The artist Rick Walker is getting ready to go back to the streets, so he can continue transforming them into outdoor galleries…
Talent from Bournemouth and for Bournemouth. Rick Walker, the Creative Director of Paintshop Studio, tells us his story in the design field and how he manages to give away to the public colourful and meaningful paintings to enjoy on every walk around town.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY? HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN BASED IN THE AREA?
I grew up on the other side of New Forest, in a place called Hythe, which is more Southampton. When I was 19 years-old, I moved to Bournemouth for a few years. I have always had a lot of connection with Bournemouth because my grandparents are from there. All my family is from here really. However, I spent most of my life in London; I moved back down to Bournemouth six years ago.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE DESIGN FIELD? WHEN DID YOU REALISE WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?
I have always loved drawing. I grew up in the late ’80s when people were really into hip-hop. Everyone wanted to be either a DJ, a breakdancer, or a graffiti artist. I was very bad for the two first ones, and actually quite good at drawing, so I got stuck to drawing. I got into graffiti at an early age and that’s what taught me that I had a passion for colours, typography, and illustration. Because I have always enjoyed that I managed to find a route in design. It’s in my nature to create new things.
WAS IT EASY TO TAKE OFF IN THIS FIELD? HOW DID YOU START?
No, this is quite a small scene, but I managed to get an opportunity to design a logo for a record label for a band in London. That was my first little design job and it was then that I realised that I could do this as a job. This is what sent me in my direction. I had a few lucky breaks and I got a job with a small agency, which grew up to become a big agency, so I grew up with that company as well. They taught me everything about how to design, use computers and so on. I got very lucky.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRED YOUR LOVE OF WHAT YOU DO? HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED FOR EACH JOB?
I have a really eclectic taste in art and cultural references. I’m always looking at different things from different points in life. I like looking back on history and music, as well as old design books, to get inspiration. To see what people have done before and then reapply it to a new age. My style of art is a mix of graffiti and an old movement in design called super graphics, which sort of mixes designs and applies it to a big scale. Also, most of the typographic work now is all about the meaning behind it and references.
IS THERE ANYONE THAT INSPIRES YOU OR THAT YOU REALLY ADMIRE?
Regarding other artists, I like taking a bit of inspiration from different people. We started Paintshop Studio 15 years ago, and what we do is always changing and evolving, so we take inspiration from a lot of different places along the way. There is a designer called Morag Myerscough, who is doing really great things at the moment, but there are a lot of graffiti artists and illustrators that I like. I think the point is to combine a lot of different things together. Otherwise, you end up limiting yourself, not creating.
HOW DID THE OPPORTUNITY TO START PAINTSHOP STUDIO COME UP?
I worked for a studio in London for a couple of years. I had always been freelancing for different studios, and I had this idea of having my own. So it came because I was painting graffiti in the streets and I was getting more reactions from the work I was hand-painting than from designing a billboard. I noticed that people would pass in front of a £100,000 billboard and they wouldn’t look at it, but they would stop and talk to me about the painting I was doing on the street. So I realised that actually, people were responding better to hand-painted and handcrafted work than they were to polished work done on the computer. I found an opportunity to combine graffiti art and design, to find new ways to talk to people, instead of the normal channels in marketing.
CAN YOU NAME SOME PROJECTS THAT YOU HAVE DONE IN BOURNEMOUTH? ANY FAVOURITES?
In Bournemouth, I really like one that we painted a few years ago up at the Bear Pit Underpass near Asda. It was a small, really tight sort of area. We just asked to paint some tunnels down there, just to brighten it up. But I like that one because we thought that actually, we could put some way-finding as well, to help people find their way around. These are just a series of tunnels and it helps steer people around. And it’s great — it’s much brighter and a more welcoming area. So I think that is one of my favourite. It’s like you can just paint something to then actually help people move around at the edge of space. It goes back to the design principles — design should be functional and have a use.
On the other hand, we won a big award last year and it’s for a project that Sandra Ramos, my partner and the other half of Paintshop Studio, did in Bayswater, London. So I’m quite proud of that one because we are a small company — just two of us in Paintshop Studio — and we beat McDonalds’ headquarters in America and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London for this award. I mean, they’re designed for this award, and, despite the fact that we are a small company, we managed to beat the “big boys”.
Also, I really enjoyed painting the one located in the upper gardens — The Upside Gallery. It took us a long time to get that all done. Eleven artists working on that. I painted one of the walls, but I was also there to make sure that all the artists were okay. Chatting with the people walking passed and getting their reactions was very nice. At first, that was an idea that my partner and I had while walking through that space. Turning quite an ugly place into something beautiful.
It took us maybe two years or so to get that project going. We had to go through lots of different people in the council to get approval. And then we needed to find the money from different resources. The Arts Council paid most of the money towards it, but we also got local businesses like The Hilton, design companies and photographers who donated their time. It was really nice to get big load of creative people with open minds together for one project.
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STREET ART AND GRAFFITI?
This is a hot topic. I think that graffiti tends to be painted for graffiti artists. It’s an insular scene. So you don’t necessarily care so much about what people outside of that world think about it. Whereas I think street art is aimed more at the general public. Street artists tend to paint things that are more easily approachable. Portraits of women or messages to the public. That’s the main difference really.
And because street artists are addressing the general public, they have to be easier to understand. A graffiti artist who doesn’t put his name up on the wall in letters, or in letters that are very hard to read, won’t be recognised or understood by the public. They don’t know what’s written on the wall. There’s a background element to it as well; I think that street artists come from more of a college background or that sort of thinking.
On the other hand, there are a few more rules in graffiti. You can’t use stencils — you have to learn how to use paint. That’s sort of the original side of it. It’s harder to learn how to paint freehand than to use stencils or masking tape and so on. To be a good, credible graffiti artist, you’ve probably got to spend some ten years or more of doing what you’re doing. But all of this is changing and evolving now into something else. It’s all merging into one thing, and that’s good.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UPCOMING PROJECTS YOU WOULD LIKE TO TELL US ABOUT?
We’ve got lots of things in the pipeline — most of them I can’t say anything about yet, just in case they don’t work out. I have some projects for this year, which I’m really excited about. That’s more sort of my personal work, under my nickname Ricky Also, than in the Paintshop Studio, but I combine both. We’re doing an installation for Arts by the Sea in September, which will be in the centre of Bournemouth if lockdown doesn’t come back. During the lockdown, we reduced our graphic design and mural art. But we’re quite lucky that we were still able to do some work and projects based at home. And I could work on my own personal paintings as well, which is great.
IS THERE A QUOTE OR PHILOSOPHY THAT YOU LIVE BY?
I believe in karma. If you give something, you get something back. For example, we put a lot of effort into our projects, but it’s not something just for us — it’s for the public. It’s a mutually beneficial thing. We’re trying to get brands behind what we want to do and what we think people want to see. So I think it’s a case of trying to find a nice balance between commercial work and giving something to people, like a gift. I’m not interested in working with people who’ve got bad business practices — it always comes back to bite you.
WHAT IS THE DREAM OR END GOAL?
I don’t really have any dream goal, because I think I’m always going to be doing what I do. I love painting, so I’d love to keep painting for as long as possible. We are working hard with Paintshop Studio to try and build up a well-respected studio, so we can get bigger clients and bigger and more exciting projects. And also to get more of a physical space for us, so we can have a studio that people can come to. In general, just to grow and do better work. Keep going and always improve.
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