In 2005, I collaborated with renowned graffiti artist Temper to produce a limited-edition 60-page book exploring his career so far.
‘I didn’t want to see faces; I didn’t want to see limbs. I wanted them to look awkward. That awkwardness is what I call reality, as an artist. When you watch someone do a backspin you don’t see their feet, you don’t see their face, you do not see their features – and that’s the purest essence. Painting breakers static isn’t reality. What makes you excited about breaking is the speed of it; the not seeing. If I see somebody doing a windmill, the faster the windmill is the more excited I am. I wanted to capture that on canvas.’
Move’s apparent unreality stems from this quest for realism, based on lightning-quick charcoal sketches of breakers, djs and sportsmen invited to perform in Temper’s studio. But as a result, it’s not an easy collection to have on your wall. ‘You look at it and it feels like it’s shaking; it’s going to give you a headache,’ he observes. ‘But if art was always about playing it safe – doing collections because they sit right – I wouldn’t be an artist.’
‘This isn’t a natural way to paint. I think that’s why nobody’s painted like this, or probably will for a long time. It’s not a style that comes comfortably: you have to look at everything in double vision. You know there should be a leg there, or a foot there, but you’ve got to ignore it. You’re working in blurs – it doesn’t look right, but it’s not supposed to. If you watch something move and then stop it, the honesty of that stop is what I’ve painted.’
Wordplay in the lengthy title of each piece acknowledges landmark names in the history of the culture: ‘The Tables Turned for Hercules’ is a respectful nod to Godfather of hip-hop Kool Herc, while ‘Charlie Chased Them Through the Short Cut to Islamic Africa’ flags up pioneering djs Charlie Chase, DJ Shortkut and African Islam. There’s reference to Harlem Globetrotters’ founder Abe Saperstein, renowned breaking crew Street Machine and Bubbles, the UK’s first female breaker.
Keen to get the entire subject out of his head and onto canvas once and for all, Temper poured out this pioneering 50-piece collection in just a month. ‘I can get someone to quote this: I did not sleep for four weeks. Literally didn’t sleep. A few power naps. To be truthful, after I’d done the collection, I collapsed in exhaustion. But I enjoyed it.’