By accident I met this wonderful creative and deeply passionate artist via the internet. Not in person yet, but the world is getting closer and maybe one day I come to Darwen near Manchester where he lives and where he is not only putting color on the grey walls of his home place but as well contributing with love energy and helpful engagement for the communities and the people who need it.
His actually name is Keiron Whitehead but everybody calls him CURLY. So that´s his artist name, or let´s say one of them but the one which he is using mainly. His range of creative doing is basically graffiti and streetart, but as well canvas artwork, drawing and actually everything you can paint on. His saying: As long as the paint can stick on it, I paint it. He loves to do walls but did as well all kinds of vehicles. Cars, caravans or wagons but on the bucket list there is still a plane and a helicopter. So if anybody wants one to get painted, contact him.
CURLY changes the face of his surroundings and is doing this in several ways, totally open minded with honesty but as well with a radical uncompromising way. He is just doing it. And even the police has its appreciation for it.
Keiron does workshops with kids and interested people; he encourages their skills and teaches them how to use it. There is a lot of good work to bring the kids away from the streets. As well Curly is part of the Secret Society of Super Villain Artists which is a global group of good hearted creatives who pushing and helping everywhere in the world where they can. And this out from the dark. Sounds just fantastic and idyllic to know there is something good coming from the back but you don´t know from where and you don´t even expect it. The world needs more people like him.
Here is a podcast to an interesting and informative interview about Keiron Whitehead aka CURLY. He tells about his development of being an artist, about his connection to Crown Paint and Montana and as well his encounters with authorities. In the following there are several passages of the interview as well written down.
You paint and you do streetart?
Yes, I am doing this for about 20 years now. I started off in young years and when I was about five or six years old I was always watching Bob Ross. I just got my pencil and papers, were watching them on TV and just copying what they did and just built my own style. Then I got older, I used to travel to Manchester a lot. They have a lot of street scene. And on the tracks, I was going by train so I was looking on the tracks. And especially on subways as well, there is a lot of underground art. So graffiti. They were bright and colorful, wonderful in the dark. It called my attention. I was able to get some paint and I started to pull my school books up. Yes, first I draw in school books my work. And then our art teacher, he realized what I was doing. And he motivated to continue with art. But I changed that to graphic design. I do a lot of variety. When I finished school I went to Brighton. And Brighton is absolutely covered in graffiti and it´s like a legal city for artwork. It´s not like when the police catches you, they do you properly. But it´s not that bad, you can get away with it. So you can go any time during the day and do what you want. Which is where I learned my style. And I always kept myself to myself.
So I haven´t really been into clubs or crews or anything like that. I´ve always been on my own. And there was a shop down there called Rare Kind. They mainly did vinyls and music. But they had as well a paint stock. There I found my paint. So the next thing was to find a legal wall and not to get caught. I went down to Black Rock and that´s where I started to create my legal art. When I came back up north, this was about ten years later, I realized the artwork. There wasn´t any. There was no graffiti art, no streetart. Not any public names at all. Some smaller tags here and there. And I thought this is a open market. I have got free walls, and nobody is touching the walls here, nobody is going up on my artworks. So they last longer. So I started doing artworks back in the alleys and wanted to see what they get like. I didn´t get into any trouble.
But at one night, I went out, it was three or four o´clock in the morning. It was snowing. And I know, we are in a small town and the police was busy doing all the things. So I got my backpack and my paint and I went out and found a wall. It was pitch black, I had no light and just did a bomb. I got it and I wanted to go home. But I got caught suddenly by the police, there were four police cars, eight police officers. They all had the lights on. They let me out and asked, so which one did you do? I said proudly: “That one! But my other artworks are much better. I thought it was a legal wall. Because I was coming along here, found the wall and it was full with tags, so it must be alright to do this here. So I did it.” And I asked them: “You know now it´s me, so can I finish it?” Because they had the lights on it. And they were some way attracted by that. They gave me my paint back and told me to approach the council. And that was about six years ago. And ever since then I thought, well, if the police lets me go and tells me I have got skill, and the council did recognize it. So yes, I started promoting the streetart around Blackburn and Darwen in Central Lancashire. There was no one who was doing it there. I was able to develop my skill. And the only way how you are able to do that is if you give me the opportunity with walls. But in return I can promote it legally. To show them, you know, it´s not all about drugs. Everybody branded hip hop and graffiti and drugs like in New York in the dodgy areas and it is addressed to society. But actually it´s not all that. It brings out creativity in people. For me I was able to show the good side in it. So a local person is actually enlightening it and is able to show the benefits of art. Then it flourished.
So the police actually motivated you and said it´s cool?
Yeah. They saw there was more effort in the paper work and to nicking me for graffiti. They saw the benefit which could go to the community center. So I should trying to stop it from kids doing it and teach them how to do it properly and give them more of a motivation to develop the skills and art. I have seen a couple of kids when I was doing workshops, I did it and have seen it on events which were around.
Wow, impressive! Usually the police isn´t that long term thinking. Of course it´s better if the council supports you to teach others, especially kids.
Yes, it does work. A lot of it is manly for deprived areas. They don´t really have material value, they don´t have any money. Anyway they are going and be able to enjoy themselves on the weekends. Because there is nothing there around to do. They started to do that anyway. Every normal kid up life, they don´t have plans what to do. Most of the time it leads to drugs and alcohol issues. I wouldn´t say it´s a bad area, because every area is as bad as the others. So it´s a common thing you can see with youngsters around. If someone can get them an opportunity to getting away from that and develop skills and give them opportunities. And yeah, why not use it? Not just me though, there are as well older people and all the communities they didn´t really know about streetart. They can express themselves with art without words. So I didn´t stop.
That means you are not only an artist, you are as well some kind of a teacher and an educator.
Well I can only educate on the stuff that I know and what I learned myself through graffiti. I just teach them the basics. I am not a teacher, just a viewer. Because it´s not something I pulled my whole effort into. I would call it as a hobby. For that I enjoy it and it keeps progressing and progressing. Started as well with a paint cart and doing some illegal in the north. So it became the first streetart there and since then there is a development in the art. This is just its own advertisement. My work and the people, meanwhile I´ve got a name. I have many artworks and doing workshops for community centers or summer schools or anything like that. I was telling children how to create. I always said I am getting children involved, because they look out for it. I´ve always told them, you can only get it if you like it and do it for yourself. I thought if I get all this attention for doing graffiti I started showing off and I could make things. Like not only my artwork, I didn´t want to sell my artwork. But I was able to show what I thought what they want to see. So I did a lot normally on commission basically in the local area. As well like canvases, I have done a lot of spraying and I´ve done drawings as well. And I´ve also adapted the spray cans on canvas as well.
And I´ve seen your creative area is very bright, like you have a wide range. You paint cars as well. The object doesn´t have to be a wall. If somebody comes and says, paint my doghouse or my bicycle, it´s possible as well.
Yes, sure. I´ve done wagons and everything. The only thing I have not painted yet is a plane. A plane and a helicopter. If you can manage to get that. I´ve done all kinds of transportation. I have done a bus, I´ve done a wagon, I´ve done a van, I´ve done a car on a van on a wagon. I´ve done plenty of cars and caravans. I´ve painted car panels. If the paint can stick to it I paint what I can. I am trying to get it as best as you want it, like your vision. Which helps me out as well. Because it´s not only about doing writing. Usually I was a writer. I was doing everything. Like 2D, 3D, bombing, throw ups, outlines, everything. And then I started to develop in pieces. I learned there is always like these two types of art. So streetart is just anything else but graffiti. So graffiti, that´s what we are, the graffiti artists. It´s to make a statement. But me being only a graffiti artist I am not going to develop myself. I wanted to develop every single style. Like Wildstyle, Abstract, 3D, all the different types of characters. I like to do all the things. I like to do landscape and I started to look on other artists. There are some different artists I´ve got on my Facebook page. Like Gnasher for example. So I was thinking on all the ones I have looked up. There was something about a dog, and his sighs were just unique. So I copied it. Sure you can tell the difference between my dogs and everybody elses. And Gnasher, he is like a photorealist. He makes a piece of artwork and you have like a photo. I thought I need to develop my art to make it look realistic. And I´ve also when I go to festivals, I look on everybody else. And I was realizing it that people are sketching their artworks over and over and a long time and sometimes for years. So I wanted to look what it is and how it is and I wanted to draw it up. I just pick it on the day and found on Google what is similar to what I want and what I want it to look like. I just pick a few things and then I paint it freestyle just there. It´s not perfect, there might be imperfections there. Some might not be exactly of how I picked. But it is the fact that I can pick something and make it look exactly how it is on the wall. And that´s a good play, I don´t have to measure it up and make lines. That´s it, I just look on it and that´s what I want to do, so I go. I´ve developed my style by matching with people. But that´s the way you doing it, isn´t it?
You described a bit your development, but I think that´s the usual way. You start with some tagging then simple writing.
So that´s one thing I am not up to. I can´t tag.
You just skipped that. But first you did maybe just some bombings with letters but then after a while some other characters came, some figures, some animals and step by step the whole paintings became like a mural or a whole concept piece of art.
It´s a bit above. You want to look it like a mural but then you also want it to look simple and plain. I´ve learned as well sometimes you have to stop and not keep trying to make it perfect. Then you ruin it. Sometimes it´s perfect simple. Less is more sometimes.
Do you paint while you travel? Or are there some other artworks from you at other places?
Yes. I´ve done an artwork in Tenerife. In the south of Tenerife near the coast in a little town called Costa de Salencia on the side of a hotel. Again that one, there I found a tattoo shop which was selling paint. So I was doing a piece on a massive wall outside of the hotel, there were some other murals. And the guests have been left, so it was kind of a closed hotel. So I picked it and did a little piece. When I was finished I was quite proud of myself. I was for about three hours doing it. And I turned around and there were all police and they stopped there with machine guns and all that.
Again the police?
Yeah, yeah. And they were all like the Spanish police alike. And I said: “Sorry, sorry, professional! I am English and a professional, sorry!” They asked me where I am from and I showed my wristband. They looked at each other to take me in, but they just pointed in the direction of my place and just let me go. They let me out and I just went to my hotel and I´ve never been back. You learn that in some situation there is just no point of running. So I was quite lucky. I have a canvas in Guatemala which I send out for a pop up charity. I was just going with them and giving out free artwork. I have quite a lot through England. But a lot around Lancashire. There is one like a shark which is going to stay until next year. I am going this weekend to Tamworth. There is a competiton in Tamworth, there is always one since a few years and it´s getting attention. So there are a lot of artists going down there. They have a skate park, they are doing free style dancing, they have got beat boxers down there, they are doing sessions, they have art and all kinds, there is a mountain bike track going around there. There is absolutely all stuff going on and it´s all free. So I will be down there in the skate park and do something there. I think there are about 60 artists there just all around the skatepark. There are 40 artists in the tunnel where the main competition will be. You get there best piece, best character and best production. And that´s supplied by Loop which is giving all the paint and the prize for the competition winners. The theme of the competition is “Creatures of the Skies”. So I am doing a war pidgeon. And I have just done a memorial for D-Day and the landings. This was in Darwen. This is like a medal and a memorial artwork. And I´ve just done it for a heritage center. On the war theme it was just 100 years ago since the war pigeons were used. They used them in the war to pass messages through the land. So I am using a war pigeon. As my representation for the festival. I will see which size. I think four by four. And is going to get hold one time every year near the shopping center. That´s going to be good. And I´ve got a music festival coming up, where we are there with some artworks. This will be fun. And towards September time there is Cheltenham Festival which is massive. The artwork is unreal. They are going to put a lot forward. I the meantime I have to think about how much time do I have in-between to commit to any more that I can get along with. And I work full time as well, so it´s usually on weekends when I do my graffitis.
What about the ingredients you are using, the paint. Do you use on the walls only spray cans?
I´ve used all sorts. I´m from a town, you´ve ever heard of Crown Paints? It´s a big company. They have like 200 years of history of wall paper and paint. Basically a majority of wall paint came from Darwen and it was built here, developed and made. Then it used to be distributed around the world. They have got a heritage as well. And I do work with Crown on the side and doing little projects. So Crown Paints is really good, especially for mercenary paint. It stays there on for years. They got good colors and I`ve got free use of the recycling funds. I can go and get whatever I want. So I used Crown Paints as my best. If you look at the painting of Earthworm Jim, the background on that, I actually mixed all the Crown Paints to get it exactly how the background was on the Sega Megadrive I used to get. It´s actually the game color. When the guy said: “I want a plasma core around Earthworm Jim on the wall”. I was like: “Yeah, I´ll do it!”. And Earthworm Jim popped up, and there is a picture where the guy stood on to the laser and he stood next to Earthworm Jim. So yeah, I used Crown Paints for that. I made the background with that and I have even a video online showing how I did that. I did the same like if I would spray it. So I outlined it, then I filled in the back middle full grounds. Then I left it a few days because the wall was concrete. We call them brick walls. I let it set for a few days. And then I just freestyled it. There is a video as well. And yes, I just do what I do. I performed on that wall. Besides using Crown Paints I did start using Montana. That´s my weapon. I love the smell but I can´t smell it anymore. Like if you use it that much you cannot take the smell.
Yes, Montana, especially the 94, I think it´s kind of the Excalibur of the cans.
Yeah, it is. It´s just nice and soft and it´s free flowing. It´s not dusted. Well, it´s not as dusted what you are expect it to be compared to all the varieties. Yes, the color lasts long. It´s not too hard, it´s not too thick and it dries quickly. It´s the best to sell and yeah, that´s my favorite can. I´ve used them all. Epsy, Cule Loop, Dope, GBX, I´ve used them all. Literally I´ve got a piece, they send me brown, green and black from China before it even got distributed into England to test it. So I made a massive one, like four meters count on a side. So it was a can test on a wall. I enjoy trying out different paints. And I got different colors and I do mix them and match. I don´t usually use poster or acrylics or water colors on walls. But I started to use water colors on canvas and paper to work out with techniques so I can use that on the wall. There is a big wall and there is a stick guy, we call him Hook. And the way how it is done is like water colors. That´s the next technique for me, water colors.
You are always developing and always curious.
Yeah. You can never learn everything. Can you? It´s about the time, yes. But when I do, I don´t like to do the same thing twice. Oh yeah, stencil. I´ve done a couple of those. I did all the common Banksys, but I changed the design slightly with my characters. I did them as some pieces of stencils, put them in a gallery and gave them out for free. So others can have a piece of their own Banksy. I have done few sets of them. I did it black and white and then a color version. So you do get to use things over and over again some time. But I don´t like it. It´s time consuming with stencils.
What´s about your name CURLY? Did you have curly hair or any relation to this or is it just a name or a word you like?
Ever since I was younger everyone was calling me Curly. Curly Watts was a television character with big glasses and I looked like that when I was a kid, like a milky wacket. And yeah, then I went a bit browner but the name stood. And even at the point when I moved to Brighton I didn´t tell people about Curly. But people started calling me Curly again.
So that must be the name!
Yeah. It´s one of many. The only person who calls me my real name are coworkers. So yeah, it´s the same with the writing. I didn´t start off writing CURLY. I started writing FUBA. And when I went to Brighton it was BUBI. But because everyone kept calling me Curly, so it´s nice and simple. They are all nice to use but I stood with CURLY every since.
What´s about this group or society called SSOSVA?
Yes. It´s the Secret Society of Super Villain Artists. It was founded in 1921 by Silent Bill. And that is as much as you able to get out of them. It´s a secret society. The good thing is about this secret society that we are international. I could say that we dominated the art world globally. You got your highlights and events and the ones who do, but there are always have been a secret society and there was at least one person at the events about art. I applied because I thought it´s a collective. They are out there to do good. You know, it´s not about making money and becoming on top. Or trying to get into the galleries. It´s nice to be able to sell your artworks for millions of pounds but reality is different. If you can create good with that and right up for the community and give other people opportunities. You know, that´s what all that is about.
Sounds very good, and not that much like villain, more like secret heroes.
Yeah, and all artists have been terrorists as well. We can get the point across, certainly. If you look at Salford there is a place it´s called “Witness”. And there was a gas explosion like two years ago. And the council said: “Yes, we got all this money and we regenerate the area and we will do all for the locals and we get the shops all rebuild”. And what really sorted out, two years later the people still live in hotels and that´s it. The shops are all empty, all the businesses are gone bankrupt. Because the local government wouldn´t help them out.
So who is the real villain?
Exactly. You know who the villain is. Two years after that burned down the community are now better off than after it burned down and it´s all the artwork around it. It´s brighten up the area. It´s there to make a point. To prove and to make light of something that people are taking a blind eye to. The real awareness. And that´s why we doing it. Yeah. That´s only my version of what I expect and what I see and what I appreciate on the secret society. And we always contribute wherever we can. And we have charity auctions and we donate all the money to children and their needs like dialysis machines. I mean the society is just working on sponsorship to sponsor a local football team to keep the local team going. There are so many different branches of the society. We are in so much of community and incentives and helping people out. Like there are soup kitchens and it´s not only about artwork. It´s about what we can do for the community. And we can use the artworks to promote it and then we will.
I feel a lot better now to know there is a secret society who does good out from the shadows. But sometimes you have to be careful.
It is. And I know that we back each other up. We all help each other out. But the size of the society. I struggled to believe that I would know half of them. I am not one of the first members of the society here, but I was in the first year of membership and they put me down to a good contributor to the society. It´s definitely something people need to look into and they can realize what is about the patch of this society. It´s global. It´s all over the world. It wouldn´t surprise me if penguins got in on its shoulder. That patch is just everywhere. It´s even in space. It is. For a little patch it means so much for everyone. It´s worth looking into.
And one of the best recent inventions is the internet. The flow of information about the globe isn´t stoppable anymore. So you can make connections quite easy in a few seconds like from here to Hong Kong or from Frankfurt to Darwen.
Yes, I realized when I did that shark. Because the day I put that up, I saw it got reposted and reshared. And then it went to Middle East and then to Australia and to Japan. And a friend of mine it popped up and he reshared it in Mexico. So I was like, wow! In 24 hours it actually circled the world for real.
There is great power and there are many opportunities with the internet. People still have a lot to learn about it and how to use it, but it changes everything incredibly.
Yes, it does. The world becomes more open. We are more able to promote ourselves and we are able to get it out there to people. Because you think like ten years ago, we had photos that people managed to get from the art work. You never got to see a scrap book, never got to see a sketch book, you never got to see anyone’s work, because it was all already painted over and you wouldn´t know. And people say: “How can you say you are known as an artist?” And I say: “Just because you don´t know.” Like who is your best singer or your favorite music in the world, if you never heard music. You know. You can´t say who you are if the people don´t know this. It´s an art world and you can only become famous by being out there. And the only way to getting on is putting yourself out there. So I am in the society on the different social platforms. Like on Instagram, on LinkedIn and Facebook. You know there are all different kind of branches and different circles and like different cultures that you can promote to. And even if they don´t see it, it´s just in it.
I mean it´s up to everybody by themselves how much privacy you want to show and shout out to world, how many pictures you want to put on. But in the end it is a possibility which is nearly for free. You have so many platforms and you can show. Long time ago they had only this one picture or this one piece of artwork, now people can do their research, they can look how the person or the artist is doing and what the whole concept behind the work is, they can get a much deeper and closer touch of all that, enjoy the art much more and get connected to it.
Yeah, it´s a good way of showing how you are developing. There you got your archive, your portfolio. They can look for you and see how you develop and get a taste of how your artwork is. It´s already there, free use for them to see. Yes, it´s a good benefit. But the downside is as well like with Facebook and with like 5000 followers, you don´t get the time to look and see all the peoples walls. Because there are so many updates and so many different profiles. It´s hard to keep on top of them. You like to have all in one, but there´s nothing what can do that. You know I don´t have time to look in every social media platform.
Our capitalistic lifestyle with all this higher, bigger, faster and all that. It came with this money system, but it´s now so deeply in our society that we start putting it on other things. So even if it´s on Facebook not with money, it´s about the clicks and the likes.
It changed in ways and now it´s all about what people think about you. You should admire that all, but I don´t care what anybody thinks about me. As long as I´m able to do and the people around me are happy and everybody is healthy and getting along with their lives, I don´t care. And everybody can see it coming, I don´t judge other people. If they want to go off and do this and that, it´s their life. As long as it doesn´t affect me and I´m not bothered. But they are on the strive of it, they need the likes. One day I maybe get 5 likes for something, another day I get 150. You know, at the end of the day you get seen at a time, it´s all the algorithms.
I´m a journalist and for me it´s like a pen or like a book or paper. I always try as well to defend the internet, to say, hey, it´s an instrument. That´s what it is. So like a knife or a hammer. You can use it to build a house or you can use it to crash somebody´s head.
Yeah, in good or bad ways. It´s exactly that. People need to know the warnings and the dangers of the internet before they use it. I mean, I am lucky because I was born before the edge of the internet. So I watched it develop myself. Therefore I know what the internet is like. Which is really wired when you think of it. I´m quite old but see myself quite youthful. I´m old but not yet 60. I watched it develop. It can rip off peoples life and it can destroy everything. It´s about knowing the boundaries. Like I said about the local place. I am a public artist and yeah, I do it for free. And I go out and I do all the community incentives and I do workshops and I do galleries and my own artworks and commissions and I do everything I can. Even if I walk in there with illegal graffiti in the middle of the street during the daylight. I am doing graffiti while everybody is walking around and passing me. I am happy with that. But there is that risk involved. The police promotes it but if you get caught doing it and if it´s criminal damage then you can get done. They will put you inside for it and you will get like years. Same like for not paying TV license or to pay council tax. So you have got that stigma always on your back. Even if you do the best things in the world by all you can to be good and you follow every rule in the book and stay legal. They still follow the book if they want to.
I did one work for charity and they tried to take me to court. There was no reason for it to need a permission, I was doing an artist impression of what was going on behind that wall. There was a charity for homeless people. If they are off alcohol for six month they rehabilitated them and teach them life skills and they were also using recycled furniture. Basically furniture which were thrown out by people and which were broken. And they were fixing it up, making it and rag rolling it, painting it and selling it. And the money went from there to donate it for other homeless people. That was like a little circle for the community and they reopened themselves. So I said: “Yes, I get the paint and I do a mural!” And I did it and got a warrant from the council. And even the guy who was prosecuting me, he changed out there. And he just came down to tell me to change the artwork. And it was all about that they wanted a 500 pound painting permission. And there were no reason for a painting permission. They said there are opening and closing times. So the place wasn´t open for public so I had no reason to. I wasn´t allowed to use the charities name to put on the top which I did. I made it look like. So the first impression was like old furniture and with a homeless guy in the middle with vibrant souls picking the furniture. And it showed remaking the furniture and putting them for sale. And above the top I put the charity´s name. And people were passing it, they said it looks amazing. And it all started because one woman at the place complained. And yeah, it just shows, even if you do what you can and you follow the books and you are prepared to fight for it, sometimes there is something. But you learn from it.
There is always one dickhead.
Well it´s not about that people cannot complain. It´s by them. What I think is that sometimes maybe it´s not the best place for the art. But I am an artist. I should be able to paint anywhere. But people are allowed to not like things. That´s the thing nowadays. People are allowed to have an opinion.
Well I didn´t say not to have your own opinion, I said dickheads. For me a dickhead is somebody who does not only just not like it, this person starts doing things to destroy it.
Yeah, there is a term for that here, we call them busy buddy. They are best in dizzing somebody else. Yes, there is always a busy buddy who is busying everybody else. You always will encounter obstacles, you just have to learn how to get over them.
SSOSVA Lancashire Division: https://www.ssosva.com/
Crown Paints Limited: https://www.crownpaints.co.uk/