Interview with SNUB as he talks Robots, 2000AD and pioneering street art in the nineties
The path from Brighton to London is well trodden and for SNUB, it’s one he’s been taking for many years. A street artist now exhibiting at the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich his journey these days involves the showcasing of his work in the gallery as opposed to the street.
It’s a change from the heady days of his youth when as he reminisces, “A gang of us from Brighton used to come up to London every weekend make a mess everywhere and then go back. We’d come up Thursday night go to an exhibition, get the free beer, meet loads of people, get drunk, put stickers up, paint stuff and go back home on the last train home and that happened for a few years.”
That was in the mid nineties and the places to be were the areas around Brick Lane and the Dragon Bar, the well known hangouts for what might now be described as the pioneers of the burgeoning street art scene around the East End. More than once he describes this time as feeling part of belonging to a community, one that even now 20 years afterwards, have stuck together.
“You feed off each others work and enthusiasm.” he tells me. “So if you paint something big and bold then you think ‘I could do that’ and you give it a go next time. It’s like a mutual sharing… It’s a nice community with street art, it doesn’t feel so selfish.”
Brick Lane of course was quite different to the ever more gentrified area that it is becoming today. “It was very scummy and dirty” he laughs when asked to describe the area back then. “It was full of little alleyways where you could just pop down and paint something on the walls.” But it felt energising too, “It felt like the early rave stuff when we used to go to a field and there wasn’t any fences around the sound system, there wasn’t security and we all had this common cause. There were lot’s of ideas coming from lots of directions.”
He also links the growth of what we might term as street art today to the phenomena of what he describes as the free party scene. “I used to go to a lot of squat parties” he tells me. Free parties held in abandoned squatted office blocks where groups of artists would gather and paint the walls of the building. With more time and minus the risk of painting on the street, the artists would be able to spend more time at the wall and hone their style. It’s a time he remembers fondly “everyone around you is just off their face and loving everything that you do. So I think there’s a crossover between the free party scene and street art all around the mid to late nineties when we were making this scene our own.”
The name SNUB means to ignore, he tells me as he starts to explain the origins of his name. “I was quite frustrated with the whole gallery situation where it was all fine art and they weren’t accepting spray paint work or anything back then, so I wasn’t really that bothered about galleries.”
The irony of course is not lost on him, he is after all standing in a gallery as we speak, mounting and framing a series of sketches he has produced for the show which is due to open in only a few days time. He has created a number of works, most of which have been created onto reclaimed materials. There are no clean cut canvasses in this show. Towards the back wall he’s even backed it with cardboard and painted a giant mural. It’s like he’s transformed the gallery space itself into an urban space.
He explains the concept to me. “When you walk around the street and you see my or any other street artists work it’s about being in that situation and that’s what it’s like in here really. It’s almost like I’ve installed on the street.”
His name has other meanings too, a visual person he wanted something that would fill up a space, something short and punchy yet which would also sound good. Each letter, the S, N, U and B taken on their own each occupy the space of a whole rectangle. The logo has also been designed in such a way that if you read it backwards it spells BUNS, read it upside down, the word spells ANUS. “It’s got multiple uses and it’s not so much a statement as a brand.” he tells me.
SNUB’s iconic image is his giant robot. In fact as we stand talking in the Ben Oakley Gallery there are a number of them around us. Against the back wall for example, painted onto reclaimed cardboard, there’s a giant mural of a mean looking robot with yellow eyes. It dominates the room and you can imagine how, when the place is due to be packed with people, it will act as the overseer for the entire event.
A fan of the comic book 2000AD, the robot is actually a character from that magazine. Best known for Judge Dredd, it also featured a strip called the ABC warriors. The ABC standing for Atomical, Biological and Chemical with each of the warriors having some of those elements within them. The giant robot so recognisable now as a SNUB icon has it’s genesis here.
Known as Mongrol in the comic strip “he always appealed to me” says SNUB. “Because he was massive, he hardly said anything, he was aggressive and smashes things up but it’s not through anger, he’s a machine and just does it. He destroys stuff, that’s his nature and that appeals to me, that whole passive aggressive side of it because I feel a bit like that I want to say and be like him in some way I think… I’ve drawn him for so long that whenever I pick up a pencil he just comes out. It’s a muscle memory thing now. He’s my icon and my hero.”
Looking at the original Mongrol now though and you might not recognise him “I’ve kind of taken him a long way” he says with the main common factor between the original and the SNUB versions being the two front teeth. “I like to think that I’ve evolved him more and brought him forward”. He understands too that some may be annoyed that the character itself is not originally his but it speaks to his own belief that we are all evolving and recycling all the time. The show itself is testament to that and harking back to his formative days painting on the street in the nineties it’s a theme that comes out again and again as we speak.
For SNUB there’s also something about legacy when people look at his work. “I like the idea that one day when I’m well gone someone will read a book or something or do some research and see what I did and maybe they then get inspired and do something else.” It all adds to his belief in moving things forward and getting bigger and better. I get the impression that if he were to pack it all in the thought of his work living on in the mind of someone else would make him very pleased indeed.
Short Fuse by SNUB will be showing at the Ben Oakley Gallery in Greenwich from Friday 17 April 2015 to Thursday 3 May 2015. He was interviewed in the gallery on Wednesday 15 April 2015. Snub can be followed by checking out his facebook page or his website. For more on the street art of Brighton click on the link.