In 2005, I collaborated with renowned graffiti artist Temper to produce a limited-edition 60-page book exploring his career so far.
The Good Die Young
Losing eight of your close family in a lifetime is devastating. Losing them in a single year is enough to tear your life apart. Racked with grief, Temper dealt with it in the best way he could: he picked up an aerosol can and began to spray his soul onto canvas. After two years of broken sleep, The Good Die Young was complete.
‘This was the start of me challenging myself: on canvas, mentally, technically, publicly,’ he asserts. ‘It was my introduction to this part of my life. People paint icons because they think they’ll sell – for me, this is a craft; this has a soul; this is about life and death. I put it down. I put it on the line.’
More than just ground-breaking, it was officially the UK’s first ever conceptual collection by an aerosol artist. The Good Die Young captures the bereavement process. It’s the work of a man questioning the nature of life itself; a man trying to make sense of a world in which your family can be plucked one by one from your grasp. The same world in which modern icons, adored by millions, can be cut off in their prime. And in a cramped, mouse-infested studio in Wolverhampton, Temper brought the likes of Hendrix, Lennon and Gandhi together in the black-and-white shades of mourning.
He had been stripped of his own relations, and these great figures – united by their vibrant lives and early deaths – helped to contextualise that loss. Each has a certain resonance: ‘Lady Diana’s complexion – the redness of her cheeks; her placid eyes; her hair colour – is so, so similar to my cousin Helen, who died when she was only 25,’ he confides. ‘And my uncle David was like Martin Luther King; he was a schoolteacher. He dropped down dead in front of a classroom full of children.’
‘Some people in the collection – like Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix – are linked with family members that I cherish, who are alive now. There’s an awful lot of reasons why they’re there. But the original idea was about bereavement; they had to be familiar figures for people to understand what loss is.’
With bars across the windows, no running water and no electricity, Temper worked deep into the night in the aptly-named Lucifer’s Loft, and half of the paint that spattered his 27 canvases was sprayed by flickering candlelight. Although not a religious man, the symbolism of the act struck a chord with the artist: ‘It was reminiscent of what you’d see in a church, when people light candles for those they’ve lost,’ he muses. The soft, atmospheric glow also brought a deeper subtlety to the wholly greyscale collection.
‘When you lose someone you feel angry; bitter; confused. You can’t understand why that person’s gone, and your mood in general is very black-and-white,’ he reasons. ‘I was confused; I questioned life, and there’s a numbness there. It also puts an age to the collection: the human brain conceives black-and-white as things past.’
‘It’s about people’s lives – their time – and that time being ended. But when I created these paintings, time was no object. I spent my time ignoring time, to highlight the end of time,’ Temper smiles, pleased to have summed up two years of emotionally-draining work so neatly. ‘To spend an hour working on a highlight; a day on a shadow, or getting the actual shape of an eyelid right to emphasise the soul of that person… the sacrifice of time to create that is what makes me an artist.’