Don't Panic Poster: Vermin


01 Monday 01st November 2010
Line, stroke or slash, however you perceive it, it’s Vermin’s signature symbol. Oil paint as his weapon of choice, he transforms bare canvas into an explosion of colour and emotion. He’s worked his way through serious mental health problem and is now established as one of the most popular graffiti artists in the UK. On 10.10.10, he opened his 101 exhibition in Bristol. In 101 days he completed 101 oil paintings, all different but infused with his unmistakable style. Within one minute of the exhibition opening all of the paintings had sold out, proving the public’s growing appreciation for street art of all types. This week, the A3 poster that you find in our packs has been designed by Vermin, and we’ve spoken to him about his art and inspiration.
You’ve recently achieved great success with your 101 exhibition, with all 101 paintings selling out within the first hour. What made you think of and start the project?
It was a case of getting over excited really, my first collection of work sold within six hours on-line through Art-el Gallery. Mike (Art-el) phoned me and said “OK, what’s next home slice?” I replied with “101 canvases in 101 days – Room 101”. He’s like, “Are you crazy? I know you have been mad but…”  It came about from the novel 1984 by George Orwell, I drew many personal parallels with the story in relation to my own experience in a mental institution. I read the numbers ‘101’ as ‘life death rebirth‘, very deep, hard to explain almost, but this was portrayed in the exhibition.
You completed 101 paintings in as many days, where did you find the inspiration to keep you going through it all? 
There was a lot of talk throughout the whole preparation of this exhibition.  As it was being hyped, it was gathering interest along the way so I knew I had to produce a good show.  I had a personal story and I had unswerving faith, but it was hard. I had a lunch time pint break! I would pull out my little impressionism book that I carry around with me, read, look at the brushstrokes, get inspired and paint another piece in the afternoon. I was painting two paintings per day. I don’t think I could have been in the studio for 8-10hrs for three months without that half an hour headspace. 
Was there a particular message you were trying to convey with the collection?
The installations were the way to deliver the message.  Many visitors to the exhibition said that after seeing the installation pieces they looked at the paintings in a completely different light.  The paintings were a gradual learning curve of progression, inspired by the slick styles of the late 1800s, but mark making the letter form ‘vermin’ within every painting (hence, fine art of graffiti).  The work became more abstract as my artistic skills were developing.  Overall I just wanted to do something different. In the current climate of pop art graffiti I wanted to explore something that no-one else was doing. I took a risk and it paid off, I put myself back into the space that I found myself in just over 10 years ago.  It was about bringing my unreality from the mental institution into reality, a celebration.
What would you say your favourite painting of the collection was? 
There were a quite a few that I really didn’t want to sell. Some that I felt emotionally attached to. It would be hard to pick out a personal favourite, it was a journey from start to finish writing 'vermin'... my taste changes from day to day, and they look different at different times.
Your paintings look at home both on a hung canvas and a crumbling brick wall. Do you consider yourself a graffiti artist or something else entirely?
I don’t consider myself a graffiti artist.  I come from a graffiti background, painting on the streets since 1986.  I enjoy painting letterforms but times have changed. Many people who label themselves graffiti artists now are actually far from it. I hate labels. I practice graffiti but I am far from being a vandal.  I am an artist and not a clone….
You have a history of quite serious mental health problems. Do you use the experiences you collected during those times when creating and planning your work?
The tag ‘vermin’ is very deep for me on a personal level. I’ve actually lived my name, the label that I chose. I have been lucky enough to step away from vermin and create true art around it, using my story and my experiences in dealing with depression and mental health.  Seriously, when you are young and choose a tag, how many other artists can stand up and say I have lived that name?  It’s something that I chose, and question, did it choose me?  I chose this life didn’t I?
The poster you’ve done for us is one of your slightly more aggressive pieces. What was going through your mind when you created it?
It was my first painting on the back of the show. For the first time I was able to just go a bit crazy on a much larger scale with no serious time constraints  I just kept layering the work and let the piece take its course. Forceful brushstrokes. I am feeling the abstract expressionism of the 50s at this moment, artists like Willem De Kooning and Joan Mitchell for example.
Are you happy with the outcome?
Yes, I’m pleased with the outcome. It was good to paint on a larger scale rather than the restricted canvases that I worked on throughout the exhibition.
What do you want people to think when they see the poster?
That’s a hard question, but I’d like people to think what they want to think.  When asked to do the poster I considered painting a pop style poster to advertise myself as a brand, then I realised that is everything that I am not. I really hope people like it and see some sort of intenseness from where I have come from as an artist. I am an emotional person and I think greatly about beauty but also think heavily about the darker moments in life. I’m still and always will be a paranoid person. 
What have you got coming up after this exhibition? Are you working on another collection? Maybe an international commission? 
I’m currently working on 10 pieces to go to the US at the end of November as part of a group show. There are a few projects in the pipeline for abroad next year, along with a further solo show following on from Room 101, where the plan is to exhibit a new body of original paintings here in the UK in 2011.  
Are you planning on doing anything in London? Something that we could check out?
I have nothing planned in London at this point, but I always enjoy visiting and seeing what everyone else is doing up there.
Books are available from the exhibition - To order please contact


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