Why did you choose the can over the paint brush?
When I was young there was an air of novelty and magic about the spray can and I’ve used them for so long that they feel like second nature to me now. The spray can allows you to make instantaneous, long, fast marks in a way that brushes don’t. I have a lot of energy inside me that I can release onto the canvas with spray paint at a pace that fulfills me.
We heard you bought your first paint cans from Poundland?
I did, but since I was only 11 years old I wasn’t the one actually making the purchase. It was car paint: two cans of white, two cans of black and some grey primer, which was useless. Some people are shocked that my mum was willing to buy them for me, but it led to where I am now.
When does graffiti stop being a public nuisance and become a work of art?
Graffiti becomes a work of art when someone applies certain aesthetics to the practice. It’s a way for someone to have a public voice and communicate an idea to the world, whereas the idea of ‘tagging’ is basically marking one’s territory in as many places as possible – nothing different to what dogs do to lamp posts.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I like the idea of changing the world – making it better. I derive inspiration from the people around me who are trying to do that.
Which artists do you admire?
Growing up I was very much inspired by old school New York graffiti writers like Seen and T-Kid, but I was inspired by 1990s Newcastle graffiti too. I looked at images of it on the internet when I got a computer as I only ever visited the city on odd weekends as a treat.
How much does the North East influence your style?
I was born and raised in Ashington. It’s a very working-class area and there aren’t sufficient opportunities for children. I’m determined to try and change that. I studied at Newcastle University and I’m still based in the city. My studio is a building run by Breeze Creative, an arts organisation which runs three galleries in the North East and offers studio space to artists.
What makes you stand out from other artists?
My style is unique in the sense that I combine two components which many believe cannot be brought into harmony. I combine the contemporary artistic ideology of someone from a graffiti background, but I have gone through traditional art education and developed a love for traditional painting practices. Spray cans for artistic purpose only came around in the early 90s, but I make my own oil paints from pigment using the same methods that have been followed for hundreds of years.
Do you prefer painting canvas or walls?
Overall I prefer painting canvasses. You can stay cosy and warm inside your studio and not have to deal with the North East weather. But it can be a lonely pursuit – often if you’re painting outside passersby will strike up a conversation and make comments about the work you’re creating.
Where are the best graffiti spots in the North East?
If you’re looking to see skilled pieces by accomplished artists then visit Colors on Warwick Street. Newcastle’s only dedicated spray paint shop has massive walls that you can paint with permission from the owner. But if you’re looking for ‘real’ graffiti, take a ride on the Metro – it’s like a ride-along gallery itself. Anywhere you find a rail system you will find a thriving graffiti culture.
What’s the most extravagant project you’ve ever worked on?
I was part of No Commission: London, a three-day event put on by the famous rapper Swizz Beatz. The concept was to give artists free exhibition space and take no commission from any artwork sold. Music artists such as Giggs, Bugzy Malone and Emeli Sandé played live, people like Nicole Scherzinger attended and I was featured in a promotional video which Swizz put out to his 1.5 million followers on Instagram. The other visual artists were further ahead in their careers so it helped me get on the ladder.
You once painted a piano for Emeli Sandé. How did that come about?
I got a direct message on Instagram asking if I would paint her album title onto a piano for the tour she had coming up. Of course I agreed and a week later I was in Glasgow painting the piano on site. I met Emeli that day and used the chance to invite her to my upcoming exhibition on Brick Lane. She had a house close by and ended up coming to my show. Since then she’s become a collector of my work and we’ve become friends. She introduced me to Swizz Beatz – it’s strange how life plays out.
If you were to choose a cool nickname like Banksy or Zephyr, what would it be?
My cool nickname is Jamie Evans! The names Banksy and Zephyr are used because they operate in an environment which doesn’t allow them to use their real names for fear of retribution from the law. I’m happy to put my name to the things I do. I understand there could be repercussions, but I’m not scared of owning up to what I’ve done.