Street Art in the UK has it’s roots firmly in the graffiti culture of the mid eighties. Before Instagram, Facebook and blogs, Graffiti Writers often put themselves out there by getting into places no one else could and by getting their tags known.
It’s a history which is still felt today although street artists have now become a bit more sanitised and accepted, at least that is true in certain areas. Graffiti writers too are still around, hanging on to a tradition of elaborate letterised tagging which harks back to those heady days. The rivalry between the two can sometimes be seen played out on the streets with works from some being ‘tagged’ as a mark of disrespect from the writers who feel that the whole thing is becoming a bit too safe.
For REQ, it’s something he doesn’t have a lot of time for. “I eventually became dis-allusioned with graffiti” he tells me. “For various reasons some of it being the general laddish nonsense you get just from putting yourself in that area of the street and all the politics that goes with it”. REQ started in 1984 with wildstyle lettering, experimenting with different forms of lettering where style was the most important thing. “I knew I was a pioneer back then” he tells me, “we were the first ones doing it so we were breaking new ground and making our own styles.”
I tell him that I find it interesting how his work has evolved. In my mind, the days of the mid-80’s had more angst to them which seems so far removed from what he is doing now and also what we are seeing now. I ask him to describe what he feels graffiti is now considering this is where he ultimately started. “If you’re talking about a graffiti artist, you’re talking about someone who illegally paints on walls” he says. “Sometimes I get people coming up and saying I’ve got a van, can you graffiti it for me, but what they really mean is can you get your spray cans out and do a painting. So graffiti ends up being anything done with a spray can but that can’t be right, so for me anyway graffiti means illegal work.”
Street Art he says “upstaged graffiti” and he has a theory why, believing that because of the messiness of the tags, street artists were more welcomed by the public because they were essentially making things more beautiful. Graffiti writers he says are affronted by that “they’ve got this bad boy image that they’ve got to portray because that’s part of the game basically, to come across as bad because ultimately that kind of graffiti is about adolescent boys learning to grow up and become men”. REQ, despite his background, is damning of the tagging culture that still exists in some areas.
Initially called REQone, he evolved his name to REQ as he become better known and this is the moniker he paints under these days. An artist with a spray can he now paints what he terms as ‘spraypaint realism’, a far cry from the typographical tagging which gave him his name and started him off. REQ chose his name because the letters R and E looked good design wise, whilst the Q was added to be his “wild letter”. REQ has travelled from Brighton in order to live paint at the Far Rockaway Bar in Shoreditch prior to a solo show at the Cre8 Gallery in Hackney Wick on the 5th December 2013. It’s a bustling Saturday night and the Far Rockaway is surely one of the only bars in the world in which a bonafide artist complete with traditional paint splattered coat and easel can mix with revellers on a night out as he paints scenes from the streets around.
He paints with a Muse, who in today’s scenescapes have taken the form of REQ’s wife in one picture and the Far Rockaway’s very own Marketing guru Sara in another. His technique involves the subtle use of a spray can from which he is able to create an image that plays with the light to create a particular hue and atmosphere from the scene around him. It’s not often that you hear the word ‘Muse’ in the street art culture of London’s East End. But a muse is what he needs. Indeed soon at the Cre8 Gallery, his show will be called ‘London Muse’ and be a culmination of all the work he has done with his current Muse over the last two and a half years.
Coco Kolé, his muse, will be the focus of the show. She is he says “the exalted female”. The show is his study of her. “Not only do I study her physically” he says, “I study her lifestyle”. He describes how we shall see her restricted or restrained in some images whilst in others she will be breaking free. He uses his muse to represent himself and by studying her fully he is able to understand himself and how he, in his life, has also been restrained and restricted. “I see it as being the same path everyone takes” he says. “That’s why in the show she will start restricted, then become free, and then become restricted in another way… ultimately though in the end she will be exalted in some way. She is the muse, the exhalted female.”
REQ was interviewed at the Far Rockaway Bar in Shoreditch on 23 November 2013. He was taking part in a live painting session organised by the Far Rockaway in partnership with the Cre8 Gallery where, on the 5th December 2013, he will be hosting ‘London Muse’ his next solo show.
For more related Inspiring City posts try: