Ever walk around London’s East End and catch sight of a nude woman in a gas mask on a yellow-painted wall? If so, you’ve discovered the artistic ingenuity of Keith Hopewell, aka Part2ism.
Since the 80s when he created his first piece of street art, his style has evolved to reflect a changing state-of-mind and the current political/economic environment. His work is a bit rebellious, a bit controversial, a bit erotic, sensuous, pornographic at times, and always thought-provoking. Experimenting with beauty in death and the ugly faces of life – like war, consumerism and religious fanaticism – Part2ism has intrigued London and other cities with floral skulls, nudes hand-painted with photo precision and unique military typography. He’s stretched the boundaries of street art to show his work in gallery exhibitions and his art was featured on the front cover of the London Street Art Anthology a few months ago. When he’s not busy being a revolutionary artist, Part2ism has also been producing rap/hip-hop music for the past decade or two.
For this week’s London Art Spot, he talked to us about his famous Tamara series, his influences and why he chose the name Part2ism.
LLO: You’ve been noted as a pioneer in photorealist graffiti. How long have you been a graffiti artist and where did you create your first “photorealist” piece?
P2: I used to write and spray MOD-related logos like the The Who and The Jam everywhere in the 80s when I was 11 or 12-years-old. When I saw what was happening on the New York subway, I really had to get involved and never questioned why. The mid-80s, for me, was an exciting time, but a bit of a fun thing. I was young like most writers in the UK at that time and was influenced by the US heros. But, before the 80s were over, I became more obsessed with developing my own corner in the culture. I experimented with a lot more avant-garde concepts. The photorealism developed slowly over 1989-1990. Before then, it was about portraits that were not painted as articulately.
LLO: Your style has changed quite a bit over the years.
P2: Ha ha, true. I’m a human being and I suppose it’s not much different from eating different meals. You get an intuition and follow it because it feels right. Your art should represent your true self and it doesn’t feel right to me if you ain’t moving forward with your work. People have called me the “Renaissance Man” which is great for the ego, but bad for future productions if you take it too seriously. I believe keeping your work relevent and challenging conventional ideas stops the mind from going soft.
LLO: Have you seen a change in the way people have perceived your work over the years?
P2: No, I still have to work twice as hard as most people. It’s great for my work but very tiring (laughs).
LLO: Why did you choose the name Part2ism? What does it mean?
P2: It’s just a play on the name Part 2 which was my writing name. I hate being categorised, so adding -ism makes Part 2 a practice. I kinda operate more in the middle ground between graffiti, street art and contemporary art from a bit of an outsider position and am not really accepted by any of them. There was always the label “alternative art” which categorised street work in New York in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but that just reminds me of the music industry; when they don’t know how to box a particular sound, they just label it “alternative” or left-field. They really suggest that what you do doesn’t fit, which can’t really benefit the artist. I’m just an artist period! I utilize a bit of everything and add it to my hybrid. categories are really for the media and not us. Keeps people’s minds neat, tidy and rigid if things are more formulaic.
LLO: How does living in London influence your creativity?
P2: Most cities outside London don’t have such an abundance of pubic space to work on, so London is unique in this way. A lot of the time I get out of London when I’m looking for inspiration. I get my ideas a lot clearer in the country and when they come, I know exactly where in London to execute the idea. I’ve always spent a lot of hours walking around London no matter how far apart places are; this is how you learn what’s what in the capital.
LLO: Do you prefer exhibiting in galleries or on the street?
P2: I don’t discriminate; art is applicable everywhere on any medium.
LLO: Your series Tamara got a lot of attention. Can you tell us a bit about these pieces, who Tamara is and what they mean?
P2: Those paintings are loosely based around the idea of consumerism consuming itself. Tamara [Seabrook] was my girlfriend at the time. We both thought works exploring the body, erotics and death were missing in the modern spray cannist scenes, so we got to work. Tamara worked a lot with erotics and photography and I was exploring these realms too, so we brought it all together.
LLO: Which piece of work are you most proud of and why?
P2: Oh gosh; this changes all the time. Maybe the Floral Skull right now, because it’s started me working in a totally new way. It’s the foundation for all the new work I’ve got coming out later this year.
LLO: Which other London-based artists do you admire?
P2: I’m digging R.O.A. at the moment. He’s not from London, but he’s definitely brought something different to the melting pot…
LLO: Where can see your work now?
P2: My next show is in New York, but Londoners keep your eyes out on the streets shortly!
Catch Part2ism on Facebook: www.facebook.com/keith.hopewell
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