Remi Rough

Remi Rough

By Arden de Raaij

With over 25 years of painting experience there is no doubt about the legendary status of street / graffiti artist Remi Rough. With a progressive style and a positive spirit the outspoken artist from London has been on top for all these years. And we have no doubt he will continue to do so for many more! In the past years we’ve seen amazing stuff from Remi like impressive solo walls, great collaborations and of course awesome projects with the talented Agents of Change collective (AOC). We got in touch with the good man to ask him about his recent trip to Miami, the Agents of Change, his passion for music, the old days, the future and much more. In short, I’m proud to present you an interview with Remi Rough!

Remi Rough Graffiti at the Miami Art Basel
Remi Rough Graffiti at the Miami Art Basel

You’ve just been to the Miami Art Basel. How was it?

Miami was amazing! It was intense, but very rewarding in a lot of ways. Getting to spend some quality time with Haze, Mare 139 and West One, was an absolute treat. The ‘In Situ‘ show was a pleasure to be a part as was the Underbelly show too.

“It’s so inspiring though to walk around and see Lister on one wall, Dabs & Myla on another, Mare, Haze and Augustine Kofie all painting super burners.”

The (Miami) Art Basel has been called ‘the Olympics’ of the art world. Do you see it as something good for ‘street art’ that it is highlighted so specifically over there? Or might it be tad hype sensitive as well?

To be honest I think Miami has had its best moments to date and I’m not entirely sure it can live up to those glory moments again… So much amazing art gets put up there but it’s a complete free for all mentality which I don’t think benefits it in the long run. Although saying that, I know there’s some plans to take certain aspects of what goes on in Wynwood into maybe South Beach or the Design District which I think will change things up considerably.

It’s so inspiring though to walk around and see Lister on one wall, Dabs & Myla on another, Mare, Haze and Augustine Kofie all painting super burners. I guess it just needs a little more curation and tightening. But you kind of have to be there for the social aspect, as some of these guys I literally only see once or twice a year and for me that’s the main reason for going. See friends and share some time with them. It will be interesting to see what happens next year though.

Another Graffiti mural by RemiRough and LXone at the Miami Art Basel
Graffiti mural by RemiRough and LXone at the Miami Art Basel

Do you feel like art on the streets might have gotten less exciting by general acceptance?

I think to a certain degree art on the street has become less exciting but not so much by general acceptance I think it more from the fact that the general acceptance causes artists to stay safe and do the same thing over and over again… There’s so much repetition in graffiti and street art in my personal opinion it’s where Graf and street art are at their closest points: With the repetition!

So few artists are willing to go out on a limb and develop their ideas further. And I can’t for one second believe that some ‘thirty something’ artist has got to the point in his or her career where there’s no more room for development. It’s just a mixture of laziness, fear of critique and possibly even a lack of ideas.

I’ve seen some pretty incredible artwork on the street this year but nearly all of it by people you’ve probably never even heard of…

Graffiti mural by RemiRough and LXone at Miami Art Basel
Graffiti mural by RemiRough and LXone at Miami Art Basel

In that case I have to ask you for some of those names I’ve never heard of, of course (mind you, we saw your best of 2011 list)!

There are others! Marco ‘Pho’ Grassi isn’t on any street art radars, but his art is amazing!! Also Haze who is a total legend, but making some really progressive artwork. Roids is trying out some really interesting work as is Pose from Chicago, but again, few people know them outside of the immediate Graffiti fraternity. Jerry ‘Joker’ Inscoe from Portland is another amazing artist producing really interesting work and he’s taken some really big leaps in the last year with his work. Poesia who runs the ‘Graffuturism‘ blog is a fantastic artist in his own right and recently showed work in Cannes, Glasgow and he curated the ‘In Situ’ exhibition in Miami! Another amazing artist I discovered in 2011 was Rae Martini from Milan, his work is simply beautiful.

It’s funny, there’s so many artists making stunning work, but for some reason, it’s the mediocre that seem to gain the real notoriety. Let’s hope for that to change in 2012! No more big names, just big artists and big artwork!

Do you think there is a specific reason why mediocre artists get so much attention?

I think artists nowadays just bombard us with the same thing and we, the viewers, just get comfortable with it and that comfort causes yet more repetition. It’s all quite cyclic.

Also the artists know how to play the game with social media and lastly the print market, which has been thoroughly rinsed to death my I add! Fuels the repetition with release after release of the image from the last street piece by blah blah blah… It’s all become very homogenised. Street art has been well and truly gentrified.

It’s not all bad though, it’s helped a general acceptance of art in general and a wider appreciation of it too. It’s funny, but a largely disliked art form, started and taken forward by youth has now become one of the most popular genres of art we have. Who’d have thought?

Beneath the City's tears - Canvas by RemiRough, 2011
Beneath the City’s tears
Canvas by RemiRough, 2011
Il Brutto - Canvas by Remi Rough, 2011
Il Brutto
Canvas by Remi Rough, 2011

That brings me to the following – you’ve been busy longer than I’ve been alive! Can you tell me a bit about the time you started out? (Bless us with an old-school story, pops!)

Haha, yeah, I turned 40 in 2011. Still got a few tricks up my sleeve though! I started graffiti in late1984 and did my first proper piece in the spring of 1985 in South London. It said ‘Daze’ and each letter was carefully redrawn from four different pieces out of Subway Art. We had nothing else to draw inspiration from at that time other than Style Wars and Subway Art

The D was from a ‘Dez’ train, the A was from a ‘Randy’ sketch, the Z was from another ‘Dez’ whole car and the E from a classic ‘Skeme’ train.

We finished the wall in broad daylight (not the brightest move…), and subsequently got collared by a passing police car. Whilst waiting in the Police station reception for our less than happy parents to collect us, a Police dog who had been suffering from doggy diarrhoea, did some severe nastiness on the floor of the reception. I’ll remember that nasty smell until the day I die…

Graffiti Mural by Remi Rough at the Stamp festival in Hamburg
Graffiti Mural by Remi Rough at the Stamp festival in Hamburg

You’ve rocked your fair share of illegal pieces, do you still bless the streets with something illegal every once in a while?

I have done a fair share of illegals I guess. Every now and then some rebellious muscle inside me pops out and I have to do a little something. It is within me and it is also an integral part of this culture. It isn’t by any means everything but it’s there nonetheless! I sometimes see runners at London Bridge and something inside me compels me to go back to that, but I manage to mostly restrain myself.

I know your style has evolved a whole lot during the years. Have you had certain moments of epiphany (fuck this – I’m going abstract!) or was it all like natural progression?

I never thought ‘Fuck this I’m going abstract!’ I was actually doing abstracts as far back as 1989 when I hooked up with Juice 126 and we became really good friends. He’d been rocking abstract graffiti work as far back as 1986 and I’d always been slightly left of field even with my more ‘alleged’ traditional graffiti. I’d always seen where it could go I guess I just wasn’t ready to follow it through fully until a few years back, but all the greats I used to paint with were fully left of centre. System, Part2, Stormie and Juice. The whole Ikonoklast Crew was all very geared towards progressive painting. 2 characters, letters and drop 3D was just never part of the equation.

And really I still see letter and line in my new paintings. They’re not wholly abstract to me. All the things I learnt as a writer inform my strokes and decisions.

Wagamama Mural by Graffiti artist Remi Rough
Wagamama Mural by Graffiti artist Remi Rough

Did you see yourself becoming a ‘professional’ artist from the early point on, or is it something you realized in a later period of your life?

No, originally I was planning to be a dancer. I was at dance school for a great number of years and that was pretty much my chosen career path, painting seem to get in the way of it though and there came a point where I had to choose which it was going to be, I chose painting. I suppose from that point I knew I wanted painting to be what I did full time. I’m very lucky, I know some incredible artists who run day jobs to subsidise their lifestyles because art doesn’t pay their bills. So I know just how lucky I am.

Music definitely found its way back into your life, in form of delaying and producing. How did that happened, and how much does it influence your artwork? 

Music is a big part of my life and my art. I started making music about 15 years ago and was part of a band called Reptiles for 10 of those years. We did a few tours, released a few records and had loads of fun, then more recently I’ve been doing some solo musical projects.

I treat music the same way I treat my painting, I use similar reference points and just mould them to my newer ideas. Music has always been kind to me, I released a couple of EPs under the ‘Remdog‘ guise from 2009 up until now and I’ve 2 tracks coming out this month on a NinjaTune compilation album. Plus my ‘Loose Shark Tooth’ album project which I should have done by February. Plus I do a lot of the music for all the Agents Of Change films, so I still keep very busy musically. It’s in my blood.

On the Agents of Change. It must be a thrill to get such amazing talents together and do fantastic projects like that, isn’t it?

As far as AOC is concerned it’s an absolute honour to be a part of such an incredible collective of artists! We’ve also just recruited the amazing Augustine Kofie into our ranks and I think Mare139 will be joining AOC too very soon.

But really it’s such an amazing feeling knowing that once or twice a year I’ll get to work with all these people.

3kings graffiti mural by Remi Rough and System, 2011
3kings graffiti mural by Remi Rough and System, 2011

So I need to ask you, how was that ghost town project? I thought that was just absolutely amazing!

The Ghost Village Project was incredible! From first seeing that place on the BBC News site to seeing it appear over the crest of a hill as we drove up to it, to spending 3 fantastic days painting whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted… All the AOC guys involved in that were amazing and we had Ben Westaway on video duties with Ian Cox on photo duties… Brilliant team, brilliant time! I think what made it so much better was the time that we did it… It was when the ‘art world’ was completely at its lowest point and very few people were making money from art. Then 6 artists travel to the West Coast of Scotland to a village built almost 40 years ago that’s never been inhabited and turn into a permanent art gallery. I guess people just got entranced by the notion of it.

It was actually a pretty dangerous place, there were manholes all over the place hidden by long grass and debris and the covers had long since been moved, there were dead sheep at the bottom of nearly every one, plus the building themselves had some pretty weak floors and ceilings, so we were all very careful. We even ended up painting the local Hotel where we stayed as part payment for our stay; we made some great friends up there and drank an unbelievable amount of whiskey over the 3 days. The surrounding scenery was beautiful too. All in all it’s one of the most groundbreaking and fulfilling projects I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of… We use it as our benchmark for every other AOC project that comes our way.

It sounds amazing! We came across the project not long after we went to the abandoned village of Doel, which wasn’t as abandoned as we thought because it was filled with urbex photographers and street artists! The Ghost Village sounds a lot more exiting!

That’s so cool. I heard about the Doel thing, but the Ghost Village was very very different… I have a whole bunch of other stories from that place, but I’ll save those for the Agents Of Change book due out later this year!!

Do you have any new, awesome projects lined up with AOC?

We’ve been recommissioned by the ‘Future Everything’ Festival in Manchester, where we did the AOC0.3 project in 2010

There’s also a possible project in Detroit that we’re trying to get sorted for later this year which will be very exciting!

And what can we expect from Remi Rough in the future?

As for me, I’ve got a manic year lined up! I have a huge mural I’m doing with fellow Agents; Kofie, LX One and Steve More at the Megaro Hotel in Kings Cross. It’s dead opposite the Eurostar entrance so pretty much the best spot in London. That’s this month; we’ve also done a series of new paintings for the restaurant that opens later this month too which I’m super pleased with. Steve’s pieces for that are awesome and Kofie and myself did two really nice collaborative paintings too.

About Remi Rough

South London born and bred, Remi has been breaking boundaries with the aid of a spray can and a paintbrush for over 26 years. Transcending the traditional and somewhat idealised vision of a graffiti w...View profile