Anytown U.S.A. There are your skyscrapers, your glitz and glamour. Many have come to see the beauty and spectacle that is Anytown. But, many miss the abandoned buildings, dark alleys and grit that Anytown also has. It is here that untapped potential dares to take a risk, venturing into dilapidated buildings, back alleys and dark streets.
Anytown street. A nondescript street. Like millions of others, just like it, in Anytown. Someone is walking down this very street, like anyone else would in the many other streets in Anytown.
Someone might be just willing to take the risk, venturing into the grit that few have gone. Charlie, has arrived and evil is in the air.
Both Patrick, owner of Vertical Gallery, and Pure Evil himself have both graciously allowed time from their busy schedules to have a talk. It’s a last minute meet up, so my cameraman is on assignment in the suburbs and unable to get on site. Undeterred, I pack up my Nikon, Canon and Sony cameras and setup an impromptu conversation with Pure Evil to get a look at the artist behind the canvas, discuss the world of street art and even some tidbits on technology.
Taking advantage of his time in Chicago, Pure Evil wastes no time and dons a typical city construction worker vest to install street out in Chicago. Several places are adorned with his street signs for the curious and enthusiastic.
Charles Uzell-Edwards, known to many as the artist “Pure Evil”, has come to Chicago for his first solo show, his 3rd in the U.S. this decade. Many may recognize the figures in his pieces bearing the iconic teardrop, or perhaps his vampire bunny, but more are learning about the artist himself, and the work he creates. The bunny itself was adopted by an event in his childhood when he borrowed his cousins shotgun at their countryside home and killed a bunny. The event haunted him and spurred him to create the iconic bunny image, which could be drawn in seconds. The bunny, turned out to be very complimentary to graff, where quick throws and pieces are highly desired trait.
Pure Evil arrived the Sunday before his opening night reception. Working tirelessly, through the day and evening, jet lagged, on new pieces – including prints for the gallery, works on metal, and street signs. Many pieces were created through the week, specifically for his solo exhibition at Vertical Gallery.
He isn’t just painting to fill the walls of the gallery though. Nor is he painting to sell more work on this trip. He paints, for the pure joy of it – the enormous scale of it. Not surprisingly, intense focus, frequent failures (and they can be frequent) and an ongoing hunger to succeed is what keeps not only Pure Evil, but any artist to keep doing what they do.
When he talks about painting, there is almost a childlike exuberance in his expression, and you come to understand just how passionate he is about the work he does. This helps immensely as the path of the artist is not an easy one. Many see the success of Banksy and tell themselves “I can do this.” It doesn’t happen overnight, and it takes a lot of hard work. Much of which is unseen by the viewing audience.
The work in itself is horribly derivative. Many see the successes of Banksy and think, that’s what it takes to be successful, and replicate that, often not understanding the difficult path that is to be endured. He often refers to them as Banksy’s Children, and he advises the importance of artists to be original. “There’s not more than one Banksy out there… We don’t need another Banksy.”
Discovering new ways to do things, challenging yourself, failing, failing again, and again, then improving on what you have done is the hard road that artists are faced with. Indeed, it’s safe to fall into what’s easy and pleasing to people, but in many aspects you cheat yourself out of personal development and growth that you achieve by failing a lot. Sadly, this leads to the misguided view that only when you’re dead will you become famous or recognized…
Pure Evil looks for inspiration in many forms; books, films, other visual art mediums and other artists. They all help him create something unique that stands out. Always striving to become a better artist, he takes on previous successes and builds upon them. Continually pushing his own limits, he has been previously told that perhaps he may be too morbid. From his name, his subject matter or people depicted. To the uninformed, well, it can seem, a bit evil.
His Nightmare Series can be visceral for some, but he believes that in many ways, it’s a reflection of ourselves and our humanity. He looks at people like Natalie Wood, or Audrey Hepburn, surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the silver screen, but underneath the facade, there is darkness. A darkness that could exist in any one of us, if we’re willing to dig deep below the surface.
Success does not come easy. Pure Evils states that staying hungry is key. Becoming complacent is dangerous for an artist. Sticking with what worked, becomes boring. Artists cannot be afraid to make mistakes.
“Everyone has this path of improvement. So don’t be daunted. I think you just have to be hungry and smash it.”
Pure Evil hopes to take the things he has learned on this trip to improve how he portrays his messages and works of art. Following up the hugely successful Blek le Rat solo exhibition, he felt enormous pressure to push his work much farther than before.
He focuses so intently on his craft, that it leaves little time for things like social media. Much of the art the masses consume, especially new artists being discovered, are usually through social media. Social media has changed the art world, especially street art. It has redefined how artists create and showcase their work to the viewing audience. Work can now be viewed anywhere in the world.
In the olden days, many graffiti artists would take Polaroids and only show them off to close friends. They were recognized by their tags and throws – not by their faces for fear of prosecution.
Pioneers like Martha Cooper, helped document the early days of street art and graffiti and bring it to the attention of the public eye. But times have changed. Artists are no longer out at 3am (sometimes), doing a piece at 3A.M. in some dark alley, only to have it “buffed” soon after. Many artists now are doing their work in broad daylight, over the course of many days, in full view of the public and thousands of spectators online. Social media has opened up an incredible new dynamic of how the public views works of art, interacts with it and perceives it.
Many artists are doing the exact opposite of what their forerunners practiced.
The whole thing about street art is that it’s kind of a perfect storm time where you got Instagram, you got Twitter, you’ve got Facebook, [and] these are the places where you find new art and these are the places that street artists have found to use to promote their work.
Pieces can go viral, it’s changed the whole way that art is distributed and the way art is made. People make art on the street and think about the format when they get it on Instagram.
Has street art become not really street art? This is a difficult debate as there are no clear distinctions of what street art is, except perhaps that it is found on the street, but even that is changing. Recently, a gallery on the West Coast, which has had a significant history of working with the art of deceased surrealists, is now turning their attention to living street artists. Street art is what the public wants, gets excited for, and buys… a lot of.
Many of the artists themselves open their own gallery to showcase not only their own work, but fellow street artists as well. Pure Evil’s gallery in London has featured more than sixty artists. Though the scene is constantly changing, street art hasn’t yet reached the point where it is bloated. “…It still feels inclusive, there are these networked connections,” says Pure Evil.
The current network of artists, and the sharing of information between them, keeps things growing and interesting. You don’t have it yet at the point where many are making “loads of money, but enough to do what we do.” He draws analogies with the the path that skateboarding went through from its early days.
“If you fail, you fail again and you fail better.”
I would like to send a big thanks to Patrick, of Vertical Gallery for allowing us use of the gallery and to arrange the meeting with Pure Evil. And to Pure Evil, who as exhausted as he probably was after such a busy week, took a couple of hours out of his day to sit down with me.
A version of this article is available at HuffPo for reading.