Remi Rough is one of the most respected and sought after UK Graffiti artists working today. He has exhibited all over Europe and Australia, and travelled even further. A man of multiple artistic talents, Remi is not only a street artist – he’s also an accomplished graphic designer, illustrator, writer, musician, curator, and a father of a little girl. Remi dropped in to the Artfinder office to talk about his life as an artist, his inspirations and dreams.
What was your earliest encounter with urban art and graffiti, and when did you realise that you wanted to do that for a living?
My earliest encounter was probably when I was about 13. I was at school and a kid came in with this book called “Subway Art”, which I had never seen before. I was already picking up on Hip-hop, B-boy culture, break dancing, but the art at that point…it hadn’t quite manifested in my world, but this book was amazing! It completely blew me away. Then I saw a documentary called “Style Wars”, which is the video version of the book, and it took me to another place. I think I knew at that point that I wanted to do this.
When you were 13?!
Well I don’t think I wanted to make my living at it at that point! But growing up in Thatcherite Britain and being rebellious in an artistic way seemed quite a cool way of being rebellious.
What do you think is Street Art’s position in the world right now?
Street art goes through so many phases and it changes constantly. Graffiti started in New York; the technology, the resources, the way people in the 1980s changed when it all went to Germany, then it spread all over Europe and went back to the States, which changed a lot of things again. And then Street Art, which is an easy-listening version of graffiti made it more mainstream aware. Where it is now? I don’t know. I think it’s done everything it needed to do. Now it’s all about the people who are really passionate about it and really good at what they’re doing, good at promoting it and writing about it. I suppose they are the ones who are coming through. I don’t think the UK, or New York are the hubs of creativity anymore. You can go to places like Poland and see the most amazing artworks. The scene in Eastern Europe is amazing; there’s also lots of stuff in Germany, Spain, in the South of France and most of South America to be honest. I’ve been wanting to go to paint walls in Poland for ages! The opportunity hasn’t arisen yet.
You travel around the world a lot. Do you travel to see art, or is your hectic travel schedule mostly for work these days?
Yes, I’m really lucky that I get to travel, but most of it is because I’m at work. I went to Portugal not too long ago, and all I saw was a wall! I got picked up at the airport, got taken to the hotel to drop the stuff off, I was taken to the wall, painted the wall for 2 days and then came back to the airport… But mostly, you do get to see stuff as well.
We’re talking about working on the streets all the time, but you work in the studio as well. Which do you prefer and why?
I don’t know, it depends! I love painting walls, but I like the intimacy of painting on canvas. There’s an element of me that likes to indulge myself, whereas you can’t do that so much when you paint big walls. When you paint a wall, it’s a task, you’ve got 3 days to do it: maybe on the third day it’s going to rain – it’s not so easy! In a studio, you can be completely on your own: you can take 5 months over one piece of work. You can’t do that with walls, you need to get it done.
What is the work you are most proud of and where is it?
I haven’t done it yet. I’ll let you know when I do! And seriously, I don’t know, I’ve done so many different things, a lot of things I love, a lot of things I like. I recently did a painting called “3 Kings” with my friend System and that was really personal to me, because the three artists that we painted, Dondi, Basquiat and RammellZee, influenced both System and me a lot. It wasn’t funded or anything, we just wanted to do it. It took a while and I was really proud of that.
You’ve already mentioned some artists you are influenced by – are there any others?
So many! Initially when I started doing graffiti, I looked at a lot of artists who worked in that field, for example RammellZee, Toxic, and then bit by bit you fall out of love with what you’re involved in and you discover other things and other artists. For me, it was Franz Kline, Piet Mondrian… I could sit here and list!
What are your favourite paintings then?
Another painting I really love is Pollock’s ‘Summertime: Number 9A’. I really love the series of Gerhard Richter at Tate Modern, he’s another amazing artist I admire. If you saw the paintings in my house, you’d probably be quite surprised, I’ve got a really nice North Korean propaganda poster, which says “Death to America” in Korean – it’s quite illustrative and it’s hand-painted. I’ve also got a really nice Tracy Emin painting that I bought recently.
Are there any projects that you’re working on right now?
At the moment I’m working on three paintings for a massive group show in Perth, Australia, which is curated by an artist called Stormie Mills. I’m also doing an installation in Miami in December, again with Stormie Mills. I’m actually going to Hamburg to paint a wall in a couple of weeks. Next year is already filling up!
What is your dream place to paint?
I want to paint the interior of the Guggenheim in New York, that would be quite nice! I mean, I’m walking around and seeing buildings and thinking how nice they would be painted. I think it would be really nice to work with architects to make walls specifically for painting. There is a building in China that has walls specifically for painting murals on it.
Last question: if you could meet any artist in the world (dead or alive), who would that be and what would you ask him/her?
Probably Leonardo da Vinci. I would ask him… “How?” Just how on Earth? He’s probably one of the greatest artists that had ever lived on the planet, one of the most forward thinking and one of the most intelligent human beings.
Follow Remi on Twitter @remirough.
We are proud to say that our iPad app featuring Remi’s works will soon be able in the Apple Store. We will keep you posted – so watch this space!