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Interview with Ashwan - by No Grey Walls

This interview originally appeared in No Grey Walls

Hip hop meets street art… here’s my interview with Ashwan.

Hi Ash how are you? Tell us a little about yourself…

All good thanks…not sure what to say here: Artist originally from Liverpool, UK, now living and working in Barcelona, Spain.

How did it all start for you? Were you one of those kids always scribbling on notebooks at school?

Definitely! I didn’t study art in school until a bit later though…one day when I was around 16 my physics teacher threw my book at me and told me to take it to an art teacher. I had already been doing graffiti for a few years by that stage though.

Did you start out as a graffiti writer or muralist and progress to the 3D text pieces or did you find your lane from an early age?

I started doing graffiti, alongside b-boying ever since I first heard and saw hip hop, around 1983. I’ve done the graff and the professional mural painter thing over the years.

You are a big hip hop fan and your street pieces are inspired by hip hop lyrics, when was the first lightbulb moment to combine your two passions like this?

This has always been my drive, right from day one, but as I got older, I realised I wanted to contribute something a bit different, and not go the traditional graff line. I thought the energy of graffiti on trains in the 80´s and 90´s NYC was perfect, but the dynamic of art that is done quickly and then moves (physically) has this incredible fucking energy that really can’t be bottled! When graffiti started to become refined, moving to the walls (static) and technically amazing, I also felt that the essence of it was lost a bit, so I was caught in this mid ground for a few years (around the time of Slick and Risky at Bridlington and the first Daim pieces starting to emerge). That was also the time I started art college and so personally was playing with a whole bunch of ideas…

My degree show exhibition at the University Of Northumbria in 1994 was an installation of origami paper flowers arranged with the words “Me, Myself and I”.

When I graduated with my Masters degree from The Art Institue Of Chicago, my thesis piece was a room with a glass dance floor, pair of gold sneakers and an 8 minute audio track entitled “Whose House?” The thing I love about hip hop is that people who know will hear those words and automatically want to shout “Run´s House”…that tune had an energy that captured a moment for the culture.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of searching out which wall you want to use to hang your work? I guess it’s pretty similar to a graffiti artist in some ways but less easy to hide than a bag of cans!

Yeah, it’s bizarre, I am also nowhere near as prolific as most writers! It is a much slower process, obviously. I don´t see myself as a graffiti artist now. I did that in the 80´s, but now in my opinion it does graffiti writers and vandals a disservice. I see myself as an artist who is trying to capture the energy and essence of a culture that has inspired me and present it back with some fresh eyes, that maybe will in some way help inspire some future generations and also connect with those who love old school hip hop.

The actual locations choose themselves, based on texture, pattern and potentially how the ambient light might play with the work…you need to know my studio work to understand this though I think.

On this same subject, how long do your pieces last on the streets roughly? Are they generally removed by the local authorities or do you think they are more often ‘stolen’ and does this bother you?

The time varies massively. Some pieces don´t make 24 hours, others have lasted months. Intellectually, it does not bother me, because for me, the final piece has two components, the actual íntervention (the physical act of making and installing) and the documentation(the final photo). That said, emotionally, I like it when pieces, last longer and it gives me chance to get more images with different light (day, night etc) I have had messages in the past from people who have told me they have taken them. Sometimes I eventually take them down, if I see they really aren´t doing what I want them to do.

It´s funny because ironically, rain and dog piss are some of the best things for keeping my work in a location. When they are wet and stinky, people don´t want to take them!

The final piece is the photo documentation though…it´s just like a painting that has been through a different process for me.

What do you find to be the most difficult part of the creative process? I’ve read other artists speak about the fear of the blank page/canvas (wooden board in your case) do you ever get this?

I can´t say I never get some kind of pressure, but I have a lot of techniques that I use to combat it. My biggest inspiration for this was Picasso. He made a LOT of work and a good amount of it was not that great, some was awful, but people remember the great things. I think this is one of the luxuries of visual arts, we can try stuff and if it isn´t that great, it doesn´t matter…what matters is that you keep trying and searching for something great…pushing boundaries, personal and otherwise!

Do you have a favourite city or place to share your art? Is there a dream city or country or wall even that you’d like to visit and leave some of your pieces?

Not really, not these days…although it would be awesome to do something at the writers bench, grand concourse…149 th st station. That would make me feel good!

Do you like to collaborate with other artists?

Yes and no…I have had more bad experiences than good unfortunately, though these were all outside the graffiti realm. I think this is something graff writers excel at and I really admire them for it!

One of my best collab experiences was with a Catalan writer called Mugraff. We will do more stuff together. It worked really easily and he´s a really cool guy, super chilled.

I love Mugraff’s work! Something I really enjoy is hearing which artists inspired other artists. Which artists inspired you growing up and who’s work do you really like just now? And is there any artist you would love to work with?

Picasso´s cubist portrait of Ambroise Vollard was mind blowing for me. It was the missing link between street art and high art that I needed. That was a huge inspiration. Then my city and the whole life around that…Liverpool! Grey. Industrial. Tough…beautiful!

As for artists who I like, there are so many great artists now, on the street and in the galleries. Crossover street/gallery artists who I sometimes feel are looking for the same thing as me are Stohead and Bisco Smith. I look at their work sometimes and think, Ýep, NAILED IT!´ Then an artist who runs parallel to that, who I LOVE is Delta aka Boris Tellegen. He is looking for the background to the same energy.

In my studio practise, I use a lot of resin and in approach to work/mindset, I have to mention my good friend Gerard Fernandez Rico…he came from a graffiti background too, but it is hidden deep in the soul of his pieces now!

Then moving further towards the galleries, I love Richard Serra, Sol Le Witt, Dan Flavin…people like this. The courage of these guys is incredible. Also Donald Judd and Carl Andre, though they haven´t kicked me in the ass to the same extent!

As for artists I´d like to work with…I don´t know, I am open to ideas. I´d love to work with DJ Premier or Erykah Badu.

I play a LOT of Amerigo Gazaway stuff in my studio when I am working, so we can almost call all of my work a collaboration with him these days!

Just to speak about something different for a minute, tell us something about yourself that maybe not many people would know!

I got put on to listening to Simon and Garfunkel by New York rapper Just Ice!

If you could be anyone or anything for a day who or what would you be?

If I knew I could have my life back, I would be one of those crazy redbull wing suit dudes who fly through the air…whooooosh!!!! But then imagine being LL on stage back in the day and running up with ´Don´t call it a come back…! Or Dondi, standing between those two cars putting colour in a grey world!

Which has more energy?

Oh man I’d say LL haha! Do you have any upcoming shows or projects we should know about? Are you currently exhibiting your works anywhere?

I have the street print series available through Montana Gallery, Base Elements and Bien Cuadrado in Barcelona.

I am working closely with Bien Cuadrado and will do another solo show there next year. It is a really interesting gallery and space with some incredible new artists like Fazryn Anuar, Rithika Merchant, Kristin Sagli, Alessia Innocenti and Simon Vazquez to name a few. I also currently have work available through 3 Punts Galeria in Barcelona.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before you go?

I´d love to share a bottle of Dalmore with you all, but as you´re not here right now…cheers!

Cheers to you too Ash!

For more of Ash’s work go and check out his website here.

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