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King Robbo - Death of the British Graffiti Artist and Banksy's Rival

August 13, 2014
Ana Bambic Kostov is an art historian with passion for contemporary art.

King Robbo – Death of the British artist and Banksy’s rival is still a mystery. After suffering an unexplained head trauma in 2011, allegedly after falling down a set of stairs, the pioneer of British graffiti entered a comatose state until he gave in on July 31, 2014. An official inquest into the death of the icon was opened, to continue on court coming December.

His death was reported by the international media and tributes from worldwide graffiti communities are pouring in, since King Robbo was not an ordinary writer. He was a legend, one of the first train writers, one who aided the movement spread across the island, one who had enough integrity to lead the war against Banksy, openly disputing his street rights.

The dispute ended sometime after Robbo was found seriously injured in a London. Without the wish to divide the graffiti realm again on the Banksy and Robbo fans, we wish to point out the importance of King Robbo figure once again and what the fight was all about.

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Banksy VS King Robbo

Legacy of King Robbo

Although he will remain known as the initiator of British graffiti, King Robbo’s work is largely lost today. Keeping his identity hidden for the most of his life, King Robbo followed the path of secrecy and illicit art, pertinent to all the graffiti adrenalin junkies.

His tagging adventure started in the early 80s, when the spray can art was adopted from across the ocean, leading to numerous trains in Britain attaining the same graffiti. King Robbo was one of the first ones to spray trains with his trademark R throw-up, or the elaborate and widely recognizable tag, soon seen by the many. As his style evolved, and the lettering became more elaborate, often embellished with additional imagery or skillfully executed in a kaleidoscopic palette, King Robbo climbed to the throne of street art in the UK in the late 80s and the early 90s. Never allowing the fame to alter him, Robbo retired from the world of graffiti at his peak. Slowly, Robbo’s body of work was gradually whitewashed, except one piece painted underneath the British Transport Police HQ bridge in 1985, where it eventually turned into the oldest graffiti piece in London and a testament to Robbo’s significance, as it was impossible to access without a boat. Until it was painted over by none other than – Banksy.

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King Robbo VS Banksy

King Robbo VS Banksy

Outside of the graffiti world, Robbo was not as widely recognized. His moniker was a beacon for young writers familiar with his work, and he did achieve international acclaim, winning commissions and exhibitions. However, about a decade ago, he entered a public eye once again, despite the retirement.

In an alleged disagreement, in which Banksy encountered the older and respected graffiti master without admitting he recognized him or paying any kind of respect, Robbo slapped the younger artist in the face, knocking off his glasses. However, it was not until Robbo told the ‘anecdote’ in a book in 2009 that Banksy opposed it. He went to the 1985 legendary Robbo’s graffiti in Camden and painted over it, making it look as if a worker was pasting wallpaper over it. The Graffiti War was on.

Later, Banksy issued a statement saying he was never slapped by Robbo in his life and supplied a photo depicting the truly bad state of the original graffiti, adding it was messy enough for him not to realize he was painting over a piece of history. Be as it may, Banksy broke the street code.

This did not go well with King Robbo, or his Team, as he took the matters in his own hands, redesigning the worker to seemingly paint letters King Robbo. But when Banksy added the letters ‘FUC’ in front of ‘KING’, it seemed as if he really crossed the line. Soon, the war spread around like a disease, where Banksy’s works were altered to celebrate King Robbo and diminish Banksy’s persona and his frequent affiliation with the world of money. His stenciling was seen in the trade as a form of ‘cheating’, even though it’s widely loved by the masses.

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Banksy VS Robbo
King Robbo - Banksy's Tribute?
King Robbo – Banksy’s Tribute?

Documentary and Homage

Everybody knew about the conflict, and Channel 4 even shot a documentary you can watch here, not long before Robbo suffered the injury, to which Banksy objected, not liking how he was portrayed. After the battles settled, the originally disputed wall was completely washed in black paint, where later in 2011 a new graffiti emerged, depicting King Robbo’s name and sign, while it’s widely assumed the work was painted by Banksy, as an homage to the hurt predecessor and, let’s be honest, a truly important figure in the history of street art. The place was painted over once again, by Team Robbo, restoring the original mural on Christmas Eve of 2011, with slight changes.

RIP King Robbo! You will not be forgotten!

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