When I left St. Martins, I wondered how I was going to continue my art: I wasn’t too fussed about making money, I just wanted to paint! I began sending pieces to galleries but they weren’t interested. So I just decided to take the law into my own hands, and that’s when I started doing street art.
What was your first piece?
I was on holiday, sitting beside the pool drawing, and people kept coming up to me saying how good it was. I had all these sheets of paper and no folder, so as I was getting the plane back I was carefully rolling it all up to make my portfolio. This was the summer after college; I left a year early and was trying to get into St. Martins. My teachers weren’t really hopeful, but I got in!
What artists have inspired your work?
When I was at school I did Religious Studies and my teacher had this book with some mad drawings on the front. On the front cover were drawings of heaven and hell by Hieronymus Bosch. I really admire his work – back then there was no TV or Hollywood, so for the time those ideas are amazing. My aim was to bring fine art to the streets. The 'demonz' are sub-human characters, they are demon builders, demon firemen, demon police, demon soldiers. I’m agnostic but I believe in reincarnation – you see a rundown wall and you repaint it – giving it an artistic reincarnation.
What equipment do you use?
Permanent worker pens. You have to make sure that they are weather proof, in the past I had used pens that faded in the sun or were washed away in the rain. Now, I use much more robust material, spending the extra tenner to make it last.
Do you earn a living now from street art?
Yes! In 2009, I started painting on the street and by 2010 I had started making money. Before that I was working on building sites and doing the occasional commission, but now I just paint. A lot of my commissions are for big events like the Olympics or the Jubilee, but I have also done some stuff with well-known characters like Porky the Pig and Bob the Builder. Demon heads have become my symbol!
Your work was featured on The Apprentice earlier this year, with the team representing you winning their task! What impact did that have on your career?
I got a lot more contact via Facebook, from fans and people wanting commissions. I then did a sponsored event with CASS, an Open Art Scheme so anyone could join in, to promote reclaiming public spaces. We have started making documentaries, ‘Nathan Bowen in...’, and have loads of footage of Croatia and Paris and we’re also going to the Philippines. It’s going to be a series.
Why don’t you feel protective of your identity?
For me, being open has helped. I used to be part of a train track crew but times have changed, and I’m trying to break out of the negative ‘hoods-up’ image. Graffiti can be a really sad and dangerous game; street art is much more profitable. The idea is to make the area look better, not worse, and some of this graffiti is just vandalism. I like others painters like Invader, Rower and Pez.
Visit Nathan's blog for more information about his work.
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