Skip to content
Breakbeats and bullet holes: The AROE interview:

Artists

Breakbeats and bullet holes: The AROE interview:

Share

  • “All I want to do is try and constantly evolve the possibilities of graffiti...” 

     

    When it comes to art that sets out to incite a reaction and push boundaries most peoples minds immediately jump to one thing, graffiti. Brighton based artist AROE has been at the heart of the scene for decades, applying his meticulous technique and innovative approach to create grand, eye-catching works all over the world and despite years in the industry, his creative pace remains at an all-time high.

    Will spoke with the graff veteran to find out about his origins, inspiring past projects and expansive history at the forefront of counter-culture.

     
    A: I've just gotta get my painting.... 


    W: What're you up to today?
    A: Cardiff.


    W: Cardiff?
    A: Yeah painting this mad gym, tryna work out what paint.... Come on then, start asking!
     
    W: How did you get started?
    A: I started back in '83, after watching the Buffalo girls video on Top of the pops.. Back then there were only 3 channels on tv: 1 and 2 and ITV... Of course back then there was no internet so whatever culture you got came in the form of whatever TV shows you watched.  BBC1 had Top of the pops so every kid would watch it, the viewing figures were multi-millions... So what happened was everyone was watching it on Thursday night and this video came on that had breaking and graffiti on and we were like “holy fuck this is the coolest shit I've ever seen”.. We had no real idea what we were seeing but we knew it was new and different and amazing...

    W: Did you come across anything like it before then?
    A: We'd seen like robotics and mad shit like that but that was more of a hip-hop thing, but this was the first time we'd really seen graffiti... where we lived it was really strange because we'd seen early graffiti in the late 70s.. There was a guy who used to go around writing political statements and would also write his name which was a really odd thing to do back then.. It was a weird identifier and the first time I'd seen graffiti being someones name.
     
    Once we saw this (Buffalo girls video) we were like “this is fucking cool”, when we went to school Friday everyone was talking about it. We were breakdancing at school, trying to do graffiti in our books.. That was Friday.. Then Saturday we went to a local paint shop and stole a load of paint which must've been mental... At that point I can guarantee no-one had stolen a can of paint from there, maybe the odd opportunist had taken one but we went in there and just rinsed all these cans, then we went out and did pieces Saturday morning.
     
    W: What were they like?
    A: Oh they were terrible! But the whole thing of it was it was just such a mental thing to do you know so that was pretty much how that started.
     
    W: You were involved in the music scene at that time too right? I listened to a track you did ages back called 'Jaw Warfare'.
     A: You actually listened to that? Christ...
     
    What happened there, when we were young kids there was nothing to do, we had like a youth club that we went to where we could do breakdancing but not to rap or electro. We all got into these things and then our hunger for being creative grew – learning to break, learning to do graffiti, it was all just such an entertaining, rewarding thing to do that it kind of bled into everything we did.
     
    Eventually we went and got a guitar delay and started putting bits of record into the guitar delay and hearing it back in loops, you have to either speed or slow the record to make it work, the guy I did that with went on to be in Morcheeba.. Fucking mental, us fucking around in a bedroom with a guitar delay led to him being a multi-millionaire and having all these big selling albums. That was how that happened... Always a mental interest in being creative.

    W: Were you in Brighton at this point?

    A: Nah Kent, which was a really odd place... It was kinda the perfect place, some of the kids from other cities had all of the stuff on their doorstep so they could go places and do things whereas we didn't have anything so we had to make it, we had to go and do stuff.
     
    When we were little kids at school doing graff these two kids from Croydon moved down and they knew kids who went to Ladbroke Grove and London who did graff, so we bunked the train up to London and saw all this graff that no kids from where we grew up would've seen. We went up there with our little 110 cameras, little flat things, taking all mad photographs and everything, when we got back we'd get them developed and have all these snaps and people were like “where the fuck are you getting these photos from?!”
     
    It really encouraged us, then instead of waiting for an event we'd sort our own, put our money together, do some hip-hop jams got them so popular that in the end we were able to buy our own turntables, buy the speakers, buy everything – we had the whole set up so we used to do these mad jams.
     
    It was all just through wanting to do things all the time rather than waiting around for things to happen. It was a different kind of mindset then. I think the problem now is a lot of people, this isn't a criticism young people because you know the world is a much different place, I think a lot of young people now are more consumers, they're waiting around for things to happen. It was mental back then but that gave me the whole thing where I believed I could do anything I wanted, we didn't understand the concept of “you can't do that”. So then when we got into graffiti that was still the case.
     
    During the early nineties I was predominantly more interested in doing music, I still did graff but it was not my main thing – my artistic creativity was taken up with trying to make beats for this music group, that's what my fascination was and then in the late 90's I had a run at doing graff again. Most of my best graffiti started in the early 2000s, it's like for 20 years I've liked most of my graffiti but the stuff before that i'm not a fan of.
     
    W: Can you describe your style? It's instantly recognisable.
     A: Yeah so all of this stuff that I'm doing now... Imagine I've done a piece, then half of it's been cleaned off, then I've done another piece, and that's been cleaned off then someone's done tags and they've cleaned that off... So really all it is is thousands of layers of graffiti and posters that have been ripped off... Or snapshots of a city all taken every 10 seconds and then layered on top of each other.. That's the idea I want. The reason I put the big heavy black around the outside is kind of like the 3D around the letter. Really I say to myself this is tags, this is scribble, there's the contrast between light and dark, calm and mad and then this black represents the 3D to anchor it down to make it graff. To me it's all still really graff but it's not really graff.
     
    W: What's your favourite project to date? I know you did the artwork for Westside Gunn's album 'Hitler wears Hermes V', can you tell me about that?
    A: Yeah so one of the biggest rap labels in the world is based in Brighton (Daupe records) and when that happened they had an image for the album art that they initially wanted to use, but it was so small it was about 24 megapixels.. They couldn't replicate it so there was this real panic.. they were talking and I said to my friend The Purist, who owns the label, “I'll do a fucking cover!” and they said they wanted some mad looking Hitler painting and then all of a sudden they were like “it's the sickest shit' one of the best (artworks) they've ever had.
     
    The idea of the way I painted it was like he was programmed to hate, you take any kid and raise them in the right environment they don't hate anybody.. That was my concept of the painting. It's not about him, but he's the prime example.
     
    In terms of my favourite project... There are all sorts of weird ones that I've enjoyed all for different reasons.. There was a mad one where I was painting in the street in Guadalajara and some guy comes up behind me and is like “AROE?” and I'm like “yeah”, he goes “what the fuck are you doing here?” We got chatting and he asked if I wanted to come and do this job, I agreed, I told him I'm going home in two days and the job was just massive – I painted this mad building, an outreach centre in this town outside of Guadalajara where the employment rate is 2% because there are so few jobs and the cartel in that area are so powerful that you say to a kid “do you want to get a job and earn nothing or do you want to join the cartel, your life expectancy will be 5-10 years but you'll drive around in a pick-up truck with machine gun they just go 'fuck it give me the 5 years” that's how nihilistic it is which is a real tragedy.
     
    So they set up this centre with all the sports facilities, so anyone who plays sport – football, handball or whatever, they reach out to them and say “you're doing well at school why don't you become a plumber, or a carpenter, or an electrician. They pay for all the training so that these people actually have a vocation. It's really positive and I really enjoyed it even though the painting wasn't one of my best ever.
     
    W: What was it? 
    A: It was just this building where they wanted some abstract shit, so I just painted some wild, positive, vibrant stuff that would make anyone wanna go there. The reason I liked that so much is that it was so positive, it wasn't anti-cartel because they were saying “how can we compete with this because they're giving people jobs”. It's a really complex situation out there, you can't discuss it in a minute but it was a really interesting job.
     
    It's funny because as soon as we finish talking I just think of more, there are loads of good jobs. There's a certain painting that I've done where it's not my most technically best painting but it's one of my most emotional. We went to this place which was formally Syria, it was the site of a hospital, it was where there had been super serious fighting and the Israelis had pushed the Syrian's away from this hospital and basically blown the hospital to pieces, all the walls were covered in bullet holes.  All the people I was with just went straight up to it and started painting over it and I was like “No bro you can't paint over the holes, that bullet could've gone through there and killed someone”. I ended up doing this painting where I refused to paint on any bullet holes, I painted around them, it was a proper emotional painting and I got emotional doing it. That was probably about 2012 to 2013.
     
    In terms of recent ones I really like the painting that I've just done in Glasgow. It was like a test, I had no sketch and no idea what I was going to do, I was under pressure just to test myself. It took Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I did one half of the wall Friday, Saturday I did the other half and Sunday I had to find a way to combine the two in a cohesive way. Each day was a different mood. What we did as well was we programmed the painting to be augmented reality, anyone who then turned up could scan it using that app Artivive and it would animate.
     
    W: You've talked about it before, where do you stand on the difference between 'street-art' and graffiti? 
    A: There is a definite difference, I think over the years it's becoming slightly blurred and people are becoming less caught up on the terminology. I can understand why people were mad about the terminology to begin with because it was a contentious topic, people have been doing graff for years and years and then the council bypass them to commission a load of art-school kids, that's what it felt like to graffiti artists.
     
    It's a massive discussion isn't it, the reason that I got away with half the stuff that I did in Brighton is because people thought it might've been something culturally important and they didn't wanna stop it.

    W: Are there any up and coming artists that you're a particular fan of? 
    A: There's loads of people that I think are fucking amazing, I think that Voyder kid is something absolutely fucking magnificent. Some of the South-end dudes like Ecto are incredible, I think Dead from Liverpool is completely slept on, one of the dudes with the wildest art. Liverpool again, another place that's amazing for it.

    W: Can you tell me about what you're working on at the moment?
    A: Yeah, my new work there's 16 pieces. Each painting has a glow in the dark chess piece on it, that was the plan. The back has a glow in the dark bit as well, you wont see it until actually glows, you can only see it once the lights are switched off. All 16 will hang on the wall, once you turn the lights off it'll be a chess set walking down the wall. All 16 of them as soon as they're together will have an augmented reality feature that will only work when they're all together... As soon as one is sold it'll never work again, unless someone buys all 16.
     
    All I want to do is try and constantly evolve the possibilities of graffiti, I'm not pretending I'm gonna change graffiti because I'm not, graffiti is too powerful What I'm trying to do is use all the things that it has to do something different, or push one aspect of it and explore it.
     
    With my work it's like that could be on any doorway, but I've isolated it and cleaned it up, I want it so when people see my work they're like “oh that's really beautiful” but really it's just a load of scribble, it's everything you hate, I like the juxtaposition of it. People often say “I like graffiti but I hate tagging”, that whole thing is basically fucking tagging. The other thing I try and do is I don't want to make aggressive, masculine art and even though it can look aggressive, I don't think it's particularly masculine. The more you look at them the more soft and gentle they actually are.
     
    AROE will be showing new work at our debut show 'Made you look' – Subscribe to our mailing list below for further details.

    Share

  • Keep Reading

    View all
    2024: 5 Must-see Exhibitions

    News

    2024: 5 Must-see Exhibitions

      A new year means another stacked calender for collectors and art fanatics across the world. Throughout 2024 we'll be lucky enough to see some incredible showcases of intergenerational talent...

    Our Christmas Wishlist

    News

    Our Christmas Wishlist

    Whether you're after a stocking filler or the perfect gift for the art lover in your life, Christmas can be a tall order when it comes to finding something special....

    A guide to Own Art

    News

    A guide to Own Art

    Own Art is a national initiative supported by Arts Council England, that makes buying contemporary art affordable. With only a quick and easy application to complete, Own Art can provide you with...

    Limited, open and original: Editions explained.

    News

    Limited, open and original: Editions explained.

      Entry into the world of art collecting can be daunting, pieces can vary wildly in price dependent on innumerable factors and can range massively in terms of their scarcity,...

    Your guide to: print handling & picture hanging

    News

    Your guide to: print handling & picture hanging

    You've found the piece you love, now what? Making sure your artwork stays pristine from our gallery to your wall is our priority; that's why we offer bespoke framing and expert hanging services with every...

    SLAWN: A Radically Open Approach To Art

    Artists

    SLAWN: A Radically Open Approach To Art

    “Artists like Slawn mark the visual culture of our age and will inevitably shape the topography of the contemporaneous art ecology.” - Elikem Logan - Sotheby's (2024)   The past...

    Judge less, create more: The POSE interview

    Artists

    Judge less, create more: The POSE interview

    Having cut his teeth on the streets of Chicago Jordan Nickel AKA POSE has carved a unique lane for themselves in the contemporary art canon. Through his ground-breaking, vibrant street-art...

    I Don't Know: The Magda Archer interview

    Artists

    I Don't Know: The Magda Archer interview

    Bringing an infectious mix of wry humour and vibrant British nostalgia contemporary artist Magda Archer has gained a reputation for unique, uplifting and thought-provoking works that perfectly capture the perpetual...

    Breakbeats and bullet holes: The AROE interview:

    Artists

    Breakbeats and bullet holes: The AROE interview:

    “All I want to do is try and constantly evolve the possibilities of graffiti...”    When it comes to art that sets out to incite a reaction and push boundaries...

    The Bare Book Of Bones: The Will Blood Interview

    Artists

    The Bare Book Of Bones: The Will Blood Interview

     “The minute I finish a painting I'm already thinking of the next one”