I have been lucky to collaborate over the years with a few artists. There has been one main collaborator over decades. Without this particular artist pushing me I probably would have stopped working on walls a long time ago. Over the past five years, we have been able to do whatever we have felt like creatively on certain walls. Actually, there has been one community wall connected to the same landlord we have painted for over ten years and we have had free reign, though we know what the community in this enclave likes and have fed into that creatively. The other wall has really been pushed and at one stage some graffiti artists pushed back because they didn’t like what we were doing. We did some works that were subtly political and the landlord got complaints on another occasion. That was the only time we had to pull back a bit. Now we have to consider our general survival in a scene that changed years ago.
Personally, I have always loved the dark brooding work that I have produced. An old collaborator of mine some decades before used to make fun of me at how much black I would use on a wall. Sometimes I would bring four or five black cans while maybe using three on one work. Going forward I had been discussing using more colour. I will generally use colour more or less. I have done quite a few colourful works over the years but my general style of work is quite dark. There has even been discussion of not using black at all on a wall in the near future. This decision is so we can guarantee more access to this particular wall. It isn’t a wall that I have painted much before. In fact, I have only painted it once before. When I did it it was a colourful work mind you. It will be interesting to see how I manage using no black at all.
Generally, people talk of colourful work as being ‘happy’ or more or less appealing. While dark work can be seen as unhappy or possibly even threatening. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am quite a relaxed well-rounded person with a good sense of humour. So why would I be so attracted to dark work? One of the main reasons is my interest in certain movies and video artists. Take for example ‘Blade Runner’. There is a wonderful use of darkness to create intimacy and draw the viewer into this sci-fi world. One of my favourite artists is Bill Viola. His darker video works I feel draw the viewer into his spiritual world. In this case, the darkness is about contrast. Nearly all of Bill Viola’s video work is about contrast. He started with contrasts such as hot and cold and then as he progressed it became the human form contrasted with the immensity of the spiritual world. A place where light would break the immense darkness.
The main problem with mural work is that there has to be some kind of universal and general surface-level appeal. If the work is dark then the execution has to be cinematic, photographic or of a recognisable illustrative style that is fashionable or virtuoso. Or the colour work has to be about shape and design. If colour is the main focal point, the colours have to be almost digital and the design clean. Sometimes murals need designs that focus on illusion so the viewer feels in awe of the execution. If the viewer instantly wonders how the artists achieved the finished result it is the same as if someone saw a classical painting. They instantly admire the artist’s skill and that the work is a great achievement. Honestly, there are more scenarios and I feel they are somewhat superficial but works like this deserve to be enjoyed. So what is the point of the dark brooding works then? What joy can possibly be wrought?
My own opinion and understanding of art are that the artist creates a world that either challenges us or pacifies us. The challenge isn’t meant to be about feeling uncomfortable or having the veil of illusion swept aside. The challenge can be about trying to think differently from what you would normally. People these days especially find this type of challenge a bit of a joke. If I am to think differently then let me do it in a way that entertains me at least. Also, an artist is supposed to be an entertainer and at the least entertaining. Otherwise, what is the point? Also, how would a dark work make me think differently? All it is is bad colour choices that have no appeal. Why should anyone who doesn’t show off a skill or entertain their audience have the chance to produce work on the street legally? It is a bit like when people see artwork and say ‘I could have done that!’ or ‘what is the point of that!’ Recently I saw a social media post and someone accused Mark Rothko’s work of being pointless and childish. An art critic made a good point about the work that shed some light on it but it may not have changed the original author of the posts mind.
Essentially it isn’t really about colour choices, appeal or popularity. It comes down to appropriate decisions for the occasion at hand. A conceptual artist’s decisions need appropriate channels just as much as mural artists do. Artists can sometimes be entertaining and at other times eccentric and unfathomable. If you take Felipe Pantone as an example, his work is hyper-real. His work makes you question reality itself. As an artist, I tend to present a world that is normally rejected or dejected. The half-erased tag that will efface/deface.