Past Times: Upfest came to Bristol last July, transforming Bedminster into a blank canvas for some of the world’s most talented graffiti and street artists. Jenny Hayes met up with a few of the guys involved.
SPZERO76, STREET ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR
How did you get into the street art scene?
I came to UWE to do illustration, so that was my introduction to Bristol and the graffiti and street art scene. After uni, I worked as a freelance illustrator and moved to Manchester to take up a job with a games company. I’d always thought that if you didn’t have a job doing illustration for a company, or if you didn’t have an agent, you hadn’t quite succeeded. But then I realised it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I came back to Bristol and started focusing on doing my own stuff, in my own style. Because of that, I didn’t actually pick up a can until three or four years ago, so I’m late on that. I was friends with all the guys that used to exhibit back in the day, but I never actually went out and picked up a can. That only came later when I was doing legal walls and things. So I’ve never been illegal like graffiti writers – I want to create a piece of art, but I don’t want to have to run from the police. I want to be able to finish the piece in my own time, so I guess that makes me a street artist.
That was a brave move, but it seems to be working out well – haven’t you worked with some big clients over the last year or so?
Yeah, this year I’ve done things for Lambourghini, Samsung, the BBC, a new beer brand – it’s been really good. But it isn’t all my crazy stuff with the skulls and everything, it’s more sensible. Is the skull your signature motif? I think because I’ve really been pushing as a street artist over the last three years, he was initially a character that people could recognise. At first I found him really hard to paint, but he’s quite easy now. I don’t use him as much as I did, but I still like to pop him in every now and again. And there are plenty of other bits to look out for – little crosses in belly buttons, and the SP with a love heart that’s kind of my tag – just to confuse things even more.
So what inspired your name, SPZero76?
It stands for Solo Production Zero Talent since 1976. It stems from back in the late 90s, when I’d first moved to Bristol. I was friends with the artist China Mike, and started getting to know all the street artists – Inkie, Jago, Dicey – and everyone had a tag. So back before I was even spraying I wanted a tag, but Solo was gone, and then I wanted my email address to be SPZero, but that had gone, and SPZero1, and so on, so I had to be SPZero76. If I could I’d change it, as when people ask me my tag I’ve usually lost them at ‘SP’, but I’ve had it for about 16 years now so it’d be too confusing! It’s also ironic, because I’ve been crewed pretty much since I started spraying walls.
How did your crew, Lost Souls, come about?
Well the four of us – Si Mitchell, Squirl, Captain Kris and me – all come from different cities, and we wanted to get a group of artists to meet up one day and paint in London. We did invite other people, but it was just the four of us that turned up so we figured we’d keep it like that.
What’s it like working collectively with them?
It’s good, because if we’ve done a wall and I’m not particularly proud of the part of it I’ve done, I can still walk away happy because I really like all their artwork. Except one wall, which I still hate…
When did you start attending Upfest?
I’ve been involved for quite a while. Ages ago I used to run a project called Collaberation Nation on Facebook, which was a network tool for artists. I then approached Upfest, who gave me a whole room, and I invited down as many Collaberation Nation artists as I could to do a massive collab.
What’s so special about the festival?
It’s great to have both Upfest and See No Evil in Bristol, but See No Evil is more about big artists coming from out of town. Upfest has a lot of smaller, local artists so every time you go back you bump into more and more friends. The team behind the festival put a lot of hard work into it too, and I don’t think people always realise that. But because I’ve spent quite a lot of time down there over the years I think, ‘wow, the amount of work that goes into prepping and organising this event.’ As an artist, you just turn up and paint – and I definitely appreciate that.
Upfest supports local charity NACOA (National Association of Children of Acoholics). As well as providing a number of services to children across the UK, they operate a free helpline, tel: 0800 358 3456. For more information visit: www.upfest.co.uk