I had a chat with My Dog Sighs today and I came away inspired. I asked him about how he got into art. He was ‘the kid who could always doodle and draw‘ and remembers drawing a pike fish at the age of seven and getting his only ‘gold star’ at school. In the early days it was recognition that fuelled his continued enthusiasm for art whether it was painting his leather jacket or painting UV backdrops at raves. He was the friend who was asked to draw and paint for his friends.
He came to street art late (in his 30’s) after already having a career. ‘Dad told me to get a proper job so I had become a primary school teacher, I had my first child growing up and I discovered the Worcester Collective (A New York blog about street art). It was the first place that documented street art and I stayed up all night reading it’. He had forayed into the art gallery world in his twenty’s approaching all galleries within a two hundred mile radius ‘I had a go at it but fell on my arse’ he joked.
The thing for him about the street artists was that they ‘Weren’t trying to make money, they were just getting their work out on the street’. He points me in the direction of the TedX talk he did in April last year which gives a real insight into the lost and found inspirational journey of how he started the Free Art Fridays movement.
What I find wonderful about the video is his infectious inspiration. You can see and feel his empathy and kindness in talking about finding the time to look – and that in those times when we feel most lost we can find something, a catalyst to find, rediscover or energise us to follow our dreams. In the video he talks about the feeling of being lost when ‘you have your head down physically and metaphorically – you stare at the floor. Now if at that point you can begin to look for the interesting, the beautiful there is a joy in seeing the world in a whole new way. The smallest most insignificant things can change the way you think’. For him the catalyst was seeing a stencil of a rat on his way into London in 2002. ‘This stencilled rat made me completely reassess what art is and what being an artist is’.
As an artist he wanted to make people feel as inspired as he was the day he discovered the rat, and from there Free art on Fridays was born. He always caught the train on Fridays and was teaching alliteration to primary school children. He started by leaving paintings and sharing them on Flickr (as it was the days before Facebook and Instagram). What is wonderful is his concern that that might be considered littering and so found pieces of rubbish (timber, cardboard, bottle tops) painted on it and then put it back where he found it. Taking ‘the lost, the unwanted, the rejected and make it into something worth finding‘. Before finding his trademark can ‘I’m the guy who makes emotional connections with baked bean tins.’
Other artists started approaching him creating their own Free Art Fridays – sharing and exchanging work which has now risen to 1,000 Free Art Communities over 7 continents.
‘When you are brave enough to be lost then there are others out there who are willing to follow you and share the journey with you’.
His real breakthrough happened when the BBC’s Culture Show did a feature on him. He had just started doing the work on cans that he talks about in the TedX talk above. From seeing him on TV Pure Evil contacted him ‘I didn’t know him and the gallery asked me to send up a couple of the cans they sold as they were going on the wall and I was invited to do a solo show.’ This was a testing time as he had a new baby, was teaching full time but his show of twenty cans sold out. He says he had spent ten years ‘putting work out for shits and giggles’ and then he was discovered. He still puts work out on most Fridays. Here is one of two pieces he put out at Glastonbury last month.
Bristol’s Upfest is a very special place for him. He was thrilled to be invited to the second Upfest – at that time to paint a 4ft by 4ft board. At that time it was mostly graffiti and stencil artists. He says he felt somewhat intimidated when he turned up with his paint brushes. Early inspirations from him were London Police, Adam Neate, Snub and Fark. With his own art background having been rejected by the galleries in his twenties what surprised for him about these artists was when ‘they stepped back and talked about their work, they seemed to be doing it all so seriously, being in love with what they did, and talking in high art terms about line and flow and composition’. What resonated for him about his fellow artists at the time was ‘They wanted to twist everybody’s existence, to make them stop, to get people to question their existence’, and what he realised was ‘You and your own effort can effect people’s lives, and I think that is really incredible’.
Continuing about what is important to him about his art today he said ‘When you create it it’s personal, you get lost in the colours, the shapes, the forms and lines.’ He says what he finds fascinating when he steps back from his works and listens to other people seeing his work and ‘putting their own spin on it and finding their own meaning. I always try to include a story in my head – but just because they find a story that is not mine does not make it not right’. About his inspiration he continues ‘I think you are always inspired by the piece you have just done – that moves you towards the next one. You finish a piece and step back and think “the next one I will change the eyelashes”, you see the mistakes.’ He tells me of a quote he likes about inspiration ‘Inspiration exists, but it has to see you working’. He is an artist with a strong work ethic and works nearly every day even when they are not productive. ‘Sometimes the accidents can lead to a new body of work.’ Of his (now iconic) eyes he said ‘The eye came by as a happy accident, I wondered what would happen if I just focussed on eyes – which I continued till my eyes were coming out of everyone’s ears four years later.’
I asked him about what he has coming up this year. ‘I’m working on a real cool project with a local brewery next week. Six local artists given free reign with no restrictions on words just the art. So it will be a six pack of six different artists.‘
He will also be going up to Coventry later in the month where the Transport Museum has invited fourteen artists to paint cars in a quirky exhibition Cartists: Reimagining the Car.
Post Upfest he has two major shows – the first at Art Basel Miami and then a solo show in Chicago in January 2018 at the Vertical Gallery.
I asked him about what was so special for him about Bristol’s Upfest ‘It gave me my first opportunity to painting in public. I have been every year apart from my wedding anniversary last year. It is great to see old favourites, and the juxtaposition of seeing the work of the guys who paint on ten story walls along with the artists painting a board or wall for the very first time and knowing how intimidated some of them will feel. It’s a great buzz and a great mix of artists where everyone is welcome’.
This year you can find his collaborative work with Snub23 at LILIT. About the collaboration he says ‘Snub invited me to China earlier this year – it was hardcore. I’ve always respected his isometric paintings. Not quite sure what we will be doing yet as we are both scribbling, but it will be something that is recognisable as both of us and inspired by our China trip. We both work fast so if people want to come and see us we are just there on the Saturday.’
See the man who inspired a movement at Upfest (remember if you want to see him work he’ll be there on Saturday!)
Upfest Saturday 29, Sunday 30 Monday 31 July 2017