Category Graffiti

4 Corners: An Interview with Bro Ben

As October and another British Black History Month draws to a close, it gives me cause to reflect on the years since its inception in 1987. Culturally and technologically the changes in our society in that time have been immense. However, politically we seem to be going backwards rather than forwards as our basic freedoms and human rights come under constant attack and outrageous acts of prejudice, racism and violence become increasingly flagrant and frequent. Back then in the ’80s, our profiled creative for this month was making his mark as a graffiti artist and rapper as part of London’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. Creative roots which fed and nurtured him into one of the most talented, diverse and respected artists and designers of his generation. His integrity to his craft and commitment to his community, especially in encouraging young people, is awe-inspiring. As is his vast body of work encompassing art, design, illustration, photography, film, sculpture and music. But let’s be clear, this is no “Jack of all trades”. His work in each and every discipline he turns his heart and his hand to, is accomplished and features many landmark projects, which continue to influence to this day. So without further ado, let’s pass the mic to Mr Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben.

Bro BenSource: Azita Firoozyar

Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben. Artist, designer and filmmaker

What’s your background?

I grew up in Harlow on the outskirts of London. Being born in the mid-70s meant that I was just about old enough to be considered a first-generation hip-hop child. From the first time I set eyes on Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls video as a young boy I became submerged in hip-hop cultural expression. Although I enjoyed all of the various disciplines of the emerging hip-hop movement I found the spray can art element particularly fascinating and exciting to do. Spray cans only represent a medium but the art form is essentially typography fused with figurative and landscape painting on unconventional canvases. As a result of this early introduction into the combined arts I have continually resisted the notion that you have to specialise in one discipline. During the mid-90s I was fortunate enough to have been the first generation to be offered the opportunity to study for a ‘joint’ honours degree at The University of The Arts’ Camberwell site. So I chose to simultaneously study Fine Art and Graphic Design, where I furthered my understanding of layout, composition, photography, typography, painting and printmaking.

Breakin'+Convention+designBreakin’ Convention design

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Prior to studying for a degree I had already satisfied many illustration and design briefs in the late-80s and early-90s. Before having computer access I had learned how to cut and paste using Pritt Stick and a scalpel, delete and tidy work with Typex and do laborious-hand rendered typography with Gouache paint or Letraset transfers. With regards to my illustration style, prior to owning a computer I would collage sheets of coloured paper together to make Illustrations. I got my first Mac in 1997 after volunteering at Alarm magazine. As a reward for my hard work and sleepless nights meeting press deadlines the publisher kindly gifted me an Apple Macintosh Performer 5600 Power PC. I quickly developed a technique to create my collaged paper illustrations in Photoshop. I had my first illustration published in VOX magazine in 1997 and this was followed by regular appearances in Echoes Music Weekly and Touch Magazine. In 1999 my illustration helped to enrich the branding of the DarkerThanBlue digital platform. After two years at DarkerThanBlue I returned to Touch Magazine as art director and also worked as art editor for THE FLY magazine.

Darker+than+Blue+designsDarkerThanBlue designs

 What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I had hundreds of rejected job applications after leaving university. While being unemployed I would occupy myself with imaginary briefs. I started to take the job application process less seriously and began to take risks with my covering letters which accompanied my CVs. On several occasions I just wrote raps/poems and I was surprised to find that this strategy appealed to some of the recruiting art directors who found this interesting and funny. As a result I became a frequent freelance designer at both Emap and IPC publishing houses. I also underestimated the power of referral. At least 50 per cent of my early work leads came from one friend, Russell Moorcroft. He was comfortable in putting me forward for a number of jobs because I had been at college with his wife Linda, who was able to give a confident character reference about my work ethic. But now the greatest challenge I face is to work as hard towards my own goals as I have in the past towards the visions and goals of my paymasters.

Breaker+illustrationBreaker illustration

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Most definitely hip-hop culture has been a great inspiration and has interfaced me with enriching experiences. But professionally my early mentor Everton Wrightshifted my paradigm as to what is possible. I had never come across a black man with dreadlocks who drove a nice car and owned a consultancy and design studio (Creative Hands) in the heart of the City. The walls of the studio were adorned with examples of high-profile work that overlooked the minimalist furniture, wooden floorboards and first generation G3s and iMacs that were dotted all over the loft-styled workspace. What’s more he had staff and was able to pay me. It was a mind-stretcher to say the least. I had never met a black man in Britain who had carved out a living for himself like that and being of black British descent this really resonated with me. Aside from that type of up close and personal inspiration I also take a holistic approach to the arts as a whole, so I might do a painting inspired by the music of Donald Byrd. I might do drawing inspired by Spike Lee’s films. I might make a short film inspired by a poem I have written. I might design a palette for a corporate brand based on a Monet pastel drawing. I also find inspiration in failure, depression and tragedy. I know that I am at my happiest when I am productive. I know that if I am not productive I will be depressed. I know that if I don’t find a lesson in a tragedy then the sorrow may envelop me. I know that if I don’t analyse my failures I will be destined to repeat them, so I stay positive and draw inspiration from life’s beauties and hardships.

FourFourTwo+cover+illustrationFourFourTwo cover illustration

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I am not a proud person. Sometimes I like my work momentarily on completion but as time passes I can only see how it could have been better. I get very uncomfortable when people praise my work.

PaintingPainting work

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream job would be to direct and produce a feature length film. As an artist without boundaries what better medium exists than film, to harmonise the spectrum of artistic disciplines? Within film you can fuse, literature, poetry, music, sound design, dramatics, theatre, dance, sculpture, photography, typography and graphics… I think the great filmmakers of this period will be remembered and revered in the same way we idolise the renaissance painters of the 15th and 16th Century.

Design+for+Jonzi-DDesign for Jonzi-D

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

As previously mentioned Everton Wright. Steve McQueen. His work asks questions in a subtle way. Also he feeds into the growing audience that want to see an unconventional artistic approach to film making. Kjell Ekhorn and Jon Forss (Non-Format). They don’t follow design trends and they have enough confidence in their vision to establish trends. Graham Rounthwaite. Editorial illustrations were seemingly becoming stagnant before he re-energised the discipline with his fresh fashion-led stylised characters that he placed in familiar urban contexts. Taki 183 and PHASE 2. Fathers of graffiti who were some of the first Street artists to break the cycle of incestuous, elitist art and bring it back to the everyday people. Blek Le Rat. The relatively unknown Parisian stencil artist, whose work inspired and pre-dates Banksy. Following a period of abstract impressionism art was losing its ability to communicate with the masses and could no longer effectively critique power or voice decent. With the emergence of Culture Jamming and Street Art once again artists like Blek Le Rat were able to comment on the social and political climate in a dissident and subversive visual language.

Touch+magazine+coverTouch magazine cover

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow in my footsteps – create your own pathway. If you try to get to where I am you will be disappointed when you arrive. Never limit your goals to what someone else has achieved, look beyond, focus on personal excellence. Try to be excellent at what is in front of you right now and then move on when the time is right.

Sleeve+art+for+TySleeve art for Ty

What’s next for you?

A workout. I have been sitting in front of my computer all day. Not good. You have to paint up close but then view from a distance to find out if your strokes are making sense. When I work out I can reflect on my creative goals from a distance. But for sure I will continue to illustrate, art direct and make space in my schedule to make films.

Network:

EUROPE:

STEVE MCQUEEN ‘ASHES’ is the Thomas Dane Gallery’s third solo exhibition of the acclaimed British artist and filmmaker’s works. For this exhibition, McQueen will present two new works. The first, entitled Ashes, 2014, is installed as an immersive projection with sound.  It was shot on Super8 film with a haunting verbal soundtrack, recently recorded in Grenada. Much of the footage dates from 2002 and was taken by the legendary cinematographer, Robbie Muller. The deceptively simple film was commissioned by Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo and shown there earlier this year. At No. 11, we will be showing an entirely sculptural installation ‘Broken Column’, which acts as a pendant to ‘Ashes’. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm.  Admission Free. Tel: +44 (0)20 7925 2505. Nearest Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com

HOW GREAT THOU ART – 50 YEARS OF AFRICAN CARIBBEAN FUNERALS IN LONDON by photographer Charlie Phillips presents a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community. Runs from 7 November – 5 December at Photofusion 17A Electric Lane
London
Brixton
SW9 8LA. Visit the website for more information

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL ‘LOOK SEE’ – an exhibition of new paintings oncurrent with the traveling exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, currently on view at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Runs until 22 November at David Zwirner Gallery, 24 Grafton Street London W1S 4EZ. Visitthe website for more information.

THE U.S:

A THEATRE OF COLOR: COSTUME DESIGN FOR THE BLACK THEATRE BY MYRNA COLLEY-LEE consists of more than 100 original costume designs, and over 80 production photographs, including full scale production images from several productions portraying the black experience from before World War II through the Pulitzer Prize-winning works of August Wilson. Exhibition runs until 4 January 2015 at Charles H. Wright Museum of African History.Visit the museum’s website for more information

AFRICA:

TEMPORARY BUT PERMANENT: PROJECTS The act of being present, and following the construction of a permanent work of art within a public space, is for Hobbs/Neustetter a complex and political condition where one is literally exposed to myriad forces and opinions. A temporary action on the other hand– while no less complex or political, unfolds with a different sense of time in relation to development and production, and often displays more social dexterity regarding audience and site. The works presented inTemporary but Permanent, through their exploration of xenophobia, forced migration and urban degeneration, stand as a particular instances of these symbolic translations. Developed in countries as varied as Martinique, Norway and Mali, Hobbs/Neustetter employed photography, video, mapping and participatory processes in order to present and record such interventions and ultimately effect radical changes in society. Accompanying this selection of works is Hobbs/Neustetter’s post performance video installation of their Tate Modern Commission for the December 2013 Sud Trienniel in Douala, Cameroon.Visit the Museum of African Design for more information

THE CARIBBEAN:

LAST SUNDAYS @ NATIONAL GALLERY of Jamaica features special exhibitions from 11.00am to 4.00pm, with free admission for all free tours and gallery-based children’s activities. There are often special films or special performances and the gift and coffee shops are also open. Contributions to the donation box are welcomed. For more information call 876.922.1561, or visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

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4 Corners : An Interview with Errol Donald AKA Pride

This month, while we face the winter blues of New Year, we stay home in London and in the warm company of someone I have been blessed to call a friend for more than 30 years. Mr Errol Donald, AKA Pride. We were initially brought together in our teens through a mutual friend, because of our love for George Clinton and all things P-Funk. Followed by a shared passion for design and creativity, as time passed and we developed our own career paths as creative professionals. Throughout that time I have always admired Errol greatly. Like some designer superhero, he effortlessly glided between the worlds of graffiti and graphic design, making his mark on both sides of the track. In the ‘80s, as his alter ego ‘Pride’, he was a founder member of one of Europe’s most celebrated and respected graffiti crews, The Chrome Angelz. He custom-designed t-shirts, like his classic ‘Nike/Spike’ design, which was a total game-changer in my opinion. Then followed a period working as a designer for the classic French brand, Michelin. And in more recent times, and perhaps somewhat surprisingly for a former graffiti artist, working for the international law firm, Hogan Lovells as an executive creative director. As a creative facilitator and educator, Donald has also worked with the Letter Exchange delivering lectures and workshops in graffiti and typography both here and abroad. And he continues to work tirelessly in the community sharing his mad skills and experiences with young people. There’s a lot in a tag, and in Errol’s case its truly fitting. Pride by name, pride by nature.Errol Donald

Errol Donald AKA Pride: creative director, lettering artist, lecturer

What’s your background?

I was born and raised in West London to Jamaican parents. I was fascinated by the many ways in which the youth of my elder brother’s generation chose to express their own identities. From music, politics, right through to fashion and attitude. Culture and creativity seemed to go hand in hand. In trying to be different, I drew inspiration not just from my immediate surroundings and largely Caribbean culture, but also from anything that seemed to challenge the norm, and so I became very curious about how culture was being expressed elsewhere. I studied graphic design at Camberwell School of Art and enjoyed the multi-disciplinary environment and emphasis on traditional practice. Around the same time, Hip Hop had made its way into the UK, and I was hooked! The references to popular culture, politics, and community, confidently expressed by my peers caught me at a time when I was ready to make my own mark as a creative artist. I quickly established myself within London’s Hip Hop community as a graffiti artist with The Chrome Angelz. As a collective, we shared a passion for the visual arts and traditional arts practice and sought to find a way of honouring the original pioneers of the movement, by developing a distinctly European aesthetic. It was a completely new and exciting education for me. I took a year out from my degree studies to paint, collaborate, and experiment. We were very active across the UK and in Europe, yet retained the freedom to carry out solo projects that took us all in new and interesting directions. The autonomy gave me the ideal opportunity to freely express my own ideas across a range of creative disciplines. The Spike T-shirt was a self-initiated project. I wanted to capture the tension between cultural and corporate identity in a single image. It was part of a series and was undoubtedly the most popular! I returned to complete my degree with a lot of confidence, and dedicated my final year to academic research that examined the creative, social, and wider cultural impact of graffiti culture.Chrome Angelz poster

Chrome Angelz poster

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

After graduating, I made the most of my mixed skillset and gained a lot of industry exposure through film, TV and advertising projects. I also began to play a more meaningful role in my community, working in the arts and education, and was invited on to the board of ACAVA, an arts charity based in West London. A few months later, I joined the in-house team at Michelin – a very traditional brand with a proud lineage. Though a little challenging at first, there I was able to utilise my range of skills and experiences and made the transition to commercial branding, which to me shared a number of similarities with brand-conscious nature of graffiti and hip-hop culture. I’ve gone on to enjoy a successful career in the business sector, leading creative teams for global brands across a number of industry sectors (energy, finance, property, law). I love the intercultural enagement the most, as there’s always a part of me that’s able to facilitate a sense of shared understanding.'Nike/Spike'

‘Nike/Spike’

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

As an artist, my early efforts to take graffiti art into (then new) spaces polarised opinion amongst graffiti artists, and the general public. Both audiences were wary of the impact that graffiti would have on their respective communities as it sought ‘acceptance’ in the public realm. As a design professional, my mixed skillset opened some doors, and kept others firmly closed. The familiar dilemma of tailoring my portfolio was worsened by the fact that clients were wary the negative impact on brand and reputation brought on by association with graffiti culture.TDK press ad

TDK press ad

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My parents and my son, Wesley. Broadcaster and author Alex Pascal was the first to paint a picture of the world outside my window by weaving together culture and creativity. Books: Photographer Charlie Phillips’ – ‘Notting Hill in the Sixties’, Watching my name go by – Norman Mailer and Jon Naar, Getting Up – Craig Castleman, and many more! Not surprisingly, I’m drawn to maverick creativity. My tastes are quite varied and include everything from Thelonious Monk to P-Funk, Alvin Ailey to David Mamet and Ricky Jay. I also admire the wit of Patrick Caulfield and the works of designers Ron Arad, Philippe Starck and Terence Conran. It goes without saying that graffiti and hip-hop culture have provided many amazing moments. I was year into my degree and came across an article on the visionary artist and performer  Rammellzee. His unique theories on lettering and language left me mesmerised.Ties for Michelin

Ties for Michelin

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

My first exhibition at the Arnolfini gallery in Bristol means a great deal as it was my first gallery experience, and I think it one of the first shows in the UK dedicated to graffiti art. I’ve been lucky to work on a number of projects that I am passionate about. From my first press illustration for TDK, to branding Brixton’s Rough and Ready basketball tournament. I love type and lettering, and recently became a member of Letter Exchange, where I gave a lecture on the aesthetics of graffiti art to a mixed audience of lettering professionals, friends, and family members, most of whom had no idea of my ‘creative past’! In commercial terms, I’m very proud to have led the rebranding programme for  international law firm Hogan Lovells. I had already completed a number of similar projects for other companies, but the scale of the project, spanning different teams and countries made the project rewarding.Work in Bristol's Arnolfini Gallery

Work in Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery

What would be your dream job or project?

Through my company Mindspray, I want to expand my work as a facilitator and consultant to build sustainable links between education, vocational training and business. I’m passionate about collaboration and exchange, and would love to create a global initiative that drew both culture and commerce together.Work for Brixton's Rough and Ready basketball tournament

Work for Brixton’s Rough and Ready basketball tournament

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Cornbread, Iz, Blade, Barbera 62 & Eva 62, Stay High 149, Tracy 168, Seen, Kase 2, Phase 2, Lee Quinones and Dondi are among the many important figures and pioneers of graffiti culture. Colin Brignall and Dave Farey – for Letraset! What more can I say? Tony Messenger, my tutor at Camberwell who allowed me to take a year out to follow my passion. Artists Simon Cooley and Rita Keegan were amongst the few practising artists to offer advice and encouragement as I swapped sable for aerosol. London’s hip-hop community during the ‘80s for doing things that I’ve never seen before. Or since. All the educators, academics, researchers and many others who have shared their knowledge and experiences with me. Too numerous to list here, all have helped to shape my understanding of cultures past and present, and deserve much credit.Taxonomy

Taxonomy

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Always Be Curious.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just completed a creative campaign for the international charity Coaching for Hope, who use football to create better futures for young people in western and southern Africa. Supported by FIFA, HSBC, Hogan Lovells and nPower, the project will raise awareness around the challenges faced by young women and girls playing sport in South Africa, and aims to educate young women and girls about their rights to play football and remain safe when faced with discrimination and violence. By visiting townships and areas of high unemployment where the work is undertaken, my goal is to build awareness of the campaign and to extend the reach of the programme to other regions and countries where young women and girls face similar issues.Hogan Lovells identity

Hogan Lovells identity

Network

THE U.S:

My Rock Stars: Volume 2, the first American solo show by Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj. The body of work produced for this exhibition is a continuation of Hajjaj’s ‘Rock Stars’ series, in which the artist portrays his close personal friends in the guise of ‘rock stars’. Taking his pop-up studio through Morocco, London and Paris, Hajjaj’s approach combines the spontaneity of street portraiture with the language of fashion photography, creating an image that simultaneously evokes urban culture and the haute couture of glossy magazines. Runs until 22 February at Gusford Gallery, 7016 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038For more info visitwww.gusfordgallery.com

Albus is South African photographerJustin Dingwall’s solo exhibition made in collaboration with Thando Hopa. It explores the aesthetics of Albinism in contrast with the idealised perception of beauty. Albinism touches every ethnic group and is characterised by the insufficiency of melanin that determines skin and hair color. Rejected, prejudiced and discriminated individuals suffering from albinism in Southern Africa are likely to become targets and victims of physical attacks and mutilations. The project reflects the ability to look inside ourselves and re-invent norms of beauty. M.I.A. Gallery 1203 A Second Avenue Seattle, 98101 WA, USA. For more info visithttp://m-i-a-gallery.com

THE CARIBBEAN:

Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival 2014. Featuring a stellar line-up of international artists, this firmly established event on the global festival calendar takes place between 31 January and 1 February at Greenfield Stadium, Trelawny, Jamaica. For more information visit http://jamaicajazzandblues.com

EUROPE:

Tom Eckersley: Master of the Poster. To mark the centenary of legendary graphic designer Tom Eckersley’s birth, London College of Communication presents an exhibition of iconic Eckersley poster designs which celebrate his enormous contribution to graphic communication and design education in Britain. Exhibition Open: 11 – 29 January 2014, 10:00am – 5:00pm (closed on Sundays) London College of Communication, Elephant & Castle SE1 6SB.For more info visit http://www.arts.ac.uk/lcc/

Herbert Bayer’s Commercial Graphics, 1928-1938 is a special exhibition at the Bauhaus Archive dedicated to the work of the Bauhaus teacher – between his departure from the Bauhaus and his emigration to the USA. The exhibition showcases the commercial graphic work of Bayer during the Weimar Republic and in Nazi Germany, after his departure from the Bauhaus. With his work for Dorland Studio, Bayer continued to be one of the most successful and highest-earning graphic artists of the period. At The The Bauhaus Archive/Museum of Design, Klingelhoferstrasse 14 10785 Berlin Germany. For more information visit http://www.bauhaus.de

AFRICA:

ONOMOllywood, a collaborative project by photographers Antoine Tempé and Omar Victor Diop of twenty images inspired by iconic moments from great American and European films. Cinema as a universal art form transcends barriers, be they geographic, cultural, or racial. Iconic scenes have influenced popular culture globally. ONOMOllywood reimagines these famous scenes set in the dynamic cities of Dakar and Abidjan where hotels become the metaphorical juncture. As crossroads, they represent forums where cultures and people from around the world co-exist and merge in a permanent cycle of reinventions and reinterpretations. Onomo Hotel Dakar Airport Route de l’Aéroport BP 38233 Dakar, Yoff, Senegal. For info visit  http://www.onomohotel.com

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.