Tuesday, 04 September 2012

Nick Walker, an interview. by Silvia Bombardini

Chicago LES

Dear Shaded Viewers and Diane,

Since the early 1980s, Nick Walker has become one of UK's most beloved graffiti artist, whose work has graced the walls of worldwide cities and many galleries, along with the set of a major motion picture such as Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. He recently painted a fabulous, if short-lived, six feet and a toe Diane portrait, somewhere in New York's West Village. Here, he told me about vandals in suits, escapism and stencils, growing up in Bristol, Hip Hop and monocles.


S.B.: The latest sightings of Mr. Vandal, somewhere between Paris and Chicago, seem to suggest of a novel, wildly emotional and ever more powerful attitude. It's a vandalism coming from love just as much as subversion, in an overflow of wonder and spray paint. In which ways do you believe your iconic citizen above suspicion has evolved over the years, how did you?

N.W.: I think he’s evolved a great deal – The Vandal was born into a triptych painting which demonstrates how he uses the umbrella to paint his name on the walls without being seen. After producing this piece I decided to create The Morning After series and started developing ideas to further the Vandal’s character. The initial stencils were a lot less detailed, very simplistic and almost shadow figures.

The work that goes into each Vandal stencil now is a lot more time consuming and the attention to detail is key to me.  I guess how I’ve evolved was by bringing the stencil element into my work. I like the juxtaposition of intricate stencil imagery and freehand styles.

S.B.: In The Morning After series we see him travelling around the world, unflappable in his fairly British demeanor and striped suit (now, that looks like a Dior suit, is that so?), while furtively chucking paint all over Sydney, Moscow, Hong Kong, even the Taj Mahal, and most recently, Paris. Where is he headed now? If he ever was to settle, where do you think that would be?

N.W.: Yes it’s a Dior suit- may need to invest in a new suit soon – I want to add a bit more detail – waistcoat and monocle to boost up the quintessential gentleman theme – maybe a monocle is a bit OTT!?  The next mission is back to New York City again to complete the Wythe Hotel mural in Williamsburg and then a few more spots around the city and Brooklyn. It won’t be long until he’s back in Paris. I personally love the city and want to find a live work studio space in the immediate future – it’s been on my mind for some time now just got to bite the bullet!

Paris Vandal

S.B.: There is something welcoming, something magical and cartoonish in your use of stencils, especially when a landscape is involved. Like quick ways to another world, they remind me a bit of those black and rubbery portable holes the Looney Tunes or Roger Rabbit would stick on a wall to get themselves a way out. What is the appeal of stencils to you? Would you describe your art as a form of escapism?

N.W.: Those cartoon black holes are great – always wanted some of those!

The appeal of stencils is that you can apply any image to a wall relatively quickly. The hard part cutting all the detail is done in the studio so goes unseen by the passer by. For me art is definitely a form of escapism. Exploring thoughts and imagining scenarios in which to paint is the best part. I think as adults it is only too easy to stop imaging and playing make believe the way we did as kids. When you allow yourself to play with your thoughts its not long before you see the magic come back into your world.

S.B.: We witness in your work a sudden shift of perspectives, a game of mirrors in a certain Brechtian way. We see the painting and we see its author, sometimes we even see them both richly framed and painted on a wall again, somewhere in East Village, New York. And it's ultimately him who draws our attention, his methods and actions becoming the subject, with their honesty, their beauty and sweet forbidden taste. What initially drew you to street art back in the 80s, and what does now keep you there?

N.W.: As a kid growing up in Bristol in the 80s I was suddenly made aware of Hip Hop when I watched the Malcolm McLaren's Buffalo Gals video and Blondie's Rapture single. Both music videos opened up a porthole to a subculture that completely captivated me. I’d never seen anything like it and I knew instinctively that I wanted to be a part of it. At first I was more into the breaking and B-boying element but later focused solely on the graffiti. I remember watching Dondi outline the Buffalo Gals letters on the video with such accuracy and ease – this inspired me a great deal and is one of the reasons for why I still do it today.

I think the one thing that keeps me going today is the buzz of painting on the street. The banter with the locals is always interesting and it’s always intriguing to see and hear peoples reactions and thoughts.


S.B.: While your murals keep faithfully showing up on the streets, conquering our cities with their graceful wit, your pieces on canvas are now just as successful on gallery walls worldwide, and in the most prestigious public and private collections. Is there a difference in purpose, a diverse meaning or message when presenting your work on such opposite platforms?

N.W.: The purpose with producing canvas works for shows and collectors is a means of survival. It’s a different world to painting on the street. If I wasn’t lucky enough to have galleries sell my work I wouldn’t be able to paint in the different parts of the world as much as I do. I think the two work hand in hand.

S.B.: The established art world appears much more welcoming today than it used to be, what do you think will happen to street art?

N.W.: It will hopefully remain on the street – I think the more and more people and establishments endorse that the better. This then gives more and more street artists a chance to create a living for themselves doing what they love doing.





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