You don’t need to have watched that recent cringe-inducing episode of The Apprentice to know that street art is big news these days – and nowhere more so than in the dishevelled, graff-daubed streets of Trap’s home city of Bristol.
Among the first places outside of New York to take the discipline of graffiti to its heart in the 1980s, Bristol is now considered to be one of the art-form’s true spiritual homes, as any visitor to the city will quickly discover when wondering its streets.
But no matter how big or popular it becomes, every artistic movement needs an epicentre, a place for its practitioners to meet, talk and demonstrate their talents. Since opening in late 2010, that’s exactly what Bristol’s King Of Paint has become.
Stocking everything the budding or professional street artist could need, and hosting regular exhibitions on their extensive gallery walls, King Of Paint has built a rep not just a hub for the vibrant local scene, but as one of the best places in the UK to discover and, of course, purchase artworks from the next big street-art thing, just before they blow up.
Trap caught up with Paul Villalba and Matthew Hibbert, the two men behind King Of Paint, to find out more…
Hi guys. You’ve been running for about 18 months now, what was the idea behind opening?
Matt: Well, both of us are Bristolians. We knew a lot of writers and artists in Bristol who’d said to us that there was no one-stop shop in the city to get everything you need.
Paul: All the writers and artists were literally going to three different places to get all their colours. I’d always wanted to open a gallery, but I wasn’t willing to sit in one all day and never have any visitors, only at shows. I thought, ‘How can I have a gallery space, but also get a community vibe going on.’ So the paint was a no-brainer.
Matt: We now have more colours than anyone else in this part of England. That’s one of our USPs – if you stand in front of the counter, when it’s full up with paint, it’s amazing to look at. You see people come in with their list of paint and then get distracted by the choice.
And by stocking the paint, it means writers are always coming in, we get to chat to them and they can then show us their work. If we like it, we’ll ask them if they want to do a show. We’re booked up 18 months in advance now, which is great; that’s where we want to be at.
Paul: That was the motivation, having a gallery but also wanting to help the community… The paint, it’s a service really, it’s not an earner. It helps us get that community vibe going on.
Beyond the art on the gallery walls, what exactly do you sell?
Matt: We’ve got Belton, 94 and Montana Gold paint, plus pens, caps, masks, gloves – all the paraphernalia that goes with graffiti. We’re trying to get to the point where we are that one-stop shop. We’d like to eventually do our own emulsion, rollers, everything.
So do you guys have a background in street art and graffiti?
Matt: I’ve always loved graff, always been around it and had lots of friends involved in it. But I’d never found an option to be involved. It makes me happy now to be in it, and I swore to myself I’d never go back to what I was doing before – working in pubs, call centres and even a bank – it made me so miserable and unhappy.
Paul: Living and growing up in Bristol, it’s always around you. I got involved a few years ago, collecting pieces. I did a show out in Bali with David Walker and Jo Peel that went really well. After that I did a couple of shows at a friend’s pub, The Library in Islington, and it went off! I thought, ‘I can make a career out of this, I love it.’
What have been the shows you’ve been most proud to have put on?
Paul: China Mike, Paris, Stik were all great shows, and we’ve got Xenz, David Walker and Dicey all coming up. Now, we constantly have quality artists approaching us for shows. When we started we were trying to get the shows, now people have the trust in us.
We’re trying to do it correctly, rather than doing a pop-up and throwing a load of shit in the window. We’ve spent a lot of money on lighting, the flooring is tarmaced – you walk in and it’s an experience. There are galleries that just move into old shops and stick a load of art on the walls and that’s it; they’re not hung properly, the lighting is bad.
You’re trying to sell beauty to people; you can’t just chuck it on the wall. You’re selling an experience; you have to put the effort in and do it correctly. I’m always travelling round the planet checking out how other galleries do things, trying to take the best things and apply them here.
Bristol is quite the artistic community. We all know about the legendary musicians that have come from there, and, of course, no street art feature would be complete without mentioning the city’s most famous graffiti son, Banksy. What is it about Bristol?
Matt: I think Bristol is an amazing place. It’s quite small, which can be a negative in that it can make people narrow minded – Bristol Village, I call it. But in terms of creativity, you have this focus in a small area of lots of different talents.
Paul: It’s so multi-cultural. It’s not like other cities in the UK, they are mulit-cultural in the traditional sense, but they’re not really, because no one interacts so it’s segregated. Everyone gets on with everyone in Bristol; everyone just mixes and gets on. Everyone works together here, music, art, people just get on.
And for the future…
Matt: During See No Evil in August we’re gonna do a group show, an All Stars sort of thing. We’ve been talking to several artists.
Paul: We’ve got some really interesting shows coming up over the next year. I’m getting artists from around the world. I want to show people what’s out there. Next up, SEPR is curating a show, with DILK from Nottingham and BASE23 from Berlin.
We just want to try and bring different aspects to the city – there are other galleries that just constantly recycle the same artists and shows. We want to be unique in what we do; we want people to say ‘Wow, how have you got this here!’ That’s what we want. Push boundaries; that’s the mission.