The joint graffiti artists' exhibition explores how the alphabet is used as art in the urban environment
Two of the artists at the forefront of the British and international graffiti art scenes, Steve More and Remi/Rough have been pushing the boundaries of urban art since they met in the Nineties. Having been separated for seven years, while Steve took on the New Zealand scene and Remi/Rough the New York subway system (as part of the Underbelly Project), they have been reunited as creative practitioners both within the Agents of Change collective and under the banner of the Urban Abstract movement. Back on British soil, they are set to exhibit their latest paintings in an entirely different setting for them: a white-box gallery.
Dazed Digital: What is the Urban Abstract movement, and how does it differ from work that comes under the Street Art umbrella?
Steve More: It’s a loose term based on an ideology rather than a single preconceived objective; the common thread is the visual language used by the artists, one that’s learned through protracted interaction within the urban environment. For me, its roots lie in graffiti where the stylising of letters was the original abstraction.
Remi/Rough: If art is going to continue to excite people on any level, change is essential - especially when genres (like graffiti and Street Art) become stagnant. It's liberating to be able to paint without conforming to rules within a so-called rebellious art form. Urban Abstraction allows me to have a coded language and a dialogue among my contemporaries. Street Art doesn’t have that - its only dialogue is with its viewers.
DD: ‘A’ aims to reshape the letters of the alphabet to integrate them into an urban context. How did you both come to be working with this idea?
Steve More: Like most graffiti artists we both began working with letters. It was an essential introduction to abstract concepts. From this came everything else.
Remi/Rough: The letters we're talking about exist within closed parts of our creative consciousness. They are there whether we like it or not: I can't ignore the thousands of walls I've painted in my lifetime, and I wouldn't want to. They reference every action I make within my painting now.
DD: Aside from the alphabet, are there any other themes running through ‘A’?
Steve More: The ‘A’ is a symbol of beginnings. It’s a nod to the past with both eyes on the future.
Remi/Rough: Yes, time plays a big part in our work – from tracing how our individual styles have grown and changed to (for me, at least) the concept of leaving behind the imaginary chains of nostalgia and coming to terms with who I am and my age. The letter ‘A’ itself is also a major theme: we consider the work to be Avant-garde, Abstract, Anti-popular, Accidental and Anonymous (in its historical context).
DD: Remi, in comparison to the Underbelly Project, ‘A’ is almost the opposite end of the scale. What appealed about exhibiting in a more traditional location?
Remi/Rough: Seeing work in different context can change people's perceptions towards it. On the whole, people regard graffiti with disdain, but the minute you change its environment and make it more accessible, it becomes ‘safe’. I think exhibiting in a classic white cube environment shows the flaws and imperfections of the art I make. I want people to feel the textures, see the broken lines and hear the whispers of contrasting colours – no-one is going to notice those in a disused subway station.
DD: Is there a difference between painting in urban environments and painting on canvas, and do you think the ground you choose affects the way your work is seen?
Remi/Rough: A good artist can translate their ideas on any scale - it's about having the confidence to approach any surface and attack it using the same discipline.
Steve More: Painting in an urban environment by default involves ‘place’, so it’s part of the viewing process. If you’re creating art to be displayed in a neutral environment like a gallery, though, it must make sense as an independent body of work.
DD: Visually your work differs significantly – why did you choose to work on ‘A’ together, rather than with anyone else?
Remi/Rough:We shared a lot of concrete in our time and doing this show together validates those excursions to us both. I actually think doing this show with Steve has helped me create the most complete and exciting body of work I have ever painted.
Steve More: We could have done solo shows, but ‘A’ is interesting because it compares and explores the differences between two artists at a specific moment in time. We worked closely for many years influencing each other’s work. We’ve diversified. We are stubbornly individual, but we speak in a similar language.
DD: Following that, how would you each describe the other’s work?
Remi/Rough:: Steve's work travels a fine line between sculpture, painting and print. He takes an elemental approach to his work and uses broken and discarded objects to focus on the unused elements of surface and application.
Steve More: Remi/Rough’s work has become more minimalist over the years. He calculates chaos and control and is sparing with every mark. It takes incredible awareness and articulation to make paintings like this.
Text: Alanna Freeman
A is exhibiting 1-6 February 2011, Blackall Studios, London, EC2A