February 2008, Sickboy Interview

Sickboy temple on Old Street photo by Chris Osburn

Chris Osburn Interviews Sickboy

Over the past 6 months or so, London graffiti artist Sickboy's temple icons and "Save the Youth" slogans have become regular features in the urban landscape of the East London boroughs of Shoreditch or Tower Hamlets. Here's a conversation with the artist about his easily recognizable style and about what compels him to create.

- So, how long have you been a graffiti artist?

It's going on 13 years now.

- What got you into it?

Being a frustrated teenager, I needed an outlet other than drug experimentation, and graffiti was a very enticing world. Manchester at the time had a strong scene with Hulme and a lot of tagging going on. It just seemed a little edgier than art class.

Sickboy mural on Charlotte Street, photo by Chris Osburn

- How long have you been in London and what were you doing before you came here?

I have only been here six months, before that I was living in Bristol. It's a great city. I have a lot of great friends and creative acquaintances there, but after eight years you run out of places to paint … and the city is or was lacking in art space. So a move to London seemed logical.

- Where did your "Save the Youth" slogan come from and what's its importance?

"Save the Youth" actually came from a rare soul track. At one time, I was massively into collecting northern and crossover soul. "Save the Youth" was done by a band called Mellow Madness from North Carolina. I used to associate all my paintings with tunes I had in my head, ones I was tracking down or perhaps I had been playing that day. "Save the Youth" stood out; I liked its sentiment. Painting graffiti you keep your links with "the youth" if you like. Painting in Bristol, you always have little tearaway kids harassing the fuck out of you. You'd see how they were like you - only worse! Twelve year olds buying coke on a Friday night is pretty obscene. I'm not on a one man mission to save them, but a lot of art seems to revolve around issues such as the "war on Iraq" etc. Of course these issues are important. But for me the same message repackaged and told to you time and time again is tedious. My message, although slightly tongue-in-cheek, is more real to me. It's funny to think it was whispered in my ear through my other passion, collecting music.

Sickboy shares some love, photo by Chris Osburn

- What do the temples in your paintings symbolize?

The temple icon has become what people know me best for. It is meant to represent love and positivity in the shape of a building. The colours are there to make you happy, and my graffiti is not supposed to push you away or make you feel isolated. I want everyone to be in on the party.

- How does the London graff scene compare to other UK cities?

I think at the moment London has a really strong and diverse graff scene. You can see a lot of evidence of writers passing through from different countries and leaving their mark. Styles have become more influenced by mainland Europe through inter-railing and the internet. I think this is great. It keeps the momentum going within the scene and writers carry styles and techniques to other cities, which has meant we've seen much more work done with rollers for example, something that previously you may have only seen in thriving graff cities such as Berlin. There are also a large amount of Graffiti-based exhibitions going on here at the moment. Although I think there has to be a distinction between street and gallery. Still, it is good to see what people bring to the table when applying their work to canvas.

Sickboy in a Brick Lane collaboration with Cyclops and Sweet Toof, photo by Chris Osburn

- Word is that you're branching out and working on some three-dimensional versions of your temples. Care to elaborate and tell us how this project came about?

Yes, I have been painting the temple icon since the start of the millennium and have taken it with me to many different parts of the world. I have always imagined it as a 3-D building that until now has only ever been realised in the form of a 2-D image on various surfaces etc. Like most artists, I'm always trying to push my work on to the next level, and the obvious progression is 3-D representation. It was important for me not to mass produce these. I wanted to do it all "in house" so only two of us were involved in the project and I limited the run to 250 all signed and numbered. I like the idea that once they're gone, they're gone and I can move onto the next project which a little birdie told me will probably be bigger concrete versions for street application.

- How can readers get their hands on your temple models?

They are only available through my website www.thesickboy.com

- Anything else you'd like to add in closing?

Keep your eyes peeled for a solo show in April. I'll be putting details on my site soon! Thanks.

Chris Osburn

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 

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