I’ve been asked if any of my street art from the early 1980s will be at the upcoming show at Hartlepool Gallery. There will be on display a couple of pieces that were the original masters for paste-ups made twenty or so years ago but little before that. I’ve frequently been accused by contemporary graffiti purists of jumping on a bandwagon by painting in the street. Today when I make a mural it’s authorised by the building’s owner or a local authority (I’m too slow to beat the police in a 100 metre sprint now) and admittedly, because of this requirement, it is harder to make work as political as I originally did when I started. That’s another reason for working with the paste-ups too. I get the time to make and finish the image in the studio and when it’s ready it can be pasted up with a minimum of fuss. I feel that the private individual has as much right to put work into public view as business does with its massive advertising campaigns – it’s just that generally the private person doesn’t have the money to buy the authority. I do try to be responsible in my siting of my work; I wouldn’t paste up a drawing on an historic building without permission – unless the siting was specific to any political point that I couldn’t make any other way. Also, I only use water based adhesives and the work is just on paper so it’s not going to be there for a huge amount of time. In my mind it’s free public art that the public purse doesn’t have to pay for – one of the side benefits of all unauthorised street art.
Going back to 1980 and my street graffiti…
I wasn’t interested in the hip-hop scene or its music. In the small rural town where I lived in the West of England it was the punk scene and the growing community of politicised travellers (defined as the ‘peace convoy’ by the media) that attracted me. The anarcho-punk of CRASS, Poison Girls, Conflict and Dead Kennedys struck me with their musical ideologies and cut and paste aesthetic and I decided to follow their visual lead. I did make paste-up, photocopied pieces that expressed my anger at whatever the Thatcher government was doing at the time to piss me off. I was angry at the Falkland’s War, the treatment of the striking miners, the Poll Tax, the siting of nuclear missiles at Greenham Common and many other things – and I made and pasted up A4 sized, photocopied objections. I didn’t consider it art or graffiti; it was just my way of expressing frustration at the world I lived in.
A can of Holts’ white primer car paint would sit happily inside the left pocket of a jacket and stay warm enough to be sprayed on a night. Text stencils on card would fold up and tuck away in the right pocket when not needed. It was easy, it was quick and it was all within my control. If I found subway style graffiti in my small, rural, English ex-mining town (I found that aesthetic in this social location incongruous at the time) I would just stencil “WHY?” at the end of it rather than attack it by tagging. At the two local job centres I would stencil “UB NAUGHTY” on their walls (a play on the name of the Unemployment Benefit form 40). On roadside kerbs I stencilled “GET OFF YOUR KNEES”, on walls I stencilled “NOTHING HAPPENED HERE”, “FIGHT WAR NOT WARS”, “DESTROY POWER NOT PEOPLE” and I always carried stencils of the logo of the crass band and anarchy broken gun symbol to spray anywhere. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t signed and it wasn’t photographed. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t clever… but it was fun.
card stencils and a paste-up in Liverpool in 2016