various topics. One I’m most looking forward to follows the story of 86 1/2 year old Joseph Markovitch who, according to Martin’s Kickstarter page for the project, “Joseph Markovitch has left London only once, to go to the seaside with his mother. He loves Nicolas Cage, has five sugars in his tea, would have married a six foot two Hispanic woman but in the end had bad chest catarrh and never had a girlfriend.” Below, he talks a bit about how he first met Joseph, what to expect from this new project and his most memorable East London smell.

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 20.54.23

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
MU: I’m from North London originally, but now feel very much that East London is my spiritual home. I’ve lived here for about 12 years and can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s constantly changing and developing.  I love walking our dogs around the area.

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 20.56.38

LLO: One of your most well known photography projects is the powerful series of images called The Silence of Dogs in Cars. The images are quite dark, yet look like they’re out of a dream. What is the process of creating these images?
MU: I wanted to create something a little other worldly. This meant a huge amount of preparation, lighting and planning. Each dog had to be matched to each car to each location and then we used up to four lights. This gave it a cinematic feel that took it out of the everyday.

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 20.57.45

LLO: Share a story of a memorable encounter between you and a Londoner with their dog that you met while working on Dogs in Cars.
MU: One shot required having four huskies in a car who were incredibly excitable. It took place at 11pm outside a set of council flats and they moved so much they kept hitting the horn. The only thing that calmed them down was hanging some ham in the air and playing Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2U” from another car and at high volume. We got the shot but the neighbours were bemused to say the least.


LLO: You used Kickstarter to help fund the Dogs in Cars book. Now you have another project – books about East London – also being funded through Kickstarter. In five sentences or less, what is this new project all about?
MU: It’s about making beautiful books that celebrate the creativity and character of East London. There are so many fascinating untold stories here – and so many creative photographers, illustrators and artists to help tell those stories. I’ve always loved books as well as photography and illustration and this is a way to bring it all together. I feel that East London has an appeal far beyond it’s boundaries.


LLO: Tell us the story of Joseph Markovitch. Who is he and how did you meet?
MU: I met him one day just walking through Hoxton Square. He always likes to talk to strangers. I assumed he was homeless or drunk – he was neither. In fact he belonged more to the area than any of the young media types lounging in the sun. I realised he had a unique and fascinating view of an area that was changing so quickly. We became friends and I charted his life. The book was a by product of this but did so well I thought a publishing company producing books like this would be viable.


LLO: How did your relationship with Joseph lead to him becoming the subject of one of your books – “I’ve Lived In East London For 86 1/2 Years”? What can we expect from this volume?
MU: I realised he was totally both totally unique but also very tender and funny too. A powerful combination. I started just by taking portraits but then realised his words told as good a story as his face.


LLO: What other books on East London are in the works? When will they be published? Will you do a West London series as well? 
MU: No, I very much want to focus on East London.  That is what I know and love. We are already planning a book about East London wildlife – a sort of pastiche on early explorer etchings of new creatures – and a book about the people who swim in winter at the Lido (by Madaleine Waller). We are also doing a book about East London foxes.


LLO: What are the biggest lessons that you’ve learned about yourself and the world around you through your photography projects?
MU: That you have to be your own motor. You only get things done with a lot of self-drive. But also that your own way of seeing the world is as valid as anyone else’s can ever be.


LLO: When you think of the London that you know best, what comes to mind when I say:
Sight – Hipsters burning small holes in London fields with their BBQ sets
Sound – Taxis
Smell – Coffee mixed with morning air mixed with a hint of pollution
Taste – Breakfast at the Pavillion in Victoria Park
Texture –  Rough tarmac under my bike wheels


LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
MU: There’s a small observatory up at the top of Hampstead Heath that I went to some years ago. I am not sure it is there any more but it’s run by a volunteer and there is an incredibly old telescope that allows you to see the stars as they might have done many years ago. Very beautiful.


Thanks Martin!

For more from Martin, visit his website or support his latest East London book project through Kickstarter.

London Art Spot: Lis Watkins

The Great Croydon BakeOff-3392 photo for twitterPhoto by Nikolay Voronkov, @NVoronkov

Instead of using a camera, Lis explores London with a moleskine notebook and a pen. Sharing illustrations in a daily blog called Line and Wash she has created an ongoing storyboard of London life through this art form. Below, Lis talks about the day her blog became a reality, some of her favourite smells, sounds, tastes and textures in this city and a few tempting recommendations of food and drink that I’ll be adding to my long list of places to explore!

Awaiting delivery 1Awaiting delivery

LLO: If not London, where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here? Give us a brief history of your artistic background.
LW: Originally from Brighton on the South Coast, I came to London to go to art college and ended up staying for work. I started my blog, a kind of daily drawing diary, originally as a personal challenge to get myself drawing more, wanting to return to work as a full-time illustrator after a period focusing on family life.  I knew I needed to brush up my artistic skills and regular drawing seemed like a good idea.

crystal palace food market 1 colourCrystal Palace food market

LLO: You’ve been keeping your sketch blog, Line and Wash, for about two years now. Tell us a bit about the blog, why you decided to set it up, what we’ll find there and what you hope to accomplish with your site.
LW: The catalyst for making the blog a reality rather than a dream was a reunion with old art college friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon outside the Royal Festival Hall on London’s Southbank.  Stepping back in time and being with lots of creative people again reignited my appetite for drawing, so my online sketchbook, ‘Line and Wash’ was born.  One of the surprises of making the blog is the interest I’ve had from other people and I’ve been bowled over by all the comments I’ve received.

Olympic rings at St PancrasOlympic rings at St Pancras

LLO: How often do you sketch? Is it a hobby or a full time pursuit?
LW: It really depends on how much illustration work I have on but I usually manage something every day. I see life now as a series of drawing opportunities!

shelf stacking at Alexandra NurseriesShelf stacking at Alexandra Nurseries

LLO: Give us a short introduction to your technique, the materials you prefer to work with and your method of approach to an idea.
LW: I carry a small sketchbook and fine liner pen around with me all the time in case I see a good subject to draw. Using a pen focuses my mind as to what marks to make. I also have a large Moleskine watercolour sketchbook and a set of pocket watercolours for larger drawings.  Lately, I’ve been experimenting with using water soluble pencils and a water brush as it’s easier to use these when there’s nowhere to sit.

Skateboarding at the south bankSkateboarding at the south bank

LLO: You’re heading out the door with your sketchbook. Do you usually have a set destination and subject in mind or do you prefer to wander? If the latter, how you you decide when you stop and sketch?
LW: Most of my sketches are of everyday life in my part of Southeast London and Croydon – travelling on public transport, shopping, family life, what’s happening in the back garden – but I do try to go out at least every couple of weeks to sketch special events or buildings in London.  It doesn’t always work out as planned though – I went to draw in Soho at the time of the Chinese New Year, but couldn’t find anywhere to perch to make a drawing but then stumbled upon the preparations for the BAFTAs outside the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

getting ready for the BAFTASGetting ready for the BAFTAs

LLO: As an artist you’re obviously inspired visually by London, but what is it about the city that most appeals to you in each of the following categories:
As well as sketching in London I’ve also sketched in Paris but when funds don’t allow for that, it’s always nice to go and draw at St. Pancras station, watching all the travellers and listening to the French announcements on the tannoy and pretend I could be waiting for the next Eurostar!

Smell: A visit to Kew Gardens is always a great treat for all the senses, with all its fabulous fragrant plants and flowers.

Touch: I spent several weekends sketching the Sydenham Arts Festival, where it was great to visit lots of places on the Artists Trail, getting the chance to see and touch lots of beautiful hand crafted pieces of jewellery and ceramics.

Taste: The Crystal Palace Food Market is a great place to shop with lots of interesting stalls selling tasty fresh food and also Alexandra Nurseries in Penge is a gem of a garden centre with a café serving delicious tea and cake in vintage china.

Sydenham Community LibrarySydenham Community Library

LLO: Which image, project or moment of your artistic career are you most proud of so far and why?
LW: I was one of the many people hanging around St. Mary’s Hospital when the Duchess of Cambridge was due to give birth in July. It was a great thrill when one of my sketches from the day was used by Urban Sketchers founder Gabriel Campanario on his ‘The Week in Sketches’ website.  As well as posting on the blog, I ‘tweet’ my drawings daily and had a great moment when the author of ‘The Little Paris Kitchen,’ Rachel Khoo, saw some sketches I had made while queuing at one of her book signings and gave me a big plug by sharing them on her Facebook page.

the queue for KhooThe queue for Khoo

LLO: What are you working on now? Any big projects or shows coming up? Any news to share?
LW: I’m going to be exhibiting with ‘SE20 Art’ at their 8th Annual Exhibition at the end of this month,  and am hoping to set up an online shop selling prints of my sketchbook drawings as well as having a stall with some other local artists in Penge Market in September.

tools of the tradeTools of the trade

LLO: Give us your best London food and drink recommendations.
LW: There’s a lovely little café and chocolate shop called ‘Mélange’ at 184 Bellenden Road, Peckham and great ice cream at Chin Chin Labs at Camden Market, 49 – 50 Camden Lock Place.

Tower BridgeTower Bridge

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
LW: One of the things about doing my blog is that I’m always discovering bits of London I’ve never visited before and it was only a few weeks ago that I finally got to the beautiful area of Little Venice.  Sketching has made me look at London afresh and  I’ve fallen back in love with the place and I feel as enthusiastic as I did when I got my first A-Z many years ago.

Thanks Lis!

Find Lis on Twitter and Line and Wash.

London Art Spot: Ben Wilson (Part 2)

If you missed part 1 of my interview with The Chewing Gum Artist, Ben Wilson, head back one entry! Otherwise, read on for the rest of my conversation with this imaginative artist who just completed a chew gum art trail along London’s King’s Road for the InTransit Arts Festival


LLO: Tell us about some of the chewing gum art pieces that you’ve created over the past decade.
BW: I’ve been lying on the pavement for 10 years. I have done everything from smoochy love stories to horror stories, from unimaginable hysteric situations to really complex ones – the whole spectrum of human emotion. You get the school kids who want pink love hearts and stars and “best friends for life”. Then you get the tough guys who want their tags – Toxic and Riddler and stuff.

LLO: Do you have a favourite piece?
 I like the invention of the actual gum pic. That allows for anything to happen in that space.


LLO: Is there an example that really stands out for you?
BW: There’s a myriad of different situations. I’m recording the kids growing up for one family, so each year I do a picture. They started on the doorstep. Now they’re on the wall. Every time they have a birthday, I do a picture for them. I’ve done things for them like Spiderman and karate kid. They’re people I’ve really gotten to know now because the pictures are about them.


LLO: Do you feel that your work makes a difference to the community?
BW: If I’m working in different environments, I see the complexity of social landscape. The pictures reflect social landscape. They are about places and people. You have some desolate high streets, very standardised environments, where there’s more likely to be muggings. Some of these people can’t make a living and other issues arise. Everyone has a different version of problem solving if they’re allowed to try to change things on a grassroots level. So I’m doing things my way, but there’s no one right way or one right answer, but a total of all of these different approaches. You need diversity of actions. The pictures are a celebration of colour and they reflect the sheer beauty of diversity.


LLO: How do you make a living if you paint full time but don’t ask for money for your work?
I do sell my work, doing art trails like this one for InTransit. I do shows, exhibit in a gallery in Mayfair. I have to make a living. And actually the whole thing couldn’t have happened if it was about money initially. It wouldn’t have happened because first you had to convince everyone that it was okay. If suddenly I start painting on cigarette butts or anything like that, people would say, “Ew, how can you do that?”. But chewing gum? That’s become normal now. *laughs* You’re breaking norms and finding a way to allow something to happen. I like the social element.

LLO: So if you’re making work for a gallery, do you chew your own gum?
No, I remove it from the pavement, so it’s still someone’s discarded chewing gum. I place that on a brick.


LLO: So if it’s indoors, is it always on bricks?
I do hidden trails inside museums and galleries as well. That’s quite fun. I hide the work. I melt the gum onto foil. I could do, say, 40 pictures and they could just go anywhere. And then I let them know afterwards, contact Time Out and all that. The media will photograph them and then suddenly the public knows and if they find them, they can have them.

LLO: Since you’re working along the King’s Road now, are you going to do a trail through the Saatchi Gallery?
I could if I wanted to. I can put them anywhere.


LLO: Where are we most likely to find them indoors?
BW: My favorite place is the Tate Modern. There’s all sorts of metalwork and graphics which work perfectly to hide the pictures. You can do some that look like screw fittings or tiny lettering. It’s a form of camouflage that I really enjoy. They’re signed so people can have a free work of art. I may spend seven hours working on one tiny little river scape which, if it was in a gallery, would go for about £300. But I like the fact that a person can just find it and take it. It is a celebration of art and human diversity. It’s exciting that anyone can find them.


LLO: How did you choose to work along King’s Road?
I got funding to do this trail, so I’m being paid. Every so often I get some paid work. Sometimes I collaborate with Garry Hunter from Fitzrovia Noir. He looks up the history of the area and says so and so used to live here. It’s nice to work with another person who has an understanding of what I’m doing. We met a woman today who just came up to us randomly on the street who now wants to do something with the Royal Ballet and the National Gallery. It’s amazing just being out here and the people you meet on the street.


LLO: Tell us about a few of the pieces we can find along the King’s Road trail.
It’s nice working here. I’ve done a few streetscapes. Garry researched certain places and I’ve done pictures that relate. He said there’s a sound studio over here called Sound Techniques where Pink Floyd and The Who recorded. There’s a Carol Reed (film director) piece for “The Third Man”. It’s nice to acknowledge certain things about a place. There’s always random people coming up though, giving me a personal story. I’ll do these nearby. For example, there was just a guy passing on a bike and he asked me to do a picture for his two kids.


LLO: Do you find people react differently to you in an area like Chelsea where there’s not much street art compared to, say, East London?
I’ve never gotten too into the East London thing. People have asked me to go down there and work but I am generally in Barnet. I’m a Barnet boy! I’m quite happy just to work outside Colney Hatch Lane or on the North Circular. Wherever you are, people just come up and say what they like.  There’s been quite mixed reactions around Chelsea. Some people come up and they get it right away. Other people are like, “Ew, what are you doing”? But I don’t care whether people who come by get it or not. I like the conversations that are sparked by what I’m doing though.

LLO: Any memorable reactions besides people who come up with requests?
It’s nice to find a little place that’s quiet. You get a sense of how everyone is observing everyone. I have had people say they see me on the bus while going to work and then get off at a different stop on the way home just to spend ages trying to find the picture, to see what I’ve been doing. I met one guy on Piccadilly who said his whole office, way up high, had been looking down debating what I was doing. I was absorbed in my work. You really get a sense though that everyone is observing everyone. We’re all interlinked in this big funny world.

InTransit_gum_art_by_Ben Wilson_curated_by_Fitzrovia_Noir_CIC

LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
here’s lots of things. I love the garden near Jack Straw’s castle in Hampstead Heath. It’s a beautiful pagoda near Hillview Park. It was built by this nutter in the early 20th century. I discovered it when it was semi-derelict. It’s the most beautiful garden. First, the whole thing was all abandoned and the garden was in two sections. There was this big old rich mansion where someone used to live. The mansion was sold and made into a hospital and then a whole section of the garden with all these pagodas and buildings and green houses was all wild and overgrown. Then there was a section that was public and slightly maintained. There’s a temple and an old staircase. People love it. They can climb into it. It’s a secret place.

But generally, I just get excited by the diversity of the people and the creativity of kids. I love little places like squares and old museums and, actually, I really like the Millennium Bridge! Four years worth of chewing gum pictures got destroyed there, sadly. I nearly got from one end to the other. I will be back though. They left one picture, one little happy face. There were loads of requests from people all over the world there. One guy wanted one for his girlfriend. He was in prison and was going to show her when he came out. He just wanted a little love heart. 


LLO: So you’ve spent a lot of time on that bridge then! Any good stories?
Yup. I remember a time. It was after I’d been featured in The New York Times. I had these guys come up to me to tell me to stop working and then this group of Americans came over saying, “No, no, he’s the Chewing Gum Man. Leave him alone!” The police said they didn’t care. Then that was it. I just moved on. Then came back later, of course. Another time my bloody mat blew into the River Thames. Some French people were filming. It’s hard to get a decent mat now…

LLO: You must really enjoy what you do since you’ve been at it for a decade.
Yes, I really do enjoy what I do. It’s relaxing. I enjoy being out here. I like working in the snow or sometimes in the rain can be quite good. There are nice reflections. You have your umbrella so if you’ve got another fucking rainy day, it doesn’t matter.


If you missed the customised piece of chewing gum art that Ben created for Little London Observationist, check it out.