Stevio...LA LA Lovin' It?

I'm British-born Chinese from Bristol, UK. I’m LA-based. I’m a hip hop aficionado. After 15 years in London I moved to LA to pursue a new career and outlook on life.

Back in the 80s I was a DJ. In the 90s I contributed to the world's first street style exhibition at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. In 2011, I had my first interviews published. Today, I’m keeping busy with music, art, photos and writing.

Monday, February 21, 2011

#EXCLUSIVE interview with #FLX, author of "Children of the Can" #graffiti book

"Children of the Can" is an ambitious project by veteran Bristol graffiti artist and an old friend of mine, Felix "FLX" Braun. The book documents 25 years' of Bristol graffiti history...That's from the 1980s until, can count. It serves as a study of Bristol street art, its key players and its influences. It's like a masters degree in Bristol street art!
The world's most famous Bristol (and possibly the world!) street artist is undoubtably Banksy. He needs no introduction, after all he's had a solo show in the Bristol Museum! But ask him who his influences were back in the day and he may well mention some of the artists in this book. Get yourself a copy here on Amazon.

I managed to chat with FLX about the Bristol street art scene and how it has changed in recent times. Here's the interview...

Stevio: This past Christmas I saw the Lakota Club mural on Moon St. in Stokes Croft. Can you tell me how that huge wall painting came about?

Lakota Club mural, Moon St., Bristol, U.K.

FLX: "The club had been needing a repaint for some time, having previously been painted by Paris and Eko of TCF Crew, some ten years plus earlier. It was looking pretty tatty and the new proprietors jumped at the chance to have it redone. Well, in actual fact, the new proprietors approached Cheo, and independently the building's owners approached me. I've known them for many years. I basically made Cheo an offer he couldn't refuse. He's not really into the organisational side of painting, which I thrive on; so i said 'look, i'll round the boys up, you do your bit, and everyone's a winner.' And it came off really well, it still looks fresh a year and a half later."

Lakota Club artists
Stevio: Many artists contributed to wall. What can you share about them and how do they fit into the history of 25 years' of Bristol graffiti?

FLX: "Well Cheo, Jody and me all come from the first wave of writers in Bristol, and we all originally met at Barton Hill youth centre in the late 80s. It was the first proper, legal hall of fame in the city and was also the focus for a lot of large-scale bombin missions at the time. Mecca! Soker's from the second wave, but only just, he's also a grumpy old fucker like Cheo, Jody and me, and he just so happens to be one of the UK's best style writers, so he had to be down. And then 3Dom, Epok and Sepr are basically the best of the young bloods.

All really excellent in their own right, but more importantly they're team players, not afraid to muck in and also able to leave their egos at home for the benefit of creating a great wall. Because I have no crew affiliations as such it's easy for me to cherry pick a team that are suited to a particular job. Honourable mentions must go to Lokey, Haka and Cheba, who all painted round the far side of the building as well."

Lokey, Haka, Cheba, Lakota Club side wall (credit: Bristol Graffiti)

Stevio: Are there any artists from the first wave of writers who are still doing illegal pieces?

FLX: "A couple, but 'honour amongst thieves' and all that!"

Stevio: How did the "Children of the Can" project come about and how long did it take from conception to finding an interested publisher?

FLX: "It started as a dare, some friends and me were looking at a really rather poor attempt to document Bristol's contemporary graffiti and street art scene, and being the opinionated old sod that I am, I blurted old "this is shit, I could do much better than this!" To which came the collective reply "go on, then, we dare you!

"So i started talking to a few people about it, including a couple of local publishers, and literally the second one i spoke to was sold on the idea right away. Well, the first one was as well, but i didn't think they were quite right, really, for one reason or another. It took very little time from the initial idea to getting a publisher onboard, i just wrote a sample chapter, an introduction and a skeleton idea for the structure of the whole project, and that was it. I presented a slide show of a few photos and talked about it, and the next thing it was on.

Sepr, Soker, 3Dom, Epok and FLX, St.Werburgh's 2010

"Richard Jones, at Tangent, was really easy to work with, and totally open to my ideas; including my insistence that we don't have a big, gold sticker on the front saying "FEATURING BANKSY!!!" which would have ruined it. But, Banksy wrote his own little, low-key chapter and we got some exclusive, unseen material of his in there, so it was all good."

Stevio: What influence do you think Banksy has had for the street art scene and Bristol? Do you think he still regards himself as a Bristolian, even though he spends more time out of the city than living there?

FLX: "I'm sure he still thinks of himself as Bristolian, although to my knowledge he hasn't lived here for a very long time (allegedly!). But I know he has a lot of love for the place, I think the Bristol Museum show demonstrated that.

Credit: Thou Shall Not Covet

I'd say some of his influence has actually been quite negative. Through no fault of his own, there are far too many people that think stenciling is an aesthetic, rather than a medium. And that's a global thing, too. We don't need a thousand Banksy clones with less wit and none of his originality, thank you very much! But, that said, I'm sure in general he has had a very positive impact on people's attitudes towards the art form in the city. There are now a number of galleries, decriminalised zones for painting, graffiti supply stores, and so on. The scene's pretty rich here, and he's definitely played a part in that."

Stevio: Did you discover any surprising realizations or angles as you put the book together? What did you leave out and why?

FLX: "Not really. I made a lot of friend s and a few enemies, but that's inevitable; after all it's only my take on what happened. Most people were really cooperative, including the big names, and had a lot of help and support from the graffiti community. A few people were upset when it came out, especially those who were left out, obviously, but you can't include everyone and everything.

"I would have liked to have included a whole section on tagging and hand styles, since they're the skeleton of all style-writing, as every graffiti writer knows. Also a lot of the active illegal writers weren't exactly forthcoming with information and photos, for obvious reasons, and there were some things that i was told and shown that people got cold feet about. That was a real shame. Some of the best quotes about the contemporary bombing scene never made the final edit."

Sepr, Soker and FLX, University West of England 2009

Stevio: What ideas and images were some artists nervous about sharing? And why?

FLX: "Well, if I told you that I'd be breeching their trust, now, wouldn't I? In very general terms anything overtly incriminating, and individuals being unwilling to be quoted specifically on things. Pictures of people in train yards are always tricky, obviously."

Stevio: What do you think the next 25 years of Bristol graffiti will entail? And what do you think Bristol needs to do to nuture or control it?

FLX: "You can't control graffiti, that's the whole point! And i'd hate to see it happen. Heaven forbid! I think in the next 25 years people will be hitting the outside of 30-storey buildings whilst flying using jet packs, and using portable teleportation devices to hit the inside of 10 Downing Street and New Scotland Yard. Which will probably be called Old Scotland Yard, by then.

"Bristol Council are trying to get their heads around it, but in truth it's duality (legal vs illegal) is very troublesome for them. How do you sanction and promote what is obviously a huge part of the city's cultural heritage and appeal (especially to students) when you have whole departments solely dedicated to its eradication and continued criminalisation. It's tricky, right?"

3Dom, Epok, Soker, Sepr and FLX, 2010

Stevio: "Paris has always been a destination for old skool writers. Where do you think Bristol ranks in the graffiti cities of the UK and Europe? Do you ever think they'll be a day when New York old skool writers Seen or Sharp move to Bristol?

FLX: "Ha. Well, it wouldn't surprise me if they visited. That's one thing the future may well hold, more international links, a big annual jam would be nice, with some big names flying in to paint.

UK-wise it's right up there, a lot of people move here specifically to paint. Europe-wide it's not that bombed-out at all, not compared to, say, Berlin, or Lisbon. I was in Lisbon last year and it's incredible. The council are embracing there, too. Good on them."

Stevio: Thanks for the time FLX!

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