So, I’ve already mentioned, a couple of times, that Vinnie Nylon has a show coming up at High Roller (10 Palmers Road Bethnal Green E2 OSY) between the 8th of September and the 7th of October (private view and drinks Friday September 7th 6-9pm). It gave me the idea that I should interview him for Ektopia. Now, Nylon has done plenty of interviews in print and online over the years. When I thought about interviewing him I wondered what I would be able to bring to the table. We’ve been in contact with each other for years now – old Flickr friends, you see – so I figured that our friendship could be the angle. He suggested that I fire over the questions but that’s not what I had in mind. I wanted to have a chat, face-to-face. So, I invited him around to Ektopic Towers, poured him a pint of out-of-date bitter shandy and this is how it went down…
Ektopia: The first thing I want to ask relates to anonymity. The new promo video for the show clearly shows your identity. I’ve always know you as a person who values your anonymity highly. What’s changed?
Vinnie Nylon: It always used to be about graff. Everything I’m doing now is moving in a new direction, well it has been for years really. I think it comes down to whether you genuinely believe that you’re doing anything wrong. I’m putting on an art show. I’m just focusing on my art in general.
Ektopia: But while what you’re doing now isn’t graff-based, there still is a connection with what you’ve done in the past, right?
Vinnie: Yeah, but that was something that I used to do and it’s really only people that are into it that would make that connection. There isn’t a tenacious detective whose been following me for the last ten years. Who cares. Covering up your face and acting like a Sandinista is just old hat and pretty pretentious. You know… I just think that sitting there with a balaclava on is a joke. It’s over for that now. A clean slate. This is like carte blanche for me. It’s a new chapter. And I’m not at all coming off the back of old achievements in graffiti and saying, “Hey, come and buy these paintings because I did a load of graffiti years ago”. To me, the two are unconnected. There’s no kudos I’m trying to use from the past. I’m not trying to say, “I’ve earned this because I did that in the past”. I want people to see this [new work] through unbiased eyes. I want people to come and see someone who is into this kind of theme or visual language and not to have to try and sell them anything by telling them that I did all this stuff years ago so therefore this must be cool… that’s not what I’m all about.
Ekt: And is that how you’ve always felt about the fine-art side of things that you’ve done, or do you feel that in the past they’ve been one and the same?
VN: The’ve actually always been separate. I did ten years in Brighton and then did quite a lot of graff and got quite well known for it. I continued up until the peak at around 2004 in this part of the world. But I had always done freelance art work and graphic design. I sold the odd canvas although none of this was like graff. That was always a separate thing. It was always just a hobby that was not geared towards any sort of gain of profit or notoriety.
Ekt: And how to you like to call your work? Because I don’t think I’ve heard you call it fine-art.
VN: It’s more lowbrow pop or pop-surrealism. It’s hard to pigeonhole. I can only really feel that sense of identity with people like the other ex-skateboarder – people that designed skateboards or worked in that industry in graffiti – people like those in the whole Beautiful Losers thing. That whole visual subculture; people that came out of surfing, tattooing, sign writing…
Ekt: Sounds like lowbrow to me.
VN: Well, yeah, maybe… but I don’t know what it is. Does it cease to become lowbrow when someone ends up selling a piece for six figures. Is it still lowbrow? I think it is. Money doesn’t change anything but the price tag. You can’t chance the essence of an artist or their art just because their work is worth something. That’s beyond the artist’s control.
Ekt: What are your thoughts on the writers that push their graff straight onto the canvas. Why don’t you do that?
VN: I wouldn’t and couldn’t do that. Graff is something to do for fun. Graffiti is not for sale. It has to be a free roaming thing. You just go and do it and that’s that. If there’s something there to be painted – a freight train, a track side, a shop shutter – it’s all the same to me. But what I won’t do is take graff and sell it on canvas. It becomes disarmed… it ceases to have power. It should be out there, seven or eight foot high… that’s all there is to it.
Ekt: The reason I ask is that I’ve noticed that there are never any elements of graff in your fine-art but quite a lot of your fine-art creeps into your graff. I’m thinking of the time when you used to put elements of glassware that you collected into your pieces. You did some canvases as well as walls and other sporadic pieces in that style. And of course, there are the characters that appear in both.
VN: There’s always been some experimentation going on. Part of the reason I would step to the wall and paint a load of semi-abstract stuff was because I like to paint big, and I couldn’t paint a canvas that size; it was nice to dance around a huge wall and I ended up with huge paintings. Because it was on a wall it didn’t mean it was graff… it was just playing. Painting on a wall or painting on a canvas….it’s all just a bit of fun.
Ekt: But they were similar right?
VN: Yeah, I was just doing my thing. At the time I was making a move not to be bound by graff convention. People were saying that you had to do this or that. Rules that were binding people after so many years. I just thought, “fuck it, I’m just going to paint something that looks like some fabric print or something”. Every now and then you just have to breathe.
Ekt: And has your writing been an influence on your fine-art? Is there a conscious link between the two?
VN: They are all just things i do. I don’t see a link. They’ve always coexisted side by side, whether it be designing clothes or skateboards… or even when I worked as a layout planner for a newspaper and was putting in 50s clip-art, back in 1990.
Ekt: So, the pieces for the show are all new pieces but do you see them as being something completely new? A new series, as such?
VN: Well I want continuity but I want them to be seen as a better version of my work from the past. I’m learning all the time. Paint is a cruel mistress.
Ekt: How are you feeling about the results of your latest pieces?
VN: They’re just how I want them to look. They’re matt black tray-framed and varnished and they’re starting to take on a whole look collectively. When they sit together they already look good together. I’m looking forward to seeing them on the white wall of the gallery. There’s a cross pollenation of imagery, just playing around with everything.
Ekt: Tell me about Poptimism
VN: It’s kind of a tongue in cheek look at what happened after the second world war, in as much as I think that people had this barrage of new distraction fired at them. You know, it was like, “let’s forget about this nasty war”. The advances in technology that had come about because of the war were now being put to new uses. There were new plastics coming out at the time. Advertising went bananas and television was suddenly a bit more of an affordable reality and it was all just like a big machine pointed at you and uttering “Everything’s going to be OK.” My paintings are taking all of this, absolutely everything, and putting a stupid plastic grin on it. It’s about distraction and about the way that you’re seduced by these hideous mutants… I don’t even know what these things are but these teeth with faces on are the stuff of nightmares, if you care to examine it. And even the toys – you know, the squeaky bear with the picnic basket – everyone that’s seen that at mine thinks it’s downright creepy. It got me to thinking that there’s such a sinister side to these dolls and advertising mascots and their fake smiles and grins… they’re plastic.
Ekt: One person’s junk…
VN: There’s a piece in the show that looks at the nature of this throwaway sentimentality that people attach to complete junk. It’s weird. How much of this stuff are they making? How many more of these things do we need?! I find this really odd. You’re really supposed to become attached to these things that are nothing more than a piece of throwaway junk, a piece of fluff from China. But people can’t seem to throw it away. They have to sell it, they’ve got to get 10 or 20 pence for it. Here today and gone tomorrow mass production that you see in their thousands at car boot sales in bin liners.
Ekt: Ahhh, but you do hit those bags and find the good stuff at the bottom!
VN: Because I’m looking for the hideous ones, the really awful twisted things like poodle toilet roll holder and the clowns. I want all the ones that no one else wants. And in that there’s a sense of rescue, you know, [laughs] they’re really rejected things, really daft toys. I’ve held things up to people before and they’ve burst out laughing and said to just have it for free; they can’t even bring themselves to ask for money for them. It’s a complete obsession for me.
Ekt: And these characters play a major part in the show, right?
VN: They’re like Frankenstein’s monsters. The little boy from Wrigley’s chewing gum or Beany & Cecil or the Esso man. I don’t try and reproduce them, I paint them in my own way. My hands start freeing up and it looks more natural and fluid. There’s no point in me copying them and making them look the same. I take all those elements of that visual language and I have my own characters like Bright Spark, My-T-Tooth and Valvo. They’re not from boxes. They’re mine. I’m joining in with the genre… celebrating it.
Ekt: Which, brings me nicely to my next question. I was going to ask you about your toys. You’ve already said it really… it’s an obsession for you.
VN: Yeah, and it’s part of the show. I’ve been buying these things for over twenty years.
Ekt: Part of the show as in part of the show?
VN: There’re going to be a couple of sculptural pieces involving toys because they’re just so odd. We don’t think like that because we don’t stand there and pull things apart as an artist. Everybody just soaks it up and accepts that that’s the way it is. You know, like blue booties – oh, It’s a girl, we better make some pink ones. It’s all just programming. Ever since I was a kid, everything people said, I just went the other way. I think you have to challenge all these preconceptions and this conditioned way that everybody thinks. There seems to be no end to it.
Ekt: What about photography? You used to have an amazing Flickr account, which has long gone now. You current one doesn’t have quite the same focus but…
VN: I don’t do photography!
Ekt: But you do!
VN: I just take photos of my art and other bits and pieces. Everyone takes photos, I’m just noticing things that catch my eye and recording them for whatever reason, it’s more collecting than photography.
Ekt: But you don’t just snap away, do you! You really see through the camera. Your photography has certainly been an influence on mine.
VN: Really? Well you see something that you like and take the photo. Technically, I can’t photograph for shit! I still see though, regardless of not using a camera all the time. I never get bored of it because I’m always looking and absorbing, always looking at compositions and textures. I view the world differently. When you grow up skateboarding or painting or painting on things or sticking stickers on things… you look at all the stuff that nobody looks at. You look at the world in a different way.
Ekt: I know what you mean. I see the world like that too.
VN: But I’m thinking, “Can I reach that thing up there. Has that thing got moss on it? Is this sticker going to stick or fall right off tomorrow? Is someone going to peel it off tomorrow? Is this boarded up window so past it that no one will bother to clean up my tag or shall I put it over there?”. We look at things completely differently. You know… I love it when you see a ledge and it’s got that worn smooth wax where people have hit it so many times with skateboards. I love the way that it catches the light. It’s an object that’s somehow absorbed all these little stories. It’s something great about looking at the city. It’s an end result of many hands.
Ekt: These things can take years and years to change… hundreds of thousands of impacts makes those changes over the course of a long time.
VN: There’s so much to be said for wear-and-tear and patina of objects. They get to a stage where they’re perfect. They have an un-fakeable history.
Ekt: And you’re not afraid to take one of these objects and paint on it, are you? It must be a graffiti thing I guess but I’m not necessarily talking about painting on walls. I’m talking about the objects that you paint in your fine art. You have some vintage gas cans that you’ve painted on for your show.
VN: It’s like what I mentioned earlier. It comes down to whether you really believe that you’re doing something wrong or not and that you’re adding to something to an object rather than taking it away.
Ekt: But some would say that it was almost sacrilegious in some way. We’ve spoken about this before but it’s like the haters that criticise writers for painting in abandoned buildings.
VN: People get so precious about things don’t they? Do they know why though?
Ekt: It’s like they think that an old object has to be preserved as is.
VN: But it’s not going to be. Everything is just transient and ephemeral. You can’t be precious about the art that you put on it either. Someone can come along and paint some art over your art. But layers build up on it… it’s like make-up and everyone’s having a go. But I don’t understand people getting precious about empty buildings. There’s no way that those spaces will be sealed up and left as a monument. It’s not going to happen. It’ll get knocked down. This will go to scrap, that will go to architectural salvage and they’ll build something new there. It’s just another chapter in the last days of it’s life.
Ekt: Moving on – you’re a real colour lover and you really focus on geometry. Is this to do with your art or something separate?
VN: There’s just not enough colour in this country.
Ekt: Just this country?
VN: Well, yeah, I just love colour. Everywhere you go you don’t see enough colour. When you do, it just stands out even more. You walk down Tottenham Court Road and everyone’s wearing black. You go into the underground and see this Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic and I just stand there, staring at it…
VN: Yeah… I could be in Barcelona.
Ekt: And how about the geometry, the layers, the lines and textures…
VN: The thing that has happened to me that I can put on par with my panting is the whole split screen thing.
Ekt: That’s what I’m talking about.
VN: The whole idea of when two things come together and collide you have this complete energy… a clash! You know, I can take a picture of a corner of a wall with this fantastic texture and next to it will be something else, it’s like two different pictures. I’ve been wanting to do that in my painting; mask half a painting off and do a completely different picture on the other side. I’ve not had the balls to do it yet but I really do want to.
Ekt: We spoke about this recently didn’t we. We looked at an Alex Katz piece. I was saying that I didn’t like the piece but the way that the four paintings were hung together really had an energy where they butted up together.
VN: Exactly! It’s the meeting of two things that’s so important in art and it’s what forms the basis of some of my paintings. I attempt to take two or three things and I try and put the elements of my obsessions together and make one single thing.
Ekt: And while there’s no split screen stuff going on in your paintings at the moment, there’s a hint of it going on in the zine you’ve put together for the show, isn’t there.
VN: Yeah, I’m fully into it. I don’t want things to be completely fluid. I want things to jar when you let happy accidents happen and visually see what happens when you put this next to that and leave it… it’s done. It’s hard though. It’s hard to be brave enough and harder still to have the guts to step away from it and say it’s done. But it must have been harder for people like John Baldessari who just takes an image and adds something to it and jars it. It just throws up all these new questions. This does more for me visually.
Ekt: It’s like the look when computers visually glitch. When computer hangs and the image becomes randomised and doesn’t join up. Do you know what I mean?
VN: Yeah, but I’m biassed because I grew up with analogue and looking at post war printing. It was always that little bit offset… slightly out of register. I was always drawn to it. It has life to it. Character. I was never interested in things that were incredible well painted or photorealistic. I was always looking at the real chunky painters like Jim Flora and the like. People like Robert McGinnis, the way that he used to paint those paintings for James Bond film posters. Masses of scratchy lines and chunks of paint that make up absolutely stunning paintings. These artists are so in command of what they’re doing but are able to step away from it. A confidence not to torture it by painting every little line perfectly and polish it to death. That kind of thing just doesn’t appeal to me.
Ekt: Well that brings me to the future. Do you think that that’s where you’re heading artistically?
VN: Well I’m certainly not throwing all of my tricks into my first show so there’ll be parts of what we’ve talked about cropping up.
Ekt: What are your ambitions, apart from finding something neat online before I do!?
VN: I wouldn’t mind living in a nice converted chapel in Barcelona with mountain on one side and the sea on the other. That would be cool. Mountain biking in the morning, swimming in the afternoon.
Ekt: Right, you can go now. I’m going to bed! Any shout-outs before you go?
VN: Big up to all my homies who didn’t make it on lock-down in Ryker’s and UNICEF Pony Trekking Club in Guernsey for everything they do for the deaf!
Now that’s more like the Vinnie I’m used to!
It’s clear to me that it’s been a long road for Vinnie. He’s a real artist. He lives it… breathes it. He can’t not do it. His unique style is very much about him. He’s getting it out of his system. Poptimism feels like the start of something really exciting. I can’t wait to see the show and even more excited to see what he’ll create in the future… which is looking bright.