With countries around the world on lockdown for the past month it can be something of a challenge to find creative inspiration. But that has not stopped south London street artist Remi Rough who has recently published the "Emergency Art Book". This 72-page book is filled with games, puzzles, artwork and safety information with help from his with who is a mental health first aid trainer.
Each copy also contains a signed and numbered print, while five randomly selected copies will also include an original painting inside which would normally sell for £500.
Hi Remi thanks for talking to TNC, how is your lockdown going?
It’s ok, I’m keeping busy, doing a drawing every day and I have been doing fantasy photoshopped murals on amazing buildings and sharing those on my instagram.
Congratulations on the release of your new book, the attention it's gotten has been amazing, did you envision you would get such a positive response for the Emergency Art Book?
Not really! I just felt I had to do something…The fear of not being able to pay my studio rent and suddenly having nearly all of my upcoming projects and exhibitions cancelled pushed me into a corner. It made me want to come out creating and staying as personally relevant as I could to what I do anyway. I’m glad people like it… That was kind of the idea to share something fun, creative and beautiful in a horrible point in time where it’s hard to tear yourself away from the news which seems to be on some kind of weird forever loop at the moment...
Where did the idea for the Emergency Art Book come from?
I have self published 14 books and I thought initially lets just do an art book but then the scale of this crisis hit me in a big way and I felt it needed to be more than just an art book. So my wife Michelle, who is a mental health first aid trainer, helped me put some good mental and physical health advice together and I just began to sew the pages together on my laptop.
"I feel exactly the same. No one knows how anything will be after this, if indeed there even is an after this?"
Did you have any apprehensions about creating this limited edition book in such a small space of time?
Not really, I’m a graffiti artist! I spent most of my youth creating things in small amounts of time. I’m kind of good at that. I also get bored quickly so sometimes the best thing for me is to just hammer it out until it’s done. Plus I wasn’t thinking of time constraints, just reaching the end.
How did you go about selecting the images and pieces you wanted to include in this book?
That's a hard one because I have so many images and artworks. I tried to keep it all quite recent and new, so it also had some kind of continuity. A lot of the images were actually taken on my phone. Amazing that we can access such amazing technology nowadays. I went through about 4 drafts where some images got removed and replaced altogether.
You have worked with your wife on this book, what was this process like?
She is amazing and I always love having her involved with my work. We also co-own a Pyjama brand together called PJOYS, which has a strong mental health awareness message attached to it. Michelle also manages my larger projects and helps me with all the logistics involved. We are always working together in some way, shape or form.
A lot of people in the creative industry are self-employed and the lockdown is really hindering their ability to earn a wage as well as creating a lot of anxiety, how important was it for you to include information about well-being?
I totally feel for all those people who are filled with anxiety and fear. I feel exactly the same. No one knows how anything will be after this, if indeed there even is an after this? We may be living with this virus for a very long time and I don’t think anything is ever going to “go back to normal” in fact I’m not sure it even should. But I felt it was important to share some light, colour and positivity in these times, especially in my world where we’re not even sure if the “Art world” will survive...
One of the sticking pages in the book features the MTR and Swire Properties Arts Quarry Bay Station in Hong Kong, can you tell me a little bit more about this installation, how did this come about?
That was one of my biggest commission to date in Hong Kong, it was one of the Art Basel Hong Kong off-site projects and it was commissioned by the MTR and Swire Properties but I was suggested for the job by a massive architect firm called Aedas, as one of the directors is a friend and collector of mine. It was a huge task designing it and when I arrived in HK they had already halfway installed it. It’s all on 3M wrap, it’s a permanent installation and if any of it ever gets damaged they can just reprint and reinstall that section. But to be honest the 3M vinyl they used is bomb proof so I doubt it’s ever getting damaged. It’s definitely one of my favourite projects I’ve done in the past few years.
What were the biggest challenges you faced with an installation like this?
I mean, this one was a piece of cake as I didn’t physically install it, the MTR arts team worked it all out for me and they were so efficient. Probably the only complication was sizing it all but we worked that out and it was all spot on.
Of all your installations and street art creations do you have any favourites?
The Megaro Hotel in St Pancras, London is the biggest mural in London and one of my favourite projects ever. It’s been there since 2012 and was painted by myself, LX One, Augustine Kofie and Steve More. It’s huge and in front of two of the busiest train stations in London. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Where did your passion for art come from?
As a kid I was always drawing…Mainly Star Wars spaceships and dinosaurs but when I got into graffiti writing in 1984 it changed my life and I became part of the only art movement in history ever, created by and taken forward by children. I guess being a part of that just grew my passion.
I’ve always been that type of person who wants to do their utmost best and that's just carried through in my career. I still want to do my utmost best everyday.
What does art mean to you?
Release, expression, comment, rebellion and love.
Do you remember the first pubic piece you ever completed?
Yep it said ‘DAZE’ and it was in a side alley in South London in the summer of 1984. It was pretty terrible actually but it was the humble beginning.
How much has your style and the approach to the work you create changed since you started out?
Immensely. Stylistically my work has developed far beyond it’s style writing and graffiti roots, the letters are gone as are the peripheral decorations that went with all that, It all abstracted, much like the Beatles did the they started making records like Revolver and the White Album. But I think although the aesthetics have changed considerably and the techniques have got more refined, the ethic of the work remains consistent with what I did as a teenager.
"The process is the most important thing with any artist I think…"
By its definition street art is always handed over to the public in one way or another. Is it ever hard for you to 'let go' of your work once you've completed it?
Not really, I let go of it the moment it’s completed. The process is the most important thing with any artist I think… The end result is just a by product and occasional bonus. Or not as the case may be sometimes? I think artists who struggle to let go of their work haven’t got to a place where they are really happy with what they’re doing but that's just my opinion.
If you could describe yourself in one colour what would it be and why?
Neon pink, because that colour is loud and powerful but also fragile.
And finally, do you have any words of wisdom that you’d like to share with up-and-coming artists?
I’m terrible at sharing words of wisdom, I think I’d do better actually listening to someone else’s words of wisdom. But one of my best friends and fellow artist Stormie Mills once said to me; “It’s not a popularity contest.” Which I have always considered to be sage advice...