Sweet Toof: It’s harder to paint in NYC…we have CCTV, they have guns
Anyone who has walked through East London is bound to have spotted a pair of enormous white teeth propping up a wall, poking round behind a lamppost, leaning against a corner… Obviously, these rictuses, framed by neon pink gums, don’t belong to one of the local hipsters – all the fags, flat whites and Jägerbombs they ingest have left their gums a sort of ‘McDonalds hamburger grey’. These grins belong to Sweet Toof, one of the city’s most vibrant and instantly recognisable artists.
Like most street artists, he is as secretive as he is creative. He grew up ‘out of town’, but studied Fine Art before going on to the Royal Academy to study Painting and Printmaking. He’s showing a mixture of new and old pieces at a new exhibition, Sweet Revenge, which runs until 19 August.
One of the best things about Hackney Wick station is getting off the train and seeing an enormous pair of your teeth on a roof. And now you’re holding your exhibition there. What’s so special about that area to you?
Around that time [I made those teeth] I remember a lot of heavy drinking, waking up with my hands covered in pink paint and wondering “What have I done?” I have always had a soft spot for Hackney Wick. It’s like a playground, full of textures and history.
In your local area was there much street art? What motivated you to begin?
When I started it was not called street art, it was graffiti, all about painting names. I remember seeing a lot of punks and skins writing. I started scribbling the Madness motive on my school books, I was also into 2000 AD comics and they motivated me to draw characters. Then came hip-hop, along with graffiti to follow. Since then I have become a Graffoholic.
I read in an interview you started paiting in 1986, you must have seen a lot of messages and styles change between now and then. What’s been the most profound for you?
When I started it was more of a name thing. A lot of teenagers were breakdancing or skating, I was into doing wildstyle letterforms. Sometimes I could not read what I wrote, the style of painting was to get the skinny tag, crazy fades and chrome effect letters, now people seem to do anything, they even forget about the outline. Everyone seems to be a street artist! it has become more image based now and the most profound is to think big.
What was your first piece?
Around 1986 I painted a orange and yellow bubble letter hip hop piece, painted in CarPlan and Duplicolour from the five finger discount store.
Do you listen to music when you work?
When painting in the studio my playlist ranges from classical to 1980s electro street sounds. At the moment I keep listening to Radiohead’s King of Limbs. When outdoors I need to keep my ears pealed and listen out for footsteps.
You’ve openly spoken about being inspired by films such as Style Wars, and last year you had your first solo show in New York. How did it feel exhibiting in the city that inspired you so much? Did you have a chance to paint while you were there?
I love NYC and enjoyed spending time in Brooklyn, its skyline excites me. It is a very inspiring place, I managed to paint out there, but it is a lot harder than London. We have CCTV, they have guns. It was nice to take a small bite out of the Big Apple – sleep when you are dead in the city that never sleeps.
What is the message behind the exhibition?
It is a selection of works from over the past four years. The themes vary with a few dark horses. I am still hungry.
What mediums have you used?
The usual suspects have been used oil paint, acrylic, spray paint, ink, wood, canvas, for painting, sculpture and printmaking.
Do you think your work works better al fresco or in a gallery environment?
The gallery environment is like a platform to share my vision the al fresco feeds my ideas and keeps me on my toes.
What else do you like ‘getting your teeth in to’ other than art?
A nice juicy steak.
Your work is very Mexican inspired – have you ever been?
I have not yet had the chance, but I plan to go soon. I love the Day of the Dead and Mexican woodcut prints, I also hear loads of walls are crying out for a lick of paint.
Other than ‘teeth sweets’ – what other sweets were you in to as a youngster?
I remember the fried egg sweet from the pick and mix, not sure about the fizzy cola bottles… I think they’re bad for your teeth?art, graffiti, music, street art, Sweet Toof
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