Walking around East London, it is hard not to spot a series of colourful, bold portraits artworks from different cultures and backgrounds. Ant Carver, an upcoming London – based street artist, who mixes traditional art with contemporary. Underground caught him days before his second solo exhibition in London ‘Paradise’, had a talk with him about his inspiration and thoughts on street art, and his future plan.
When did you first hit the streets? What was your motivation then?
Ant: I started writing graffiti when I was 13. I started off with the traditional New York style graffiti that I’d seen pictures of, but pretty quickly realized that letters weren’t my thing. Later I started to experiment with painting figures and more portrait based work. At the same time I started working with oil paints on canvas and over time the two techniques and styles have merged into the way I paint now.
What/who is the inspiration of your style?
Ant: There are loads. I’ve always liked portrait painters. I like a lot of street artists as well as more traditional painters. My favorites would probably have to be Lucien Freud, Jenny Saville, Conor Harrington and Rone.
When I was younger I was more into graffiti writers and artists that produce a lot of work on the streets. I still find inspiration from lots of different artists working with different styles and techniques.
Your work actually reminds me of Lucien Freud – the structure of the portraits.
Ant: Wow thanks!
You studied fine art, how did you link it to the bold street style?
Ant: How did you find that out?
We stalked you obviously haha
Ant: Haha. I did fine art but I realised it wasn’t really for me. I don’t think I was ever very good at being told what to do, or producing work to a marking system. But it gave me three years to figure out what I really wanted to do and gave me a better idea of how to do it.
Apart from the faces we can recognise, who are the people in your artworks? And how do you choose your characters?
Ant: They’re a mixture of people from all over the world, models and a few people I know. It depends what I’m working on at the time. For my most recent exhibition I really wanted to concentrate on painting portraits of people from different parts of the world. It involved a lot of research of different cultures and finding the right people to paint to create a body of work.
Which one is your fav so far?
Ant: It’s a hard one to call, but I think my favorite painting I’ve done on the streets would have to be the portrait of Inka Williams I painted in Philadelphia. It’s the largest wall I’ve painted and the feedback on that one was really positive.
How has street art around Shoreditch / Hackney changed in the last few years? Where do you see street art moving to in the future?
Ant: I think the biggest change over the last few years has been that a lot of the walls that people could paint on have been knocked down. There are so many building sites now, where all the hoardings are painted on, but there are very few permanent walls left. The buildings keep being knocked down and the work disappears with it. I think people will always find a way or somewhere to paint, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.
You work on the street and you also have a studio in Hackney? What’s the difference between working indoor and outdoors?
Ant: In my studio, I basically spend 8-12 hours listening to music and painting. It can be very isolating at times, but it’s also nice to be able to really concentrate on the painting and work without any real distractions. On the street there’s often a lot of people around and you get to see their immediate reaction to the work. Both good and bad feedback, it is interesting to see how people react.
It is like an actor doing TV show or a play.
Ant: Yes exactly! And also you cannot hide your work on the street so you have to try and get it right the first time, there is a bit more pressure in that way. In the studio I can spend time on the details but I have to be a lot faster outdoors, which tends to make the work a lot looser.
For me it’s good to be able to do both. I love working in the studio, but after a few months of working on a show it’s nice to get to work outside. With the canvas work I can take my time and really concentrate on the details and experiment with the way I work. On the street the work has to be produced a lot quicker.
Have you been any trouble when you are painting on the street?
Ant: A bit when I was younger. I got arrested and stopped by the police a few times. A lot of them involved drinking too much and thinking it was a good idea to go painting.
One time I was trying to fix and finish this work on a wall by a roundabout. A police car pulled up just as I was finishing. Obviously I tried to run away and ended up just running along with the police car driving next to me with them saying: come on could you just stop, there is no way you are running away. I had to spend a night in a cell, but nothing too bad haha.
What’s your ultimate goal?
Ant: To just carry on doing what I am doing, I don’t think there is an end goal just to try and keep improving every year and work on new work and new projects. It would be nice to travel to more places, do more shows and paint more works. I don’t know what my ideal goal is, I just want to keep doing new things and to hopefully carry on painting as long as I can.
Ant: The work for this show is a continuation of my work over the last few years. I’ve been interested in exploring the theme of portraits of people from different places and backgrounds. For this show I wanted to push the idea further and produce a series of portraits of people from all over the world, especially looking at different cultures like in the paintings of the Ethiopian Tribes woman and the Indian Holy Men. It’s been pretty non-stop painting for the last 6/7 months.
This series of portraits is about diversity, inclusivity and positivity. There are lots of different people and cultures throughout the world, but we should be celebrating those differences not pushing them away.
Any other plans for 2017?
Ant: I’m just sorting out plans for a show in New York at the end of next year. I’m also hoping to go and paint some walls in a few different places.
Underground inspires and is inspired by British subculture, both contemporary and from before. Is there a sub-culture that inspires you? Or which subculture you identify the most?
Ant: I like the idea behind all sub-cultures. It is like a step out of the main culture and shows people making their own rules. I don’t think I would personally identify with any particular sub-culture, but I organize my exhibitions by myself. I like to be in charge of what I do and be able to do what I want so I think I relate to anyone with a sort of DIY attitude.
Thanks Ant, keep creating great artworks and wish you have a new year full of successes!
Our ongoing series of reports on emerging and established artists with close-up Q&As, gallery reports and exhibition reviews, with a special emphasis on supporting diversity in art, women in art and the independent art scene.
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