In every sense Inkie is a giant in the UK graffiti and street art scene. A towering figure with an equally broad grin, he’s got a lot to say about the value of street art in public places. His own background has involved painting on both sides of law but today his craft is his focus and he draws inspiration from classical British figures like William Morris, who started the arts and crafts movement over a century ago. Inkie has also played a major part in curating the See No Evil festival in Bristol. Here’s what the big man had to say.
The Cleaner Side of Inkie
My name has two meanings – firstly, of course, inky fingers because I was always drawing. Secondly, when I was a kid I was a bit of an arcade whiz; Inkie is one of the ghosts in Pacman!
I’ve been making art ever since I could hold a pen – my father was an architect! I’ve been painting walls since 1984; I was 14 at the time. Like many kids my age I started soon after I saw Subway Art and Wildstyle; I’d been a punk rocker before then. I used to draw a lot of characters like Judge Dredd (I’m a big fan of the comic 2000AD); I also used to draw a lot of punk band logos. When I started I painted with 3D (from the Bristol band Massive Attack), Nick Walker and Goldie. Later on I painted with Banksy; there was a whole school of Bristol artists at that period.
In 1989 I was arrested as part of Operation Anderson. The police had a 12 month long project to arrest key artists in Bristol and the South West of England. In all they arrested 72 artists. That was the UK’s biggest graffiti bust and they described me as the kingpin! I ended up getting a fine and a slap on wrists; the graffiti scene died down for couple of years but then there was new wave in Bristol; we’re on the fourth wave now. Funnily enough, the courthouse where we are painting today at See No Evil is where I was put on trial – it’s come full circle!
I painted letters and hip-hop characters until late ’90s. I used to paint traditional wildstyle letters but when the whole street art scene came out in late ’90s I evolved one of my styles into the iconic lady you see me painting today. The repetition is important and it’s built up to be the mainstay of what I’m doing. I wanted something you could see and recognise instantly, something easy to identify. I still paint graffiti; the street art is more for the public.
I’m trying to influence and second wave of the arts and crafts movement; I’m inspired by William Morris, and Alfonse Moocher, etc.). It’s all reflected in my “ink nouveau” ladies! In fact, I’m looking on working on ceramic and textile work.
Today I do gallery shows, screen prints, logo and graphic work, I design clothing and, of course, I do the traditional street stuff. I’ve just started doing repoussé, which is embossed copper, and soon hopefully I’ll be working in mosaics and stained glass. I have a view to making iconic pieces that will be the antiques of future.
Artistically and creatively I think Bristol is melting pot that’s unique in UK. We encourage people from around the World to come with open arms. I have an ambition for Bristol: to become the home of street art in UK. It’s already renowned for the quality of the art in the city; artists socialise together and share ideas; there’s a community of artists, it’s not just individuals.
The cultures differ in every city I go to, with respect to getting access to wall. America can be quite tricky for painting walls. Europe is much better but scenes come and go in different cities. Bristol has been consistent.
This is the second year of See No Evil, working with the council and Team Love (the production team). This year my primary focus has been curating the art. I work with a steering group to allocate different spaces to artists. We’ve been pushing it more this year – there are less artists but bigger pieces. It’s been a challenge because there are fewer artists involved from Bristol this year (although we still had Nick Walker, Xenz, Sickboy, Mr. Jago and many more. It’s hard because we can’t involve everyone!
Also though, I want to add that See No Evil ties in the music and art scenes – both scenes drive each other in Bristol. The block party on Saturday is key to tying it all together. It’s the culmination of a week of events.
[When I asked Inkie if there’s anything else we should know about him before he walked off with his typical massive grin…]
This interview was written by Lee at Global Street Art. Global Street Art are launching a crowd-funded book with Unbound.