Eighteen months ago, he was a homeless street artist prepared to risk his life and freedom to leave his trademark stickmen across London’s skyline. Today he has become one of British art’s hottest properties with the likes of Brian May and Elton John owning his work. But who is this Stik? Why is his true identity still shrouded in mystery? And why does he insist on only painting stickmen? I tracked him down to a leaky East London lock-up to find out more…
Hi Stik. So what is it with the stick men?
It’s funny that in English we call them stickmen but they’re actually stick people. They’re the essence of a human. That's what you draw when you're a kid. It's beyond gender, race, class and all these adult concepts. It's something quite pure.
So when did you draw your first stickman?
It's not a case of when did I start because I never really stopped.
Why don't they have mouths?
They don't have mouths because they're silent. They're just observing. A lot of art is saying look at me, look at me, look at me. I like to create art that’s looking at you.
Do you have a favourite painting?
There was one on a chimney In Mare Street in Hackney which was opposite the hostel where I used to live. It was right up high, superhumanly high, and it felt like it was watching over me. That had an importance to me and then it got cleaned up which kind of makes it even more special.
You've sold to a lot of musicians: Elton John, Brian May, Tinie Tempah, Chris Martin, Goldie, Ed Sheehan and Bono. Why do you think your work has such rockstar appeal?
Brian May asked me to do a mural in his garden and I did his portrait as well. It's great to go on this journey and meet people that inspired me. But my most important work is on the street because that's giving back to people around me.
"I feel if something is supposed to be there I have a right to do it [laughs]. I think that every time I’m painting a new piece I’m changing the law a little bit."
Just 18 months ago you were homeless – what was that like?
Being homeless is one of the most debilitating things that can happen to an individual. All the support systems rely on you having a home. The issue is why is it so difficult to stay housed? Why is it so expensive to rent?
How did you escape that cycle of poverty?
I have some very supportive friends who supported me and believed in me.
How did your homelessness influence your work? It’s said the best art comes out of hard times…
I think only the most determined work comes out of hardship. Not much comes out of hardship; that's why it's hard.
How are you coping with this sudden success?
I think you’re never two steps away from homelessness. Shit can go wrong really quickly, no matter who you are. There are no homeless people – just people who have lost their home temporarily and are struggling to get it back. It could happen to you very easily.
Despite the commercial success you’re now having are you still painting illegally?
I’m known to the police and to the council but it’s understood I’m very respectful. I have my own set of rules. I don’t paint on anything significantly older than me [he’s in his thirties – but won’t be exact] and I don’t overload one street. One piece is the limit; I don’t want to own a street.
How important to you is the thrill of doing something illegal?
I feel if something is supposed to be there I have a right to do it [laughs]. I think that every time I’m painting a new piece I’m changing the law a little bit rather than breaking it because I’m doing something with positive intent and I’m making the walls look tidier than they were.
I act as a caretaker for the street and I keep my walls really clean. I spend more time cleaning graffiti off my graffiti than I do making graffiti.
Do street artists have the right to paint on public property?
The tower blocks are the fuel cells of capitalism and we’re putting our mark on them - which is something quite radical whatever school of graffiti you come from. It’s an act of defiance – a mark of your own existence. People get sick of adverts but it's very hard to challenge multinational companies so street artists and graffiti artists get the rap. Adverts are exactly the same as tagging - except with their own lighting rig. Advertising is corporate graffiti: every day our line of vision is being bought and sold by companies. But street artists like me just go out and take that space – we’re like the pirates of the high seas plundering their trade. And often we do it better.
Have you ever regretted a piece?
Yes there was a huge illegal piece in Mayfair that I went back and painted it out. I finished it went home and wasn't happy with it. I didn't like how the eyes were so I went back and blacked it out.
Who inspires your work?
As long as walls have existed there has always been graffiti. My roots are the Stone Age carvings and drawings in the Lascaux Caves in France and the hillside figures in Wiltshire and Somerset.
When we look at those cave etchings we can tell a lot about Stone Age man. What can your stickmen tell us about 21st Century man?
I think my message for future generations is ‘Yeah, we’re the people that fucked up the planet but we also had feelings.’ When they’re digging through the ruins and find these images I hope they don’t completely hate us.
How much do street artists like you owe to Banksy?
He has paved the thoroughfare between the street and the gallery and has made it a sustainable lifestyle for a lot of us. We don't have to supplement our art with a separate career and now we can be ‘all in’.
I’m now a full time street artist and have gallery exhibitions. I just had a show in London’s West End called Walk, which was a sell-out, and now I’m talking to galleries all around the world including New York. I’m just deciding my next move.
Like Banksy you operate under a pseudonym. Why is that?
It serves a few purposes. To have a street name allows me to have another completely different personality that has nothing to do with my life. I put on my big sunglasses and my cap and my fluoro jacket and I’m… Stik. It’s like being a superhero.
Go here for more about Stik www.stik.org.uk
This interview is one of a four part series dedicated to ‘Street Talent’ created to mark the launch of the Foot Locker and Lacoste Platinum Collection.
The Platinum Collection’s three styles: Tabor, Centara and Europa are available exclusively at Foot Locker from September 16
Lacoste Tabor White and the Lacoste Centara Black - both exclusive trainers launched as part of a Footlocker/Lacoste partnership.
To find out more go here www.footlocker.eu/gb/en/k/Lacoste-Platinum.aspx
Over the next few weeks look out for more street star interviews including William Spencer, the Skate Ninja who combined parkour and karate to become the real Spiderman.