We took the job of Judging the Art & Music street art competition seriously. There were over 400 entries, many of them of a very high quality. Some of the key factors that went into selecting the winner were: which work stands out; who would benefit the most from winning this prize; and who has the most potential to go on to do something interesting after winning. Tony Driver fit all the above from the moment we saw his work. After speaking with Tony and learning more about his long personal history with graffiti, and how he started blurring it with abstraction, we are very confident that he will go on to achieve great things.
CEDAR LEWISOHN— Tell me about yourself.
TONY DRIVER— I was a musician for a while and I was involved in lm making, then I got back into making art again. I live outside of London, in Surrey; there isn’t that much art around here so when I do any kind of graffiti I generally tend to go into London.
CL— Did you go to art school?
TD— No I didn’t; I’m self-taught.
“I was working as a cycle courier for a bit, and with the amount of downtime I had when I was working, I was able to just turn up at galleries and look at shows. I probably learnt more about art from doing that than anything I learnt at school”
CL— Tell me how you got interested in graffiti and street art?
TD— Initially it was in 1984 when Subway Art came out; a friend of mine bought the book into school and we read it. I had seen graffiti before in the context of music videos but I didn’t realise it was an art form in itself until I saw the book. Shortly after that I saw [the documentary film] Style Wars (1984) and that pushed me into doing graffiti seriously myself.
CL— You’ve been doing it all that time?
TD— On and off yeah, up until 89–90, then it died out a bit. Obviously other things happened; I had a family, got into music and filmmaking. Then when I got back into making graffiti I adapted what I had learned from music and filmmaking into doing art again, elements like screenwriting, themes and subtext. When I did start making art again I was thinking more about what was behind it rather than doing pieces where you just write your name.
CL— Your work appears to be informed by colour and form, in a traditional abstract sense would you agree with that?
TD— Yeah, in the beginning I was trying to find my own style of abstract graffiti and work out what I wanted to do but I tended to see it was always in the style of somebody else, so in the end I went back to a style of abstract drawing I had been working on before getting back into graffiti. I’d been making these sketches and drawings but I hadn’t given much consideration to them being done on a large scale. But after realizing the style I thought I should be doing wasn’t working for me I went back to these drawings.
CL— How do you select the colours that you work with?
TD— I usually find a key colour that I want to be the focus of the painting then I go through a whole palette of colours that will work with and around that.
CL— Do the colours have any symbolism or mean anything to you?
TD— Not really. I don’t know whether one particular colour resonates with me or the painting I want to make, but I don’t find symbolism.
CL— Did you look at artists like Futura 2000 and people like that in the past?
TD— Yeah, he was the probably the first abstract graffiti artist I was interested in. You couldn’t avoid being affected by seeing his work because everyone else at that time was writing typography and letters and he was going completely in the opposite direction.
CL— Which other artists outside the graffiti scene do you look at?
TD— Mark Tobey and Franz Klein – the black and white paintings in particular. I was working as a cycle courier for a bit and with the amount of downtime I had when I was working I was able to just turn up at galleries and look at shows. I probably learnt more about art from doing that than anything I learnt at school.
CL— What type of spray paint do you usually use?
TD— I use specific graffiti branded spray paint acrylic, Montana Gold and MCN I quite like.
CL— I hear that Liquitex have invited you down to their launch event. Do you know what you’ll be making for that?
TD— There’s going to be some live painting on walls and canvases as well. I’ll be using some of the new spray paint that they’re launching – it’s water soluble so it will be quite interesting to see what you can do with that.
CL— If you were going to give a tip to someone inventing a new spray paint what would your advice be?
TD— It’s all about the pressure really. You can get spray paint now with a dual pressure valve which allows you to create fine detailed work, I think that’s the most important thing. There’s a lot of brands out there that manufacture medium to high pressure paint which is good for doing large letters and pieces but they’re not much good for detail. So for the sort of stuff I’m doing (I like to use smaller detail) my tip would be to put the emphasis on the pressure. Then it’s about opacity and pigment; I often find that some colours are better than others and that can be quite stressful working with paints when the colour doesn’t come out the way you want it to.
CL— What are you working on at the moment?
TD— Mostly walls, we’ve painted walls around Fratton Park (in Portsmouth) outside the football ground and we’re probably going to go to Brighton soon.
CL— How do you think the Saatchi competition is going to help you moving forward?
TD— It’s going to give me the chance to develop what I’ve started through the use of the materials. Plus the offer of taking part in the Liquitex launch exhibition is going to push me to work harder and look seriously at what I’m doing.