Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday ProFile: Artful Dodger

Back in the day, graffiti was all about getting up, hitting unique spots, and making your name known. Armed with Sharpies, spray cans, and whatever other tools they could afford, these stealthy assassins plastered their names on anything with a visible surface. In the dark of night, they braved cops, dogs, and abusive street characters that tried to intervene. In the beginning, graffiti writers loved their art but found little acceptance in the outside world.
From the jump, Artful Dodger’s talent didn’t jive with his parents’ expectations. At first, his interest in art entertained them. In school, lessons on Van Gogh, Rubins, Michaelangelo, and Da Vinci piqued his interest in art as a career. As a child, he says, “I loved to draw cartoon characters as a child. Whenever relatives came over, my parents told me to go get my pictures and show them. They’d parade me around.” However, his parents were less than thrilled when their son decided to pursue art as a career. “They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer, something respectable and academic. Saying I wanted to be an artist was like wanting to be a street busker. It was seen as an embarrassment. It was difficult to deal with.”
Born and bred in London, Artful Dodger fed his love for hip-hop culture with a constant diet of Rock Steady Crew, Futura 2000, Le163, and Phase2. His interest in aerosol art was augmented by his middle school art teacher’s calligraphy lessons “No one really took to it,” he recalls. “Everyone was more interested in flicking people with ink. After the lesson, I went up to him and told him I was sincerely interested. He gave me some alphabet slips, ink, and pens, and told me to see what I could come up with. From there, I got hooked.” In 1983, he hit the streets with a vengeance, spraying everything in his path.
Finding a support network in PLAZ, a South London crew, Artful Dodger spent his time bombing or sketching new pieces. “It was cool because it’s good to have someone watch your back. It wasn’t until about 6 months after that that we hooked up with a crew of really great South London writers. It was great because we were all on the same page. It was kind of like what you hear with bands and musicians where all the talents come together and collaborate.”
Connecting the tags on New York’s subway cars and old gothic penmanship, Artful Dodger’s hybrid style spawned an unusual tag. When people saw his tag for the first time, they didn’t believe it was graffiti. In 1985, Weetabix approached Artful Dodger for an ad campaign. “My quest was to get my name on it, so I thought, ‘Wow, instant fame, I’m in!’ ,” he recalls. “Ironically, they didn’t let me do it in my gothic tag because it didn’t look like it’d been done by a writer. They just wanted a stereotype image and my tag was subversive. It played with the whole perception of what writing and vandalism is.” Confusing viewers with his illegal yet artistic pieces,

Today, Artful Dodger keeps it legal. When he’s not DJing or spending time with his kids, you can find him out in the community. For the past 22 years, he’s organized workshops for youth clubs. Starting this month, he’ll spearhead a multifaceted project combining different aspects of hip-hop culture. “It’s a six-week program that encompasses aerosol writing, digital graphics, urban music, and creative writing. This is our pilot project so there are three classes with twenty persons in each class. Next year, I want to start B-Write, a program teaching women how to write. It’s kind of weird because you’d think that women would be out there getting their voices heard more. You’d think there would be more equal representation.”

No doubt, D! While he doesn’t get up illegally anymore, Artful Dodger insists that graffiti is here to stay. “No matter what, I think people will continue to get up the traditional way because that side will always appeal to someone. The harder you push them to go legal or accept it in the mainstream, the harder they’re going to push back.”

All images courtesy of Artful Dodger, except fourth image from Rocking the City. For more info, check out his video stash, website, or Flickr. Thanks, D! I'm off for Labor Day weekend festivities, but I promise to bring you all the headlines on Monday.

1 comment:

  1. wow great i have read many articles about this topic and everytime i learn something new i dont think it will ever stop always new info , Thanks for all of your hard work!