Updated: Feb 3
Artist: Rhys Brown
Location: Leyden’s London
Key Themes from Interview:
Loves to: ‘mess about’
Calls his art: ‘Vegan Gyotaku’
Seems like: a giant kid, fighting to stay a kid.
Wants people to connect with: Nostalgia. A happier time. A simpler time.
About the art
“I wanted to graf trains, 'tag the whole world'. Then I met this teacher Ian, who's a teacher with a glass eye from Zimbabwe. He really changed my perspective on art. He really pushed me out of my comfort zone and experimentation. He lives in Portugal now, he's such a nice guy. He taught me how to literally have fun making art. I was painting this thing I call an inkbox and he came along and said you need to experiment more - you’re just drawing characters. He like cut his finger on a staple and said 'Let’s have a bit of fun,' and rubbed the blood on my canvas. And I was like, 'what the hell?' and he was like 'You can do what you want in art' and showed me John Michelle Bastia. This guy put a nail through the front of his canvas and painted with ketchup and did whatever he wanted. Then I fell into more artists like Jeff Koon and Damien Hurst and I almost felt like my head blew off. I was exposed to a whole new world, not just gritty go-out-at-midnight with a spray can. More sort of like, you can do what you want? That sort of idea of destroying something. He let me set fire to my canvasses. The college would have gone mad if they found out. I used to set fire to my work in the art studios inside the college and throw paint at it and he'd just be there laughing like a crazy scientist. But he really opened that sort of side of me up.”
“So what do you want people to feel when they see your art?
[long pause] … Maybe not feel but think. Um. Nostalgia. I want people to be taken back to a happier time in their life, a simpler time. To remind them of when they was a child. Some people have traumatic childhoods but I feel like a lot people have a time when they are a kid and it’s a thought that they think of when they are sitting in their office chair with stock numbers in front of them. Or the decision of arresting someone because they’ve done something bad. Like, when all is serious and really bad stuff is happening in the world I want people to think about a time when things wasn’t so bad. When they was happy. When on their birthday and they had a birthday cake and they were blowing out their candles. Christmas morning…
… it’s that nostalgic feel that I want people to have with my work.”
“When I was doing research with my wife there’s a similar sort of process they do in Japan, or they did it years ago? When they used to catch fish instead of keeping them to show people they used to cover the fish in ink, put it on paper, remove it and put the fish back in the sea. The ink wouldn’t harm the fish but it’s called ‘Gyotaku.’ When someone asks how do I define my work in a few words I say it’s ‘Vegan Gyotaku.’ Some of the Gyotaku work is incredible, I love it. I think it’s great, but at the same how could you do that to an animal?”
“I love that my work can get damaged. I love destruction. It sucks that I’m destroying the teddy bears, but I feel like I’m destroying them for good. Instead of them going into land fill, because I buy a lot of them from charity shops, I’m giving them a second life. Like, this bear that might have gone into the bin and someone’s gone, ‘No, I’ll put it in the charity shop.’ And in like sixty years, who knows, it might be sitting in the Tate museum. I love the idea that I’m giving it a second life. And I love destroying things to create new things”
About the upcoming show:
“…you take a teddy bear when you go to sleep as a way to sort of hide from the monsters as a kid, as a way of comfort. Potentially you feel safe when you have this teddy bear next to you. So you won’t have that state of… fear or worry, when you go to sleep because you have your bear with you… I always find it hard to sleep when I’m hyped up from making work. And the meaning for ‘slumber’ is you’re awake, from what I’ve gathered, you’re not in a perfect state of sleep yet. You’re semi-conscious. That’s what I feel like. Like I’m in a constant slumber because I feel like my brain is still active. I wake up and I feel like I’ve been thinking all night. I just find it hard to sleep. I’m thinking about stuff that’s happening in the world and stuff like that so I feel like I’m in a constant state of slumber. So that’s where the name ‘Slumber’ comes from…”
“I’m originally from Stockwell. Lived there most of my life with Mum and dad. Really rough. Felt like every other day someone was getting stabbed or arrested. If you saw a group of guys you didn’t know you felt you had to run. Certain times I had to sign out mentally and just stay out of the way of the blood. There were certain times I'd just be trying to sleep and I’d get woken up to the sound of multiple helicopters flying over. They'd be looking for someone, or something crazy’s gone down. I'd always remember stuff like looking out the kitchen window at like 6am in the morning and you'd see people being cuffed by what was almost like swat team police. It was such a norm growing up in my estate. It was just like 'Oh yeah, someone got arrested,' it didn’t’ feel weird”
We Got Rhys Brown here. So, where’d you grow up, Rhys?
I’m originally from Stockwell. Lived there most of my life with Mum and dad. Really rough. Felt like every other day someone was getting stabbed or arrested. If you saw a group of guys you didn’t know you felt you had to run. Certain times I had to sign out mentally and just stay out of the way of the blood. There were certain times I'd just be trying to sleep and I’d get woken up to the sound of multiple helicopters flying over. They'd be looking for someone, or something crazy’s gone down. I'd always remember stuff like looking out the kitchen window at like 6am in the morning and you'd see people being cuffed by what was almost like swat team police. It was such a norm growing up in my estate. It was just like 'Oh yeah, someone got arrested,' it didn’t feel weird.
So it was a council estate you were on?
Yeah. My mum and Dad grew up in Kennington. They met and moved to Stockwell when I was 3 months old and we moved into the flat my mum still currently lives in now.
Does it have your art in it?
There's a couple of pieces. Everything I buy actually I put at my Mums. There's stuff that's there that she doesn't even know about. My mum and Dad were heavy ravers; I'm completely not like them at all. They love all that stuff that comes with it.
So, like, 80's ravers are we talking about?
I was born ’93. So like late eighties they were right into it, yeah. I've always grown up waking up at like 7am to Dad pumping rave music in the living room. As soon as I'd go to sleep he'd put it all the way down, but when it was time to wake up he'd crank it. It was actually quite good.
What does he do?
He's always done bits and pieces like decorating. He's always loved fishing. Which is weird because it's the opposite end of the spectrum to raving. He'd never even keep the fish, he'd catch it, look at it, put it back sort of thing.
And your mum?
She's done all types of different jobs. She worked in William Hill and a pub.
Ah, now this is sounding very council estatey…
Haha yeah. She's looking after my Nan at the moment. Her dementia is so... Or Alzheimer’s...? I never know the difference between the two. Yeah, so my Granddad moved Nan a bit out of a way to try and help Nan but not let everyone see it. My family is very much a family family. I feel a bit, separate, my family is my close friends. Not that there is anything wrong with my family, I love my family, I just feel like I'm closer to a couple of my friends. I've got a friend Kyle who lived in the same block as me, I've known him since 5, and he's followed me to Croydon. I'm just always with him, see him almost every day. I'm not gonna lie - he's a trouble maker. We got beat up together. We've always been really close. I always remember this one time, we'd always stick up for each other, there was a time we got beaten the crap out of. There was a guy punching him in the head and I ran over and shielded him. I feel the same about Lorenzo from Leyden’s now. We've always got each others back; we've become like a trio.
Oh, so How do you know Lorenzo (Leyden’s co-founder)?
We first met at Pure Evil, Shoreditch – under Charlie. We were working together. Lorenzo was manager and I was kinda like Charlie’s assistant – dealing with art sales that is. Never producing. Handy work and that sort of thing.
We were both working in store - It was like hanging out. A lot of fun. Got up to all sorts of stuff, just doing whatever wanted, like kickflips in the gallery. Whatever.
I worked closely with Lorenzo with the gallery and stuff. So he's my art best friend. Then I've got my silly, naughty, childish best friend as well.
Let’s go with the child thing. What were your passions as a kid?
I always loved Pokémon.
Oh, you’re THAT generation?
Haha yeah, I was a serious Pokémon fan. I got into it when the TV series started, like cartoon network. I don't know what it was I just sort of got obsessed with it. I never actually had the original Gameboy, I had the Gameboy Colour. My first Pokémon was Pokémon Blue - even though I loved Charizard, blue was just my favourite colour at the time. Some of the Pokémon are really weird that they make now. I love some of the new stuff but no where near as much of a hardcore fan as I used to be. Pokémon was my number one, and football. I was always a big Arsenal fan growing up.
My dad almost became a professional footballer. You know how people always say 'My dad was so good at football.' My Dad was actually at a professional football level. When we'd play at the estate he'd never let up and play nice. He'd hit the ball at 100 mph sort of thing.
How did art come about then? Pokémon cartoons, video games and football don’t seem like traditional starting points for artists…
I got into art from a young age because my Nan, the one with dementia, she used to help out with London City Guilds Art School, and always had paper and like crayons, pencils around. I can remember when I was a kid I'd go through auction catalogues that she just had. I always remember seeing my first Warhol and understanding the soup cans concept. Now that stuff is like a bible to me. As I got older, the art thing faded back a bit and then I got into graffiti, at like 13, doing bits and pieces. I never got into it too much because I was scared my Dad would catch me and make me clean it. One tag sort of stuck and evolved - INKO. Then it became INKOE with an E on the end. Then it became INKBOTZ. The only thing I know that sort of still exists is on a door in a local park, and my only claim to fame is that it's above Danny Dier's head when he's talking about London's danger streets. He's talking about how bad the area is, and you can see my tag above his head. So... haha.
So let’s fast forward, did you do art in school?
Yeah from school I wanted to graphic design, but then something messed up in my brain and I sort of had a tantrum and applied to do a national diploma and went to Lambeth College in Clapham doing Fine Art. I think it was fine art... Yeah I think it was fine art, umm. I know I definitely did fine art in uni. That was where I really sort of discovered that this is what I wanted to do. I went into there with 'I want to graf trains', 'tag the whole world'. Then I met this teacher Ian, who's a teacher with a glass eye from Zimbabwe. He really changed my perspective on art. He really pushed me out of my comfort zone and experimentation. He lives in Portugal now, he's such a nice guy. He taught me how to literally have fun making art. I was painting this thing I call an inkbotz and he came along and said you need to experiment more - you’re just drawing characters. He like cut his finger on a staple and said 'Let’s have a bit of fun,' and rubbed the blood on my canvas. And I was like, 'what the hell?' and he was like 'You can do what you want in art' and showed me John Michelle Bastia. This guy put a nail through the front of his canvas and painted with ketchup and did whatever he wanted. Then I fell into more artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst and I almost felt like my head blew off. I was exposed to a whole new world, not just gritty go-out-at-midnight with a spray can. More sort of like, you can do what you want? That sort of idea of destroying something. He let me set fire to my canvasses. The college would have gone mad if they found out. I used to set fire to my work in the art studios inside the college and throw paint at it and he'd just be there laughing like a crazy scientist. But he really opened that sort of side of me up.
I guess you learned more skills doing that?
Yeah yeah, I started making stuff out of wood. He taught me how to stretch canvas, how to make structures and shelves, silly things like that. Really basic things to making art.
Ok, so you’re in College and you’re learning from this crazy Zimbabwean dude, then you went to work at this gallery??
No no no, then I went to Croydon School of Art. I got accepted into a load of other Uni's, but it didn't feel right. So I just rocked up to Croydon School of Art one day and I was like ‘I want an interview.’ She was like 'Okay this isn't what we usually do.' Then she interviewed me and put me through the system herself. I'm not gonna lie, maybe I did go there a little bit because my girlfriend went there as well. A little bit... But it was perfect because I wanted to learn about screen printing. That was one thing I was really really into, because of Warhol. I started looking up Warhol more and how he made his work. I was really into it at the time. I felt like through the whole of uni I was obsessed with the way Warhol made work, and taking the piss out of art, and literally annoying people. I felt like that was my goal. I made really dark work, like, I remade a bunch of Warhol’s based on the idea that he got into a lot of trouble with copyright. So I tried to work out a way of being able to use images I'm not allowed to use. It was a silly weird thing I tried to go through. I made loads of fake Warhol’s, but with current events that was happening in the world. Like, this is quite dark, but Warhol’s car crash painting, I done it with Paul Walker when he died in his car crash. I did something like a 10-foot-tall silver car crash painting. And loads of people in my class were complaining it was really dark. And the teacher was like ‘Well, it's his work.’ I love that, the fact that it was annoying people. It was sort of weird, when I started making stuff things started happening. And I thought it was perfect, like, it was dark but I was waiting for disasters to happen.
It’s kind of like how a comedian can make a joke out of anything that happens. Everything’s on the table for a Comedian. There should be no limits for somebody funny. And the people that really push that and get that are successful. Maybe it’s the same for art? There should be nothing you can’t touch?
Yeah yeah, sort of the idea of people - not offended by it - but sensitive to things. Warhol had this thing that if you see something over again it loses its meaning. Like the first electric chair painting. But when you see he's done twenty more you're like ‘Oh, it's just another electric chair painting.’ It loses its shock factor.
So what’s the first thing you made that you really loved?
I'll be honest with you, the only thing I've ever really respected is because of the technical way I made it. I did a twelve colour screen print of Action Man. I was basically remaking a Warhol but I did it with Action Man instead. But it was the technical side the way I done it - using brush strokes when everyone else was doing digital stuff. As I was going along each layer I'd print and I'd go ‘Right, next layer’ and draw on the acid tape, expose it, print it, and it would be up. It was like it built up. I was looking at it like a giant cheeseburger. That was the first thing that I was like 'I quite like this.’ Now that I look at it I'm like 'It's so boring.’
You got a picture of it?
Lorenzo has one on his wall I gave one to Lorenzo I'll dig up a picture.
But then after that it sort of became the stuff I'm doing now which is the squashed teddy bear stuff. Originally I done one in the first year of Uni. They were trying to teach everyone metal etching. I hated the sound of it - I couldn't draw properly. It would slip, and scratch, it would really annoy me, and I was like sod this. When the teacher went home I just lobbed the etching plate to the side and I cut a teddy bear right down the middle - from the side, in half. so it was just the front of it. Pulled the eyes, and nose off - felt like a monster doing it. Hated doing it. Covered it in ink and put it threw a rolling printer press on paper, and made the very first squashed teddy bear. The teacher thought it was great, he just thought it was funny. He was like 'That's just such a you thing to do.' I think he was happy I wasn't printing baked beans. He was like ‘Why are you like this?’ But that's what my teacher Ian taught me to do - just mess about.
With the Teddy Bear stuff it really sort of picked up when someone was like 'I really like that.’ Because I put some in the gallery at Pure Evil and literally sold them all in a few days. Then I did a couple more small ones and they all sold, someone in California bought one and I was like, ‘Ok, maybe I’ll make some more.’
What was the first piece you ever sold?
Hmm. To someone that I didn't know? When I was in uni I did these gun prints. Going back to the whole Warhol thing: I remade the Warhol's revolver but I done it with the gun that was supposedly used to shoot Mark Duggan - which caused the London riots. And it was quite a dark image. A weird thing to talk about. It was sat on the wall and someone walked in and bought it in the Art School in Croydon.
How much did they buy it for?
I didn't think anyone was going to buy it at the time. I was like ‘I’ll do it for £300.’ And the teacher kicked me and was like you should have charged £1000, and I was like ‘yeah I’m happy someone’s buying it,’ and he was like, ‘you could have got more for it than that.’ and I was like ‘OK.’ And I even gave the guy the frame for free. And he was like ‘you should have charged him for the frame.’ It's weird because even though some of the times when I was making stuff and I was like, ‘Oh I can make money from doing this.’ At the same time I don’t care about money, like, anymore, it was moreso I just enjoy doing it. Making money is obviously a bonus but, it was more sort of like I feel like I need to do it now. Like it’s destiny. I was born to do it. And it’s, I don’t know, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else now. Um, I could never work an office job. I would get too bored.
But you were working as a helper in a sort of administrative role, right?
Yeah, but it was part creative. Charlie was quite good. He let me experiment with farming. Like, ‘I’ve got this idea for a frame’ and he was ‘go out and do it.’ He’d bounce ideas off of me and I’d say ‘Oh this this and this.’ I’d say like, ‘Oh this canvas would look really good but with this colour pistachio in the background.’ So I sort of had that sort of thing going on and making my own work at the same time. I’m not going to lie, I did actually love it there. I met a lot of people. It was great to have some of my own work there as well. It just got to a point there where I was like, ‘I just want to do this all the time.’ And that point came. What happened was I had surgery on my foot where I fell down the stairs at the gallery. There was a leak, and the metal stairs were wet and I fell down the stairs. Like I really badly done my ankle in. And I left it for like two years because I’m not someone that likes going to the doctors. And then I was like ‘Yeah, you’ve really badly damaged you foot.’ ANYWAY, during that time I was off I felt I was going insane, because I couldn’t go to my studio and make art. And I was just like, ‘What do I do?’ I tried to draw on my iPad Pro and I hated it. It got to the point, towards the end of it, I went to the studio with this big plastic boot on and my crutches, and I was making squash paintings even then. It was hurting me, but I felt like I need to do it. And then when I went back to the gallery I started doing it and I was working with Charlie and it was great being back. I said to him, ‘I really wanna pursue being a full time artist.’ And he said he thought I could do it. He was very supportive of it and he was like, ‘You’ve always sold stuff here really easy.’ It was the hardest thing to do, to hand in my resignation. Charlie had become like a friend.
When was this?
This was October, end of October .
Last year? Like four months ago?
Yeah yeah. Four months. I found it so hard. I felt like I was choking. I couldn’t tell him in person. I had to send him an email. And I was saying to him, ‘Look, this is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.’ He was so supportive of it. He was like, ‘I don’t know why you haven’t left sooner. You’re selling well. You’ve got shows lined up and stuff.’ He was just like, ‘Do what you’ve got to do.’
So you were already doing some shows by this stage?
Yeah yeah yeah. Like group shows I was a part of and just in general selling stuff. Like Instagram – I sell most of my stuff my self on Instagram. I mean it’s not through a gallery, I don’t have a website because I don’t need it. People send you a DM on Instagram and that’s it. Here’s my Paypal, done. It was just such an easy way of going about it.
So, who I am now; I’ve got two shows that I’m working towards. Three! Potentially… One at Waluso Gallery, which is in February, called ‘Slumber’.
What does that mean to you? Slumber?
Slumber, so… I’ve always had this sort of thing with toys with the whole teddy bear thing. I’ve always loved toys. I was a toy collector as well. I’ve always had this idea that a teddy bear’s almost got life. I have Toy Story to blame for that. So I’ve always been really careful with my toys. Always looked after them. I clean them. I had this idea that when I was squashing these teddy bears I almost felt bad for them. Constantly. I almost feel like I need to give them a hug after. I’m not gonna. I’m like, ‘There there. I’m sorry. I have to do this.’ When I think about teddy bears I think about children going to sleep with them every night. And all of these teddy bears sort of have a personality in these children’s heads. I thought that was really important. Every single teddy bear I make they almost have a small personality within them. And sometimes I see people within them. Like the one on the wall there
He’s called Stevie the bouncer! Because the bouncer at Waluso Gallery when they opened was called Stevie and the way that teddy bear’s almost standing it’s like, ‘Well you’re not coming through.’ I felt like he’s got this sort of like angry personality. Like he’ll do your head in if you try anything. Then there’s a couple of other ones. There’s one in my show, I’m friend with an artist called Euan [Roberts], and the colour of the background of the canvas is the exact same yellow as his jacket he always wears. So I was like well that bear’s called Euan. Like, it HAS to be called Euan. There’s another canvas as well and it’s got like a bear, a rabbit, and monkey on it. It’s called ‘Rhys, Kyle, and Lorenzo.’ Shortened to ‘The Boys’ because that’s what people call us. It’s almost a reflection of all of us like fucking about. Three different characters all on one canvas.
So what do you do? You cut these open?
I can’t cut them open anymore because I don’t have the old fashioned roller press now. They’re full teddy bears that I cover in ink and I have to move boards ontop of them and squash them onto the canvas. Some of them, because the edges of the boards sometimes get dirty and leave marks on this fresh canvas, I have to walk on the teddy bear. I have to put all my weight on it. I almost go in a foetal position to sort of get all the right pressure points. I just think teddy bears have that life in them, they’re their own personalities. So going back to the name ‘Slumber’, I always find it hard to sleep when I’m hyped up from making work. And the meaning for slumber is you’re awake, from what I’ve gathered, you’re not in a perfect state of sleep yet. You’re semi-conscious. That’s what I feel like. Like I’m in a constant slumber because I feel like my brain is still active. I wake up and I feel like I’ve been thinking all night. I just find it hard to sleep. I’m thinking about stuff that’s happening in the world and stuff like that so I feel like I’m in a constant state of slumber. So that’s where the name ‘Slumber’ comes from.
Is that related to the teddy bears…
Yeah yeah yeah, you take a teddy bear when you go to sleep as a way to sort of hide from the monsters as a kid, as a way of comfort. Potentially you feel safe when you got this teddy bear next to you. So you won’t have that state of slumber, of fear or worry, when you go to sleep because you have your bear with you.
That’s cool. I actually kinda get that. Is it all teddy bears?
I’ve done like SpongeBob and stuff recently. But they’re all kind of plush based. They’re all soft toys. But there is other objects I wanna work into it. Like in the show it’s not just canvasses. I’ve done a football where I’ve pressed a teddy bear into it. It’s called Wilson, you know like from Castaway. I’ve done like an axe on a soft toy shark. You hit someone on the head with it and it won’t damage them, which defeats the idea of it being an axe. You can’t hurt anything. It’s just a big soft toy. But the handle’s made of wood and there’s a shark print all over the handle. And it’s got the actually shark used to make the handle attached to the top of it. It all sort of relates into itself. I sort of have this hole of ideas where everything sort of flows into it and it all means something in my head. Like it all sort of relates. If I thought of something as I was going to sleep and when I’m in a state of slumber I suddenly wake up. I used to have this sketch book next to my bed – but someone took it out of my pocket on the tube – I used to have this thing. I have a lamp next to my bed and I’d slam the lamp to wake up and write this idea, close my sketchbook, go back to sleep. Half the time the ideas wouldn’t make any sense when I woke up.
Like writing when you’re drunk…
Haha, yeah. But sometimes I’d wake up and look at it and go ‘Ooooh. Oh. I remember now.’ There’s one thing I’d like to say as well. Recently I’ve become very conscious of what I eat and stuff and I’ve recently become a vegan myself. Because I’m a massive animal lover. My dog’s called ‘Peanuts’, he’s a little Cocker Spaniel. I got him as a puppy. I had him at McDonalds and he was looking at me and I don’t know what it was but something clicked in my head and I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. I looked at him and I was thinking - if this was him would I be able to eat him? He’s just there with his puppy dog eyes and I was just like, ‘No no no no.’ I took out the beef and gave it to him. And I was like, ‘I’m not eating meat anymore, I can’t do it.’ And with the dairy and stuff, I’ve done a bit of research and I’m not touching any animal products anymore. I sort of gave up on that. When I was doing research about my work there’s a similar sort of process they do in Japan, or they did it years ago? When they used to catch fish instead of keeping them to show people they used to cover the fish in ink, put it on paper, remove it and put the fish back in the sea. The ink wouldn’t harm the fish but it’s called ‘Gyotaku.’ When someone asks how do I define my work in a few words I say it’s ‘Vegan Gyotaku.’ Some of the Gyotaku work is incredible, I love it. I think it’s great, but at the same how could you do that to an animal?
So is that the idea with the teddy bear? You’ve ink blotted the teddy bear and then want it to go live its life? Although you’ve probably destroyed it now… Wait, do you wash the teddy bears afterwards?
Haha yeah, no, I keep them! People ask. I’ve had so many people that’ve bought paintings and are like, ‘Can I have the teddy bear as well?’
All covered in ink?
Yeah, yeah. They look really cool some of them covered in ink.
I’m going to ask for a picture of that too.
I’ll send you a picture of my studio. There’s about 40 bears, sponge bob’s, sharks, all covered in ink, all different colours. And they just sit there because some people like to take them and some people are like ‘I don’t have room for them’ – which admittedly some of the bears are huge! There’s a massive red one from one of the canvasses we sold recently. It’s like the height of me. And it’s like, I don’t know what you’d do with that… Just a big ink covered teddy bear.
It could look cool somewhere, especially if it’s got several different colours all over it
Yeah yeah, I sought of like the idea of that. Some of them are in all different colours on their fur and I’ve literally covered them in black ink. Some of them look burnt, which I thought was quite interesting because of all the stuff that’s happening in Australia at the moment with the Koala bears [They’re not bears Rhys – they’re just Koala’s. There’s a nursery rhyme about it, come on mate]. It really upsets me seeing that. I’m currently working on something – I’ve covered a plush Koala bear in ink and I’ve squashed it on a fire extinguisher. I don’t expect people to think ‘Oh, that’s so deep.’ But just in my head it makes sense. The koala bear is all slumped on it and it’s gone all hard on the front, I’m in the middle of making it.
Are you going to have it at 'Slumber?
Yeah, hopefully it looks good. Because it’s on a round surface it hasn’t come out perfect. What I do with some of them now is, it’s all evolving, I draw on top of them. Some of them their faces don’t give enough expression when I print them. So I’ve been drawing expressions on them after I print them, with almost like child crayons, and I draw ontop of them. I like the innocent aspect put back within my work because I still feel like I’m a kid. There’s actually something in a Kanye West song, Power. There’s something he said in that, he says he’s fighting for his inner child custody. I’ve felt like I’m trying to be serious about my life, be grown up, pay bills, but at the same time I still feel like I want to put on Pokémon pyjamas and eat biscuits in bed. I still do that. I just feel like I still want to be a kid. But I still have to be a grown up at the same time. I’m still fighting to stay as a kid where I could wear T-shirts with toys and stuff like that on them. Not like the one I’m wearing
You’re wearing a T-shirt with Jeremy Corbyn on it, a socialist propaganda shirt as a child?
Haha I didn’t even realise that until I looked. Usually it’s like a KAWS T-shirt, or a Pokémon T-shirt.
Is this your little protest after the vote?
Yeah yeah yeah
Like a ‘Not my prime minister’ vibe?
You know what I get that. I understood the whole thing that happened, like, Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t perfect. I get that, I get the politics of why it happened.
Are we gonna get into politics?
Nooo NO! I don’t want to do that, haha.
Haha alright in that case we’re going to end this with something because we could talk about a lot of stuff,
I talk a lot
No that’s fine! imagine you just saying yes and no to my questions. So what do you want people to feel when they see your art?
[long pause] … Maybe not feel but think. Um. Nostalgia. I want people to be taken back to a happier time in their life, a simpler time. To remind them of when they was a child. Some people have traumatic childhoods but I feel like a lot people have a time when they are a kid and it’s a thought that they think of when they are sitting in their office chair with stock numbers in front of them. Or the decision of arresting someone because they’ve done something bad. Like, when all is serious and really bad stuff is happening in the world I want people to think about a time when things wasn’t so bad. When they was happy. When on their birthday and they had a birthday cake and they were blowing out their candles. Christmas morning. Does that make sense? That sense of, that rush of happiness that you can’t get when you’re an adult, but when you’re a kid you have that. And it’s that nostalgic feel that I want people to have with my work. I’ve had a lot of people say from some of the works I’ve done about a bear they had as a child and they’ve gotten rid of that bear for whatever reason because it’s not socially acceptable to have a comfort teddy bear when you’re older for some people. Like, I do. I still have mine. He doesn’t even have a name; he just has this golden bow tie. I would never get rid of him. Well, unless Tate offered me a show then maybe I would.
Everyone has that sort of thing from their childhood. Even if it was a stone with a face drawn on it. No matter where you are in the world everyone has that feeling of comfort, warmth, and happiness and that’s what I want to capture within my work. Even with this action man thing I didn’t sell any of them to people under twenty. I don’t think anyone under the ago of thirty bought them, because it was the classic action man. I’ve done Evil Knievil prints as well and only older people bought them because it’s from when they was younger. It’s all about recapturing your youth, but not at the same time because I don’t want to be all about ‘Oh, when I was younger I had this this and that.’ I want it to be a more personal thing. Almost like a speck of star dust that is that exact point of happiness, contentness, when you’re a kid. Warm teddy bear. Love. In bed with a hot chocolate. You don’t know what you’re doing tomorrow. I don’t know, you’re going to the beach, or, you know, that exact point. That’s what I want to connect with
I love that. What’s next then?
With my work or what I’m doing?
You tell me
Well I’m planning on this year, I’m trying to, well, I’ve definitely got a show, April, in Paris. I’m trying to evolve my work. I want to produce massive pieces of work. But not everyone has space for 6-metre-long canvasses. That’s something I really want to go with. I want to physically make soft toys as well, that capture childhood that’s not just a plain brown teddy bear. KAWS is a massive inspiration for me. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was 13. So sort of like the way he does it where he produces toys. I don’t just want to be a carbon copy and make toys, I wanna create something that kids and adults will both want.
Well then that leads to my next question, what do you need?
I don’t know what I need.
How can someone help you?
I think how the world can help me is just avoid war.
Haha, you just need everyone to calm down? To stop fucking with you?
Yeah yeah. Haha. I just need peace. And people to be happy. And a studio that doesn’t have leaks. At the moment my work moves around the studio depending on where the leak is. But that’s all a part of it. No one starts off perfect.
Do you know of any leaks that got into any of your art that you’ve left?
There was one of the canvasses, I could it when it just started to leak, but it’s dried and you can’t tell. I know it’s there.
You sold it?
Yeah it’s fine, it’s fine. Even going back, I love that my work can get damaged. I love destruction. It sucks that I’m destroying the teddy bears, but I feel like I’m destroying them for good. Instead of them going into land fill, because I buy a lot of them from charity shops, I’m giving them a second life. Like, this bear that might have gone into the bin and someone’s gone, ‘No, I’ll put it in the charity shop.’ And in like sixty years, who knows, it might be sitting in the Tate museum. I love the idea that I’m giving it a second life. And I love destroying things to create new things, like with the whole burning canvasses. I love rust, moss, decay. Even though it doesn’t reflect so much in my work it’s always in the back of my mind. Nature and, I don’t know. I’ve had this idea of putting a lot of the old teddy bears in a dead tree and creating a teddy bear tree. One day. Maybe. I don’t know.
Haha yeah well they could create a rainbow like all the ink drops to the floor and creates a rainbow thing. I don’t know where the future will go you never know! Maybe it will end up outside the Louvre one day who knows.
Haha, cool man. Look, I don’t know how to end interviews so I’m just going to press stop on the recording.