Stewy, the street artist right up Banksy’s alley
PUBLISHED: 09:22 17 September 2012
Joe Bill speaks exclusively to the renowned artist whose work is now displayed boldly on Kentish walls.
Banksy is a name that almost everyone recognises. His visual assault on the world with a string of provocative graffiti has propelled the anonymous artist to stardom.
He has websites, he has fan bases, he has books and he also now has the respect of the often-pompous art world. His pieces are thought-provoking and frequently politically motivated, but it is the mystery surrounding the man that makes his movements so intriguing.
Others would argue that more important than his modern-day iconic status is Banksy’s contribution to making graffiti a recognised art form. He has influenced many, including the man known as ‘Stewy’.
Anonymous stencil graffiti artist Stewy has already hit kent at least 18 times from his London base, but we managed to get hold of the elusive man.
He said: “Due to Banksy’s popularity, more and more artists have been inspired to create their own work. For most people, to go out and create art is a great thing. No one is telling them
to do it – it takes effort and skill. “But I feel an irony when large companies and advertisers use graffiti to promote products, while grassroots artists get arrested for creating art, especially when they’re trying to convey political injustice.
“The public perception of street art or graffiti is changing and needs to change more.
“However, if it takes advertising to create the image that graffiti is cool and not purely antisocial, perhaps its Ok.”
Stewy’s pieces have created a bit of a buzz in the county as they feature two of kent’s most iconic residents. In Duke street, Margate, an almost life-size stencil of world-renowned artist Tracey Emin stands on a flaking wall close to the new Turner Centre, while in Canterbury’s Dover street there is a print of musician Robert Wyatt from kentish prog-rock group Soft Machine.
It stands proud on a wall close to the former Beehive Club, which was considered the epicentre of the late 60s Canterbury scene. Both subjects were even contacted by Stewy to gauge reaction to their graffiti tributes.
“They both loved it. I try to contact the individual once the work is complete. Robert said it was ‘hallucinatory’ and ‘a real honour to see my ghost haunting an old haunt’.”
There is also a picture online of Emin posing next to her spray-paint portrait looking rather chuffed. Stewy has not only targeted kent as a birthplace of cultural icons – he has also hit Manchester with a picture of writer Quentin Crisp as well as punk poet John Cooper Clarke on the south Bank in London.
Another, Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, is depicted on a wall in Stoke Newington, London.
But who makes it onto Stewy’s list and why?
“I generally choose people I like and admire – people who are different. They always appear where they lived, worked or died… I call it psycho geography. It’s educational – the people
in the context of the environment combine geography, history and art.
“Ultimately, the image commemorates the person ‘like ghosts across the street’. It’s not about me. The work highlights people or eccentrics who have or had made a difference – changed how we approach art, music or writing… pushing the boundaries in Britain and shaking things up a little.
“A common thread I noticed with the people is they are all very British underdogs, eccentrics, anarchists… obscure. I seem to choose the least expected and least commercial people other street artists would not normally consider.”
Stewy works from stencils that he creates at home before hitting the streets to convey his message. Much of his work incorporates British animals appearing close to his human portraits.
For example, in Margate, close to the Emin piece, Stewy has painted a pigeon in Hawley Street, a horse in king’s street and a fox on the Mr Simm’s sweet shop as well as pigs, badgers and owls elsewhere.
The artist sprayed his first piece in 2007 and has mastered the art of a quick turnaround – but his work is not without its risks.
“Yes, I once spent 12 hours at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” he said.
But that is not enough to stop Stewy dreaming up his next piece.
“I quite like the obscurity of my work, so the longevity is more important than any particular piece. The process is very organic.
“I recently chose Quentin Crisp to be placed in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, in Manchester, where he died. Within two weeks a journalist contacted me requesting a print of the stencil for Quentin’s former partner, whom he plans to meet in New York. I simply requested he’d ask for a location to spray Quentin somewhere in New York, if I ever get the chance to visit.
“Ultimately, after the effort to create the stencil and the risks in spraying, to be contacted by a relation of the individual of whom I’m attempting to continue the memory gives me a sense of achievement.”
And where does this most overground of underground operators see the genre heading?
“I’ve worked in schools, and the students I’ve met have a clear enthusiasm and skill for creating street art. I hope this art form becomes more accepted as a positive within society.”
■To see some of Stewy’s work from around Kent and elsewhere, you can visit www.stewystencils.tumblr.com.