SheOne on Underbelly – Paris
The Underbelly Project, en Francais!
After the success and attention of the NYC Underbelly project, you would have thought that PAC and Workhorse would have taken the opportunity to kick-back, relax, and reflect on the sheer scale and complexities of the project that they had managed to pull-off, but no, these two were already planning another Underbelly adventure, this time they decided to bring Underbelly to Europe, to one of the most cultured and romantic cities of the world, Paris.
Two became three this time around, and PAC and Workhorse enlisted the help of a new French partner Emile, who was on-hand to guide the smaller group of artists and photographers through the secret Parisian subway system.
In this Q&A, I talk with SheOne about his involvement in the project.
SheOne on Underbelly, Paris
Why do you think you were asked back?
I would like to say it was purely an aesthetic decision; however I think the curators had faith in my laid back approach to making work on that scale under the unique circumstances.
This project was a team effort – organization, painting and documentation, without one of these elements working the project would fall apart, and Pac and Workhorse put a really great crew together.
Why did you agree the second time around?
It was very humbling to be asked to take part in the second Underbelly project, given that there are numerous other artists that could have taken part. I wasn’t even aware of the final line up until I actually got to Paris, the art was in just saying yes, signing up for adventure.
How long did you have to keep it a secret?
For a couple of months leading up to the event. And then a couple of months after.
It was refreshing to be part of a project that wasn’t all over the internet before it happened. Too often these days we get preview videos of exhibitions, then shaky camera phone photos being tweeted live from openings. We are oversaturated with ‘openingness’ with an emphasis on art as a social experience, some websites idea of reviewing an exhibition is to post a bunch of photos of people standing around holding free drinks without any critical dialogue about the works on show. It is easy to keep this sort of project secret, because these days I believe there is more value in private culture.
Did you have a good excuse to be in Paris?
Yeah, to empty a bunch of rattle cans in a tunnel.
Did you know any of the other artists before you arrived?
I am friends with quite a few of them already which gave the project a kind of family gathering atmosphere. There was definitely an element of ‘black humour’. Plus, nobody wanted to let the project down, everyone wanted to make the best work they possible could.
What were the conditions like down there?
Pretty relaxed, there was a lot of good banter between artists. It was actually quite dark and the whole place filled up with a paint fume fog pretty quick. It got to the point where if I stood back from the wall I couldn’t actually see the details. I had to look at Ian’s photos on his laptop to see where I needed to work into it. The photographers did an amazing job under the circumstances.
How long did you have to paint and were you happy with your final piece?
Long enough, it always takes longer when you have to work with a ladder.
I never really worry about the final image, I paint graffiti for the process , it is only important while I am actually making it, after that it is out of your hands, aesthetically it is up to the viewer to make their own decision about it, I ain’t going back to change it.
Did you improvise or did you know what you wanted to do beforehand?
I always improvise; I like to let the paint and the situation dictate the density of the works. Once you empty the first can you get a sense of the scale of the work, then you kind of forget where you are and just get on with it. You have started now so there is no pulling out whatever happens. Unless you’re Futura, then you might just have a little nap mid painting.
Who were you painting next to?
I was ‘baguetted’ between the twins and Tristan Eaton, smokers corner. How & Nosm paint so fast and in such detail, they kind of set the pace, everyone else was just playing catch up. I had the end wall, which was also the biggest, so I had plenty of ladder shifting and a lot of cans to empty in order to cover it all.
We noticed afterwards that everyone’s gas mask filters had turned pink.
What was it like being part of that group?
Great. There was a really broad spectrum of aesthetics; everyone has their own approach to image making it felt like we were all sharing a big studio.
Did you spend much time beforehand and after as a group?
Oh yeah, eating, drinking, and talking . . . always talking. That is the great aspect of these types of projects, is that there is so much dissection of each others practices and works, hanging out with other artists is when you find out the most about your own work in the context of a wider international culture.
Actually it was right before we went underground, we all converged on a dimly lit corner of Paris, the whole crew together, 20 minutes of hanging out on the street, in the dark like it was a perfectly natural thing to do and realizing that this ‘is’ going to happen. . . the quiet before the storm, very exciting.
Any scary moments?
Saber ordering a second portion of Escargot in a restaurant.
How much did you think about the dangers and legal implications?
I was there to paint, the pressure was to make something good in the company of peers, to justify your inclusion in the project, and give the photographers something to document.
Does it get more refreshing than putting on a group show for the sake of it?
I like the DIY aspect of it. Making your own gallery, producing the work in situ, and then just walking away . . .
We all had total faith in Ian and Martha capturing the works. After all, most people experience art through photography these days, either on the internet or through books. I started making graffiti because of Martha’s photo journalism, and to have her now photographing me at work twenty five years later was added inspiration.
Is there any part of you that is sad that snippets of the adventure are public?
It’s great that the artworks are public, but the physicality of the situation will remain personal and on some level bond us together forever.
NYC, Paris, or unique in their own ways?
Two very different sets of circumstances. Both amazing experiences. Paris was great because, like I said, it was a shared experience. The other thing to remember is that at no point did the artists ever know what would become of the works, there was never talk about an exhibition or book beforehand, and it was purely an experiential concept.
Do you think more Underbelly projects would work?
PAC and Workhorse have proved themselves as extremely generous individuals; they have an acute understanding of the nature and context of both Graffiti and Street Art practices. They are so much more than just curators, they facilitate artists faithfully in a way that no gallery or museum ever could.
What type of feedback have you had from friends and family?
All positive, I haven’t talked to an artist yet who didn’t wish they were involved.
If your inbox went ping with another invite from PAC and Workhorse, what would you say?
I hope they know that they wouldn’t even have to ask, just an email with a date, time, and location would be sufficient.
BY HELEN SOTERIOU