Born in Manchester in 1975, raised in and now residing in Bristol, Cyclops first tried his hand at graffiti when he was thirteen. Soon enough, he found himself suspended from school when teachers discovered that the doodles on his exercise books corresponded exactly with a “rooftop hit.” According to the artist, “the school had to hire specialized sandblasting equipment to buff it.”
After that incident, “it gets blurred out.” At fifteen, Cyclops moved to Manchester where he developed a penchant for LSD and ecstasy: “For the next 13 years ... every penny I had – and most of the money of the people around me - went to drugs. It all went kind of dark.” Fast forward to London a few years back. Cyclops had “scrubbed up” and rekindled his desire to “make stuff again.” Eager to “make up for all the lost years,” the artist began piecing and collaborating with other street artists.
Roam around East London these days and you’re apt to come across some recent works by Cyclops, such as his collaborations with last month’s interviewee, SWEET TOOTH. In accord with his nom de guerre, Cyclops signature pieces are giant Cyclops skulls. What follows is my interview with the artist.
Where did the name Cyclops come from and how long have you been using it?
The name just came around, from a few places. I was looking at aliases … I like code names, super hero names. I remembered that the KKK used names like grand giant, which is a killer name, and grand Cyclops. So, I thought about using it, kind of reclaiming it. It never stopped Joy Division. I thought about it for the name of a band at first, and then I made a collage of Madonna’s face. I really liked the image, plus it was a Cyclops. So, I started to use Cyclops. I like it to write too; it's a good word to write, and in mythology the Cyclops fashioned Zeus' thunderbolts which is pretty smart. Lots of reasons.
What was the initial draw to street art and what is it about street art that keeps you wanting to do it?
I like painting on the street because there's more democracy. You can just do your thing; you don't have to pay for gallery space or be curated or any of that. You just do your thing, where you like, how you like, and then it's out there. You haven't been paid and anyone can fuck it up or be inspired on the way to work by what you've made. And, once it's up, that's it: It doesn't belong to you any more.
I can't stand not being able to do what I want. It's juvenile, but I don't see how I can be bombarded with sick adverts channelling [sic] into my fucking third eye. Yet, it's mostly illegal for me to represent when and how I want. If the money was right, there'd be adverts on the popes fucking forehead. As for my initial attraction, I originally got into graffiti in school, when I was about thirteen, 1988 or so. Some guys in the year above me were piecing. We started tagging, trying to break in the park. I got busted for doing rooftop throw ups on the roof of the school. Guys like System and Stormboy were around at that time I remember and they kind of made me sit up and think a bit.
Was it art that helped you kick the drugs?
In a way.
Care to elaborate or want me to drop it?
I had to get clean or I would've died, I don't doubt that, and I had to do it art or no art, cause I didn't want to die that much. But as for staying stopped, that's different. I'm blessed that I've got something I love to do, making stuff, without which I think I may have gone insane a few times ... idle hands ‘n that.
What was it like coming back to street art after more than a decade? I'm asking in the sense of how it felt for you personally as an artist and also about how the scene had changed during your hiatus?
I'm just getting on with my thing, getting on with what I have to do. The scene, any scene, is fucked from the outset I think, and so I try to get on with what it is I want to do without thinking too much about the scene etc. I like hooking up with people and painting, people who are real and not wrapped up in some Bronx version of reality … that's about it as far as scene goes. Things change and that's life … nostalgia's a killer.
I'm based in Bristol, where I've got a print studio. I’ve had, I think, five exhibitions … plus I get down to London to paint whenever I can with SWEET TOOF. It's cool, SWEET TOOF’s an inspiration.
Chris Osburn is an American transplant living in London where he has a blast working as a freelance photographer, writer, consultant, blogger and more. www.tikichris.com