Why have street and tattoo artists been ignored for so long?

Well, I think street artists just by nature do whatever they’re going to do. One of the hardest parts of the job is convincing them to join exclusively on a contractual basis — they are naturally disinclined towards it. When it comes to tattoo artists, it’s almost the opposite, and the impression I had was that they were already represented by the studios they worked in, which actually isn’t the case, but I think that’s the general impression for everyone else too.

We saw brands like Gucci hate streetwear in the ’90s, whilst now its style is almost exclusively streetwear. Why are brands getting into this space more?

I think alcohol brands were doing it for a while because of that arresting visual identity, but more widely, I think it’s about resonating with Gen Z audiences, audiences who maybe reject the mainstream a little bit, and it’s about tapping into something a little bit cooler.

There is of course a risk of this becoming saturated, I know brands like Skoda are trying to bring street artists into what they’re doing as well as other brands who you wouldn’t really think it would work for at all.

However, what we do is niche, very niche, and I always feel like I have to say that street and tattoo artists are not a wholesale everyday solution for every client.

And definitely not Skoda?

I think not. But ultimately it’s up to the artist, as they need to make a living after all. There is a risk though of brands being accused of appropriating the culture if it isn’t the right fit, so this isn’t a case of just slapping on some street art and being done with it, it has to be authentic.

So I suppose that’s why it is always important to be artist-led?

Absolutely, that’s one of the key things for us. For some agencies, they’ll take a brief and it will essentially be a hand-painted version of an outdoor ad. That can work, sometimes, but we feel at that point any artist could have done it.

With us, the artist’s style drives the project. Clients will brief three of our artists, and they will each come back with their own unique thing. Because the thing is that all of these artists have their own Instagram channels and what have you, so you can really get a feel for who they are already, it would be weird for a brand to go against that, and it just wouldn’t work.

In this sense, can brands ever truly shape culture? Or do they simply facilitate changes that are already occurring?

It’s tough. Brands will always want to, but other people will always think absolutely not. What’s interesting though is that the side that believes it not possible is in decline, artists are more accepting of being part of something, as ultimately at the end of the day the bills need to get paid. The notions of the starving artist and of selling out are definitely a little passé. It really comes down to the brand’s values and motivations and if and how they align with artists.

Take Maxine Buchi from Sang Blue, who is one of the most renowned tattooists in the world, he’s tattooed Kanye West multiple times. The fact that Buchi is doing a Hublot watch (which is around a £20,000 watch), is remarkable, and perhaps sits at the complete opposite end of where you would expect tattoo artists to be. It wasn’t so long ago that you wouldn’t get a job if you had tattoos on your hands, so in that sense, brands can be a part of leading the charge when it comes to culture when they work together with the artist in the right way and one that rhymes.

How did the pandemic affect these tattooists and street artists? Animation had a great year because filming was no longer an option, for example — how did Covid rock the boat for you guys?

Street artists weren’t as affected by the pandemic as tattooists were for obvious reasons: they’re often outside, on their own, and wearing a mask anyway whilst doing these massive murals. Experiential stuff had a bit of a hampering, where passersby would be engaged had problems, but all in all, life went on.

But for tattooists, it was financially devastating as they couldn’t continue their work, which is why from both sides we saw a lot of up-skilling into things like animation, after-effects and other programmes as they see that’s where a lot of stuff is going.

What do you mean by that?

Digital. The muralist Bond Truelove is a really good example. He has about 120 thousand followers and is a real OG street artist from Berlin whose been doing it for about 25 years but now he’s now incorporating a lot more digital stuff into his work — think things like added augmented reality layers — stuff like that.

Then the Non-Fungible Tokens thing happened — or at least dramatically accelerated this past year — and static imagery no longer worked. So a lot of artists were suddenly looking at how to add an augmented or motion or just more digital layering to their works.

Long Story Short

What's an NFT?

Back in March 2021, a digital-only artwork was sold at Christie's auction house for a staggering $69m (£50m) - but the winning bidder did not receive a sculpture, painting, or even a print. Instead, they received a unique digital token known as an NFT (non-fungible token). In economics, fungible is something which can be readily exchanged — such as money (A £10 note can be exchanged for two £5 notes for example).

However, if something is non-fungible, this is impossible - it means it has unique properties so it cannot be interchanged with something else: it is one of a kind. Like the Mona Lisa or the Statue of David, these NFTs are "one-of-a-kind" assets in the digital world that can be bought and sold like any other piece of property, but they have no tangible form of their own.

A blending of the two worlds then.

Precisely, art is always making interesting commentary on everything else, so naturally, there was always going to be more digital stuff coming up as we became more reliant on technology. That said, there are always artists that will reject the dogma entirely.

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