Blog Now on streetpainting.tv is excited to share a new post with you - an interview with British street painters Joe Hill and Max Lowry. Check out what they have to say and have a look at their dynamic 3D pavement art.
Where do you each live?
J: I live in Camden, North London. It's a fun area with a thriving arts scene.
M: I live and work in Clapham, South London. I was in North London like Joe, but I'm easily distracted, and Islington is far too much fun, so I moved to a place where nothing much happens during the day!
What is your occupation?
M: Full Time Artist. When we're not working on a 3D project, I paint portraits, private commissions and put on exhibitions throughout the year. Next one is at Selfridges in April.
J: I'm an artist. Aside from 3D work, I specialize in portraiture.
How and when did you first get interested in street painting?
M: Joe called me and asked me if I knew how to do this 3D art style of drawing. I said no. He said, 'well we've got two weeks to learn ‘cause we're off to Spain to work on a project.' That was a crazy fortnight, but we managed to get to grips with it and 5 years down the road, I think we've mastered the technique.
What do you call your art form pavement art, street painting or screeving?
M: Joe, what did you call it? Tramp art or something? ;) I think if you're trying to be pretentious, you can call it 'anamorphic art' - but '3D art' works for me. Joe?
J: 3D Pavement Art sums it up I reckon.
How much history did you know about this art form when you started?
M: Not much. I'd seen a few emails of people who were doing it in Europe, and obviously there's the Mary Poppins connection. But I guess it's been around since cavemen annoyed their cave wives by scribbling stick-men with spears on the walls of their caves after a night out tackling saber-toothed tigers.
J: Aside from ‘Holbein's Ambassadors’, I didn't know much about stretching images. I understood a few people had been doing 3D pavement art for ages, but it hadn't had much press until the internet and digital cameras brought it to the fore.
Blog on streetpainting.tv interviewed festival directors from Liverpool and that had very interesting historical notes about this art form (James Carling; actor Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins). What can you tell me about the history of street painting in your area?
M: in my area? There's not much of it in Clapham - more graffiti than anything else...Joe?
J: It's practically non-existent as far as I know. Bureaucracy means it's not great in Central London - certainly in the last few years. Even though chalk washes away, Westminster Council considers pavement art graffiti and makes it almost impossible to do it in its pure form. I don't know if that's a recent thing or not.
Do you think of this art form as a fine art or more an entertainment performance art or somewhere in the middle?
M: There is a lot of skill involved, so I would consider it an art form. Equally the entertainment/performance part is really important too. People like to watch the drawing come to life as much as seeing the final drawing. As we only take six or seven hours to complete the drawing - people can come back a number of times to see it take shape.
J: Unfortunately I think fine art is the best way to describe it now. With a lot of the guys doing pre-prepared stuff now, the performance part of it is dying out or faked.
How did you develop your style, especially the 3D work?
M: A lot of hard work. We get better with every project. I think it’s the same with all types of art.
How often do you street paint?
M: We usually take on one project a month. It depends - if we had the time, and invincible knees, I'd do it all the time.
In what countries have you street painted?
M: Dubai, Spain, France, Britain mainly...anywhere else Joe?
J: Ireland, the States...
What is your favorite place you have street painted and why?
M: I loved Cadiz - right on the southern tip of Spain - The weather, the wine, the people. It was so much fun.
J: I liked Dubai myself. The people there were really interested and appreciative.
Please tell us a paragraph or two about your experiences in Dubai.
M: There's a huge respect for art out in Dubai. Locals were very polite and more inquisitive than anywhere else we've worked. Expatriates weren't too bad either! On the whole we spent 1 or 2 days on each drawing that was about 2m x 5m. We were there to help promote the shopping festival for the Mall of Emirates.
Is street painting popular in England?
M: It’s definitely 'a la mode' at the moment. I think universally people love to be entertained and see something different. But the press has really taken hold of it. The last 3D picture we did for Disney got a double page spread in the Evening Standard.
Are street painters able to create art work wherever they want (parks, public streets and sidewalks) or do they have to obtain permits to work in public?
M: You have to get permission from the local council and some are more tricky than others.
J: It can be troublesome on some streets, but if you pre-prepare canvasses or do it on paper, even the most pedantic people can't complain. Doing it in train stations or shopping centres is often the best way of getting a picture done if the local council is a difficult one.
Do you attend any street painting festivals in England or Europe?
M: Didn’t know there were any??
Do you compete in any street painting competitions? If so, do you feel it is important to compete and why?
M: Nah-I don’t see the point. It’s great that other people are out there doing it and it’s always interesting to see what other people are coming up with, but I think our work does the talking.
J: I'd be interested definitely. What makes us unique is the speed with which we work while still producing quality. While some guys take three of four days on an image, we can often take a day to do the same kind of thing. Sorry, but I'm quite competitive! (*)
Do you have a favorite subject in your street paintings?
M: People. Bodies, stuff jumping high out of the ground. That's the hardest effect to pull off.
J: Underground stuff, rock-faces and fissure, holes in the ground - basically the simplest 3D effects to do, but which seem to impress the most.
M: So as a team, I guess we cover all the bases!
What is your favorite street painting you have worked on to date?
M: Batman. But that's a guilty pleasure. I also love the eagle and the polar bear.
J: A floating magnifying glass that sadly I couldn't finish because it started to rain.
Do you usually work alone, together, or with other artists and why?
M: We have other artists that we pull in for other projects, but whatever happens we're the core of the team.
J: I spend most of the time working alone because Max is always late.
What do you enjoy most about street painting?
M: Annoying Joe.
J: The days when Max is off sick.
How do you feel about the ephemeral quality of the art form?
M: The what? ;) Kidding! That's part of its charm. As I said before, the knowledge that it only took us a day to complete and that if you happen to be in the area you can watch us, is part of the fun. It also encourages people to take photos and share them on the internet, because they know if they don’t take a photo there and then - it’ll be gone.
J: The photo is the finished artwork.
What is the most difficult aspect of street painting?
J: Getting intense tone on location. Chalk can look really washed out. If you ever see pavement art in real life it's usually very pastel. Most 3D artists ramp up the contrast and colour on their photos if they use chalk: you can usually tell from the tone of people in the background of the pictures - they are normally really dark. It's also why some 3D artists insist on people only using the photo they take for publicity etc... Although it's sometimes not possible, I really like trying to achieve intense tone, so that passersby can enjoy the spectacle. Also, it doesn't feel like you're cheating!
M: Trying to get Joe to smile.
Have you seen the popularity of street painting grow since you have been doing it in England and in other parts of the world?
M: Absolutely. It’s really taken off in the last few years. With the internet, and great sites like this one, it’s reaching people all over the globe - And more and more people say 'wow, yeah - I got an email about this!'
Do you ever get asked if you are that guy on the internet (Julian Beever)?
M: Ha! Yeah - but that's fair enough - he's the godfather of 3D art. I'd love to meet him - He's my favourite. There are some other good artists out there - but he's got some really great ideas and is a master of the '3d effect'....I think when we started he was the only one out there getting any coverage....we're hot on his tail though!
J: Yeah, I get asked all the time. It's a compliment - he's great.
What do you think of Julian’s work…do you think he has promoted the art form or turned his photos/videos into urban spam? This is an ongoing debate we hear from street painters and people in marketing who have received forwarded emails with his work one too many times.
M: I think he helped it reach a wider audience. I haven't met anyone who hasn't loved the emails that go round - and its friends sending it to friends - so it’s not really spam. The 'art world' can get snooty about 'marketing world' taking advantage of a great new and exciting art form - but that's nonsense. We're artists, we get to share our skill with the world and we get paid to do it. I can’t see anything wrong with that.
J: Are there really street painters out there complain that Julian Beever's pictures are spam? That's a shame - I hadn't heard that. Oh well, some people always want to criticise whoever's on top.
Some people believe art should only be done for art’s sake what are your thoughts on paid street painting commissions?
M: It's only in the last couple of hundred years that the idea of commissioned artwork has been frowned upon. For hundreds of years, artists would be commissioned to paint murals, portraits and paintings for Lords & Ladies and Kings & Queens. They could then use that money to paint their own work. It's the same today. You have far more chance succeeding as a full time artist if you cut your teeth by working as a commissioning artist at the start of your career. You build up a client base, you learn so much more about your craft, what direction you want to take and you earn money doing what you love. At a certain point you reach a stage where you can pick and choose your commissioned work.
I also can't understand the idea that art should be insular. Sharing ideas and bouncing off other 'creative' people is an exciting process. Phew - that got a bit serious for a moment there.
J: I met an expensively-dressed student the other day who asked me why I was selling-out by doing an advert. I tried to answer, saying what Max just said, but he was listening to his iPod and just walked off. It's just one of those glib things that people say. If we took that idea seriously, to be a full-time artist you'd need to be financially stable already - inherited money, a privileged background, retired. Limiting the production of artwork to the privileged classes and people over 65 would be crazy. And not everyone's going to win the national lottery like Monet.
What are your views on street painting as a contemporary art form?
M: ....over to you Joe!
J: I don't know. I expect there's a bit too much drawing involved to be considered a reputable contemporary art form.
How do you feel about experimentation with the street painting art form with new methods of artistic collaboration other than the traditional? Are you interested in doing things with street painting other than drawing live outdoors?
M: Absolutely. We like pushing the envelope. There are a few avenues’ we're exploring - but we'll save it as a surprise and give you the heads up when it’s happening...!
If there are other points you would like to discuss about the street painting art form, please let me know.
M: Nope. Thanks for having us and see you out on the streets soon!
(*) Editor's Note: The time required for street painters or pavement artists to complete their work depends on several factors such as the size of the piece, the complexity of the theme, the condition of the surface and how many people are working on the artwork at a time. Different artists have their own preferences as to how large and detailed they want to make their work, and if they street paint by themselves or in a team. We think Joe & Max's work is fantastic, but we are fans of street painters on many continents, who all offer something different to the art form!