Is heisting a piece of art a work of art in itself? Those are the blurred lines prankster, mischief maker, artist, jumpsuited nutter and all round shadowy doer of mayhem AK 47 is out to cross, then reverse and cross over again. Infallibly controversial, from his light fingered lifting of Banksy’s Drinker which led him straight to the still smouldering Bonfire of the Momart Vanities to nicking Tracey Emin’s latest slice of drivel, he has opened questions about ownership, value, and the flexibility of the concept of conceptual art. An artist in his own right in between court appearances for exhibiting live firearms, we caught up with AK himself for a quick word
How did you get involved in the street art scene?
As a kid I used to do a lot of tagging when I was about 17/18. This was in 1974, before anybody knew of the term tagging or knew what it was. I used to write ‘linky ok’, the ‘ok’ was a bit like a ‘@’ sign with the ‘k’ inside the ‘o’. I got arrested for criminal damage on a local bus shelter and while in the cells I dug into the old plaster wall in huge letters, ‘linky OK’ which made my not guilty plea to the shelter damage impossible.
You made headlines when you kidnapped a Banksy piece in the west end of London called The Drinker. What made you lift the piece in the first place?
As a joke and because I knew I could, I knew nobody else would have thought of doing it
I hired a lorry with driver from a friend’s garage in mid-afternoon, went down and removed it from the back of Tottenham Court Road. We drove the piece off blindfolded so he couldn’t see where he was going. Haha. We took it to a friend’s squatted warehouse in Dalston, just off Kingsland road.
Did Banksy see the funny side of the stunt?
I don’t know, I hope so. I know his manager Steve Lazarides didn’t.
I wanted to swap it for a Banksy original canvas. I mean, I did get him his first broadsheet front cover, a PR dream. I was even contacted by the Guardian’s legal team and made to sign an affidavit that I was nothing to do with Banksy or Pictures on Walls and that this was not a publicity stunt arranged by him. This PR alone was worth a piece. When I sent him the ransom note he offered me the money to buy a gallon of petrol to burn it, and I said I would gladly do that if he gave me a can of petrol that he signed. I was, and still am a massive fan and couldn’t really afford one of his pieces
You weren’t aware of it at the time, but we happen to know a London gangster snatched the piece back. Did you laugh out loud on hearing the piece was gone or were you gutted?
Gutted. Knowing that some dodgy gangsters and shady ex friends got what should have been mine. I would have gladly have given it back for a lot less than it cost them to get it back. They knew who I was and where I lived and I sent word that I only wanted to deal with them, but ce la vie. It put me on my own artistic road.
I was in the Hackney Ocean with Gavin Turk one night and he pointed the piece out to me about a month after I kidnapped the Drinker…and he said ‘I would never do it.’ So I hired the same lorry and on a Saturday afternoon me and members of the newly formed Artkieda movement liberated an illegally hung piece of work, it had got no planning permission. We then drove it on the back off the lorry, with the drinker to the site of the momart fire, mimicking burning the statue and also denying any involvement in the momart fire where many priceless works had been destroyed.
I then did a photo shoot with semi naked Arab-esque woman and I dressed up as an Arab. I then returned the piece to Hackney Empire a week later in a skip lorry. Satirical transport for this piece as only that week Kate Moss’ Tracy Emin light box piece had been found in a skip.
We know you have a vast personal collection of art from various artists. Did you set out to accumulate so much work or has it come about by proxy?
I treat collecting art like a child collects Pokemon cards. I used to collect Batman, Superman and Land of the Giants cards when I was a kid, swapping them with friends two-for-one or whatever. I also know a lot of people who worked for Banksy, so I managed to buy a lot of backdoor prints which I swapped and traded for other pieces by other artists
Were you collecting art before producing art yourself?
I always had an eye for the finer things in life and objet d’art is a bit of a passion.
The idea behind the piece was that although the Kalashnikov is well known throughout the world, your average British resident has never seen or held one. I videoed people’s reactions to holding the weapon and then asked them to fill in a card explaining their emotions holding the gun. There was a myriad of emotions and feelings expressed….fear…power…hatred…erotic.
Due to an interview in the Hackney Gazette for the opening of the exhibition, which featured a decommissioned AK47, the police alleged wrongfully this weapon did not meet decommissioned standards. This was disproved in court to such a degree that the gun was returned in the same condition that it was seized
How did the AK47 persona come about?
It was a reinvention of my artistic character. I’d been making porn and running fetish parties and wanted a new direction.
Tell us about the concepts behind AK47’s art?
Being a conceptual artist as I am, I find it difficult to fully explain my art of taking the piss. I never take the piss in a negative way, I have always put a positive spin on the art and artists I have used. I like to call myself and arto-political humourist. I mix art and politics and try to show how funny the both can be in a frightening way. I say Artkieda is a massive international global movement. I class all my friends, work colleagues and collaborators as members of the Artkieda movement, which even includes owners of my t-shirts or stickers. The same as M.I.5 and the CIA include them in al quieda
As the leader of the biggest underground art terrorist movement in Hackney, you should know that if I tell you that I’ll have to kill you. I have produced my first works for sale – mixed-media mirrored Perspex works with strap-lines such as ‘Know Your Enemy’, ‘Peace’, ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’. Inset in the letters are shell with bullets from the AK47.
Whats the story with P.I.S.S?
Piss is the fundraiser and benefactor of the Artkieda movement, utilising his sales and exhibitions to fund future works. He is one of the arms of artkieda.
I’m no stranger to putting events on and just wanted it to be like you don’t have to leave the gallery to go the after-party.
The night Philistines is an idea to bring together like minded people who like me like to collect, observe, and discuss works from modern street art, with the possibilities of buying good work at good prices.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Yeah, lots but don’t get me started