Usually when we think of graffiti, images of bubblicious skittle-coloured lettering and characters come to mind, but there is a whole movement of artists that are taking the artform to higher fume-filled heights. She One has been living and breathing the spray can for over 30 years with his signature stylings of typography proving that throwing out preconceived notions of what art should look like can create a career. We caught up with the originator on his Australian tour of the No Comply festival and had a good old English yarn in between cracking open a few coldies.
Hi She One, how are ya?
I’m well, thanks
Oh very polite! Where did your tag come from?
She One. I came out with the tag when I was 15, in the mid-eighties. It was basically to annoy my other friends who wrote graffiti, because it wasn’t a very hardcore name.
You grew up in an era when graffiti was just coming to the forefront….
Yeah, in London. I was around at the time of the Buffalo Gals and Malcolm McLaren explosion. It was all part of the New York new-wave thing and I was really interested in what was happening in New York art at that time.
So where you ever in New York to experience it first hand, or were you always based in London?
No, not at all. I was still in school. It was just seeing a lot of stuff like Haring and music that was coming out like Blondie. And just being interested in what was going on somewhere else. London was very punk at the time.
Well hip-hop wasn’t real big when you were starting out…
Electro was really big. I grew up listening to heavy metal and sort of New Wave, so that was more the thing that I was interested in.
How did you then go from being into that style of music to delving into an art form that was more inspired by a hip hop underground lifestyle out of New York?
I never thought of it as hip hop, I just accepted it as painting. I saw it all as art so I didn’t really group it in with it, so I just treated it as a separate subject. That’s when I got into typography because I was doing typography from heavy metal album covers. I used to draw a lot of typography and that sort of lettering, so when I saw graffiti, that you could have your own name and paint your own letters, it just seemed like a very logical thing.
How did you make the jump from the New York style of graffiti of the time to taking it one step further, thinking artistically from the inside out?
It took a long time. It was at least 10-15 years before I really started just going to walls. The day it changed, I went to a wall with no drawing, and no concept in what I was going to do. I just took some paint and started painting. I stopped doing fill-in on the colours. I just used to paint the lettering straight onto the wall and that’s when it really changed and it freed up and it got a lot more personal.
Is this where the live painting comes in then rather than being confined to the studio?
Yeah, it’s the same as being in the studio except with loads of people watching.
Do you get off on that, though?
Oh yeah I really love it, it makes the painting more exciting, it makes you do things you wouldn’t do in the studio, like adding more flair to it. It’s a performance.
It’s not one of those things where you can erase it, so if you’re making a mistake…
It’s a one-hit thing so you just do it.
It’s living on the edge, and that personifies art. How do you clarify art as opposed to graffiti? Is it one in the same? If we look at your piece, we wouldn’t necessarily classify it as graf, but maybe that is because people’s perception of the art form is writing your tag with big bold colourful lettering…
I learnt to paint by doing graffiti, so it is just by default really. I always paint lettering, so it is always like a blown up tag, abstracted out. Everything starts with my name and then it’s just abstracted out from that.
Are you surprised with the way your career has flourished? Something you started off doing as a teenager is now your living….
Yeah that does surprise me because I never set out for it to be my job or career; it’s just something I did as a kid. But it’s just been a natural development. At some point, somebody said ‘oh, I really like your work, would you do me a painting’ and at that stage I’d never thought about doing canvas, so I was like ‘yeah, sure’. Then you get one invite to do something abroad and then another and slowly it evolves like that. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve never had to have a job.
Well when it works it’s good, but when it’s not.... It’s a good pay off, because sometimes you don’t have very much money but on the flip side you get to travel the world, you get to do very exciting projects and there’s a lot of people you would never meet if you had the security of a good job.
This is the first time you’ve been to Australia then?
No I’ve been to Sydney twice before
How did you get involved with No Comply and meeting Alex?
Well Alex called me up and asked if I’d be interested in coming to make some work, so I said ‘of course’ and I did some decks for the show.
Have you wandered the streets and experienced some of our street art?
I have! I’ve been in good company as well, hanging out with Meggs and a couple of other guys.
And what are your thoughts?
It’s good. It feels very alive here. There is a lot of work on the street. It seems like people really support each other in what they do, which is good to see. It’s good to meet a lot of the artists at No Comply and see they all hang out together and have a respect for what each other are doing.
I think it’s such a small network of people it’s hard not to be supportive, which is great because the scene is then hopefully going to flourish. And from there we’ll see a lot more collaborations like the No Comply festival. How do you feel about collaborations? You’ve been working with Addict in the past, right?
I’ve been working at Addict for about four years. I design fabrics for their technical clothing line and obviously graphics for their t-shirts and whatnot. I enjoy doing that sort of work. It’s a way for people to access your work without having to invest in a painting and also it means your work reaches out to people who don’t have to know who you are to buy a jacket, they can just buy it if they like it. It’s like seeing your tag walking around the street. I’ve seen it the world over, it’s brilliant, when you go to a city and see people walking around in your jackets – it’s great!
Do you ever feel like going up to them?
Oh come on! So you’re not an exhibitionist obviously!
Well people do bring them to get signed, so that’s funny!
Can we talk sneakers right about now? Are you passionate about your footwear?
Ahhh…Vans! They are pretty much all I wear, occasionally New Balance
So any hints to a collab?
Yeah there is a potential collab with Vans coming out, which we have just started talking about. It will probably be a Vault, but that will be with Vans in LA.
So what’s coming up next for you after No Comply?
I got a sculpt coming out with a toy company in Hong Kong, so we’ve got to do the promotion for that. We’re probably doing an exhibition in London, so I’m working on a load of new art for that at the moment. I’ve also got my own spray paint coming out with Montana – an artist edition can, which will be black, and I’ve designed the label for it, so I’ll have to do something for that.
Are any other artists involved in that?
They did one for DONDI, but obviously he’s passed away. They did a license with his brother at that came out, so mine is the next one…so watch out!
Thanks She One