There’s a war going on in the world of London street art. An epic of conflicting personalities – Team Robbo is taking on Banksy
The clash between Banksy and Robbo is reminiscent of rivalries in traditional areas of the arts. Matisse and Picasso revelled in pointing out the weaknesses in each other’s work and Picasso’s friends joined in the antagonism. The history of art has been coloured by fierce and often glaringly public feuds between celebrated artists of the day. From Turner and Constable to Whistler and Ruskin, long-standing and public battles have kept generations of art lovers engrossed, outraged or simply amused.
But few artistic spats have been played out in such a public manner as the current standoff between Banksy, the internationally renowned bestselling graffiti stencil artist, and King Robbo, one of the founding fathers of London’s graffiti writing scene. The two artists have contrasting styles, modus operandi, and a different way of doing things. King Robbo’s tags, which are more traditional letters that display Robbo’s name stylized and presented on walls, and comparing them with Banksy’s images and extensive use of stencil.
Banksy, whose real name is unknown, has become one of Britain’s most popular artists. A compendium of his work, mostly painted on the side of buildings, is the world’s bestselling art book. ‘Graffiti doesn’t always spoil buildings, in fact it’s the only way to improve a lot of them’, says Banksy
Born in Bristol in 1974, Banksy started his career at 14 as a standard-issue spray-paint vandal before switching to stencils. “I wasn’t good at freehand graffiti,” he says. “I was too slow.” Soon Banksy had made a (fake) name for himself with wry images like schoolgirls cradling atom bombs, British bobbies caught snogging, and Mona Lisa shouldering a rocket launcher. These paintings contrast sharply with the usual all-but-unreadable scrawls. “Most graffiti is like modern art, isn’t it?” he says. “People are like, What does it mean?”
In 1985, a well-known 15 yr old graffiti artist known as Robbo colorfully tagged the underside of a bridge running over Regent’s Canal in Camden, North London. One of the first pieces to go up in London (and certainly the longest standing piece in London), Robbo’s piece has become known as something of a landmark piece for graffiti art enthusiasts and taggers alike. Many graffiti artists and taggers are considered lucky if their piece endures for more than a few months.
However, for the past 24 years, aside from some toy graffiti and over-tagging, Robbo’s name has remained largely untouched. Britain’s most notorious graffiti artist may be accustomed to art world adulation but Banksy’s latest work has landed him in an old fashioned street fight。The aerosol painter from Bristol stands accused of disrespecting Graffiti legend Robbo’s 24-year-old work.
Banksy, painted a series of images on walls under Camden Street Bridge, directly behind the British Transport Police building in Camden Town, London. Critics regarded this action as a sign of blatant disrespect, whereas Banksy’s fans suggested that he was actually trying to draw people’s attention to Robbo’s work – to help them understand that it was a piece of street art history.
King Robbo’s crew ( Team Robbo) certainly didn’t see it that way though. Team Robbo sought revenge… They have already painted over a number of Banksy’s other pieces and maintain that the war has only just begun.
There is a history of tension between the graffiti pioneer and the man who subsequently introduced street art to the world… Robbo seems to believe that the new kid on the block should show a bit more respect to his forefathers, as evidenced by the recent modification to one of Banksy’s rat stencils – with Team Robbo referencing stencil art originator Blek Le Rat and making it clear that Banksy ought to pay tribute to those that came before him…
Is it about artistic integrity … or … is it about publicity?
Where will it end ? ……. read on ………….
Banksy vs Robbo – Timeline
These dates are roughly when each event took place:
• 1985 – Robbo: Robbo Inc.
• 19/12/2009 – Banksy: Wallpaperer, Global Warming, Fisher Boy, AristocRat.
• 25/12/2009 – Team Robbo: King Robbo.
• 15/01/2010 – Team Robbo: Street Cred
• 25/01/2010 – Team Robbo: I don’t believe in war, Banksy La Rat.
• 01/04/2010 – Banksy: FucKing Robbo, Roller-Stork, No Fishing, ‘Bond’ Rat.
• 08/04/2010 – Team Robbo: King Robbo, Messiah, Vote Robbo, Shoe shine sir?.
• 16/07/2010 – Unknown: Die.
• 13/08/2010 – Buffed by Banksy?: King Robbo, Global Warming, Fisher Boy.
• 26/09/2010 -Team Robbo : Top Cat, Global Warming, Robbo, Banksy La Rat.
• 15/01/2011 – Banksy?: Fish for freedom, Buffed Rat (Camden Council).
• 19/01/2011 – Banksy?: Chair for freedom.
To see more information re the Timeline see here
Robbo’s enduring presence as one of the pioneers of old school graffiti in London has long established him as one of the greats of both the UK and international scene. Having initially got into it he admits purely “for selfish reasons and the buzz of seeing your name everywhere” he immersed himself in it just as graffiti was filtering from New York into major cities, unknowingly becoming one of the defining sub-cultures of the 1980s.
In early December 2009 , Banksy did a series of four pieces along the Regent’s Canal’s walls. Among them are his rats (a commentary of how the artist is the lowest form of being), a witty phrase evoking political commentary, a boy fishing, and a city worker.
Inexplicably, one of them incorporated Robbo’s piece into Banksy’s own work, painting over half the Robbo original in the process. The resulting work, in Banksy’s typical stencil technique, shows a black-and-white workman applying colorful wallpaper that is, in essence, the remnants of Robbo’s piece.
It is the latter of these four project has generated the most amount of controversy lately. This is because Banksy has actually grayed-out a significant portion of Robbo’s locally familiar tag, leaving only strips of it to act as wall paper. The city worker, rather than removing the piece, is pasting it up using tools that traditionally refer to wheatpasters and in fact carrying additional wheatpaste rolls under his arm.
While some have said that this might be Banksy’s way of paying homage to the Robbo piece, from a territorial perspective, this modification comes as a rather biting slap in the face to Robbo- not only because Banksy has painted his own piece over the original, but because he has turned Robbo’s piece into a wheatpaste, a form of street art that is in general very much disliked by aerosol artists. Perhaps it’s in response to the actual slap in the face that Banksy received from Robbo, made public this past year in the book London Handstyles.
In it, Robbo described a “tense encounter” between the two. Recalling how he was introduced to Banksy, Robbo claimed: “He asked what I wrote and I told him. He cockily replied ‘never heard of you’ so I slapped him and said, ‘you may not of heard of me but you will never forget me.’”
Some saw Banksy’s act as self-promotion, some as a tribute, but most interpreted it as plain disrespect for a local hero. Offers of retribution reached Robbo, who has remained friendly with many graffiti writers even as he slipped into a life of obscurity as a North London father of two children, with a third on the way. “They was all offering to do it for me,” says Robbo in an interview. But he decided: “I’ve got to do it myself.”
It wasn’t long before Robbo, who had been ‘in retirement’ with no new work seen for years, surfaced to create a new work, out of revenge on his old rival”. Robbo, one of the lost pioneers of London’s 1980s graffiti scene, was emerging from a long retirement. He had a mission: to settle a score with the world-famous street artist Banksy, who, Robbo believes, had attacked his legacy.
In the predawn hours of Christmas morning, Robbo ( a 40-year-old shoe repairman ) squeezed his 6-foot-8-inch frame into a wet suit, tossed some spray cans into a plastic bag, and crossed Regent’s Canal on a red-and-blue air mattress. The veteran graffitist, or perhaps his admirers, hit back, manipulating Banksy’s workman to make it look as though he was painting a tribute to King Robbo.
Not only has Robbo eradicated the last traces of the original Robbo tag (including the rolled up paper under the worker’s arm), but he has written King Robbo (king being the term used to describe a graffiti legend, or one who has earned a considerable amount of street credit) so that it seems as if Banksy’s city worker is painting the tag rather than pasting it up.
Banksy’s workman now is seen painting two words: KING ROBBO. It was the day Robbo became ‘King Robbo’.
So far, so subtle. — Until the next episode in the spat which apparently saw Banksy, add a poetically simple “Fuc” to the King Robbo tag. Like a red rag to a bull !!
Some have accused both artists of courting publicity. One Camden graffiti artist told the Camden New Journal that the row was a “big publicity stunt. “For Banksy to cover Robbo’s mural was interpreted by graffiti artists as a complete lack of respect,” he said. He added: “When graffiti artists spend night after night sitting in bushes or getting arrested for no other cause than representing the culture, only to see street artists do the odd stencil and then whip the whole country into a spin, there’s a lot of bitterness.
The original attack by Banksy has sparked criticism in the graffiti world. One graffitist, calling himself Sigma, condemned the destruction of a piece of street art history. “Now I like Banksy’s stuff and I like this but the cost is too high,” he blogged. “Fair enough, over the years this piece got pretty dogged and ‘vandalized’ but for the most part it was still visible history … long live King Robbo.” ….. “But in my opinion it’s all about publicity. Banksy is a household name whereas Robbo is very well respected but only in underground circles. “By bringing attention to Robbo’s work, Banksy has drawn attention to himself at the same time as boosting Robbo’s profile. I’d put money on the fact that they have liaised on this.”
“My Graffiti War with Banksy” by King Robbo
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
“For me it was escapism, I’m creative but I come from a family where you either worked or went into crime so I had no-one pushing me in that direction. They couldn’t understand why I’d work then go out and illegally paint when there’s no money in it.
To me graff’s always been rock’n’roll, a way to rebel and be creative”. His prolific and relentless love-affair with graffiti, which he prefers to call “a passion rather than obsession” has earned him a coveted spot in graffiti’s hall of fame.
But having settled into relative retirement it was a spat between him and street-art darling Banksy painting over one of his oldest pieces, a 25 year old Robbo legacy on the Camden stretch of Regents Canal, that was to propel him back into the spotlight.
Earlier this year I’d been sent to a press screening of Banksy’s film ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’ with the expected outcome that I write a sparkling review. However it was after that hour and a half that I went from being ambivalent to hating Banksy. Not for his lack of technical skill, depthless political jibes or righteous rants against consumerism- it was because of the cinema full of idiots that were completely romanced by him. People who answered their phones mid-way to exclaim they were watching the Banksy film, people who clapped and snort-laughed at his thicko, shock-jock stunts and stencils.
So naturally, when the opportunity to get hold of Robbo came up I was keen to meet him.
Come that day and I’m running forty minutes late from shuffling there in the snow. Reaching the pub and planning on getting five lagers to myself convinced he’s left already, I’m greeted by a man-mountain in jogging bottoms. Straight out of a Cockney vaudeville it’s clear if Robbo had not gone into painting walls he would’ve become a showman in another arena. So begins an evening of insulting each other, him gently taking the piss out of my arts degree, watching drunk Russian men wrestle, discussing the merits of shaved balls, occasionally, graffiti and significantly that Banksy rift.
Banksy decided to get cocky and say “I’ve never heard of you”, so I gave him a swift backhand
The much told story goes, that having met at a party through mutual friends in the late 90s, a then unknown, bespectacled and apparently Ben Elton lookalike Banksy had been on the receiving end of a backhander. “I was courteous, I even lied and said I’d heard of him but when he saw his mates saying it was a pleasure to meet me he decided to get cocky and say “I’ve never heard of you”, so I gave him a swift backhand and said “you may never have heard of me but you’ll never forget me” and that was that. Years later and my friend is doing a book on graffiti, London Handstyles, it was just as people were getting fired up about street art and so I was asked about that fall out. I’d been out the loop so unknown to me that story had become graff folklore. It wasn’t long after that book came out, that he went over the piece on Regents Canal.” The alteration was a distinctively Banksy-esque workman wallpapering out the now ancient original, Robbo’s riposte was simply to have the workman painting ‘King Robbo’, “it was actually pretty sloppy, I’d gone out Christmas morning, done it quickly and just thought ‘fuck it’. I didn’t even know how to post it on the Internet afterwards let alone think it would cause the fuss it did”.
Broaching the subject of the infamous ‘King Robbo’ comeback I’m relieved to see that he’s fairly amused by it all. “He broke a graff code of conduct and for a lawless community we have a lot of laws, so I had to come back. What people don’t realise is that he’d already gone over loads of my stuff before and I hadn’t bothered retaliating but this time it was just so deliberate, so cowardly. If you’ve got the hump about something you send a message and discuss it like gentlemen, you don’t wipe out a piece of graffiti history. But that’s what he does, never expresses his own opinion, he puts something out and lets people fool themselves, he’s smart in that respect”.
But Banksy keeping noticeably quiet in the feud yet targeting what had been the oldest piece in London seemed like a rookie mistake, a publicity stunt gone wrong as it was greeted with scorn from the graffiti world and a bevvy of new fans in the media for Robbo. “If anything it backfired and showed just how little respect he has within our community. It also gave me the opportunity to shine a light on graffiti, to show that writers aren’t just spotty teenagers that draw on bus-stops, we can be witty and funny in a way Banksy can’t, because he’s not radical he’s just a toy with a PR team.”
While his attitude to the turf war itself seems fairly amiable it’s the bigger conflict of graffiti, regarded as an eyesore on the urban landscape, versus street art, the acceptable face of vandalism, which he’s thrown himself into. “Over the years negative connotations associated with graff have been exaggerated, it’s unreal that people can end up in prison for a long time, yet someone puts up a stencil and that’s OK, because it brings tourism to Shoreditch” he jokes.
As we walked past the Charles Manson hitchhiker Banksy in north London you can see Robbo’s short-lived re-working, of which has been neatly buffed out while the original is left intact. The effort taken in removing Robbo’s handiwork all the while ensuring the original was preserved, is at first bizarre to look at and then glaringly unfair. Thus came the coining of ‘Team Robbo’ versus ‘Team Banksy’, drawing a clear line in the dirt between graffiti and street-art, with street-art more often than not managing to escape being classified as vandalism when tackling dreaded ‘envirocrimes’. It’s interesting to imagine that if someone stencilled David Cameron bending over Maggie Thatcher while dressed as Ronald MacDonald, would it’s burning social message ensure it wasn’t cleaned away?
Through the eyes of the art world the enduring popularity of street-art implies that the dawn of stencilled rats was the only time graffiti has provided social commentary. The mainstream media wet themselves when Hackney Council voted to paint over an alleged Banksy, lamenting an un-appreciation of art, yet they stumbled when choosing to describe it as either street-art or graffiti, the council’s response was simply ‘vandalism is vandalism, whoever it’s by’. Robbo muses “labelling something as street-art straightaway puts financial value on it…it’s great to get paid for doing something you love but should never be the main aim. Social commentary or not, Banksy is the Tesco of the art-world, what he promotes is tacky, mass-produced shit that provokes a reaction to make himself money. Art should be one-off canvasses, stuff that can’t be copied by anyone. There is no skill in producing something that anyone could do, it’s a clever business module maybe, but it’s not art. But nowadays nobody seems to care about talent anymore they’re just happy to be spoonfed shit, it’s like being stuck in X Factor.”
Banksy’s not radical he’s just a toy with a PR team
With his own name a heavyweight in graff circles it wouldn’t be conceited to say that Robbo could cash in and build an empire of his own. It makes me wonder about the unusual status that he has, international acclaim and yet total anonymity. Having stepped back from it all, gallery shows are a new venture to him. “I’m at a crossroads; last year was good gallery and promo-wise but I’ve got a family to support and a mortgage to pay. Truly if you want to be an artist you have to drop everything, you shouldn’t be half-stepping, and while I’ve now realised I’ve got the profile to do that, there’s that in-between stage of uncertainty. I have no qualms with people earning money from something they love but I’m not willing to produce commercial bollocks to pay bills. People forget that some of the greatest artists died broke, money isn’t an indicator of skill”.
Having admittedly been out of the loop Robbo would be venturing into a scene that’s in a very strange place indeed, a new school graffiti of the Web 2.0 generation that has a media savvy sheen. “This is why I have doubts about doing it full time. It has been watered down, there’s a certain glamour around it which makes it sexy to be involved in graff. There’s blogs and magazines that have done very well to publicise it but I feel like a lot of them have their own agenda, they’ve seen a business aspect and that there’s money to be made from graffiti. Young writers can edit and upload their photos onto the internet and get an immediate response but they’re not out there living it 24/7. Obviously there’s still great people like TOX who do it because they just love being vandals and I love the rooftop artists like Burning Candy and Panik who still have that rebellion, they’ve gone up higher to avoid getting buffed. To me they risk getting arrested to brighten up my eye line and get their art seen, that mentality is real graffiti”.
Though diluted, graffiti’s growing popularity has meant respected agencies are able to hook writers up with paid work and a gallery environment, but yet again the issue of the ever increasing grey area between what is street-art and what is graffiti comes up. Fellow graffiti artist and owner of London agency RareKind, David Samuel, argues that from the public sphere to the gallery graffiti gets lost in translation. “Graffiti in a gallery is not a real thing, what people need to know is that the work is by graffiti artists, people with a history, people who painted at first not for money, but for appreciation within their culture. When they hit the gallery scene they put themselves out there as artists, not as graffiti writers and have the same struggles as any other artist. Banksy did a great deed for the scene, as the public put all paintings/writing on walls in one basket termed graffiti, which though annoying, he opened doors for artists like myself and gave us a good platform to work from. But, Robbo brought to light the difference between the two, a lot of people don’t truly understand his motives. While a rat holding a placard with a statement is a lot easier to understand than a wildstyle piece of graffiti full of colour and contrast, it’s us who have a unique skill which should be appreciated but we have to use graffiti as a stepping stone to the art world not bring it with us”.
So whilst the initial lustre of street art wears off and the stencils and wheat pasted images become as commonplace as the graff that came before them I wonder if Robbo ever gets sick of being asked about Banksy. “Of course, but I look at it like, I’ve already tainted any write ups there are of him in the history books, but I haven’t even started on mine”. On that note I let him stroll off into the night, spray can nozzles dropping out his pockets before he leaves me with, “I’d love to do a 30ft silver dub on the Great Wall of China, imagine that? They’d have me assassinated, but it’d be beautiful”.
If you Google Robbo, Robbo tags, or Robbo graffiti, you will be hard pressed to find something either on the web or in images section that mention him solely, or provide an image of his tag other than the Regent’s Canal piece. Because Banksy is such an internationally-known name, it can be argued that he has brought Robbo to a more main-stream audience, and therefore inducted this piece (and, indeed, Robbo himself) into the international graffiti and street art scene.
If something becomes a permanent fixture in the landscape, it runs the risk of being taken for granted, and therefore leaves its viewers unaffected and unimpressed. While I recognize that the lifespan of this tag might be impressive to graffiti artists and taggers, once something becomes an accepted part of the landscape, it becomes fair game to street artists. This is because the true definition of street art is to challenge the way we think about our visual landscape through intrisically ephemeral and thought-provoking pieces. By revitalizing this relic, Banksy has forever immortalized it by giving it a new life and a new meaning. Because Banksy breeched the taboo of territory, he made it one of the current hot topics in the graffiti and street art world. Finally, by responding as he did to Banksy, Robbo crossed from the realm of graffiti artist and tagger into the world of street art. In this sense, Banksy has invigorated the environment of Regent’s Canal by changing the dynamic by initiating this creative dialogue and competitive exchange.
Many graffiti enthusiasts accused Banksy of being disrespectful. On slamxhype.com, a user wrote: “Complete and utter sacrilege by Banksy. Blasphemous in the extreme. How dare he paint over history? What on earth gives him the right ?” Another wrote: “Banksy should simply quit, it just gets worse and worse, since the ‘myth’ is over . . .”
Robbo has more than matched Banksy’s wit. Robbo’s piece deserves recognition and it’s quite unlikely that Banksy’s intended effect was to give Robbo the massive elevation, appreciation and profile that is coming from this spat.”
Others speculated that the feud was far from over. Banksy painted five new images along the Regent’s Canal over Christmas. His art is featured in a bestselling book, and he is no stranger to having his own work painted over.
by Helen Soteriou via http://hypebeast.com/2010/06/robbo-awakens-banksy-graffiti/
15th June 2010
Can you tell me about your background and how you got into graffiti ?
I’m from Scottish and Irish decent but I was born in London. I am a Londoner, a true Londoner.
I got into writing my name back in the late ‘70s during the punk and skinhead movement. I was a skinhead, like most of the guys round my way. They all used to write an ‘O’ at the end of their name. You had skinhead writers like ‘Wilko’, ‘Bozo’, and ‘Rolo’ and that was where it began for me, I wrote ‘Robbo’.
I used to hang about with the bigger lot and I was about 9 or 10, and it just progressed from there. I just kept doing it. I was writing around the estate, on the buses, on my way to school and on my way home.
I just liked seeing my name everywhere.
What does graffiti mean to you ?
It is a love affair. It always has been. It has been my mistress. I love graffiti. I love the rawness of graffiti – the original graffiti. You just go out there and express yourself and not really care about what other people thought …and be creative.
I think it has been milked down a bit nowadays, but I still love graffiti and I love all aspects of graffiti from the bombing to the piecing and everything.
What does it mean to be so highly regarded in graffiti circles ?
It is humbling. You don’t realise how big you are at the time. You know you are big. You know you are up there. There are so many competitions and people battling each other and they want to be the best but they don’t like to admit that they respect you, because we were all young. We were teenagers and young adults. There was a lot of testosterone. That’s how it was. Years later and people have chilled out, it’s like everyone has got a lot of love for me and it’s humbling. I really do like the way I am held in peoples regard.
Sources say that you moved away from the scene when you started your own family – is this true ?
It is true to a certain extent. The first couple of years when the kids were young, I was still graffing quite hard, but then my life moved in a different direction. I was working to support my family.
To me, to be a good graffiti writer you had to live it 24/7. You would go out raking paint and go out bombing yards. You had to have your finger on the pulse. When I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t live it to the full and get-up the way I used to, then it is sort of like, I have done everything, I’ll take a back seat now. I’ll do the right thing. I’ll just get up here and there, little blants, you know, but things have started to change for me now.
What is your current situation – are you still active, would you like to do more – indoors and out ?
I used to love doing the trains. That is what I used to do. Now that is sort of gone. I can’t do that, especially being in my position. I have three children. I have got a business. I can’t afford to go to prison again…but that is my real love affair – the trains.
So I’m out. I’m doing my bits and pieces. I’m getting a good buzz out of doing it but it is not going to be the same as it was.
If someone offered you a gallery show, would you consider it ?
If you can get money out of something you love then why not.
There is a demand for me at the moment. I am getting head-hunted by a lot of different galleries approaching me with opportunities. I think ‘why not give it a go. Just see what happens’.
You only get a few chances in life and this is a chance. I want to see where it takes me.
You have been thrown into the media spotlight overnight because of Banksy’s actions – why do you think he painted over your piece ?
A friend of mine had a book coming out called ‘London Hand Styles’. It was different to all the other books. It was all about tagging and bombing. So he approached me and asked me to give him some photos and he wanted to get some quotes off me. I was happy to oblige. I was reminiscing and then all of a sudden he asked me what happened with Banksy, and I had said that we had had a fall-out in the 90s when he was a cocky young fella. I reinstated that in that book, and I think it came out September last year.
December of last year, a couple of months later, Banksy decided to go over probably the oldest piece still standing, which was from the 80s and it was from a completely different era. It might have been tagged and bombed but it was still a part of history, whether it was mine or not. So for him to have such a big ego to think he can swipe that bit of graffiti history and use it for his own gains, I just could not put up with that.
I think he did that as a litte ‘f*** you’ to me thinking I would not come back doing anything because I have been out of the game for a while. He didn’t like that I released a story in a friends book, so that was his little way of getting back at me…plus he had a film coming out two months later and he knew it would cause such a storm, and it was going to get him a lot more press and people talking about him again…but he was totally out of order, as far as I’m concerned, and as far as real graffiti writers are concerned.
It was a sort of win-win situation for him. He thought he was getting one over on me and having the last say, and having people talk about him again just before his film come out, so that is what I thought it was all about really.
What would you say to all those people who think it is a publicity stunt ?
No, I’m not Banksy.
That first happened when some people on Banksy’s forum went ‘Robbo has took it the wrong way’. ‘Banksy is paying homage to him’. If Banksy was paying homage to me he would have left the roll saying my name on it, so everyone would have known it was my piece that he used, but he totally wiped that bit out and he used it for his own gain.
Then in amongst all these, comments like ‘it has been the best piece of work that he has done for a long time’ and ‘I think it might be a collaboration between the two’ … the first time I read about it was on the forum, and then recently about 6 weeks / 2 months ago there was a rumour going around that it was started by his PR team, and I really do believe that. They are not silly people. I thought the way that they would want to get out of it is to spread the rumour saying it is a collaboration, by saying that Banksy is the bigger and better guy by helping out an old school legend like myself, getting me a higher profile, and just doing me a favour. I really believe that rumour was started by and spread by his pr team…but it just a rumour.
Do you think there will ever be a reconciliation? If Banksy approached you now what would happen ?
Banksy will not do that because his ego is too big. You know what I thought he might do? I thought he would do a big me up piece. It would have made him look better – like he is the bigger man – in his circles, for street art fans, and gotten credit from graffiti artists.
Do you have a message for Banksy ?
You have woken-up the wrong person. You woke me up, you bought me back. I think you realised it was a mistake to start this. It has back-fired and now you have to deal with the fall out whether you like it or not.
Who inspires you ?
I follow the old school rule. I respect anyone that deserves respect. In all my time I don’t think I have had a fall-out war with anyone. I respected other writers and other writers respected me. There is a code of conduct. There are certain things you didn’t want to do and certain things that if you did them you would become crossed-out and dogged out.
I’m from the old school mentality: live and let live and we are all in this together and we all fight for the same cause. Nowadays this has changed. There are a lot of street and stencil artists that see that Banksy earns a lot of money and they emulate and copy and try and be like him, and they are just in it for the money and good luck to them, but at the end of the day that is not graffiti. You get into real graffiti for the love of graffiti.
What is next for Team Robbo ?
I have about 4 more of Banksy’s lined up.
At the moment I am just having fun.
What year did you start writing ?
Started writing late seventies writing on walls following skinhead and punk movements in London.
How did you get your name ?
It’s a family name (surname).
What inspired you to write ?
Inspired to write by the progression from writing names of bands, etc, was then inspired by TV programmes showing graffiti in New York, ie The Warriors, The Equalizer…etc.
Did New York influence you at all ?
Yes, very much so, from the days of TV and films to documentary films etc like Wild Style, Beat Street, Style Wars and of course Subway Art.
Describe your writing career in London. ?
My writing career started with street bombing, progressing onto pieces on walls and eventually all out trains, stations and tracksides.
What is more important to you as a writer, bombing or style ?
Real graffiti writers bomb and piece with style.
What crews were you down with ?
I was and am still down with WRH. PFB. WD. KAOS INC NYC. KOA AUSTRALIA.
Who were your best partners ?
My best partners were/are WRH, DOZE, PRIME, P.I.C., MR. CHOC LA ROC, DRAK, WD.
When did you quit writing ?
I quit writing around ’95, done bits and pieces but not living it like I used to.
Tell us about the history of your piece on the canal and how did you find out that BANKSY dissed your work ?
The piece was painted on a Saturday afternoon in 1985 on a ledge which was very difficult to get to because it was trendy Camden, people thought it was legal, I got away with it because of that. I found out it had been dissed via a phone call from DOZE the weekend before Christmas.
As a retired writer what was your reaction ?
At first, very annoyed that the oldest piece in London had been used and abused by BANKSY. The guy’s ego must be so large that he thinks he can just go over graff history in London. I had offers from writers to go and bomb it, fire extinguishers etc. I declined, because I wanted to do it myself and turn the tables on him. He used my piece so I wanted to humiliate him by using his stencil and calling myself a king.
Did you have any encounters with BANKSY back in the day ?
I had an encounter personally with him, and gave him a slap because he was an arrogant, cocksure toy. He also dogged me before in the mid nineties….showing very little respect.
How was TEAM ROBBO formed ?
TEAM ROBBO was formed to show the world that there is a difference between graffiti artists and street artists.
In traditional graffiti wars, opponents will generally completely destroy all of their adversary’s work. You have not taken this approach. This leads me to believe that war does not seemed to be based on genuine hostility. It seems to be more of a game of wit rather than an actual war. Please explain the reasoning behind your approach.
You’re spot on with your assumption regarding the war, it is fun but on a serious note I’m trying to show the world that us graffiti artists are intelligent, witty, creative artists. Because we prefer to write our names etc instead of catchy gimmicks, it doesn’t mean we are spotty kids writing our names on bus stops.
How do you think the war with BANKSY might be resolved ?
The war with BANKSY will be resolved by him getting down on his knees and kissing my ring piece, LOL, seriously speaking when I’m done it’s done.
What are your artistic plans for the future ?
My artistic plans for the future are hit a train again, carry on piecing and do a gallery show and create a graffiti website purely for graffiti writers. Nahm sayin’. Peace! ROBBO 484. Thanks for taking the time to interview me. Shouts out to REAS, WANE, WEB, CHINO, SWATCH, JA, SKUF.
TEAM ROBBO Interview
A loosely knit team of ROBBO supporters was formed under the name TEAM ROBBO.
The supporters have participated in an artistic conflict with BANKSY in which art works are defaced in a game of witty one-upmanship. The story became international news and the conflict came to represent the larger conflict between street art and graffiti art.
The following interviews were facilitated by CHOCI, a TEAM ROBBO member, one of London’s old school writers and perhaps the first Brit to paint a New York City subway train.
Featured here are brief interviews with ROBBO, CHOCI and several old school London writers who are members of TEAM ROBBO including PIC MARK DOZE, PRIME and FUEL
What does TEAM ROBBO stand for ?
PIC: Threat. Engagement. Analysis. Management. It’s where your loyalty lies.
MARK DOZE: TEAM ROBBO is an umbrella under which real Graffiti Writers can come together in unity and show their love for the culture and galvanize to fight back against the erosion of our scene.
PRIME: TEAM ROBBO for me represents a simple acknowledgment that we want to promote culture, something that is significant and rises above the sole aim of making money or having a cheap copycat stab at fame. Graffiti Writing stylized letters and therefore TEAM ROBBO, is a culture with all the good, bad and ugly shit that comes with.
FUEL: Simply put TR is defined by writers who aim to expose the hypocrisy and myth making within the BANKSY corporation.
More widely the movement aims to continue ‘just bombing and while attacking the symbols of those who have become the property of the rich, we are!
Who founded Team ROBBO, when and why ?
PIC: You have to ask the big man himself.
MARK DOZE: On Christmas Day 2009 ROBBO came out of retirement to hit back after a 24 year old ‘piece of his had been partially gone over by BANKSY. The piece was only accessible by traversing the canal in Camden Town, so ROBBO squeezed into a wet suit and over he went to alter the ‘piece so it said ‘KING ROBBO’. He hit-up ‘TEAM ROBBO’ on it and the name stuck.
PRIME: It has always been existing, it goes beyond a single incident. Most of these “Street Artists” will be forgotten; their names won’t work through generations.
FUEL: TR formed when the BANKSY corporation usurped one of the oldest pieces of graffiti in London for their own self advancing ends.
How many people are on the team ?
PIC: The TEAM is always growing so it’s hard to put a figure on it.
MARK DOZE: Who knows?
PRIME: The Team grows, it isn’t a crew but an understanding of the real blood, sweet and tears that is behind graffiti writing.
FUEL: I’m not sure but I sense it’s growing.
Can anyone join, or are there specific requirements to join up ?
PIC: In my eye’s, anyone and everyone can join up. It’s the real writers who are backing the cause. Those that have spent time getting dirty for the love! Everyone knows the rules. You go over me or my bruva, you light the torch paper and YOU get burned!
MARK DOZE: There’s no specific requirements. You don’t have to ask or be asked. If your a real Writer or support real Writers then you’re TEAM ROBBO, it’s that simple!
PRIME: If you recognize the significant role graffiti writing plays as a culture then you’re down. My approach would be to do more, hone your skills whether that be in your art or the sport of writing your name, and make your presence felt.
FUEL: I believe anyone can join as long as you share the philosophy.
BANKSY started off as a traditional graffiti writer, but achieved fame for work that is more easily categorized as street art. How does that factor into how UK writers feel about him ?
PIC: To sum it up you have three categories. You got your Lovers, Admirers and your Haters.
MARK DOZE: It’s difficult to say, I’m guessing though that many Writers may feel he ‘sold-out’ or that possibly he used Graf to get to where he wanted to be. He certainly used the elusive and invisible aspect of the Graf Writer to his advantage.
PRIME: I think a lot of U.K. writers don’t know or recognize the support BANKSY has given intentionally or unintentionally to U.K. writers. Some writers feel that Street Art is sanitized. Some think the core of graffiti writing is still intact, and should always be beyond the reach of popular opinion.
FUEL: The individual BANKSY is generally considered a failed writer (toy) who went on to become a hugely successful self publicist.
Is BANKSY respected by writers in the UK ?
PIC: If he did have some respect, It’s dwindling now.
MARK DOZE: I’m sure to a large extent he is, we’re not philistines when it comes to art. He ‘gets up’, he employs the same tactics as a street bomber does, so I guess he’s respected for that. Having said that I don’t know of any Graf Writers who get their work covered in Perspex, but if you were to bomb the Perspex that covers a BANKSY work then you’ll find yourself getting arrested. Obviously our local councils and police forces are art critics too.
PRIME: Some respect him, some don’t.
FUEL: Many writers would probably respect him more, but his constant desperate attempts to gain attention from the media and general public have created an attitude which ranges from mild annoyance to contempt.
How do you feel about BANKSY’s work ?
PIC: At first I thought, OK, this guy has taken it to a new level, raised the bar, opened the public’s eyes and made some serious pound notes from it. Respect. Plus I wish I had scooped up some street furniture he had stenciled and held onto it for a Sotheby’s auction.
Later down the line…What a cheeky cunt.
MARK DOZE: A lot of it I like, particularly some of the earlier work. I think he’s shown great humor and been sharp on topical, political and environmental issues. The problem I think a lot of people have is whether the more recent stuff is conceived, or even executed, by BANKSY. This happens with artists who become corporate, it’s not uncommon.
PRIME: I like a lot of BANKSY’s work, I think his impact has been revolutionary.
FUEL: Early on I recognized something in his bombing strategy. There was a design to his targets and while I noticed his prominence in some key areas I found him unrepresented in huge swathes of lets say less sexy locations across London. There was a snobbery to his targets which set him out as someone who’s motives were removed from that of subcultural graffiti. The success of these targets became apparent as his work began being bought and traded by the very sections of society he supposedly attacked. And as the signed BANKSY prints kept rolling out any subsequent meaning in his work was completely lost.
How do you think the war with BANKSY might be resolved ?
PIC: Where I’m from, If you can hold your hands up (admit) and say you made a boo boo (mistake) that will bode well and people can forgive you…and if you don’t, or make silly excuses, then your fucked mate.
MARK DOZE: I think war is maybe over-stating it but to answer the question….I have no idea.
PRIME: By a good handshake then graffiti writers spraying everything, with style.
FUEL: When the investors who own his work have lost a lot of sleep and weight due to the depleting value of their stock. When the definition is made clear and no one can confuse me or any other graffiti artist with BANKSY. When his corporation is brought out for what it is and they can no longer hide behind the hero myth.
What are your artistic plans for the future ?
PIC: I never ever say I’m an artist, cause I’m not. I’m a writer…. It’s in me blood.
Toodle pip for now.
MARK DOZE: I’m still breathing, so I’m still painting, when I get the time of course….it never leaves you; this Graf thing you know? I’m mentoring my son who’s 13 and he’s showing real promise. I’m also involving myself with the Survival International charity which helps indigenous peoples fight over land rights etc……it’s all good at the moment, the Team is strong!
PRIME: My plans are to create more, and hone the skills I have.
FUEL: Painting walls and trains with graffiti from my heart.
CHOCI ( TEAM ROBBO ) – INTERVIEW
What year did you start writing ?
Depends on “writing” as a punk back in the days we used to squat houses take speed and write all over the walls, it could be poetry, political slogans/messages etc, as for New York City style writing around ‘84.
How did you get your name ?
I got the name CHOCI after a punk friend of mine (MIck Hand) vicked some chocolate biscuits from Lisa’ cookie jar and I got the blame. So CHOCI is the shortening of Chocolate.
Did the New York graffiti movement influence you ?
Oh yes, it certainly did. Graffiti New York Style was like a new dawning of punk, a youth movement, angry at it’s surroundings, getting creative, fucking over the system, a new wave of expression through an illegal underground movement. Heavy…
Describe your writing career in London.
As soon as I got back from New York I dived very deeply into the graffiti movement in London, it was in it’s very early stages, very fresh, it was a mission to go all city, great fun too.
What targets did you hit, walls, streets rails, Underground ?
There was nothing safe from a CHOCI ROC tag. I hit everything from trains, walls, streets, tracksides, BTP wagons, anything and everything. Mate, I took the ROCSTAR name across the Atlantic and all city London town and on European bombing tours too.
What crews were you down with ?
ROC (NYC), We Roc Hard and I started All World Experts and Tone Def Cru. Tone Def Cru was disbanded after I went over everyone in the crew (including myself) cap style. I was loosely put down in CIA (NYC) by DURO, and taken out again, also TOP by DURO although I never put them up unless I hit up a cat from the crew. He told me he’s spoken to JAMES TOP about it and he was cool, who knows….
Who were your best partners ?
My best partners were Carlos MARE 139 Rodriguez (of NYC), ROBBO (ROBBO and CHOCI racking battles were legendary) DRAX, SHAM 59, RVB, DOZE, WILLIS, REV, PRIME, P.I.C.
How did you end up in New York ?
A girlfriend’s girlfriend asked me over. I ended up living with Normski (RSC) and his mother Nereida (RIP). It was upper west side.
How did you hook up with MARE and KEL ?
I met Carlos in the Herald centre, I was breaking there with Normski and Scottie Rock. Carlos and I hit it off and used to hang out together. Through Carlos I met his brother KEL. Also DOC, DONDI, FREEZE, MIXER, CS ONE, SEAROC etc..
Tell us about your experience hitting New York trains. ?
MARE took me up to his grandma’s house. In a cupboard was a whole heap of paint. Carlos was like “Do you wanna’ go hit up a train?” I was like “Hell yeah, why not…” We packed a rucksack, paint, milk, cookies and a dime bag, caught the One train and headed uptown. We stopped at a station got out. Carlos was like “Follow me.” and we simply walked off the platform into the tunnel…I was like gobsmacked, after a short walk we came to the lay-up. It was surreal, like a film escape from Yew York It was scary and exciting, the closer we got to the trains I could make out dark subterranean figures crawling all over the trains, like ants, closer and the paint fumes and paint dust grew strong, we bumped into KASE (who did my 3d) and we hit the train. It was so awesome, I was the first British writer to get up on the trains in Yew York. I was hooked there and then. This was my new punk, my new fu*k the system! I later found out that it was FC, IBM etc. doing whole cars on the other trains. We returned as soon as Carlos was ready again. Awesome….Carlos is my Boriqua soul brother.
What did your mates back home think about the fact that you were painting in New York ?
They were knocked out. I came home with Uni-wide markers, Marsh ink, and photos of trains that nobody had seen before. I brought Carlos with me too, which also had peeps buggin’ out.
When did you quit writing ?
I never really quit writing. I got into DJing through graffiti and became a successful DJ, record producer, I ran my own shop and Studio. It took all my energy, although I was always writing my name on everything especially DJ booths all over the world. I got banned from Tokyo’s biggest club for hitting up dubs all over it’s corridor walls.
When did you get back into writing ?
Over the last three years I have slowly got back into piecing. KEEN one inspired me to do so.
How and why did you get down with Team ROBBO ?
I’ve been down with ROBBO for 25 26 years. We’re in the same crews, so it was a simple progression from what’s been happening these past few years. It was my house he came round on Christmas morning telling me he had altered the BANKSY piece.
Thank you ERIC for taking the time to hit us up.
Big shouts to MARE and KEL, my style writing teachers, shouts also to VAN 2ROC, ZEAROC, SPADE FBA, PRIME, FUEL REV, DOZE WILLIS, KEEN ONE, ASTEK, DISK, P-H-Y-S-C-H-O, Normski, Scottie Rock, SEN ONE, ,DASH R.I.P DONDI, SHY 147, Frosty Freeze and James Mckenzie, my father. Out……
For Banksy against Team ROBBO
The thing about ‘Team Robbo’ is that anyone can buff a banksy and write ‘team Robbo’ and they do and thats now the point of ‘Team Robbo’. Therefore it makes the whole “team robbo” brand totally non-commercial as no one can control what is an authentic ‘team Robbo’ anymore. Which i think is quite beautiful.
I just hope no one is deluding themselves that any consumer trust could be made with the ‘brand’ because its not a concept that anyone really can legitimately own any longer without undermining the only really interesting open source nature of this particular form of brandalism.
Bright colors but that’s about it, not impressed with anything from team wannabe famous! Other than they seem to have enough balls to go and fuck-up everything Banksy is doing because of some old piece they did, get over it nothing is forever when you put it on a wall, again very un-impressed….