Creating what you dream. An interview with Tabby.
Street artists have a reputation for being elusive. It tends to come with the territory. When you’re potentially risking your freedom for your art, it makes sense to keep things low-key. But balancing global recognition with furtive anonymity isn’t easy. So, when the world-renowned artist (and Ben’s good pal), Tabby, came to Carlisle recently to collaborate with Landmark on the town’s first major piece of street art, we took the opportunity to delve a little deeper into his world.
First things first, how long have you been creating street art, and how did you get into it?
The first pieces with a TABBY tag came out in 2013. Stencils as street art just caught my attention. I liked the simplicity, yet at the same time, there's a lot of detail in it. There's so much terrible art out in the world and it seems like the worse it is and the more squiggly lines it has, the more it gets praised in the high-end art world. I liked how stencil art was beautiful and still seemed to tell a story, often with humour. The fact that it was outdoors where everybody could see it, mixing creative storytelling and everyday reality was something that pulled me into doing it.
What were your early experiences of street art like?
Some mistakes were definitely made but overall things went fairly well from the start. The first piece I ever did was one of Mozart spray painting the tag ‘MozART was here’ but halfway through stencilling him my spray cap clogged up, so he didn't have any legs. I came back later but reapplying the stencil is almost impossible, so I finished him by leaving the legs out and going for paint drips. I think he looks better with the drips than if the original plan had worked out.
How have you developed as an artist since then?
I've learned to avoid mistakes by first doing all of them. You figure out what works and what doesn't, what you like, what others like and interesting ways of sending out a message. There's several techniques I've come up with that I haven't seen anybody else use that help in getting a piece up faster and cleaner.
I'm also always looking for, and working on, new methods, like the weathered concrete tiles. Most of these experiments haven't been shown anywhere but will be implemented sometime in the future.
Which has been your most challenging piece to date, and why?
There are three things that determine how challenging a piece will be; size, detail and how much you're trying to stay out of the spotlight. ‘Broken Ice Cream Dreams’ was about 5 metres tall, so he might be up there in the ranking.
How does it feel to complete a piece in the wild? How does that compare to pieces for a gallery?
It's the best part. There's probably more work that goes into a piece than most people would think. When it's finally up and looks exactly like its supposed to then you definitely head home in a good mood.
Gallery work is great in a different way. There you really get to spend time on detail, doing many versions until you end up with exactly what you want. You also know that it will go out on a far trip around the world and eventually end up on someone’s living room wall. That's pretty neat too.
What is your intent for the pieces that you sell? How do you want people to feel when they buy/own a piece of your art?
Optimally, people find a piece that connects with them in one way or another, so the goal is to allow them to be able to bring that piece into their own home where they can enjoy and share it forever.
The execution of stencilled art is very quick, understandably so, but what happens before you reach that point? Tell me about the process of planning a piece, choosing a site, creating the stencils.
Every piece is different. The design can be finished in a day or two, or it can be worked on and off for years until it’s where you want it to be. There are always several pieces being worked on and I’ll usually hold onto them until I find a fitting wall. I used to take long walks through the city and just take pictures of walls I liked and write down where they are. Then I’d have a catalogue of spots I could look through when needed. Other times you just go out with a stencil and no plan and just see what you happen to find.
There are also many different types of stencils I've come up with over the years, again the size and complexity of the piece determines what they look like. The folding method is one of the more interesting. Part of the challenge with stencils is having each layer placed perfectly on top of each other (especially in the dark and as quickly as possible). Here each layer folds up sort of like a book and you can have a five-layered image perfectly done in seconds.
Click the image to see the video
How do you translate that piece into canvas, tile or sticker?
Not every outdoor piece translates easily to an indoor piece. When you take them out of an outdoor environment, some lose part of their meaning or aesthetic look. Some work really well on a simple canvas and some need a little something extra, so it ends up coming down to trying out a lot and seeing what works. There will always be a unique charm to the weathered outdoor walls they were originally painted on, that's why one type of indoor work now features weathered concrete as a background.
I sense a soft side, a heart that cares, a sensitive soul. Would you describe yourself as a romantic? An idealist?
I like to sit back and take in everything humanity has to offer, the problems we have as well as the good and the bad sides to different things. In the end, happiness usually seems to come from those who feel loved and our problems can be boiled down to some type of unhappiness that comes from a lack of love. So, I don't know if I'm a romantic, but love finds its way into many of my pieces because it’s key to telling many different stories. Love causes us to do many things and the lack of love causes us to do many different things, it drives a lot more in our lives than we think.
Much of your work is political. How do you feel about the role of your work, and street art in general, in the current global political climate?
Politics is reflected in my work only because my work often reflects what is currently making an impact in our lives and that happens to includes politics.
An image is worth a thousand words, so you definitely can speak out and send a message through art. At the end of the day, art is just another way of spreading a message, but sometimes a simple message can have more of an impact on a massive scale, than a 10-page article on a difficult topic could.
You retain anonymity, a mystique, and yet you appear to enjoy connecting with your public through email and social media. How important is that connection and feedback? Does it influence your work? Do many people know your real identity?
The first couple of years I held back from reaching out since I wanted to see what people had to say, rather than add in my own two cents. Being anonymous allows everybody to paint their own picture of you, they decide who or what you are and that's more interesting than standing in front of people and trying to explain who you think you are.
Feedback is a good thing, though at the same time you don't always want to change what you are doing just because somebody thinks you should. If somebody mentions something that makes sense, it absolutely can influence what or how I do something.
It’s a very small group of people who know I am, why spoil the fun?
What ambitions do you have for your work?
Improve what I'm currently doing, transition the art that works on the streets into the gallery space and also find new and interesting areas to expand into for the future.
As you become more globally recognisable, how do you think your work will develop?
The more demand, the more opportunities and also motivation you have to do bigger and better things. Only time will tell, let’s see where it goes.
Would you consider taking on commissions from corporate or public bodies? What if it meant compromising your anonymity?
If it’s an interesting project I agree with, then commissions can be just another opportunity to working on interesting things or with people you otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
I’m not too interested in giving up anonymity, there are too many possibilities that come along with being invisible. Maybe someday, but not now.
Your work is witty, yet edgy. How important is humour in art? What makes you laugh?
Humour is the one universal language. You can be a toddler or a serious guy in a suit, you're still going to laugh when your friend slips on a banana peel. There's many things that divide us in this world yet humour brings us closer together.
Everything can make me smile but I probably have a soft spot for the everyday little things that happen to us all and we can instantly relate to. I saw somebody walk into a pole the other day, that never gets old.
What inspires you?
Everything. People doing interesting things, science, the psychology behind what makes us do the strange things we do and especially looking for the brighter side of everything and how it could be replicated.
Which other artists do you admire and why?
I can't help but smile at the awkwardness of Andy Warhol. He was an ordinary guy, doing extraordinary things using ordinary things. He did things not because he saw any specific meaning in it, but because he saw that other people saw meaning in it.
Finally, if you had followed a different path, where might it have taken you?
I had always been more interested in doing my own thing, in part because I'm terrible at following other people’s instructions. I get distracted and my thoughts wander off, thinking about some other project and how it could be done. I'm better at figuring out how to do something my own way, so I can't say where exactly I would have ended up, but I've always been working on one crazy project or another.
Clearly, Tabby is a uniquely talented and articulate character. He sells to collectors and fans across the globe and his work has appeared on walls in multiple cities, from Vienna to Carlisle! We reckon our good friend is one to watch. Listen up art world, you’re going to be hearing a lot more from Mr Tabby!
Landmark Street Art Gallery has several pieces of original Tabby artwork, with more on the way. Bag yours now, by going to our online shop - https://landmarkstreetart.com/collections/tabby
Find out about Tabby’s visit to Carlisle - https://landmarkstreetart.com/blogs/news/landmark-street-art-collaborates-with-austrian-street-artist-tabby
You can follow Tabby on Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/tabbythis Spread the love!