Interview - Three Kings of Graffiti

May 30, 2015

There was an initiative to create the world’s longest graffiti wall in Dubai for the Guinness Book of Records. Sadly, the joint efforts of group of street artist failed, but an interesting idea was conceived. The promoters came up with brilliant concept to celebrate forty years of graffiti by merging major graffiti movements into one show. The exhibition Fuck the King, Long Live the Kings is the result of that idea. The show features iconic artists Blade, Inkie and Shoe all representatives of different movements within street art.

The trio hardly needs any introductions for they have all been well established through their groundbreaking works, numerous exhibitions, purchased by museums and collectors and influenced generations of young artists. Blade first started painting trains back in 1972 hence earning himself the nickname King of Trains and becoming an icon of the New York City. Tom Bingle, aka Inkie is the legend of Bristol graffiti scene where he started painting in the early 1980s. Inkie found his inspiration in Art Nouveau, Mayan architecture and Islamic geometry that helped him develop his own recognizable style. Niels Shoe Meulman was born and raised in Amsterdam. He first started tagging with the name Shoe as early as 1979 and became graffiti legend by the time he was 18. In 2007 Shoe presented the world with new art form he called Calligraffiti, a unique amalgamation between calligraphy and graffiti.

The one-of-a-kind exhibition Fuck the King, Long Live the Kings in Vroom & Varossieau, Look for Art Gallery is a battle of different graffiti styles and a duel between American, British and European urban art. For this occasion we have asked all three artists to share their thoughts about the show, their art and future plans. Hope you will enjoy it as much as we did!

About the Kings

Widewalls: Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and how you got started with graffiti?

Blade: Hello, my name is Steven D. Ogburn, aka Blade, born January 23rd 1957. I began writing on the trains in NYC in 1972, at the age of 15. Hondo 1 took me to Baychester layup in the Bronx to paint my first train.

Inkie: My name is Inkie, I started painting Graffiti in Bristol UK in 1984 as part of the first wave of UK graffiti alongside 3D (Massive Attack), Nick Walker and my crew Crime Inc, I was a punk rocker and heavily influenced by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfont's book Subway Art and the Charlie Ahearn movie Wildstyle. I then started painting closely with Banksy in the late 90's and moved to London where I became head of design for SEGA Europe for 12 years, I now live and have a studio in West London and regularly travel the world painting and exhibiting.

Shoe: I’m Niels Shoe Meulman. Born, raised and based in Amsterdam. In the late seventies, early eighties there was a huge graffiti scene in Amsterdam which was rooted in a strange mix of subcultures; punk bands, football hooligans and squatters.
I was one of those kids that made a transition from that scene when hip-hop came along and met with our advanced counterparts from New York like Dondi White, Rammellzee and Keith Haring.

Widewalls: For those (unlikely!) unfamiliar with your artworks, how would you describe the work that you produce?

Blade: I create hard core Graffiti on canvas & since 2013 I now make Abstracts we call the Florida Fa.

Inkie: Classic New York wildstyles and fonts mixed with vintage Art Nouveau, William Morris and Alphons Mucha style females figures...

Shoe: At the moment I’m in a transitional phase. Since 2007 I’ve been painting in my signature style called Calligraffiti but my recent work is more abstract. I do still paint in a way that is similar to writing though. You can read about it in the book Abstract Vandalism, a manifesto.

The Three Kings Show

Widewalls: You are appearing in the 3 Kings exhibition, an apt name for the coming together of 3 graffiti legends, can you tell us more about the exhibition?

Blade: The 3 Kings show at Baut Zuid is the merging of three diverse and talented artists displaying their art for the whole world to see that all writers everywhere are united no matter their ages or where they come from.

Inkie: To be honest I was a little apprehensive about the name of the show, but was very honoured to be a part of it. It is a showcase of our three different styles in association with LookforArt Gallery, Amsterdam.

Shoe: I met Blade when I was a teenager at gallery Yaki Kornblit. A collector from that time, Vincent Vlasblom and gallery owner Olivier Varroseau came up with the idea for this show. I’ve painted and hung out with Inkie in Ibiza, London, Bristol and, of course, Amsterdam. We’re showing in a recently abandoned car showroom, next to the new Amsterdam Art Fair, where I’m also showing some work with Galerie Gabriel Rolt.

Widewalls: How do you feel you and your work relate to the other legendary Kings appearing in the exhibition?

Blade: Inkie is a pioneer from the early days of NYC Graffiti and Shoe has brought some of their own Flavor into the Art world.

Inkie: I have known Niels (Shoe) for many years now and always keep up to date with his work and particularly love the new Iridescent more abstract calligraffiti, each artist is showing a completely unique style for the 3 Kings show but I have also created a classic wild style co-lab canvas with Blade especially for this event.

Shoe: In a way, it’s an odd combination since our work is very different, but that’s actually a good thing. All three of us studied at the Art School of Hard Knocks, but what will be interesting to see is the variety in ways that graffiti artists can evolve. Where Inkie paints his own version of Art Nouveau, I’m fascinated by Abstract Expressionism. And Blade, well.. he’s an artist in his own league. His surreal, naive style has been evolving steadily since the early days of train painting in New York.

What Will The Future Bring

Widewalls: How do you feel about being described as Kings of graffiti? Are there any young princes or princesses out there in the scene that may challenge you one day?

Blade: I was given the title King of Graffiti in 1975 by fellow writers because I painted more than anyone else in New York.

Inkie: I am never comfortable with this when there are so many talented artists out there... Kings never reign forever.

Shoe: At first, I found the whole king-thing a bit silly. King is a graffiti-term and yes, all three of us were king of something, at one time or another, we’ve evolved beyond that. But recently, a Dutch guy arrested and fined for saying "Fuck de koning" (Fuck the king) and saw some relevance in the show’s title 3 kings. Real royalty is just as silly/serious as calling yourself king of a subway line. Anyway, I did a painting for the show titled Fuck de koning, Hail De Kooning as a tribute to the abstract painter.

Widewalls: What are your future plans, anything exciting coming up?

Blade: The future is to do the King of Graffiti Gargano show in Italy and a show at Art Basel in Miami in December of 2015. This title is not self-proclaimed but undisputed.

Inkie: The upcoming sale of my collaboration painting with Banksy at Digard Auctions, Paris. The largest Banksy piece ever sold at auction! Ten meters long. Painting some large scale murals across Europe including Malta, Ibiza, Paris, Bali, Berlin and Sardinia. A new range of gold leaf and mineral/crystal based prints, a limited edition print with Lazirides Gallery London, plus solo shows in Chicago, NYC and LA for later this year early 2016.
And a few rather big secret projects for early 2016!

Shoe: I find it’s better to talk about things I have done, not about things I’m going to do.

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