In the essence most artists are controversial people; however, each artist has their unique obsessions concerning the conversation of expression. Some artists’ obsessions may never lead them to create a body of work that might be considered controversial or regarded by the pundits as fine art.
Controversial art usually heads down the road of being banned, silenced or publicly shunned. Whilst leaving a significant path throughout history, paving the way for the freedom of creativity in the pursuit of expression, inspiring artists to create more controversial statements for the needs of society.
By re-working 1950’s imagery and interweaving thought-provoking captions, I create art that is nostalgic, visually arresting and instantly relatable.
As if you have stumbled upon something that hits the nail on the head of your own everyday life, making the ordinary extraordinary & hilariously absurd.
In a world where there are millions of artists dangling their artistic carrot, only the ones who speak the unvarnished truth of expression are the ones to which our emotions bite in to.
For Mr. Controversial, creating something arresting and catching people’s emotions is the name of the game. Fusing vintage imagery with fine art whilst using social media references as a dialogue to explore how we currently live our lives.
His name, stems from his fearless approach to art and the art world, by not worrying about who he offends or pokes fun at, consequently making an impact with his work capturing an audience and the interest of established collectors.
He’s self taught, doesn’t come from a traditional fine art background and is part of the new wave of Do It Yourself Artists shaking up the fine art world, making an impact without any backing – just his Instagram page. He uses vintage imagery from the 1950’s as source material, which he restores, reworks and reappropriates for an audience of today, exploring themes of ‘Ownership’ in today’s digital age.
For these reasons alone, he is controversial.
Mr. Controversial is on a mission to shake up the art world. With his dark satirical expression on vintage compositions calling BS on things our generation hold dear whilst poking fun at millennial ‘problems’, online dating, love in today’s digital world, Con’trepreneurs, social media addicts and fame whores.
Mr. Controversial is an artist to follow, and on the way to being a collectors favourite, In this interview, we learn more about the man behind Mr. Controversial, his creative process, inspiration and more.
Q: First things first, why do you do what you do?
A: I want to create art that makes people stop, think and above all feelsomething. When you look at my art it should spark a memory, an emotion, a feeling. A ‘Familiar Surprise’.
It is human nature to apply meaning to things we interact with based on our previous life experiences and emotions that arise from those memories. I want people to do this when they look at my work, therefore making it personal to them and their life experiences.
By re-working 1950’s imagery and interweaving thought provoking captions, I create art that is nostalgic, visually arresting and instantly relatable. As if you have stumbled upon something that hits the nail on the head of your own everyday life, making the ordinary extraordinary & hilariously absurd.
If you don’t look at my art and think ‘OMG that’s so true’ or ‘That’s SO me, I can relate!’ and if you aren’t blown away by the aesthetic in the imagery and oil paint… then I haven’t bloody done my job as an Artist.
Q: Who is your inspiration?
A: Banksy, sounds a bit cliché right?
I love Banksy’s work for his subversive political messaging and dark story telling but unlike other artists I rarely look to the fine art world for inspiration. I study people from a variety of creative disciplines, sport and business and draw inspiration from their unique journey, achievements and creative approach to their chosen field.
I love the fearless, controversial and intellectual stand-up comedy of Dave Chapelle and compelling visual storytellers in the film industry such as Quentin Tarentino and Tom Hanks.
As a boxing participant and fan, I am inspired by Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson and Tyson to name a few. Mainly for their relentless drive and ambition given their unfortunate circumstances and how they used creative thinking, determination and a bit of controversy to achieve incredible things.
I am inspired by great entrepreneurs like Phil Knight (founder of Nike) and Steve Jobs for what they achieved by fusing creativity with entrepreneurialism. I am inspired by my grandmother (a white Spanish woman) and my grandfather (a black Antiguan man) who came to the UK in the 1950’s, married and raised five children against all odds.
I believe that these people all had something special, not given to them by the gods but something they manufactured internally through grit, hard work, self-belief and creative thinking. Despite their circumstances and limitations, they were able to achieve incredible things and make an impact on the world. This is what truly inspires me to create.
If they can do all that, why can’t I become a successful Artist and make an impact?
Q: What is your creative process when you’re creating?
A: I believe that creativity is not just a way of thinking, but a way of living. Creativity and inspiration is everywhere around you, from the unique design of the chair you are sitting on to the iPhone you are reading this blog post on. I train my mind to look at everything in this filter, so being creative comes naturally and my well never runs dry.
As we know humans are habitual, the way we learn and get better is through repetition and habit. Therefore, I commit the first hour of my day (every day) to creative thinking and problem solving. Through meditation, I flesh out weird ideas and half-baked concepts from the day before and over and over – trying to wrestle the best out of it.
Once I have a worthy concept in mind, I work in a way similar to a collage artist. I spend hours sourcing, collating and curating 1950’s imagery across fiction, advertising and photography. I also have a scroll through Instagram pondering what the world has come to and the good and bad things about the new digital world we live in, having a chuckle at the absurdity of things like; Love Island stardom to the guy on Instagram flashing his cash trying to sell you a course which is ‘proven to make you a millionaire with zero knowledge and zero hard work’.
I think social media is a fascinating place, like a behavioural scientist I study it trying to uncover the true meaning behind the content people post…
Unlike a lot of art world peeps, I don’t take myself too seriously and I’m not dying to be liked. I want to create art that is authentic to me, if I have something to say I’m going to say it. Therefore, my approach and the way I communicate is dark, satirical, fearless, and controversial but it’s my truth. I have come to realise a lot of my followers, fans and collectors respect and appreciate this honesty and authenticity, in fact they often feel they can relate to it. – Mr. Controversial
Is your life’s mission really to be promoting that detoxifying Tummy Tea?
Fired up and inspired, I race to my studio to fiddle around with popular quotes, curated images and oil paint for hours and hours until I have something refined and impactful that tells a dark, satirical and relatable story. Some pieces take me a day to create, others I will be tweaking for months.
Physically sourcing and restoring the original vintage image with oil paint takes a long time in itself. Once I have something I am somewhat happy with I test it on Instagram and put some Ad spend behind it, I study the feedback and how it’s received.
I’m not interested in if people particularly ‘like’ it or not, I am more interested in their reaction and then their action (Bookmarked the image? sent it to a friend? tagged a friend? Commented?). If I am happy with the result I will create more, if not I’ll go back to the drawing board. I have so much work that people may never actually see but I am not worried about that because I have made creative thinking an everyday habit. I’m an ideas machine.
Q: Which is your preferred surface for working on?
A: I love working on beautiful, rich, textured art paper with a torn edge. There’s something nostalgic about it that really relates to the vintage imagery I use.
Q: What would you say is an integral part of the work of an Artist?
A: To make an impact on the world or at the very least, make an individual stop and think for a minute. In a world where everything is so important, immediate and also so fleeting I think it’s a major achievement to hold someone’s attention and make them react – a laugh, a comment, a deep thought.
Q: What artist inspires you the most?
A: Although it might sound a bit cliché, I love the works of Banksy due to the political and unapologetic nature of his message.
Joe Webb’s collage stuff is really impressive and I also love Bradley Theodore’s work. The colours he uses are vibrant, rich and intense harping back to his Turks and Caicos heritage.
I watched a video interview of him early on in my art journey explaining how he started painting as a result of losing his job during the recession. As someone who had just been made redundant himself (that very day I watched it) and was spending all my free time hunched over a table with bad lighting trying to learn how to paint… that shit really inspired me!
Q: What is the reason behind your fusion of popular culture and vintage imagery in your work?
A: I am a massive student of history, from Ancient Rome to WW2 and the Civil Rights movement and I love the classic, timeless look of vintage imagery.
I want to honour and respect it whilst making it relevant for today’s generation of digital addicts – regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation. Ironically, I take images rooted in old world views of misogyny, racism, prejudice created during a turbulent time in history to create art that unites. No matter who you are, if you can relate to this piece, it’s for you.
I fuse vintage imagery with traditional fine art and social media content to create art that explores how we currently live our lives in this new digital world… and just take the piss a bit. I manipulate the source imagery and rework popular quotes and content from social media to create a new meaning.
Unlike a lot of art world peeps, I don’t take myself too seriously and I’m not dying to be liked. I want to create art that is authentic to me, if I have something to say I’m going to say it. Therefore, my approach and the way I communicate is dark, satirical, fearless, and controversial but it’s my truth. I have come to realise a lot of my followers, fans and collectors respect and appreciate this honesty and authenticity, in fact they often feel they can relate to it.
Where my work is concerned; I say ‘Behind the beautiful imagery is a dark story about yourself, just waiting to be discovered’.
Q: How do you know when a piece is finished?
A: I don’t think a piece of art is ever really finished, it’s a continuous and iterative process. On average there are 10 iterations of a piece for a finally decide that it’s worth putting out there. But I will always revisit a particular piece and build on the concept in order to create something more advanced and better.
Q: What is your favourite piece from your collection?
A: I don’t have one, I both hate them and love them all. I am always analysing my work, concept, message and painting technique within a piece asking myself is this really good enough? One of the perils of being an artist, especially as a self-taught artist I am learning as I go.
Q: How did you feel when you did your first solo exhibition?
A: I am working on a group and solo exhibition this year with a fantastic, fast-growing gallery called Nova Fine Art. Ollie, The Gallery Director, really understands what I am trying to do within the art world and like me, he’s also on a mission to shake things up. We make a powerful team.
Although COVID delayed things a bit, there will be a show in October and another by the end of the year. I can’t wait.
Q: In your opinion, do you have any advice for artists on how to manage their social media image? Or does it even need managing?
A: Yes, most definitely.
I think I am unique in a sense that I’ve worked for small and large brands on marketing and social media campaigns. I was never allowed to implement what I really wanted, it was always toned down for the client. A lot of bold ideas we’re too risky.
Therefore, I decided to create my brand and social media presence around my unique personality and the art I create – whatever the cost. Stakeholders within brands shy away from being outspoken or controversial, so they just create mediocre ‘vanilla’ content and this is the same for a lot of artists. This results in mediocre creative work.
Therefore, I think artists should avoid being vanilla… Stand out! Do something daring, say something authentic and be a bit controversial. Artists spend a lot of time obsessing over what people think and how their ‘masterpiece’ will be received, too afraid to draw outside the lines. I say, create something authentic to you and get it in front of the right of people. Social media is the distribution platform and vehicle that will allow you to do this.
I think there are many ways creatives can use social media, but I think they need to start with an in depth understanding of economics, supply and demand and fundamental business concepts. Artists are often great creators but terrible businesspeople and rarely understand the commercial role of an Artist.
Your job is not only to create but you’re also running a business, as well as creating an amazing product (your art), marketing is a core part of your business strategy. Social media is a great distribution platform for your marketing message (once you have a product worthy of promoting).
So, for what it’s worth… these are my five tips for any artist:
create a social media presence that is authentic and unique to you.
Invest in compelling social media visuals and content and most importantly understand how to use and invest in paid advertising – treat this like a business, in any business you have to spend on marketing to grow.
Remove the pictures of your food and your dog, this is your art business page – no one gives a f*ck about what you had for dinner or how cute your dog is.
Be human. I treat everyone I interact with on my social media like a VIP, because everyone who takes the time to like, comment, share, repost my work is important to me and I always show my appreciation and gratitude. People really dig this, gone are the days where artists are hard to reach, a tad arrogant and un-responsive.
Concentrate on building you an engaged audience that LOVES your stuff and your collector base will grow organically resulting in more growth, exhibition opportunities as well as online and physical sales.
My motto is; ‘Regardless of what your art is / isn’t there is always an audience out there for what you are creating. Your job is to find them, wow them and get them invested in your art journey’. One day they’ll become part of your tribe and might even become your biggest collector.