1. Your work is described as controversial and provocative. Is this a conscious decision?
I don’t court controversy for the sake of it, actually that’s a lie I have done in the past, the whole Banksy episode was created to ruffle feathers but generally my work tends to be my thoughts and feelings made flesh. We all have things that annoy us and as an artist my platform to express that annoyance or sadness or outrage is through the works I create. I don’t sit around thinking “right who can I p**s off today?” but if something irks me then I will confront it in my work. My piece ‘Little Terror’ (a sculpture of a child suicide bomber) caused a huge furore in the area where it was displayed, as did my crack baby sculpture and my series of paintings ‘What Lies Beneath’ have caused me a lot of problems and I still have not found anyone willing to show them. Because some of them have a religious theme they are immediately deemed to be anti religious, they are not, they are anti religious hypocrisy which I see around me all day long.
2. You regularly use portraiture in your work. Can you explain why?
I love portraiture and the human form, always have. Even as a kid when I was giving a toy like a rocket or a truck I would always dismantle it and play with the figure of the driver or Astronaught instead. I once had a company creating original sculptures for model kits, however copyright lawyers put and end to that venture. So figures and portraits have always been a passion. The thing with portraiture if you get it wrong it looks spectacularly wrong, it is a discipline that does not try to just capture a likeness like a landscape artist capturing a tree, a good portrait captures the essence of a person. Remember the uproar when the first official painting was unveiled of Kate Middleton? When I initially saw it I on the TV I thought it was a good job, however when I viewed it up close it did not capture the essence of her, it was a bit cartoonish and that’s what I mean about portraiture, get it wrong and everyone will tell you. I remember one model who posed for one of my ‘What Lies Beneath?’ paintings, I asked her what she thought of it, she said “sorry I hate it!” I think she was wrong but who’s going tell someone they really do have a wonky eye?
3. Why do you choose to mask your identity?
My previous careers have brought me into contact with a wide and divers range of individuals. I have come into contact with people who have infiltrated groups such as the IRA, agent handlers for secret British Army undercover organisations, members of Special Forces from all over the world, Captains of industry, Royalty from a number of Arab countries, as well as people on both sides of the legal and law enforcement fences. Now whilst none of this poses a risk to me I think it’s wholly appropriate to keep those two worlds apart.
4. Would you ever create a self-portrait?
I have considered a self portrait however I would probably hide it in a group painting with me as one of the figures, not sure what kind of group it would be, I would however ensure that I am the best looking most heroic figure in the composition. So if you see a re-working of a Caravaggio with a devastatingly handsome central character in it that will be me!
5. Would you ever return to your previous professions?
I still chat with people still involved in my old professions and occasionally advise or create reports for them but I would never go back to them, the game has changed and so have the people in them, besides, I’m having far too much fun being an artistic ninja!
6. How much of an influence do your previous professions have on your work?
I suppose my previous professions have had an impact on my work, many of the subjects I touch upon have been subjects I have encountered or have knowledge of. I would not say they have had a profound effect but they certainly give me an insight into worlds that most people rarely get to see which often creeps into my work.
7. How do you feel about how much Hackney has changed in the last few years?
Hackney is where I was born and brought up and I have seen it change in a great many ways, some good some not so good but that’s the nature of change you can never have change without some benefit and some detriment. Hackney has certainly become a much trendier place to live, just take a walk up Stoke Newington Church Street or a stroll from The High Street up to Dalston, or a jolly old ramble from the Narrow Way up to Bethnal Green. It’s alive with new galleries and interesting shops and restaurants, its Hipster Heaven and that’s a good thing. Money is pouring into Hackney and that can only help, however this new money also means that it’s hard for some people to afford to live there and the sense of community can be broken by the move in make a killing and move out generation. Some call it gentrification and resist it, others call it progress and embrace it. For me the biggest problem is not being able to decipher the 3000 plus combinations in a cafe when all I want is a straight forward coffee.
8. Your studio is in Stoke Newington. Do you feel your work fits in with the area?
I am not sure if my art fits in with any particular area. Although my studio is in Stoke Newington I don’t feel that I paint for Stoke Newington. The area certainly creeps into my work as I draw influence from things around me. I think art is what it is and is often divisive and in an area like Stoke Newington with its rich religious and cultural mix work will never be universally accepted unless I started painting landscapes and peoples pets. I will never paint landscapes or cats!
10. You haven’t had any formal training as an artist. What advice would you give to a young artist today? Would you recommend an artist to go to art school?
I am probably not the best person to advise any artist on how to go about things. I have always created work that I want for me and not necessarily for the market, and therein lies the problem. The market will dictate what is in and what is not and if you’re are not in then life can be bloody hard regardless of your talent. Art is like politics, sometimes you need to do things you don’t really want to in order to get on or get your foot through a certain door. There are a few artists who steadfastly refuse to be swayed, I would however say anyone can do the starving artist thing, so if you want to be successful be prepared to bend a little, or learn to embrace Pot Noodles!I would not deter anyone from going to art school, you get free materials and a nice work space, just don’t take art teachers too seriously, very few of them are successful artists.
11. Why did you want to reveal Banksy? And why did you paint him as a monkey?
I never really intended to ‘out’ Banksy it was basically a publicity stunt for a show I was putting on with a group of artists. Being as most of the others exhibiting in the show were street artists I thought the easiest way to attract attention was to threaten to break the taboo around Banksy’s anonymity. I thought it would raise some publicity within the media however I had no idea how much grief it would cause me. I received actual death threats, threats to the gallery where I was staging the show, threats against other artists working with me. Artists exhibiting in the same gallery as me had their work removed so as not to be associated with me and lots and lots of online abuse. In my previous careers I have been threatened by people who could make those threats come true and I knew the whole Banksy threats thing was nothing more than tha,t just threats with no substance, so when I got online abuse, I revelled in it and engaged with it. When a well known name insulted me or made a comment about me I had a postcard made mocking their work with their name on it and the insult, it was like an abusive Top Trumps and the cards became collectors items. “Fame Whore” was my favourite which I had printed on Tee Shirts.I painted the image of Banksy as a monkey, firstly because he did the ‘Laugh Now ‘ Monkey stencils that popped up all over the place, because I was a fan of his fabulous Monkey Parliament painting and to show that like me he’s a bit of a cheeky monkey!
12. What would be your thoughts if someone tried to reveal your identity?
A few people have tried to reveal my identity but have never managed to capture me on film without the mask. I often attend shows and openings unmasked but if no one knows who you are then they are not going to photograph you. If someone really wanted to find out who I was it would not really be that difficult. Most artists on the urban/contemporary scene know who I am or have seen me without the mask. I have been told numerous times that I am far better looking with it on, apparently I have a face for radio.
13. Do your friends know that you are an artist?
Most of my close friends know about my art, a fair number of them are artists themselves. My close family know but my wider circle of friends and family have no idea, I tell them I am a Council Rat Catcher, after that people tend not to want to delve too deeply into your working day.
14. You feature a lot of iconic figures in your paintings, but in unusual settings and including unusual props. Do these items have a hidden meaning?
I like the idea of allegorical elements in a painting and hidden symbols and meanings, Dan Brown loves them too! I think my elements are more literal because today we can get away with it and people saturated with mass media need to see something and understand it immediately. Take for example a painting like Hans Holbein’s Ambassadors, that image is filled with objects that require interpretation as to their meanings, some of which to this day are points of conjecture, so I try a bit like an advertiser to grab the viewer and get the message across as quick as possible.
15. What do you want people to come away with when viewing your work?
When people view my work I want them to come away with a sense of excitement or anger or wonder, or disgust, some strong emotion good or bad. I am sure I don’t always achieve that, sometimes people may walk away not being swayed one way or another, I think someone walking away from one of my paintings thinking they could take it or leave it is a disaster. I would like the viewer to feel when they walk away that they want to throw a brick through the gallery window late at night and make off with the painting because they love it so much, or that they want to throw a brick through the gallery window and stamp up and down on the painting because they hate it so much. I must say I do not advocate the above I would prefer that they follow my mantra.“if you like my work buy it and love it, if you hate my work buy it and burn it”
16. What attracted you to work with Hang-Up?
What most attracted me to work with Hang Up was that they are local and it would save a fortune on transport costs! (JOKE)I think Hang Up are an extremely progressive gallery, I think the move from Hoxton to Stoke Newington was a bold and inspired one. The range of art and artists involved with the gallery is fantastic and without sounding to cliché they have something for everyone. Often galleries won’t take a risk with an artist but opt to churn out show after show with the old faithfuls, however I think Hang Up takes risks with some artists and that risk pays off, for the gallery the artist and the viewing public. There are not many who would choose to work with a man in mask!
17. Do you collect art?
I did collect a lot of art but began to run out of room for it all and the more you get into art the more expensive the artists become. So I sold off my collection and used the proceeds to go on several lovely holidays and to buy a motorcycle (I have always loved motorbikes, the purchase was one of love and not a mid life crisis purchase). I still a few bits at home but they are mainly by friends of mine.
18. Favourite gallery in London?
Favouriye gallery in London? Is that a trick question? OK my favourite gallery in London after Hang Up would have to be the National Gallery. I know it’s old and untrendy and dusty but I love it there. It surprises me how many people I have met who are artists who have no knowledge or interest in what went before them. I curated and staged an urban/street art exhibition which ran for a week down in Bristol (to annoy Banksy fans) and then moved it up to Brick Lane in London. After sitting looking at the work which was nice but not technically challenging I had to go and spend a day in the National just staring at the stunning oils by the old masters. I was looking at centuries old paintings but they were like a breath of fresh air.
19. Which artists inspire you?
I am inspired by lots of artists from Caravaggio to Hirst and everything in between. However the one artist who had the main influence on me was man called Alan John Clayden who very sadly recently passed away. Mr C as he was know to us all was the man who ran the art department at a small youth centre in Dalston, he along with his talented wife Pauline also sadly no longer with us were also the founders of the Islington Arts Factory which is still going strong.Mr C was always encouraging with about too teachy, he would give you an idea and leave you alone to get on with it, or if you wanted advice he would be able to give it and then let youget on with it. No idea was too outrageous or weird, no matter what artistic hair brain scheme myself and my friend would come up with he would just tell us not to talk about, just get it done. His contribution to the arts in London and his commitment to young people can’t be measured. Even right up to his death in his 80’s he was more forward thinking than a great many people half his age engaged in the arts. He was a great mentor and friend and will be sadly missed.
20. Ultimate gallery to display at?
My ultimate gallery to display at is a difficult one, it depends on whether you equate the gallery as a measure of commercial success or just because of the actual institution. I am happy to exhibit my work anywhere. I want to reach as wide an audience as possible, but if I had to choose just one place where I would covet above any other it would be in the National Gallery right alongside Caravaggio, arts other naughty scamp!
21. What’s next for you?
This year I have a few shows on the table and I want to start work on several new themed bodies of work. I had started on a series called ‘Bad Boys and Girls’ which were a series of images of archetypal gangsters. The problem was every time I finished one a buyer would snap them up, not a real problem for an artist I suppose, but I wanted to display them as a series. I am going to start on a number of old masters re-worked which is something I love doing.I am also currently working on a joint project with my friend film Director Ray Burdis. The project was dreamt up by the two of us after a discussion late one night over one too many beers.What we intend to do is to take a person who is dying and who is willing to donate their body to the project and map out their whole life from birth to death like a historical timeline with objects from their life, memories they had of great events and memories other people had of them. You would basically take a walk through their whole life. When you reach the end of the exhibit there will be two doors, through one here will be a hyper realistic statue of the person from any time in their life that they have chosen, whether it was when they were a child or adult, a time maybe they were most happiest and through the other door will be the actual persons body. The choice will be simple, do you take one door and remember that person as they wanted you to remember them or to remember them as they are in death? It sounds macabre but it won’t be, we hope it will be a touching reminder on how precious life is. The project is called ‘Immortal Beloved’ and when the event is over the donor body will be encased in resin and we will take all of the exhibit and the body and bury it in a secret location in the hope that decades or even hundreds of years from now it will be found and re-exhibited, guaranteeing one ordinary individual the chance of immortality.
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