Street Artist A.CE On It's A Stick Up

We hooked up with the notorious paste-up king to talk nicknames, skateboarding and vandals, and also made a video of the master at work in the East End...
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We hooked up with the notorious paste-up king to talk nicknames, skateboarding and vandals, and also made a video of the master at work in the East End...

A.CE: Its A Stick Up.

Paste-up artist A.CE takes us on a late night trip through London’s East End making sure the place looks nice... A short film to mark the launch of the book It’s A Stick Up, 20 tear out paste-ups by 20 of the world’s greatest street artists.

A Sabotage Times Production

Concept - Ollystudio

Film and Edit - Insinc

Music - London Can take It - Public Service Broadcasting

A conversation with A.CE 

So, Where did you get your name A.CE?

I used to play around with letters back in the day when I used to paint and they were just letters that I was comfortable with painting. They of had an easy way of writing in a kind of box style which I used to write at the time, so it just came from that, and I just developed it - it became ACME and ACER, and then back to ACE, and I threw a dot in a couple of years ago.

Okay, so, what is pasting up?

Pasting up is really just putting up posters with wheat paste or wallpaper paste. So I went from stickers and stencils and painting, to photocopying and printing up posters and screen-printing stuff, and then with a bottle or a bucket of paste just getting that stuff up. Its kind of a quick way to get your posters up, it’s like a bill poster or a fly poster or something.

How long have you been a paste-up artist?

I’ve been doing paste-ups for maybe ten, eleven years now, something like that. My first ones were probably around the early 2000s in Brighton and around those kind of areas. Art in general, I suppose I’ve been doing stuff since literally the late eighties, early nineties in terms of tagging or painting or stickers or something. I’ve always been getting it up in some way or another, but pasting-up is the most recent medium, and now it’s been a good ten years or so.

Do you mind me asking how old you were when you first started?

I guess I was like twenty - something like that, when I was taking it a bit more seriously. I was tagging in my teens and younger, but more consciously doing it, I guess, around late teens or twenties.

What thoughts were going through your head when you started to do paste-up artwork?

It’s nerve-racking at first. You don’t really know what you’re doing, there’s a bit of a rush when you’re getting your stuff up and you’re back and you’re all safe, and then it kind of gets a bit easier. You know the ropes and you know what you can get away with, and you know what to do and what not to do, where to do it, when to do it. It becomes a little bit more of a process, less stressful. But I guess you’re always thinking, you know, looking around you, who’s coming, who’s there, you know, is it a safe spot?

Do you get that same rush and that same experience?

To a certain extent yeah, I still really enjoy it, like I miss doing it if I haven’t done it for a while. So, it’s nice to get out there and do it, you feel really free. You kind of get in the zone, it’s less stressful than it was. If you haven’t done it for a while I guess it takes a while to get back into it but it gets easier, yeah.

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Where did your style of paste-up evolve from?

I guess it evolved from stickers, I mean, I can remember, you know, seeing stickers as early as the very early to mid-nineties in skate spots, people tagging stickers, so that was a natural progression. When we first got a computer we were printing stuff, thinking we could start our own skate label and printing stickers and tagging stickers, and there were writers in Brighton that I saw that weren’t just tagging stickers, they were printing their name and I found that really interesting.

So really stickers, it was just the idea of that, just that new medium was exciting to me, you could quickly slap up on a lamppost, and I guess when you start doing that you just think bigger and bigger. So I guess in the same way that graffiti evolved from tagging inside trains to outside, and then throw-ups to pieces, it was just like that, it was the idea of getting bigger, quicker- it would just grow in size, you know.

Is there a reason why you do paste-ups in doorways?

I think they look really at home in doorways. That tends to be where the spots are, where the tags kind of gather, and the fly posters gather, and they just fit there. It seems to work. I like having a doorway with a few tags and stuff. In the hierarchy of things maybe a paste-up sits maybe just above a tag, so it’s maybe justified in going over a tag. It looks kind of good there, I like that composition. Otherwise it’s walls and walls are quite a big space to work, and it’s quite contained in a doorway.

Does skateboarding influence your style in any way?

Skateboarding and skateboard art has had a huge influence on what I do, I think right up there with pop art. I mean, that was the first thing that kind of excited me as a kid. The skateboarding definitely came before the graffiti, and just the graphics in the eighties from companies like Santa Cruz, Deathbox, Powell-Peralta. Seeing that kind of artwork, that bold bright artwork that was just weird and it dictated the clothing you wore and the people that wore it and the scene and that really inspired me and I think that just set me off and it still excites me now. A lot of graphics on t-shirts and skateboards were screen-printed, and screen-printing is a medium that’s important to me, you know, for that aspect, for that reason.

Why did you choose pasting-up?

I guess really it’s quicker? To a certain extent, graffiti is, kind of, there’s a lot of it and it becomes a bit ubiquitous with the city, and there was a point where I started noticing all these paste-ups by people like Shephard Fairey or the London Police or Dave Kinsey or whatever and it just popped. It just stood out, it was something new. It’s quick, it’s cheap, I like the idea of being able to repeat the image in a pop arty way, just being able to have that repetition out there but put it in a space where you don’t necessarily have to get permission or wait for permission to do it, so it just attracted me for a lot of reasons.

What gave you the idea to mix cartoon characters with natural human features?

I like the juxtaposition of things. I mean, for me, things kind of naturally fit together, so if I can kind of see sense in something, I’ll do it. I mean, you know, the natural thing to do is to contrast something that’s so stark, a photo, a half-tone photo with a cartoon because they’re so at odds with each other, but you get a whole new meaning, it’s a transformative thing, you’re taking elements and creating something that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s that duality, you can really just turn it on its head, you can really play around with what its existing meaning is and just create something new. It’s the obvious alternative to all the basic photographs and adverts you see on a day-to-day basis in the papers or magazines or something.

Is there anywhere in the world that you would like to paste-up?

I still wanna hit other cities. I’ve done it in a small way, I mean, not as much as London, so I guess you need to get familiar with a city to know where the spots are, and know when and where to do it. Yeah, I still want to hit up New York a lot more, get out to more cities in the states and around Europe. I haven’t even been to Berlin but I want to get out in Berlin! Paris I haven’t been to in a long time, and the last time I was there it would have just been little tags and stickers and stuff so I’d like to go back and do something decent there.

Have you ever been caught in the act?

Well I got caught once when I wasn’t even pasting up, I just had a bag full of the stuff and the police thought I was breaking into a building. Another time I was with a friend, and that’s pretty much why I don’t like to go with anyone else, I prefer to go on my own so you’re not worrying about another thing too much, you know you can just split, and act the way you want to act and not worry about this extra thing, you just try and style it out.

Do you exercise to have a good fitness level just in case that happens?

Not really! I mean I do bits and bobs and cycling and running and stuff which maybe does keep you fit. I’m on the bike so that gives you a bit of an edge if you need to get away. You need to know back roads and stuff, but I don’t actively kind of do that stuff for that reason.

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Have you ever had a paste-up rival?

There are always other people, you know, you go out in the street and you see other people doing stuff and you kind of think ‘ok, that’s cool’. I had sort of paste-up influences, and people who inspired me to do it. So I guess there’s a hierarchy in my mind. If I go out and there’s like Shepard Fairey or Cost or whoever, you’ve got respect for those people so you maybe leave it alone, although if someone takes your stuff out, then naturally you take it back. If there’re new cats, you maybe take it out and you’re testing them, you know, in the same way that I would have been tested back in the day; it’s not an easy thing. You kind of have to earn your right to be there so you have to persist and expect a bit of beef in the early days. You have to respect people’s work, but there’s a kind of law out there, I guess.

What’s your ambition as a paste-up artist, do you have a message you’re trying to get across?

I dunno if there’s a message or a purpose or an agenda. I just like doing it. It’s public art. I mean you learn from people that they get pleasure from seeing it and that’s inspiring. I might have had an agenda, maybe ten years ago when I was younger, and maybe that was getting up and that stupid idea of fame or whatever, I dunno. I mean, for me the art side of it is more important which is why I don’t just tag. It’s important what I’m creating and I think it can exist beyond the street. Really the street is a gallery for anybody to have a go, and to show the world what they’ve got and I think if you’re generally putting something positive out there then it’s just to be shared and enjoyed, so I don’t necessarily have an agenda too much.

Do you have any rituals before you go out on the job?

Haha, I’m not really religious but I kind of like just pray to make sure it’ll go alright, you know what I mean, just get back in one piece and you know, that kind of stuff. The streets can be dangerous that time of night! It’s a bit silly but yeah.

Do you think what you’re doing is vandalism?

I may have been silly when I was younger, but I try and have a degree of respect now. I wouldn’t actively go over someone’s private property. Street art is much more tolerated so I guess things change on a daily basis. So if you’re still doing things within a kind of more acceptable arena, you know when you’re overstepping the mark a bit.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Craziest thing I’ve ever done… Probably when I was very young, painting very close to fast-moving trains and stuff. I don’t do that anymore.

Have you always been into art?

Probably, more than I thought. I think it really resonated with me when I was a kid. My parents are quite creative and musical and I think they were quite pleased when I ‘found art’, in my teens. I mean I wasn’t really into art at school, it wasn’t until my late teens that it kind of clicked and meeting like-minded people made me realise that I had an interest in art, and then it kind of went from there. It’s always been there, it’s just been untapped at times.

Do you do all your own printing, or is there a trusted shop that you get your printing done by?

I print all my stuff myself in the studio, yeah, so I have control over that. I mean, edition prints get made sometimes by other print houses that can do a more professional job, but my street stuff is printed myself.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a paste-up artist?

It’s strange for me to think that artists would come up from any other way other than doing their time in the street, but that’s just the way I come from. Obviously I know people study art you know, fine art and all that kind of stuff, but for me, it’s kind of like doing your time, so it seems strange to me that someone might get to a certain place of recognition by not doing that. I suppose the other way would be to come up the regular way and just kind of go through the usual game of galleries and shows, but I think that sounds a lot harder to me. So maybe that would be the way, but I don’t know if I would have been able to reach as many people that way.

Do your family know about your other life?

I think they do, I think they try and understand what do, yeah. I’m not sure they do really.

Has Banksy had an influence on how you try to market your work?

To be honest I think that Banksy has undoubtedly had an effect on every artist, whether they want to acknowledge that or otherwise. He paved the way, you know to some extent we’re in his slipstream whether you want to be or not. He opened the world’s eyes to it - perhaps, him and other people. I don’t really know whether he’s necessarily effected how I’ve marketed it? He’s shown us how to play the game, for sure.

What makes your work unique compared to other paste-up artists?

Aside from the different styles and mediums, I guess it’s like anything, it’s like a song or whatever else, you know. You’re the author of that piece, it’s an original piece. I have an intuitive kind of filtering process in place when I’m making and collaging my work. I don’t necessarily start with an agenda but I am making choices, I’m rejecting and choosing elements over others, so it’s personal - it’s my take, if you gave the same fragments and elements to someone else, they would come up with something else. It’s like ingredients, you know, you might make one dish, I might make another.

Do you prefer to use colour over bold black and white prints?

I used to just like black and white, I used to really like the punchiness of that, and I guess that evolved from photocopies. Now I really like to use colours. I used to like just limiting myself to what I had. I liked that raw idea of just going ‘well I’ve got orange and blue here, and it might look terrible together but I’m gonna use that’. And I think you start to think ‘well actually, well maybe you’re putting it out there, you need to think more about what colours you are putting out there.’ I see things all the time in fine art or print or anything else, and I get inspiration for colourways, and I occasionally think well I’ll use elements of that or something. I do think about colour more than I used to, I used to be very black and white.

Do you have any specific favourite colours that you use?

Yeah, someone asked me that recently. I think I go to the art shop or whatever and I’ll look and I’ll go ‘ooh that’s nice, I’ll have a bit of that and a bit of that’ and I tend to go for brights. I’m a kid of the eighties so brights always appeal to me. And when I’m filling in my paste-ups with painting, you always have to add white to give a real bit of extra opacity, so you tend to get a lighter tone, so I tend to have a lot of pastels as a result of that, so you have light blues, light yellows, lilacs, pinks and stuff, so they tend to crop up quite a lot and they contrast really nicely with the black ‘cause that’s what you’re putting on at the end. So, yeah, pastels and brights, I really like.

Did you ever try stencilling or any of the other forms? I mean obviously you used to write as well.

Yeah that was the middle ground. I mean, there was a long time when I was stencilling - just really kind of cutting random things. I collaged as early as the kind of nineties I was doing stuff - I still have bits from like ’97. I found an old book years ago, and I was collaging like old architect’s drawings and stuff over logos. So that was there, then that went on hold because I was developing the tags, still using a spraycan and cutting stencils and then random images. I made one of Shephard Fairey’s face once, as a kind of take on him doing Andre the Giant’s face, I thought ‘I’ll do one of his face’. So then stencils came, yeah for sure.

You do a lot of different formations of your name. You transform it into different shapes, and one you’ve done it into a triangle and you’ve distorted it by putting the full stop in and separating it. Is there a reason why you’ve done that?

Oh, yeah, there’s one where it’s a Mickey face. I mean, graphic design comes into play sometimes, although I’m not really sure if my stuff really would qualify as decent graphic design, but the elements are there. So when you have a piece and you want to complete it with  some text there’s a balance I suppose, so if you put all the text in one place it might look a bit top-heavy. So with this particular piece I placed the text around. Yeah, it was just like ‘if it looks alright?’ you know, it’s just a very subconscious thing. The dots are a more recent thing but I still use old works where I have the Ace thing. I still want to own Ace as well as the A-dot-CE thing.

How important is hiding your identity?

I don’t think you really gain much from putting your identity out there. It’s probably beneficial not to. As I said, the art is what’s important, so I don’t necessarily want to spoil it or enhance it. I don’t know what it would be, but the art’s important to me, that’s what needs to be seen, I don’t really care to show who I am too much.

Check out 'It's a Stick Up' here.