Ken McGregor was lucky enough to catch up with the elusive Stewy when he was in London earlier in the year, and interviewed him about his incredible stencils, and the compulsion to paint the streets with all things ‘Britishness’.
In the following exclusive interview, Stewy discusses the animal attraction, the influence of Blek Le Rat and how a simple technique becomes unique through careful location placement and scale.
I use to live around Broadway market in 2000, 2001 my girlfriend worked in Old Street in the east end and we would see rat stencils appear on the streets, this happened over night, a rat with a parachute, a rat with a drill, a rat carrying a stereo, I have always been interested in stencils but I thought I was too late, because some one had already done them.
I thought I had missed the boat so I did nothing and then moved to Brighton on the coast and again these rats started to appear on the streets again, they were sort of following me. Also there were girls holding bombs and some other stuff. So several years later I had children and I just felt the need to have a project, so I thought I would cut a stencil. This was in 2007. I cut one of a pidgin; I wanted to do some thing different.
I sprayed it at the cans festival and then on the walls around Shoreditch, this was in 2008, I wasn’t invited to the cans festival but I did it any way. And this is where I also saw the work of Blek Le Rat. Toaster was also there in the official bit in the back. Anyway I felt my worked looked ok, but there was another pigeon there by Jeff Aerosol. I was also interested in sequential images with a narrative so I thought I would do an image of a cat, so the cat would catch the pigeon. Then I did a dog, so the dog would chase the cat and the cat would chase the pigeon.
I don’t believe to cut a stencil is difficult but I really needed a reason to do it. So I had this idea from reading children’s books, a to z books that I thought I would cut an alphabet of British indigenous animals. So now I’m half way through, I started in 2007 so I have along way to go I think I have done 14 out of 26.
The fox is just the fox, it’s around us all the time and they are all through London, but sometimes you only see them at night. My ghost fox is rather surreal because its there all the time and I really loved bringing animals into an urban setting, that appealed to me.
When I worked the streets at night I realised that there was still new artists working and that was wonderful because I sort of new that I hadn’t missed the boat and that my work could still be relevant. When I discovered Blek I was just blown away with his simplicity and his representations of people was amazing. His work was life size, they were to scale and that’s what I was doing with my animals, I made them life size that was important to me. I wanted someone to see my fox on the street and for a fleeting glimpse think it was real. And quoting Blek, I wanted my work to be like ghosts crossing the street.
My people came in about 2009, I needed a change from animals, I was a big fan of Frank Sidebottom and I chose to cut an image of him, I thought he was a great figure, I saw him in Glastonbury in I think 1991. I cut the stencil of him and at the time didn’t know that he had died, so that quote, ghosts across the street also applied to people as well and as much as the animals. And that started the phase of me doing stencils of people, British cult icons that I love and admire and respect. I only spray their images in certain locations.
Blek and Banksy had been doing people for years but I still wanted to be different, I guess like any artist. So the one off narrative, the political statement in various places had an impact but I thought I would do something very simple. With people, as I said Blek and Banksy have done them for years so I wanted to do something different so I had this idea like the blue plaques on the buildings that the national trust put up. I would only spray my people where they had an association. Where they lived or where they were born or where they worked or died. You know Tracy Emin, Margate. John Cooper Clarke, Soleford. Frank Sidebottom, Manchester. Benjamin Stefania, Birmingham. And most of them that I have put up have remained which is great because they are obviously relevant to the people who live in the area, there is a sort of respect.
So I thank the godfather of street art Blek Le Rat for giving me the quote ghosts in the street. Its funny that Blek first did the rat then Banksy started with a rat and I started with the flying rat, the pigeon. All vermin. All my work I like to think defines what Britishness is but not a far right perspective. I’m a fan of Billy Bragg for instance, so if you were going to follow a political line it would be his ideas and philosophy. And once again if I cut a stencil of him it would go up in Dorset or where ever he is from. Also I was influenced by music and got into punk stuff, seeing the Clash in Victoria Park in 1978 all of this stuff has had an influence on me. It just takes one small thing to change your out look on life. The first concert I went to in 1991 was Billy Bragg. I think he is great; it’s an amalgamation of lots of things, street art, punk images and the music.
Metro Gallery has several Stewy original pieces available for sale, contact email@example.com for prices images and dimensions.