We were thrilled to discover that Mr Cenz, one of Britain’s leading exponents of street and graffiti art, has recently set up his studio in Crystal Palace! A wander around the back of the Roti Brother’s burger van on the triangle will lead you to a wall painted with one of his extraordinary portraits – his studio is right there in the corner, with Palace Vinyl, a fantastic hidden record shop, pumping out sounds below.
Tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming an artist.
My artist name or ‘tag’ is Mr Cenz and I’m a graffiti artist from South London. I still use the term ‘graffiti artist’ as I mainly use spray paint and and the culture is still a big part of what I do. I was first exposed to the new and exciting Hip Hop movement in the mid-80s. The music was fresh and exciting and the artwork on the New York Subway trains blew my mind. It was through the book ‘Subway Art’ that I first saw this amazing art form and from that moment on I was hooked. I learnt my trade by copying every piece from the book until I could create my own letters, then I hit the streets at about 10 years old. After a few brushes with the law I decided to focus on developing the legal side of things and explore other mediums so I went to art college and later a degree course. This is where I gained my passion for abstract painting and community art. Later on I decided to go back to the graffiti scene but with a new perspective and different style based on what I had learnt by experimenting. This is where the portraits you see now where created.
What is your favourite piece and why?
I always hate this question. I’m a typical fussy artist, I don’t really have favourites as it’s rare for me to like a piece of artwork for very long. I’m always looking at something I have created and thinking hmm I could do that better now. I guess that is the drive that keeps me going and pushing forward. The moment you are satisfied with your work, you may as well give up.
What does your work aim to say?
I don’t have strong political messages in my work. I like to create aesthetically pleasing images which are open to individual interpretation. They are more than just portraits, you can go deeper into a whole landscape of feelings and emotions. The main theme is to portray strong and spiritual women in a surreal and futuristic world which the viewer can get lost in. I’m an abstract painter at heart so creating poetry with lines, shapes and forms is my passion.
What does a day in the life of an artist look like?
Ahh well the daily hustle cannot start without a nice cup of tea. This is probably the only routine that is steady and the same wherever I am. I never travel without my Yorkshire tea bags! Ha! As I travel and paint on the street a lot, I’m not stuck in my studio all the time. Mixing up my routine is important and stops me from becoming too introverted and crazy. If you are in the studio all the time it gets lonely, so I am lucky I have the opportunity to get out there and interact with the public and meet other artists regularly.
Can you tell us about the process of making your work?
The first stage and inspiration is sourcing the reference image. I spend hours looking at photographs to find the right one which speaks to me. Once I have that the rest of the process is very organic and instinctive. I start by deconstructing all the shapes and forms in the face and painting layers and texture to create my own unique interpretation. The result is a mysterious and psychedelic drug fuelled version which has a life and presence all of its own. Each painting is a new adventure where I get lost in a surreal and rhythmic world of endless possibilities. This free process is what keeps me excited about painting.
Street art is all about bringing amazing artwork to the people who would never go or get the chance to go to a gallery to experience it.
Who / what inspires you?
Well artistically my inspirations are very broad and range from abstract expressionists like Miro and Klee, to early graffiti artists like Mode 2 and Dondi. This diversity is evident in style, which is a melting pot of all my influences, experiences and skills from over the years. I currently try not to look at other artists too much as it distracts from me developing my individual style and way of working. In the graffiti culture being different and unique is a fundamental element, which unfortunately isn’t followed by many artists these days. They spend too long on the internet looking at other people’s work and not developing their own thing. My main motivation and inspiration is to make people experience something extremely positive, powerful and uplifting when they look at my artwork. Also another important factor is my drive to always improve and create artwork on another level. I’m trying to push graffiti/street art into the future with my style and am always trying to blow people’s minds with innovative techniques.
Why do you love what you do?
I love that I get to travel to different places and meet lots of amazing people and see the impact of my work directly. For me it’s about creating a positive feeling in people through my work and I am lucky enough to experience this through working on the street. Seeing people of all ages enjoying and getting lost in my work is the main thing that keeps me going.
Can you tell us why you think art within the local community is important?
I come from a community art background and did my degree in it so it’s always been a passion of mine. I have created many community murals over the years and worked with people of all ages to engage with them, inspire them and create change in deprived areas. This is another reason why I love painting on the street so much. Street art is all about bringing amazing artwork to the people who would never go or get the chance to go to a gallery to experience it. Artwork is about connecting people and it’s important to start with your local community.
See Mr Cenz’s artist entry HERE