There has been a bit of a Gent overload here at Arty Graffarti, with the video being pushed pretty anywhere the blog can be seen. But with work like this, who can blame Melbourne for not being excited about having this visiting artist? With an exhibition literally around the corner, I sat down with the artist to discuss his beginnings, his time in Melbourne and the forthcoming show.
AG: Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from originally and where did the name Gent come from? Was it your first name or one of many?
I’m originally from England’s second city, Birmingham in the West Midlands, I was born in a place called Moseley Village. It’s and old industrial city, we were big in the game at the time of the industrial revolution, but like so many cities now, the industry is all gone. It’s also the birthplace of Cadbury chocolate, HP sauce and heavy metal. There’s not much going on there at the moment though, other than stabbings, teenage pregnancies and fried chicken.
No, when I was first getting into graff at school, I used to write all sorts of shit, stuff like Hype and Extreme, then I started to write Agent, an old tag of my brothers in the 80’s. I wrote that for a few years then I just knocked the A off the beginning so it was quicker and easier to piece, I liked the sound of it better and it was also a new beginning for me as a writer.
AG: What first got you interested in graffiti and street art? Did you draw a lot in your youth? What were some of your main influences early on?
I grew up with graff around me from an early age, my brother and his mates used to tag and skate. His bedroom was clattered floor to ceiling with tags, it was there, but at the time I didn’t really understand what it was.
I was a bit mental when I was a kid, I was always up to some sort of trouble. My mum said she had to strap me to the dining room table so she could get the cooking done and I was banned from visiting family because I was too unpredictable to have in the house. She thinks it had something to do with when she was pregnant with me, she ran over a little girl and had the oven blow up in her face, she said the shock sent her stomach solid for a few weeks and I didn’t move, maybe it was a massive serge of adrenalin or something. Anyway, my point is, drawing was the only thing that stopped me causing trouble, so I was encouraged to draw a lot by teachers and family from an early age.
I always liked drawing my own characters, I think my main influences as a kid were old British comics like The Dandy and The Beano, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Disney and animation in general has always been an inspiration too. It wasn’t until I got to secondary school and had chilled out a lot that I started getting in to graff, I found some old black books of my brothers that my mum had kept hold of from the 80’s and they inspired me to start to recreating them. I slowly just started getting more into graff from then, I did it on my own at first, not knowing anyone else that did it just sketching and tagging. Then I met up with people like Meks and Newso through a girl I was seeing and then that was it, I started meeting more and more kids who did it, they showed me a lot and we started stealing paint and painting and I was hooked, I just wanted to learn more about it and get better. My early graff inspiration was those kids I was hanging out with, and the older local writers whose paintings we would track down and look at.
AG: When/where do you think your style really developed to what it is today?
I think as and writer/artist/creative or just as a person, you’re constantly trying to develop even if you don’t admit it or think about it. How can I make that look better or more interesting? How is this formed and how can I interpret that in my own way to make it my own or easier to draw or paint? I think I started to develop more when I thought about stuff like that.
I’ve always found it hard drawing and coming up with ideas, it’s a constant battle and up hill struggle, I forget how to draw things that I’ve worked out in my head before or sometimes I would go off drawing and painting for a bit then it’s like starting all over again. I think I struggle with discipline but I think that discipline helps with development.
There have been a few stages over the years where I think I developed and focused more, I think one of them was moving and starting to paint in London. I was painting with older and better writers like Tizer and Shucks and the London ID lot, I felt pressured but in a good way, more eyes on you judging you, you want to hold your own and not look too much like a toy. It was good for me seeing a bigger range of styles and thinking about stuff I had seen more and watching people paint or talking to them about painting, I think just being in a creative environment with other people really helps development. It’s like now being here in Melbourne I feel I’m developing again at the moment, I’m painting more often with a high standard of Painter there’s more going on and my brains constantly thinking about it, there’s a pressure to produce better work.
Personally I don’t think I’m that good, I see floors in the things I do and the stuff I paint, I know that I want to get better and give my work more of a presence a voice and personality, but not knowing how too do this is frustrating, I think this frustration is something that fuels progression with in my self too. Although I also think that same pressure can lead to my work becoming a bit samey and that I’m playing it safe by painting stuff that I know works all the time and using the same formulas to structure the faces of my characters. I want to be more experimental with letters and characters and remember to learn from my mistakes instead of being worried about making them in the first place.
AG: Tell us a bit about your crew The 48s? What does the name stand for? Are you apart of any other crews back in England or here in Melbourne?
FORTY EIGHT is a crew I came up with back in 2003 while watching a TV program at home called Count Down. FORTY EIGHT is an anagram of TOY FIGHTER, I just thought it suited the graffiti situation: we’re all just fighting toys, so I made it a crew. Most of us in the crew are old friends, we’ve know each other since we were teenagers so we’re all really close friends, it’s nice. We don’t paint together as much as we’d like, but when we do it’s really good. I’m planning on dragging them all out when I get back to England. NEWSO, MEKS, REAS, KOZBY, YEPS, COFIE, GLOS, KESH and EGOR, the lot of them.
I’m also part of FKS [FRESH KREATIONS] and SSM [SOUTH SIDE MAFFIA] the two best old school crews from Birmingham. I’m also in ID crew from London, Tizer, Shucks, Pref and that lot. And I’m also proud to have recently been asked to join SDM crew from here in Melbourne.
AG: What brought you over to our shores last year? Have you enjoyed Melbourne so far?
I had just finished a degree in illustration and my girlfriend had always wanted to come over, so we thought we’d just do it. We’re both really happy that we did, we love the city. We had only planned on staying for a couple of months at the most, but have been here for a bout 5 so far, were going to travel up and down the East coast at the end of March, but then we’re heading back to Melbourne for the rest of our stay. We’ve both met some really great people and made some good friends, so it’s been an amazing trip for us so far.
At home it’s really heavily over populated and it can be really boarding how agro everybody is out there, England is rank with this attitude, you don’t really experience it here at all.
I think were both dreading having to go back [laughs], I really enjoy how chilled it is out here and how much space there is and how uncrowded it is here at the moment.
AG: What brought yourself and Dvate together? And how did you get your spot in SDM?
I met Dvate and his wife briefly back while they were visiting London in 2005 and then again in Brighton for the Sleeping Giants Jam. Tizer is also in SDM, so when I knew I was heading to Melbourne he said to contact Dvate to see if he wanted to paint, the rest is history. I think we’ve painted almost every weekend since we met. I’ve gotten along with Dvate really well instantly, I owe him a lot he’s a first class bloke and has looked after me more than I could have wished for. The rest of SDM are all the nicest group of people too, everyone I’ve met through Dvate have all been really cool people. And his wife and my girlfriend get on really well too, which is great! After painting together a few times he just told me that they had had a chat and wanted to know if I wanted to rep the crew. I said yes straight away.
AG: At the last SOC/SDM show in December you had some fantastic spray paint pieces along with a couple made from collaged sections. Where did the idea of doing these works come from? Are you hoping to do more in the future?
I started doing them in my first year of Uni, Kozby showed me some work by Ben Butcher, an artist that worked on some Disney Pixar concept art and children’s picture books. He was using collage and cut paper to produce some really great work, so I just started using the idea to produce work for some of my school projects. I like how quick it is to create work in this way, sometimes anyway [laughs], also when you use coloured paper and card you get a flat solid colour strait away. I like how it’s similar to using spray paint in a way. When I first started using collage I was using only coloured card or paper for the whole piece, fill outline and shading, now I’ve just been using the card as a block fill then using other materials to add the details, like acrylic paint, maker pen, spray paint and pencil crayons. Its quicker in some ways and you get a different affect that I like.
I think I’ll probably always produce some work in this way just because I enjoy doing them. And people seem to like them, I think they work well as framed pieces but I’m unsure of how they would transfer in to print as use as illustrations for books or magazines.
AG: Why have you decided to do this upcoming show at The Vic Bar? Is it your first solo show in general or just in Melbourne?
I’m not too sure why I decided to do this show, a few people mentioned at the SDM Seasons of Change Exhibition that they thought I should do a solo show of my own, and then a few weeks later I was asked by The Vic Bar! If I was interested in putting one on there, I thought I might as well. I’ve never had an exhibition before, so I thought it would be fun to do and would help me show people what other sort of stuff I produce. It’s also good way for me to get to meet more of the people who are in to the same things as me, other writers and artists in Melbourne. Hopefully I might even make some contacts and friends along the way as well.
AG: Do you like working on gallery work? Which do you prefer? Outdoor or In?
I do like producing work for exhibitions, it’s just hard thinking of what to produce. I’ve only really done stuff for my end of year show at uni, were a lot of my work was digital.
I think if I could afford to have a studio and have the space and time to just experiment and produce work everyday I would enjoy it a lot more and I would progress a lot quicker and produce some better work, I would like to produce some ideas I’ve had for sculpture at some point and also paint larger canvasses. It would be nice to have a place that you knew you could go to where all you materials were and just go and make a mess and produce some thing or nothing. On the days when you see a smudge on the floor or a half packet of toilet paper and it triggers an idea and you can just go and give it a go with out much care of showing it to anyone would be amazing.
For this show I just took over the sitting room and the space at the top of the stairs that I share with the neighbours out the front of the flat, it’s not the best situation as there’s a lot of distractions and I have to move everything and tidy up at the end of every piece but I just had to make do with what I had and be glad that I could do it there at all.
Over the next few months I need to decide what it is that I’m going to be doing as far as producing work, Am I just going to paint as a hobby, and work on trying to paint better quality graff walls or am I going to invest my time in producing work in a studio that I can sell and show people, invest my time in experimenting a progressing and promoting my self as more of an artist or try to follow up a career in illustration. A combination of them all would be ideal for me. As far as out door or in door, I think either is good for me as long as I am enjoying what I’m doing and can afford to eat. I do love painting on walls though.
AG: How is the show coming along? What can we expect on the night?
It’s going ok so far, I think [laughs]… I’m getting a few bits produced… slowly but surely. It was difficult at first to decide how to start and get the ball rolling, I decided I would just stick to what I’ve been doing and produce mainly character-based pieces. People seem to like and react well to the characters that I paint, so I thought about what kind of audience my show might attract and thought about what sort of stuff they would like to see. I didn’t get in to trying to produce work with really strong concepts/ideas to them, I thought I’d just try to produce stuff that looked good with no real meaning to them. I was just hoping people might look at them and think that the looked cool and just enjoy them for what they are.
I know that with art it’s always good to have a meaning and concept behind producing the pieces, an artist can be good technically, but I think a great artist also has strong concepts behind their work too. I thought as my show was mainly aimed at other writers and people that enjoy graffiti, and that the artform doesn’t normally have a reason or concept behind it other than it’s got to look good and stand out, I would just concentrating on the style of the work.
I have tried to produce work in a variety of sizes and materials including collage, mixed media, graphite and acrylic. I have also painted a few canvases only using spray paint, it’s nice to have work on a larger scale and to have pieces that show what I like doing best. It was important for me to have pieces made completely with spray paint as that’s what I enjoy doing the most, but also so people who might not have seen my spray painted work first hand, can have a close look at what I produce when using it.
AG: Whats the best way to contact you for commission work or walls?
I think the best way would be to come to my show and to say hello, but if not, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
AG: Thanks for your time, are there any shout outs, death threats or praises you wanna send out to the internet?
Yeah, just everyone in my crews for being great people to have around and paint with, my girlfriend and flat mates for putting up with me turning the flat into a studio and having cans of paint/sketches/canvas’ and bits of paper all over the place. Sabs and Dvate for looking out for me and hooking me up whilst I’ve been here. And you too Arty Graffarti for showing me some love, hooking me up with a great video and just helping get my work and show out to people.
AG: Thanks for your time Gent and thanks again for the video team up!
Don’t forget to come down to said show tomorrow night at The Vic Bar, by the looks of this guys work over the passed 6 months, its gonna be one to remember!