Hi John, you’re considered a bit of an expert in graffiti and street art despite not being an artist yourself. Can you explain a bit about your background for those that may not know about you?
I do not consider myself an expert in Graffiti or Street art. Far from it. I am someone who has a passion for creative culture whether that be graff or street art. I first got into graffiti after visiting Amsterdam in 1982. The first thing that grabbed my attention when I arrived was the various street tags across the city. Many of those were from the early Amsterdam punk graffiti movement that was big in that era. Secondly there was the famous walking man joint that was up all city everywhere and then there were the writers. It was the early signs of Dutch graffiti. Many considered Kings without crowns. I was lucky to have a decent 35 mm camera and snapped loads of tags. One in particular stood out, it was AGAIN! A prolific bomber. He’s just brought out a book Amsterdam on Tour which documents that period of their history.
In 1983 Bristol the first tagging and some early basic pieces had started to go up. These were by 3D, Z BOYA, FADE and JAFFA, WIZARD (Nick Walker) Crime inc (INKIE, FELIX and JOS). I used to go out and get pics of everything documenting the scene in the city. That’s when the culture truly hooked me. In 1985 I became a Youth worker in the Barton Hill area of the city and that’s when the first pieces went up on the walls there. Bristol’s first HOF. I then set up a project there working with writers offering them legal wall space and free paint as much was being racked in the city. Once the centres reputation was cemented as a place to meet and paint then word got out and people came from around the south west and then other cities across the UK. I made a lot of good friends and contacts and would trade photos of graff from around the world many of which are up on my instagram account. Many seminal and historical pieces. As the reputation of the centre spread and that of my self this brought the unwelcome attention of the local police and British Transport Police. 1989 Operation Anderson the UKs biggest ever police operation against illegal graff took place. 72 writers arrested for criminal Damage and myself for conspiracy to incite individuals to commit criminal damage. I was acquitted of this charge at crown court and the rest as they say is history. This led to lots of media exposure for my project and myself which meant I became well known for my work and involvement in the graff scene.
Moving fast forward to 2019 i now lead Bristol Street Art tours with Where The wall. For the past 7 years I’ve done these tours pulling people from not only the UK but the world to Bristol. Obviously there’s the Banksy factor but there’s a whole lot more to this city. Its rich history and its present day scene. We run 52 weeks of the year it’s my full time job and I love it! We’ve won countless tourism awards, featured in many TV programmes, various media forms and we represent the city with pride and passion. So that’s just a little about me.
You mention your Bristol background and it’s clearly an important part of who you are. Bristol is considered a capital of street art culture in the UK. How do you see Leicester as positioning itself within this culture?
To many Bristol is considered the capital of Street Art in the uk. Thats always subject to debate. There are many cities with great healthy scenes and Leicester is one of them! I’ve always liked the city and its got a history for graff. But more recently with the launch of the Bring the Paint festival it has positioned itself nicely as one 1 of the most vibrant cities in the uk for the art both Graff & Street art. It’s an event the organisers, team and city should be rightly proud of and cementing a solid reputation along side that of Upfest Bristol and The Steelworks event in Glasgow to name a few.
You’ve been up to Leicester for a tour of Bring The Paint. What are your thoughts on it all as a whole?
I came up to leicester to visit many of the locations on a Sunday as I could not make it to the event sadly due to my tour commitments on weekends in Bristol. My first thoughts and impressions were WOW the event had grown and spread out to more locations. Also that the quality of art this year seemed slightly higher than the last event. That’s just my observation. What I also liked was there were maps to download of locations if you wanted to discover the art, ideal to engage locals and visitors. I seen a few people with cameras happily taking pictures. But I chose to wander, explore and mooch about. I still love the buzz of stumbling across new pieces in unexpected places. What I also liked about the feel of this event was it seemed there was a fair proportion of the artists that painted were traditional graffiti artists and they painted some quality diverse pieces. They did not seem to be marginalised spacewise unlike at some other festivals & paint jams.
What would you say is your favourite piece from Bring The Paint and why?
This year there was so much depth and variety of work painted. What I especially loved was the Vacant Spaces project. Great idea with so many vacant and empty shop units in town. Ideal canvas and offered extra spaces for artists to showcase their work. To try and select a favourite from the event is hard. I loved many including the 3D pavement piece in the Highcross Centre by Juandres Vera. Then a firm favourite is SMUG always consistent with his large scale work. Also i rated many of the graff productions at Frog Island and other spots. But if I was to choose my Stand out Piece it would have to be the 1UP crew. Absolutely killed it with that wall. So much detail contained within that production. And one of their best walls ever in my humble opinion.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I think Bring The Paint festival will grow in size and stature over the coming years and that’s something ALL the team behind the event should feel mighty proud and Leicester as a city is well and truly on the international street art map.