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

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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?
BW:
 I like the invention of the actual gum pic. That allows for anything to happen in that space.

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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.

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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.

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LLO: How do you make a living if you paint full time but don’t ask for money for your work?
BW:
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?
BW:
No, I remove it from the pavement, so it’s still someone’s discarded chewing gum. I place that on a brick.

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LLO: So if it’s indoors, is it always on bricks?
BW:
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?
BW:
I could if I wanted to. I can put them anywhere.

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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.

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LLO: How did you choose to work along King’s Road?
BW:
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.

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LLO: Tell us about a few of the pieces we can find along the King’s Road trail.
BW:
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.

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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?
BW:
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?
BW:
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.

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LLO: What’s your favourite London discovery?
BW: T
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. 

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LLO: So you’ve spent a lot of time on that bridge then! Any good stories?
BW:
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.
BW:
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.

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

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Ben Wilson Designs Chewing Gum Art for Little London Observationist

On Thursday last week, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the famous chewing gum artist, Ben Wilson while he was at work on a King’s Road piece. I have some transcribing to do but you should see the interview up in the next day or two.

Ben then very kindly came round on Saturday to create a customised piece of chewing gum art at the Little London Observationist headquarters!

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It was late afternoon when my phone rang. It was Ben. “I’m just downstairs. I’ve been working on your piece for a little while now!” So I made him a cup of tea, milk no sugar, and headed downstairs.

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He had chosen a lovely blue-green colour for the base with a black outline and was already working on the design.

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On Thursday, Ben had asked me what I’d like on the chewing gum. My first thought was a camera. So he took a photo of my hand holding my camera for inspiration.

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Ben is sprawled out on his paint-splattered sleeping mat. He’s surrounded by his backpack, an open tool box full of paint, a torch and some lighters, a scraper, lacquer, paintbrushes, a cup of water and his paint dish where he mixes colours.

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He also has a packet of crisps and a mug of tea.

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Ben lapses in and out of silence when he works. Sometimes he’s lost in concentration. Other times he sits up telling me animated stories of his family, his three children, other artwork he has painted around the world and his general love of creativity and nature.

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He works on such a tiny scale, but detail is very important in Ben’s work. He looks at me before he dips his brush in a spot of red paint and says, “Now this will really bring it to life!” I watch as he paints my fingernails on the hand holding the camera.

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He must have a very steady hand and great eyesight. He’s been painting chewing gum on the streets of London – thousands and thousands of them – for almost 10 years now. October marks a decade.

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He invited me to his studio to see some of his other projects so I am looking forward to that.

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Ben paints full time, as you’ll read in his interview in the next few days. Sitting next to him on the pavement is a small flip notebook. While he’s working, people often approach with requests and he writes down what they would like as well as their contact details. He loves to connect with people and he takes these requests for free. To Ben, this is the beauty of his work and what he most enjoys.

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Of course, an artist also has to make some money to survive. To this end, Ben also works on some commissioned projects like his new gum art trail that follows the King’s Road as part of Chelsea and Kensington’s InTransit Festival this month. Ben is following the “Route of Kings and Punks“. But more on that in the interview post this week.

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Ben is working on the Little London Observationist lettering when the sky goes dark.

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We feel a few drops, but Ben is well prepared to work in any weather – rain or shine, even snow. He digs his umbrella out from his backpack and pulls on a pair of reflective trousers.

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And he carries on.

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Ben works for a few hours. During this time, people at the pub across the street and passersby watch curiously, look backward as they walk past. I know many will come back to see what on earth he was doing painting on the ground – not a sight you often see around here.

Once the painting has been finished and it’s been set with a flame from a lighter, it’s time for a protective lacquer coat. Ben has a few cut outs in his toolbox which he uses to protect the pavement surrounding his work when he sprays the chewing gum.

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Once he is satisfied with his work, he chips away any paint that may have dripped on the sidewalk and cleans up the edges. He’s very conscious about the impact we have on our environment which is much of the reason he paints on discarded chewing gum in the first place.

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When the piece is finished, Ben hangs hangs around for a few minutes. He tells me a story of how he was once caught drawing mini “gum” pieces inside of street art books that feature his work. This was at the Tate Modern bookshop. He was scolded before the manager approached and was excited by the personal touch he had given them.

Then he picks up his old camera with its cracked screen and takes a few photos of the new chewing gum piece for his collection. He shows me a few photos of his mother and children.

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And then he’s off. Ben loves to cook and is heading home to make a fish pie for his son for dinner.

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For more background on Ben Wilson, here’s a lovely article that was published in The New York Times

London Art Spot: Darren MacPherson

If you’re looking for something a bit different to do one day, you can pop down to Hounslow and watch through the large street windows of figurative painter Darren MacPherson’s workshop as he creates is latest pieces. He will most likely be absorbed in the beat of his loud music and probably covered in splotches of brightly (some even say jarring) coloured spray paint or acrylics that he so loves. 

His work is built with layers of content, negative space in the background making the figures pop. It may seem a chaotic method of working, erratic even, but it all comes together with some eye-catching, stunning results.

Darren’s been featured at some pretty prestigious events like FLAGSTOP in Los Angeles, the inaugural Other Art Fair in London and the 2011 National Open Art Exhibition. And now, of course, he’s gracing the pages of Little London Observationist. 

Read on for the details of his upcoming London show with a ceramicist, the reasons why he’s glad he never went through art school and a little secret about a particular object from 1969 that he’d like to paint in the near future.  

LLO: In which ways does living in London inspire your creativity?
DM:
 I love the differences around us in London, the people, the architecture, art – there is just something for everyone and it’s always evolving. I’m always interested to see how areas change and develop and whether that change is organic or more synthetic. Although I’m inspired by street art and graffiti, it’s the way it builds up over time that really motivates me, the different layers of posters, spray paint, adverts etc; I try to recreate this layering process in the backgrounds of my paintings.

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LLO:  The first thing that hits me when I look at your work is your incredible use of bold colours. Why is colour so important to you? How has your style developed and changed over the years?
DM: There are such amazing colours available these days it seems so natural to use them. I often hear that an artist should reflect the time they live in and I try to use the most up-to-date materials that I can. I’m keen to see how colours interact both with each other and with the surface they lay upon. Many people say the colours I use shouldn’t work and they are surprised that they do. I’m also reflecting nature; you don’t look at an amazing array of flowers in a garden or at a florist and say that the colours don’t work together. Of course there are colour palettes that work better and are safer to use than others and thought should always go into the use of colour, but I try to stretch those perceptions.

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LLO: Is your figurative work based on real life models, photographs, imagination…? How does your background in social studies play into your work if at all?
DM: I prefer to use real life models but will work from photographs. I never paint a figure from my imagination; the final piece must always be of a real person. I’ll paint imaginative figures into the backgrounds however, but these often become obscured or covered up completely. In my previous role as a social worker I was obviously interested in people and the human condition. I view the layers that make up the backgrounds in my work as the strata and complexity that makes up an individual.

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LLO: To what extent do titles play a role in giving meaning to your paintings? Do you have a title in mind when you paint or is this something that develops when a piece is finished?
DM: A title anchors the picture. I’ve never understood why pieces have ‘untitled’ as a title as that still constitutes a title so at least give it some thought. I rarely formulate titles until a piece is finished and I’ll think about the completed composition, inspirations or feelings I had when painting it or maybe the title will be something that I wish to convey. A title gives an insight into the artist and what they were thinking at that given moment.

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LLO:  As a self-taught artist, what have been your biggest challenges so far and how have you moved beyond them?
DM: I used to have a lot of insecurity about not having a fine art degree or not going to art school but now I’m actually quite relieved. I realise that I can embrace my creativity without having been told that what I’m doing is incorrect or not relevant. I’ve come across many artists who have commented that their creativity was taught out of them at art school and I’ve seen examples of this on courses I’ve attended. I’m not saying that what is taught is wrong just that it should be balanced with natural flair. I guess established artists have managed to find that balance and maybe that’s why they’ve become successful.

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LLO: You’ve painted on denim, sunglasses and other found objects. What’s the most interesting object you’ve painted on, in your opinion? Anything in particular you’d like to use as a canvas in the future?
DM: The sunglasses were definitely a challenge, mainly because they were for a specific purpose whereas other objects I’ve painted have been experimental and of my own choosing. Seven of us were commissioned to create a customised pair of glasses Debut Contemporary and TOMS Eyewear for their pop up shop in Covent garden. I tried to think about my painting style coupled with TOMS philosophy; I was happy with the results.

I recently sent out 88 hand embellished postcards that I’d picked up in a second hand bookshop. They were all individual photographs of Japanese kids wearing outlandish fashion, so I embellished them and put a shoutout on Facebook to anyone that wanted one mailed to them to send me their address and share the photo album of the cards on their profile. They were all gone in 48 hours. I liked the idea of the artwork sending itself through the post and the notion of making art available to those who wouldn’t or couldn’t ordinarily acquire an artwork.

Anything I’d like to use as a canvas…? I would really like to paint a full size car in my style. I also had an idea to paint a 1969 Vespa scooter and ride it around an exhibition…Watch this space!

LLO: You said in another interview I read that you really want to push your artistic boundaries this year. How so?
DM:
 I wanted to challenge myself in ways I haven’t previously, in my painting and in exhibiting. Artists must develop, and in order to do so one mustn’t become complacent and stay within one’s comfort zone. So this year I’ve gone large with canvas size, the biggest being almost 3m in length; I also reversed my painting style to incorporate some detail into the figures and surround them with abstraction instead of presenting the abstract background upon the figure. This has allowed me to develop new techniques of pouring and pushing very wet paint around the canvas (or denim), which, I have to say, is really difficult to control but the results have been stunning.

Another step for me this year is that on 7th June, I open a show with one other artist – ceramicist Patrick Colhoun – at a new gallery space in North Greenwich. This will be the first time I have all of the wall space in a gallery to myself. Details below.

LLO: Describe your studio in Hounslow for us.
DM: One word…mess! It’s a total workshop, but it’s also got these huge windows onto the street so passersby can stop and watch me work. Many people will knock on the door and show their appreciation as there aren’t, to my knowledge, any other artists in the immediate area, particularly ones that are so visible. I like that people can stand and watch and pass comment; it has some immediacy to it. I always listen to loud music to get my expressionism going. Favourites are Outkast and Rage Against The Machine but I’ll listen to classical and more mellow music to try and get in touch with different feelings.

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LLO: What do you hope to communicate through your work?
DM: I want people to look at my work and feel positive and uplifted. I don’t want people to look too deeply for meaning or hidden significance. Although meaning is always present in everybody’s work, I just don’t like it when people begin to intellectualise the work. I had an experience recently where someone was almost questioning every brush stroke and trying to apply why I did things in a certain way, and they were so far off the mark. I paint because I enjoy it and I want others to enjoy it too. I also want to leave a legacy, an imprint of my existence in the world long after I’m gone.

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LLO: Tell us about your life outside of art in a few sentences
DM: I have three daughters so most of my time is taken up with being a father. They are a true inspiration to me and I’m blessed to have three such wonderful people in my life. Dislikes? Negative people and negative attitude. I’m a ‘can do’ person, so I try not to waste too much time on those that want to bring you down.

At 2011 National Open Art Exhibition

Thanks Darren!

You can also find Darren on his website, Facebook and Twitter.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Sophia Fox

Welcome to the magical world of Sophia Fox where happiness comes at the flick of a switch and the turning on and off of seasons may not be far behind. Sophia’s the artist who created the happiness switch that you loved in this entry and a whole series of others like it for her happiness project. She is also an illustrator which you can see from her website, but I decided to focus on the happiness project with her for this interview. If you wander around Holborn, Bethnal Green, Hackney or Aldgate East, you may just stumble upon a magical happiness switch to brighten your mood.

Sophia talks to us about what she thinks is the equivalent of magic in everyday life, tells us about the time she was stopped by police when putting up a happiness switch and her ideas on how to Londoners can make this a happier place to live.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
SF: Originally I’m from Eastern Europe. I lived in Ukraine for little bit, Poland and Czech Republic. I feel each of these places created an important chapter in my life. This is my second year in this magical city. I can’t stop being amazed; every day I learn something new and meet more people with inspiring stories. I came here on my way to Barcelona searching for an exciting life-changing experience and I’ve fallen in love with the spirit of this big anthropologic city.

LLO: Tell us a little bit about your creative background.
SF: I graduated from fashion design, but with time found it limiting and moved on to graphic design. Currently I’m deeply in love with digital art and programming. Interactive art has a special place in my heart, and living in the city with so many opportunities to explore the that topic makes me feel very fortunate.

LLO: How and when did you decide to start your happiness project in London? Tell us a bit about it.
SF: The idea of the happiness switch comes from my love for wizards and fantasy lands. I like to think that stories of kindness are the equivalent of magic in everyday life. My project started last spring. I felt that everyone was exhausted after the heavy winter and needed an energy kick for good beginning of the spring. The switch is turning on the magic in your head which starts the chain of positive thinking.

LLO: How many happiness switches are currently up around the city and where can we find them?
SF: I installed around 40 switches so far, however most of them got adopted. I hope they are comfortable in their new homes. Seventeen of them are still out there working hard every day to make this city a “warmer” place. Most of them are based in east London, however I decided not to reveal the locations as they seem to disappear more often these days…

LLO: The street art aspect of this project is obviously very important. Have you ever been caught putting up a happiness switch?
SF: I meet many people while installing my switches; you would be surprised how many people are on the street at 2 am. This city never sleeps. Once I met a men walking three dogs of the same breed. He was very supportive of my idea and offered a personal guidance of his dogs for the evening. I was caught by police once and they questioned my actions. However I think the switch got out their good side because they started to laugh once they understood what was I doing and let me go.

LLO: What about London makes you happy?
SF: I love the swimming pool in Tottenham Court Road and the under-bridge cafe in Shoreditch. I think that I might be addicted to swimming. I think if it were possible to learn how to fly the training session would take place in water.

LLO: Is there anything about London that makes you sad or angry, something that would make a real happiness switch useful for you?
SF: Don’t like CCTV and the weather. I’m currently working on the switch which would turn off the winter.

LLO: What do you think Londoners could do to make it a happier place?
SF: I feel Londoners are a bit too busy to stop and admire little things. It seems sometimes that many people pursue careers which are considered good in the eyes of society but never look into themselves and ask what they really want to do.

LLO: Other London-based artists you admire?
SF: I love Christiaan Nagel’s mushrooms; always wished for the bus stops to be situated under big umbrella-like mushrooms. They could change within the area so you could distinguish from borough to borough based on the kinds of “mushroom” bus stops.

LLO: Where does your artistic focus lie for 2012?
SF: I want to take the switch to the next level. I’m working on an art installation which would let the spectator take control over the events in the video using one of the switches.

Thanks Sophia!

See more of Sophia’s work on her website (or the other one!).

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.

London Art Spot: Cosmo Sarson

When I first checked out London painter Cosmo Sarson’s website, his About section simply said “I’m up and out of bed, what more do you want?” In fact, it may still say that. But clearly Cosmo is a man with a lot to talk about when it comes to about his life and work, because he’s spilled the story for us hereAnd if you like what you read, be sure to stop by the Hospital Club in Covent Garden where his work is on display until December 2011.

Read on to hear about how this born and bred Londoner’s artistic life has unfolded, the story behind his recent street art piece on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane which has gotten so much attention, and his passion for breakdancing.

LLO: Which aspects of London life most influence your creativity and in what ways?
CS: I was born and bred in London, so I am a product of the old town.

If you’ve grown up here you’re just wizend, not jaded, just experienced. You’re not from the provinces trying to tap into it, you’ve got it already. You’ve already been to the best clubs. You were there when it happened, heard the latest tune, seen the latest show, met the latest ‘Jonny Big Bollocks’, bought the latest trainers, tried the latest drug. You did it when you were 13. You’ve been ripped off a million times, maybe tried to rip some one else off, pulled a few yourself on the way, you’re just a product of an urban environment. It’s a big city, full of nutters, there’s good and bad, racist homophobic fucks and beautiful enlightened beings, people who have got it and those that don’t, a city of light and shade. How does that affect your creativity? I don’t know.

The fact that London has some of the finest theatres, operas, museums, galleries and fancy restaurants in Christendom is, of course, a bonus.

LLO: You have three different sections on your website: “New Work” “Old Work” and simply “Work”. Do these sections represent different chapters of your career, places where your style has changed?
CS: I stopped painting and hung up my brushes in ’97 after my solo show on Regent Street. This is Old Work.

I blew the dust off them again in 2009. This is New work.

“Work” is how I make money.

Being an artist isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle, and it only pays for the lucky few, so you’ve got to work out how to survive and paint at the same time.

In the long gap between ’97 to ’09 I set out to find a career that fulfilled me creatively as well as paid well. It wasn’t easy to work 9-5 and keep the studio going. I found work as an art director in advertising for a while, before finding my way into the film industry as a scenic artist. I paint everything from the large scenic backings that surround a set, to old master paintings that are hung as props, from frescoes to graffiti, from medieval to modern. I can make my art again because I’ve got a job that is sufficiently intermittent but pays enough to allow me to get in the studio when I’m in between films.

I’ve got the balance right now, I’m painting when I’m working, and painting when I’m not.

LLO: In your “Old Work” section, you explore the crazy world of advertising campaigns, and parody them in your own work. Tell us a bit about your interest in advertising.
CS: Yeah, at the time – around ’95-’97 – street/extreme sports was a big thing in the media. It had always been there, but as an underground thing. Suddenly there were loads of programmes about it on TV, it was featured in fashion magazines, music videos, new specialist magazines were coming out, ad campaigns and so on. It was the flavour of the da. It became a cash cow and hit the mainstream. Kind of like street art is now, everyone wanted a piece of it.

When Pepsi started trying to connect with the my generation by doing loads of snowboarding/skateboarding ads, it was the last straw. I tried to hold it up to the light and draw attention to it by repeating the trick, painting what were essentially ads with street sports as the subject matter and my name as a logo. I look back at that work now and I’m not sure if I really pulled it off. The paintings look more like self promotion (which was kind of the point), but I was trying to say something deeper, more cynical than that. I was trying to be ironic. I should have pushed that work further.

LLO: Your piece “Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey” is painted on to the same material that US Army uniforms are made from. What other interesting materials have you painted on? Do you have a favourite?
CS: I’ve just done a series of riot cops onto hi-viz reflective material, the same stuff they have on police uniforms. In the same way the army camo related to the GI’s I was painting, the hi-viz refers back to the subject matter. I’m planning to rummage through some charity shops and stitch together a bunch of clothing – tracksuit tops, hoodies, denim etc. and paint loads of looters from the riots. It just provides an extra layer of reference to the work.

Actually, I might do some shop lifting instead. “Portrait of a Looter” – Oil on Adidas Jacket, stolen on Tottenham High Street, 2011.

LLO: When you’re not painting, you’re into break-dancing, right? How long have you been dancing? What’s your best move?
CS: I love it, but I’m crap. I started in ’83. We used to turn up early to school so we could practice on the lino floors of the rooms before class.

I’m famous for pulling off a 3/4 windmill on my face when I’m pissed. I still bear the scars, but every wedding reception I go to, I keep making the same mistake.

LLO: You’ve done quite a bit of work on film sets – Into the Hoods, Harry Brown, Children of Men. Which film set of the past would you love to have helped design?
CS: I’m lucky enough to have worked with some of the best production designers around – John Beard who designed ‘Brazil’, Dante Ferretti who designed ‘Baron Munchausen’ – but one guy I never met was Ken Adam who did all the early Bond films, Dr Strangelove, Goldfinger, Dr. No etc. That would have been cool.

LLO: Much of your work is based on photographs. Which London-based photographers do you most admire and why?
CS: Right now, it’s my man David Hoffman. He’s a front line photo journalist who’s had his teeth knocked out by riot police getting ‘that’ picture. He’s been kind enough to allow me to work from his shots of the Student Riots.

You should check out some of his early stuff too – Brick lane in the ‘80’s, Broadwater farm and the Poll Tax riots.

LLO: You were recently featured in the Scrawl Collective’s book with your piece “Breakdancing Jesus”. Tell us a bit about how this piece came about.
CS: The Breakdancing Jesus painting was one of the ideas I had and held onto during the dark 12 years I didn’t have a studio. I promised myself that it would be one of the first paintings I would make upon my eventual return. (I was also sitting on the Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey idea through that time too).

My last paintings of ’97 were self portraits of me breakdancing, so like Jesus coming out of the cave, it was kind of apocryphal that I should return from the dead also, and to the same subject matter, but with Christ risen in my place.

But really, it was just one of those random ideas.

LLO: Your career actually started as a street artist, didn’t it? Tell us about the piece you put up on Hanbury Street near Brick Lane this summer. Can we expect more street art from you in the coming months?
CS: No, I’m not really a street artist. I’m just a painter who occasions upon a wall. I went to art school, studied the old masters and trained in the ancient art of oil painting.

There’s a strange dichotomy down brick lane, where the art is like some kind of white middle class cultural invasion pushing itself on to what is obviously a tight knit Bangladeshi community and I felt that needed redressing somehow. It’s a portrait of a Bangladeshi girl in front of broken glass and layered graff marks. She represents the local Bangladeshi community, the broken glass and mark making are symbolic of urban decay. Bear in mind I was painting it as the riots were kicking off.

They’ll be more walls to come, for sure, when and wherever I find the opportunity.

LLO: What are you working on now? Any exhibition plans lined up for the near future?
CS: I’ve just spent the last few months on a film that has thankfully come to an end and allows me to disappear into the studio now and come up with a new body of work. I’ve currently got a rack of paintings on show in the Hospital Club, Endell Street, Covent Garden, alongside the likes of Inkie, Ben Slow, George Morton Clark, Finn Dac, Max Weidemann and Carne Griffiths.

The ultimate aim is a solo.

Thanks Cosmo!

You can also find Cosmo here: http://www.cosmosarson.com/

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