There isn’t a single day I don’t see a 20 foot long MSK since I moved to Brighton, they invaded the old ruined buildings and attracted masses of people, just like me. Paul, father of 5 during the day, graffiti “haute cuisine” during the night, started signing Aroe after the ‘Style Wars’ documentary where they comment about the different arrows. Why ? Just like the graffiti cockroach that looks for the best ways to promote itself, every graffiti artist would have to say his name. I went to his place with a GCSE in graffiti and came out with a PhD, a 2hours long interview that looked like a foot thick encyclopaedia, and the first draft of Aroe’s chronicles, this is what I boiled it down to...
Jacker / Hi Aroe, present yourself to our readers and tell us how you started and how your career developed across the years.
Aroe / I always did art since I’m a little kid, I loved drawing. Then the graffiti movement came along and shortly after we started to bomb the train constantly, the ticketing situation was just a joke so we could go to London whenever we wanted to, all we had to do was sit on a train. We used to steal cans and use the tips that came on them, it was very basic art, the entire graffiti things was very homemade. When I moved from Kent to Brighton, I was being prosecuted really badly for bombing trains so after some time I put a small group together and we started getting recognised as the first English writers to venture out of the country. English graffiti was a laughing stock around the world and the first time we ever went to Spain, writers there would say “train writers from England, is that a joke ?”. Then we found out about the scene in Warsaw (Poland), which changed a lot of things for us. Every train would have a date written on the window underneath the driver and every three years from that date, the train would go through a sort of MOT where the train would be repaired and repainted.>>>
We would look for the most recent ones and do massive burners that would stay for years unless someone painted over them. We hooked up with this crew called KFC and came back every summer, we could see burners from the year before, it was insane. There was a period when we must have had around 100 panels running from our crew in a foreign country, people would go there and assume it was another crew but it was us. Long story short, that’s how we connected with one of the guys from MSK who was there, he thought we were guys from Poland but “ - No we are from England, we travel to do this” and that blew them away. They tried to put me in prison for 5 years in 2007, few things had to change and we had to form a new crew that took the name of “Heavy Artillery”. We ended the most famous crew in England when it was at its peak, back then, every kid in England wanted to be in it but we had to close this whole thing down. Within 6 weeks, Heavy Artillery was more famous than the crew before so it wasn’t too bad.
J / It is really hard to find similitudes among your work except for the yellow glasses. What’s the story behind them ?
A / I use to date a girl involved in the fashion industry and she wanted to find an iconic model, a characteristic that if you saw the drawing you would know “right this is a Jean Paul Gauthier”. So that was the idea, even If people don’t remember my name they would be like “yeah the b-boy with the yellow glasses” it’s like a button is on and you know it’s me. I try to take all elements from graffiti and I try to own them like the uzis, the most painted gun in the history of graffiti, now most people wouldn’t paint an uzi because I paint them. They can’t paint speakers because I paint them. It’s a game from who puts the most things up, so if I steal everything, it’s my own way of tagging other people shit without me doing it.
J / You said that graffiti is the best and worst thing that has happened in your life. What is your funniest story as a vandal ?
A / There are so many ridiculous things that happened in my life. Not so long ago we went to Milan and we were going to paint a whole train in the subway. Back in the day, this used to be very easy but it’s still possible. We went with the WCA, Viper, Roid and all of these guys, they were really the coolest guys but they were fucking hardcore. We were waiting by the hatch at the yard where we were going to paint the whole train, Rude and the WCA guys were fucking late. When you are ready you are nervous and excited, but when someone is 40 minutes late, that feeling is fucking horrible. They arrived and said “everything is going to be alright, we know where the cops are”. They went to another station on the same line further down, opened the door with the sensor, did a whole car in 6 minutes with the alarms going off and waited behind the bushes for the cops to come so we knew where the cops are. This is fucking crazy, painting a whole car as a diversion to paint another whole car is just fucked up. We had 15 minutes to do 6 whole cars in a row, I saw someone inside the train, I didn’t understand why one of the Italians would be inside the train until I realised it was a worker, after some time there were 3 of them, we kept blocking the doors until one came out from the head of the train and I had sprayed his face and push him back. They called security and we finally managed to get out on time with some pictures. The train reappeared 2 days later and then runs for a week.
J / And your worst nightmare ?
A / In Italy we had a chase where we were running through the woods and we could hear the bullets ripping through the trees and bushes, but what can you do in that situation ? Stop ? You have to run faster than you’ve ever run in your entire life. Italy is one of those crazy countries where in one minute it would be the easiest place to paint and the minute after bullets would be flying everywhere or get caught put in jail and be released with a 50 euros fine. If you were in England and they fired bullets there would be a stack of paperwork about a foot thick and people would be suspended until they’ve been enquired, it would be ridiculous. In Italy it’s just insane. At the end, no one got caught, no one got shot, and it was just funny. I have to be very careful, I have to separate Aroe from who I am, I have kids, a wife, bills to pay whereas Aroe is a completely different story.
J / How did Gary, Roid and you join the MSK Crew and talk us about the Heavy Artillery that you three also form part of.
A / We started painting with Audacity, Jiroe, Wrench and made a good connection with Alert. We were on the front of the curve and we could see what was coming, we knew there was going to be a huge wave of enthusiasm for train writing because we’ve seen it rumbling in Europe. We felt like the interest started to switch towards the west coast Wildstyle which was something we were already interested in, we already painted with the west coast guys before as they were fascinated by European train writing, it was a very easy union to make. We knew that the authorities were about to clamp the trains real bad and it was all about to go really wrong. So my previous crew and I decided to stop when we were at the top and formed Heavy Artillery. We formed a good friendship with Rime when we were painting around Europe, in 2006 I did this massive gig in Brighton called the “sleeping giants” and invited Revok1 and Sever who came along to the UK and we connected really well. That’s how I got in.
J / You now have a settled life in Brighton and 5 kids. What will you tell the principal of the school when your kids will have bombed the school ? What do you think of the new generations ?
A / What a mess innit ? There is nothing more corny than pushing your kids on doing something you like. My kids have always seen me doing graffiti so they’ve always been fascinated by it. They’ve met the most famous graffiti artists in the world, if some dude tries to talk to my eldest daughter about graffiti, she would pretty much send him on his way like “mate you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about”. She is just a woman that has nothing to do with graffiti.
The 12 year old is really into it, she’s got loads of followers on Instagram and does pretty fuck up graffiti. Again, she bombs and tags around Brighton. She is not going to do it on someone’s house or on someone’s car. She would do it on an electrical box or bins, something that no one cares about. She has been invited to Paris to take part in a graffiti event, she painted at Brus’s reunion day. He wanted her at his event, so she had to paint with all this crazy writers. She is one of the biggest painters in Brighton, she has done a new painting by the train station about 48 foot long and she is 12. You should do an interview to her (laughs).
J / Gary and you made Brighton a really special place to be and probably the reason why they say that Brighton is the British San Francisco. How did you guys managed to make this happen ?
A / I think the biggest thing that helped was initially, graffiti being better perceived. There is no point of painting in a warehouse if no one can see it. So we were painting in the middle of the street. In 2005, there was a guy from a building company that knew each time he would put these holdings up in a construction site, he would have to send workers every day to repaint them. At the same time I wanted to organise this massive graffiti event and the council put us together and we made a deal that they would own the boards but we would own the surface, so we could do anything on the boards as long as it’s not racist, sexist, drug related etc. That year there was a massive change for graffiti going from a dirty secret to something more mainstream in this massive art celebration. Everyone in Brighton understood that people doing graffiti weren’t scumbags. People would pass by during this long weekend talk to the artists.
The week after that, the council called us back regarding Kesington street because it looked like shit, they had to send people repaint the walls every single week. The place was filled with junkie needles, people using it as a toilet or dumping shit, it was hideous. What happened was that the building opposite was converted into super luxurious flats and media offices. So we talked to them and ask them “why don’t you let us paint the building so instead of being a human toilet, it will be a tourist attraction ?”. We agreed on one painting as a test and it was a great success, over the following 6 months, we painted the rest. A lot of graffiti in Brighton aren’t legal, we just go there during rush hour and paint a building that looks like shit and people just think it’s legal. 95% of the time we get away with it.
J / How did you live your vandal period, were you sneaking out through the window when your parents were asleep ? Did you have a war with another writer or with other crews ?
A / When I was young, my graffiti wasn’t as organised as it is now. It was a different era, it was the early 80s. Back then, you couldn’t afford anybody see it because no one would understand it. By the late 80s we started paint trains and stuff like that. I use to take the train to go to college, then left college and got a job and I had a girlfriend staying in another town so I would stay at hers quite often. No one knew what I was doing. I had loads of wars, loads of beef with other people but talking about them would give them credit they don’t deserve.
J / Could you tell us more about the movies Bomb the world and the 10 slums ?
A / The date is not settle yet. It’s a bit frustrating because we have filled the Colombian section and I tried to record the Israel section but my equipment got fucked on the first day. It would have been the most insane thing ever, there was a metal door with a lock on this concrete box and kids playing around, so I decided to paint it and I found out it was a machine gun stash in case the Syrians attack, so everyone “could fight for their freedom”. That was the center point of that town everything else was built around that box, filled with machine guns, kids playing around. So I painted my thing like it was ice cold steel. We want to go to disaster places where the tsunami hit japan, Haiti, painting in places like that and interact with the people there. People still living in those places, this is what the people forget. Life keeps going on. That’s the thing, people in England think their lives stay on hold, and it’s not like that. So graffiti is great to just go to them places and do something to communicate with them and do something exciting I’m not here to patronise no body, I’m a scumbag from England (Laughs) If you film that and show that on television promoted correctly, you would have people across the whole country that are not stupid and a little bit interested in the culture thinking it’s mental. I also went to Syria and Palestine in November walking around demilitarised smashing whatever the fuck I want and people were thinking “that’s fucking insane”. I was sharing a bungalow with CES from new York, it was surreal at 5.30 we heard proper machine guns shooting. We would be painting and hearing bombs going off and feel the rumble on the ground. There was one painting that I did, it was a huge MSK and there was a dead cow shred into pieces from a land mine bomb just in front of it. Puts it a bit in perspective when you come back to England.