With a tip off from the fabulous Cityzen Kane (who I was with last weekend scoping out a top secret project that I’ll write about soon), I found out ROA was in town! It’s no secret now as his latest wall was finished this week, but it was a pleasure to be able to watch him in action and see it all start to come together without the crowds.
Cityzen Kane told me the approximate area where he was painting and gave me the mobile number of Ijam who was making on a stop motion film of ROA at work. Eventually I found them at the end of Voss Street between Derbyshire Street and Bethnal Green Road. I’ll post a few of the photos I took which weren’t great since it’s such a gigantic wall and this was a spur of the moment thing so I didn’t have the right lens, but there’s a final photo at the end as well.
ROA was standing with a small group of friends taking a break. He shook my hand curiously and I followed Ijam up to the roof of some flats across from the wall where he was filming to get a better look from above. The wall stretched in front of us was massive and with the help of a crane, ROA was painting about 10 different intertwined animals. He had finished about four at this point and was working on the fifth – all of which had been done in about three days at that point.
And sure enough, within another minute or so, he was back at it, hood up, working diligently, stepping back, taking a look, approaching the wall again and making three or four long strokes with the black spray paint and then stepping back again. I don’t know how he works on such a large scale, but impressive to watch such a prolific, talented artist at work.
Eventually, he came up on the roof and we talked for a while. He was covered in paint, all black and white. It was engrained under his fingernails, in the creases of his knuckles, wiped across his hoodie and trousers and splashed on his shoes. It was a bit surreal hanging out in a random back alleyway of East London with Ijam who grew up in Malaysia, another friend of ROA’s from Zimbabwe and my favourite Belgian artist, looking down on this amazing gigantic piece of artwork that barely another person in this city knew existed yet at that point while a Bangladeshi woman with her head covered hung laundry on the roof next door.
We talked about his recent work in a dangerous area of Panama City. He was surprised I had already seen it online since it was “wasn’t that long ago”, but most of his work goes up online when it’s still a work in progress. He’s been called the “Da Vinci of the Streets”. He may not realise it, but he has a pretty loyal following!
The topic of some other pieces he’s created in the past year came up. He’s worked recently in Argentina, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Arizona (in fact, all over the States including one pretty close to where I’m from in Rochester, New York), Norway, Australia, and had a gallery show in Belgium and so on (yes, there’s many others). While he comes from Belgium, he spends much of his life as an artistic nomad on the road.
Photo: This is what the final piece looks like. I haven’t been about to get down there yet to see it finished, but Street Art News took this great shot from the roof.
He said he created his first tag at the age of 13 and has been making art on walls for about 20 years. The work he’s so well known for now is his black and white paintings of animals which are indigenous to the area in which he’s painting. Sometimes he shows cross sections, revealing the innards as well. We talked about the ways in which the street art scene has changed over the years and then he took the last sip of his beer that was resting on the railing and sauntered down the steps to survey his work and pick up his spray paint cans again.
The impression I get is that ROA’s not too bothered about the promotion of his work so much as simply the process of creating his art. He just wants to paint. When I asked him for an interview, he said he only does one or two a year as he’s a very private person and doesn’t like to repeat himself, but maybe. So hey, you never know. But I can tell you there will definitely will be one with Cityzen Kane toward the end of the Summer and I’m very much looking forward to telling you all about his stunning work as well!