LSD Magazine interviews T.wat

With the perfect on the job experience in the hit and run world of the long lens, camped up a tree then making a break for it world of the paparazzi, Twat has brought his ninja skills and trained eye to the public spirited world of street art. Tying up gangsters, multinationals, evolution, politics, religion and general piss taking in a stenciled bow of wry subversion, T.wat’s work has shone through with a piercing edge since he first hobbled onto the case 3 years ago. Despite his modesty, his stenciling onslaught can be considered some of the most interesting and sociologically lively work on the streets of London town today, brightening up the ever grim days with a cackle and striking at the heart of socio political issues. LSD caught up with him for a chat

You were a paparazzi photographer for 15 years, tell us a little about the transition from pap to street artist…

My office was in Old Street so we were always flying around the area. It was about 10 / 12 years ago when I first started taking notice of the art, became a big fan and saw an awful lot come and go over the years. It sort of grew from a hobby more than anything, and I started my own collection by buying prints and original pieces until one day I started doing my own sketches at home, just messing about trying to make stuff up.

I had a car accident three and half years ago which put me in hospital for a very long time and during recovery I had a lot of free time on my hands. I used it as a therapy rather than sitting at home moping because I was immobile and couldn’t really do anything. I started doing sketches, making stencils and tried to come up with good solid ideas. I heard about the Can’s Festival in Leake Street and roped my pal into literally carrying me down there after swallowing loads of painkillers. He carried me into the car and drove me down to London. I managed to put a few pieces up that day and at one point, I had the artist Pure Evil holding me up while I was painting.

But I needed to do it, I needed to get up and be involved, and from then on, it started taking over my life. It wasn’t the first time I’d been out but it was a defining moment. Walking in there seeing all the stuff that had gone up and a lot of the artists from my personal collection. Faile, Banksy, and D’Face all had fresh works on the walls and I had never really got to see fresh work – yeah, we got tips on new Banksy works but they were never still drying. I’d take a few snaps and flog them to the papers. But this was like pure, instant, I love this…and because I couldn’t move around like I used to, I decided I should change direction in what I was doing with my life

What were the first stencils you did?

At Can’s, I did this stupid monkey thing, some small gangsters and little bits ‘n’ pieces. But I got the same hit from doing the street art that I did when I first started papping, that little buzz that gets you up in the morning and gets you going. Paparazzi photographers and street artists have much common so we’re sure it must have felt quite natural in some ways…well apart from not actually having a long lens camera!

Over the years I’ve sneaked up on some of the most protected people in the world and banged (snapped) them. I’ve got past royal protection squads, large security systems, security personnel on film / tv sets.  There’s nothing better than putting on camouflage and sitting in a tree for seven hours – then the moment happens, you hit the trigger and got a photo worth x amount of cash. It’s fun and it’s what I’m there to do. I just loved it, so when I couldn’t move around as much I needed to, I had to find something else although if I’m honest, not being able to run isn’t exactly a good thing for a graffiti writer. So now I have to be much more careful with what I doing. Also I have a little’un so I have to be protective of that as well.

Some of your work could be considered political, did you make an active decision to follow this path?

Some of my work is political but really, just like anyone else, I like to say what I think and sometimes have a little pop against whatever I’m focused on at the time. I’m happy to have an opportunity to put something substantial up on a wall. I’ve been covering protests for many years and I’ve been pretty much everywhere, including Gaza, so I understand how things can be controlled and managed. Unfortunately in this age we seemed to have lost the ability to have a pop back, we have a police system that is really a military police system and its getting harder and harder to say what you want or put your point across. Especially when it comes down to your political stance on things, I’ve always liked the opportunity to put my point across and if I’m not happy, then I will fight back. We should always be able to say what we want though in saying that there are equally some people that maybe shouldn’t be able to say what they want, so it’s a difficult balance, but at the same time, my opinions also change on a daily basis and I think that’s the best way to be. Information changes so you gotta keep up with it.

What made you choose street art as opposed to fine or contemporary or any other traditional format?

Because I’m not good enough mate (laughing.) I’m still learning. I’ve been so lucky with the people I’ve met over the last three years. I didn’t know anybody at all apart from a few people that owned galleries and a few people that painted, but really didn’t have any background in the game. I didn’t go art college, and if we’re being honest, I didn’t go to school much either. I always liked making stuff and actually far prefer it to putting paint up. I love the humor in it, like I love D’Face pieces when he just sticks those large concrete cans coming out of pavements and the way Banksy puts his stuff together on the streets and you just come across it and think that’s great. I love stuff that creates a reaction, you can walk past it and think that’s crap but at least you got a reaction.

How important is location to you?

Location is the big thing because you can make a picture, put it in the wrong place and it doesn’t mean anything. I’m still learning where and how to put things up and what to put up. I’m on my third year art degree you could say, give me another ten years and we’ll see where we are.

Except you’re doing work experience…

I’m doing the work experience. I’m doing the best I can at the moment and I will get better. Just having people like Busk, Leeks and Bon Bon at my workshop is a great learning curve for me. And all the other people I’ve met over the years – each one of them taught me a new little trick. I love that in the same way as when I first started doing photography. I just decided one day that I would be a photographer so I went and bought a camera, messed about with it for three or four months then went to college which didn’t last before deciding I wanted to be a news photographer. Blagged my way into a few jobs, started getting better with my pictures and within seven years I was running the biggest paparazzi team in London. I’ve worked all over the world and sneaked up on everyone, really, we got one of the biggest sets of pictures in the world between us. Got it from one of our tippers, which was Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it means nothing to me now but at the time it was the biggest set of photos on the planet. It made 1.7 million dollars.

Papping is all about information and so is putting the right street art together, you just gotta have the right information. I love seeing a good political piece. Every time i drive past a Dr D poster it’s always brilliantly right on the nail. I also like the simple stuff as well, I love Stik’s stuff and driving down the road and see those simple little figures everywhere. They are all in different positions but he gets it bang on every time and its suits the area and the specific location. Then on the other extreme you have people like ROA who just blows you away. Driving down the road he’s done large squirrels, crows, birds or pigs and you can’t help but think to yourself – that guy has got so much talent.

So where did the Krays fit into all this?

I took photos at both of their funerals and it wasn’t at all what I was expecting when I went up there to be honest. I’ve always had an interest in edgy stuff hence being a pap for fifteen years, because you simply can’t do that unless you’re a bit edgy. I’ve always had a general interest in their story and it felt right. It didn’t have to be a Tesco shopping bag or any other corporation it just happened to be Tesco at the time. I put the two elements together and again roped in some help from a pal. We hired a van, drove to London, backed the van right up against the wall and painted it from the back of the van. We put the light on inside and taped the edges outside so the light wouldn’t show and sprayed away. When we were finished, we pulled away and thought yeah, that looks alright. I put three up that night, one got buffed right away, one up my way and the one on Hackney Road. That one stayed from then until only recently.

You took that one out didn’t you?

Well, I did take it out, but only because it got tagged by Slayer and I’m a little bit gutted because to get completely wiped out by a gay 70’s rock band called Slayer, that just done me to be honest (laughing). You know, I’d rather 10-Foot do me than that band. I’ve always had battles with 10-Foot but I’ve still got massive respect for what he does. I was out in Guildford last night looking for a future wall to paint, went round the corner and there’s this big 10-Foot there. He’s everywhere and good on him. He does what he does and he does it well but it’s just annoying.

It takes two days to cut some stencils and I know it’s part of the scene and that but it can be annoying. As much right as I have to put something up they have the right to shit all over it so you can’t have one without the other. Gangsters on Hackney Road wasn’t touched for two and a half years and I’ve had other bits that have stayed up for that length of time as well. Street art is a bit different from graf, if you do a good piece of street art and place it well, it will stay. I love driving round and seeing the old pieces still up on walls and I’m not just talking my stuff but everyone else’s as well.

How important is London in the grand street scheme?

London is just as important as all the other major art cities around the country and around the world. I recently hooked up with an artist in LA who’s spraying my pieces around the city, and in return, I’m pasting his posters around the UK.

So how does that feel?

It feels wicked actually he sends me photos of my stuff on walls and it feels good. I love seeing photos of my stuff in other countries. Really love it…

Tell us a little about the idea for the cops sitting on toilets…We noticed you have an English Bobby and an American counterpart.

It was just a stupid drawing basically, a bit of a giggle that I did with my son. I’m doing another one with him at the moment actually. He sings songs about green bubbles so I made him a picture which a few people liked so it ended up in the gallery. This is why I don’t think I have a specific style as yet – I haven’t reached that stage yet and I think I still have a long way to go yet before creating a signature.

Banksy’s art is being covered in protective plastic by local councils and we noticed recently that one of your pieces was covered with the same protection. How do you feel about that?

Banksy’s work should be protected in my opinion. He’s done some fantastic pieces that don’t deserve to be buffed or tagged. But then it happens to all street art graffiti artists. If someone wants to take their time and cover a piece up then great, it’s a nice thing to do. I don’t know if the person that covered mine thinks it’s someone else’s piece and I don’t care. I’ll still drive past and smile. I remember the Banksy Old Skool piece in Old Street that I drove past everyday on the way to the office – it was  wicked. I drove past one day and there’s a load of scaffolding around it and a box. So being the nosy fucker I am, I loaded up the camera, jumped the railings and stuck me head round the corner and this guy and girl are standing there in protective white clothing and I said ‘what are you up to then?’

The girl got really angry and even threw her sandwiches at me which I thought was a bit wasteful. I wanted to take pictures of them taking it off the wall but they were having none of it. I was like OK take it off the wall but put something back. They weren’t giving anything away but apparently someone bought it and they removed it from the wall. Properly done as well they were being very, very careful about getting it off the wall. Originally I think someone bought it from the shop owner whose wall it was for about a grand, they spent about £30,000 getting off the wall but I don’t know how much it went for. Two days later, the scaffolding was gone and a plain white wall was left behind which I thought was a shame. They did the same to the Highway Man over the Westway – I drove past one morning, spotted scaffolding and two days later, it was gone.

You’re all over town…

It comes with being a pap, I know London as well as any London taxi driver. If a Banksy goes up, it’s on the wire within minutes. We’d normally get there first and get the pictures out to the media. So I might make a couple quid out of Banksy but then again, he has made quite a few quid out of me as I’ve been buying his stuff since the beginning.

So today, do you think the internet has helped enhance the scene or is it more a hindrance?

The only thing with the internet is there are people that don’t like what we do. You know, 10-Foot, Slayer and people like that. You put something up and it gets dogged. Recently I decided that I won’t put as much up in the East end as I used to. I’ll keep putting stuff up but I’m going to focus on other places as well like Guildford, Brighton, Bristol and some other cities. They tend to get left alone down there, and there’s more of a mutual respect between street artists and graffiti artists – they don’t go and fuck one another’s stuff over.

It’s nice that with networks like Flickr you can share your shots with others and I’ve met loads of people from other countries that I’ve actually worked with and if it hadn’t been for the internet i wouldn’t be working with them. I’m not a technology man, I hate it – I’ve been trying to put a website together for ages now and I’m about to give up again so if any LSD readers are up for building my site there’s a bit of art in it for you.

We know you’ve exhibited at numerous shows over the years but when do you plan on doing a solo show?

I’ve never done a solo show and I’m shitting myself. I’m probably a year away at least from doing a solo show.

Yes but that’s more a confidence issue really because from glancing at your flickr profile anyone else would say you were ready.

Yeah totally, but what I don’t want to do is a show full of gangsters because to me I’ve already done gangsters. Everyone asks for the gangsters and I don’t want to do them any more. There’s a few prints kicking around but there won’t be any more canvases or anything like that. I’ve still got the original stencil from that very first night, and at some point I might slide it in there and put it up.

What’s going through your head when you’re on the street painting an illegal wall?

I’m not even thinking about the illegality of what I’m doing – that doesn’t enter my head. There’s a bigger issue at play here and in my opinion I’m brightening an area up. I put work on old dirty walls or plain walls that need some attention and it gives a lift to the whole place as does most of all the other art you see out there. Especially in the East end which so sorely needs brightening up – they say Hackney Wick has more artists per square inch than the whole of Europe, and that’s attracting lots of new people to the area. I love walking down there by the canal. I love Sweet Toof’s stuff and BC who to me are the ultimate they’re just brilliant. Are they graffiti artists or are they street artists? I think they’re a bit of both and its lovely to have those skills. I look at Busk’s stuff and he makes me sick because he’s so fucking clever. I practice freehand everyday and one day I hope I’ll get it right because I’m still rubbish. Everyone has their thing, if you look at Stik’s work, it’s very simple lines and if you only see one piece of Stik’s work, you’re missing out on so much because he has so much going on there. It’s like Panic – I love his big throw-ups but his flyers are great and he’s only young as well.

You’ve worked with a few heads as well tell us about that..

Cept, and Snub23 who’s been really good to me – a wicked guy whose given me a hand over the years and his missus and dog, really nice people. Been working with Leeks over last year and he has shown me a few bits and pieces. He’s a clever boy on the computer too. And there Busk who I just stand and watch – I could just stand and watch him for hours. The way he puts stuff together is just incredible and so as I said, I’ve been very lucky to have met the people I now know.

So where can people buy your work?

Gallery 90 in Islington and then Graffik in Notting Hill and Frame Shop in White Church Street, off Old Street or they can get me on Flickr and now Facebook.

Anything you’d like to say to LSD readers?

Be good…


August 11th 2010