Once illicit and clandestine, graffiti art has come of age, Remi Rough tells TAMZIN LEWIS
WHEN he picked up his first can of spray paint aged 14, Remi Rough didn’t reckon he’d be making his living out of painting walls at 40.
But Remi has just filled a gallery in Newcastle with canvases and sculptures and recently completed a commission for London’s biggest graffiti mural.
He says: “There was a lot of reason to be a rebel in 1980s Thatcherite Britain. I grew up in an urban environment in south east London and music culture was influential. I just became part of it.
“It started at a base level, but I was always interested in the artistic side of it. The vandalism side of it never interested me. I wanted to take it as far as I could and I am 40 now. I still have a way to go.”
The artist, who is known even to his mum as Remi Rough, was welcomed to Hoults Yard in Newcastle last year to exhibit work with Australian graffiti artist Stormie Mills. In addition to their show Selected Moments, the two produced a large-scale mural on an enormous wall at the former Maling Pottery factory.
Remi was invited to return with a solo show of canvases and sculptures which are currently exhibited at Unit 44, a space near the entrance of Hoults Yard.
Remi says: “I started doing traditional graffiti 27 years ago and you can only paint the same thing so many times over the years before in your head you start abstracting.
“The lines, shapes and colour are still prevalent from my days as a graffiti artist, but it is a more mature version. This is like graffiti for adults.”
Remi has spent about nine months working in his London studio to produce work for How To Use Colour And Manipulate People for Unit 44.
So does he not feel constrained by the comparatively small scale of his canvases?
Remi replies: “No, because mainly I paint huge walls. I do big walls all the time, like the one at King’s Cross and a recent one in Vancouver. It is really liberating to go into a studio and work on square metre canvases. I can really focus and the work isn’t dependent on factors like it getting dark or cold.”
Remi Rough staged his first solo show in 1989 and has since exhibited around the world, publishing his first book, Lost Colours and Alibis, in 2009.
He says that after mucking around with abstraction in the 1980s, he started doing abstract work properly in 2007. And he is particularly influenced by painters such as the Russian Kazimir Malevich and the Americans Mark Rothko, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock.
He says: “I’m really influenced by Abstract Expressionism and in the approach those painters took and the ways in which they changed the world of art, architecture and design.
“My new work has fragmented. Every few years everything fragments and changes. You get so bored if you do the same thing over and over again.”
In addition to spray paint, Remi uses matt emulsion and also bitumen to produce a deep black. He says: “I have no preference to what I use. I just like making art and I feel very lucky to be able to do it.”
He adds: “The sculptures are made of wood, metal and all sorts. They come from the same process as the paintings. I don’t design the works, but I do draw for reference. I’ve got sketchpads full of ideas which will never see the light of day.”
:: How To Use Colour And Manipulate People is at Unit 44, Hoults Yard, Walker Road, until July 31, www.unit-44.com