Sunday, December 06, 2015

Stepping Out from the Stereotype

“The best art is low art because it’s from the heart.”
Charles Uzzell-Edwards

To say that the British artist Charles Uzzell-Edwards aka Pure Evil is the poster boy for the commodification of street art maybe a bridge too far. But with his 2014 365 Street Art Project, which saw him paint, stencil or wheat paste a public space each day for a year, to decorating plates for the venerable British tableware and collectables company Royal Doulton along with his ownership of the artist’s space gallery named after his street tag, Uzzell-Edwards comfortably has a foot in both the underground and high street art communities.

The son of the anti-establishment Welsh expressionist painter John Uzzell-Edwards, the younger Uzzell-Edwards grew up surrounded by art and its creation.

As he told the Evening Standard Newspaper’s Nick Curtis “There were long lunches and discussions of Picasso and pop art. I knew how to stretch a canvas and hang an exhibition from the age of 10.”

As a 20 year old Uzzell-Edwards decamped from what he calls “the ruins of Thatcher’s Britian” to spend a decade “producing clothes and screen-printing t-shirt graphics and becoming involved in the electronic music scene in San Francisco.”

Upon his return to England, with “no further entry to the USA” stamped in his passport, Uzzell-Edwards developed his weird fanged bunny rabbit graffiti motive, a guilt trip he indulges for having shot a rabbit as a child.

The Exit Through the Gift Shop protagonist Banksy gave Uzzell-Edwards a job at Santa’s Ghetto; the iconic street artist’s Oxford Street pop-up art concept store.  

About whom Uzzell-Edwards told The Telegraph NewspaperAny street artist making a living in the 21st century has a lot to thank Banksy for.

And Uzzell-Edwards credits Banksy’s month-long residency in New York along with the discipline it required as the inspiration for his 365 Street Art Project.

As he explained “It’s nice to have a structure and a set of rules you abide by. Although graffiti and street art are supposed to be an anarchic thing, there are rules about painting over other artists, which is a no-no, though it does happen… this is what I do, I don’t just sit in my gallery making money selling prints.”

As Uzzell-Edwards said about his Pure Evil gallery “I opened up the gallery almost accidentally. After a few months of working on Santa’s Ghetto [Banksy’s annual pop-up Christmas stall], I started producing more prints and artwork, and eventually found the gallery space. If I’d really thought about how to run an art gallery, it would probably have put me off. If you go into it thinking, ‘Oh, I’m in this space, I’d better paint the walls and pay the electricity bill,’ then you’ve pretty much got a gallery going. You can worry about the logistics later on.

The commission to paint Royal Dalton plates and mugs was Uzzell-Edwards tilt at immortality.

As he has explained “There are plates cherished now from the 16th century whereas the average wall gets painted over in two weeks… I like the heritage of Royal Doulton and what they stand for. And in the back of my mind, I had it that my plate might appear on the Antiques Roadshow [the BBC One antiques show] at some point in the future. If that ever happened, it would be the pinnacle of my career.”

And as Uzzell-Edwards freely admits “I don’t really fit the stereotype of the urban street artist. I like opera and am quite happy to talk on Radio 3 about Kenneth Clark and Civilization, because I don’t want people to feel you have to be one kind of person to fit into any kind of movement.”

A point he elaborated upon with the Financial Times in 2013 stating “When you have a family and a baby and a constant supply of nappies to pay for, I am not going to worry about a 19 year old complaining that I am a sell-out.”

Uzzell-Edwards’ current exhibition Teenage Kicks: New Works by Pure Evil is on show at London’s Saatchi Gallery until the 3rd of January.

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