invWhen it comes to business, it’s all about realising your value. It’s a valuable lesson and one that the artist named PINS picked up early.
After graduating with a fashion and business degree from the University of Sussex in 2005, he couldn’t find any work he explains. But going through St George’s Walk one day, he saw a boutique selling baseball caps with pictures of cartoon characters. He thought, I could do better than that.
He bought a plain cap, painted Bugs Bunny on it and took it into the shop, offering to cut the owner a deal for future stock if the cap sold.
“It sold that day and so I started painting cartoon characters on caps, all given a very cool twist. They looked good and sold out quickly and we both made money. And so I realised my value and what I could do quite quickly. I didn’t find a way into the industry so I created my own path.”
Creating his own path has reaped huge rewards for PINS, leading to sold-out group exhibitions around the UK and a ground-breaking London solo show that got him featured everywhere from The Telegraph to the Evening Standard. He was also one of the 12 British artists chosen to represent the Olympic Games in 2012. And it all came about because he asked a question.
After the success of his textile business, a friend suggested he should move into painting canvases. “So, I questioned, how do I enter that world. I looked at an artist like Damien Hirst who had just sold an artwork for £12m. I thought I’ve got so many great ideas, how come he’s selling for 12m and I’m sitting here with five pounds in my pocket.”
He went to a gallery in Mayfair and was lucky enough to be there on a day the featured artist was visiting.
“This guy was selling his work for up to £20,000 and I asked him, how do you get to your level? He admired my directness and gave me some pointers. I mean, I couldn’t have been any more South London, there in this posh gallery in my trainers and a baseball cap.”
Given an insight into the commercial art world, PINS wrote a blog post about it that night and sent it to the artist. The next day he got an invitation to meet him for lunch – and six months later that artist put PINS forward as one of the featured artists in the BT Art of Sport exhibition for the London Olympic Games.
“I’d never done a canvas before but the next thing you know, my work is being featured in exhibitions all over the country.”
Following the advice to “paint what you love”, PINS painted Nike trainers and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (doughnuts, Olympic rings, get-it?) and sold all of the works as they travelled around the country. Eight months later, he was part of a group show in Mayfair, just down the road from where he’d first made contact with the original artist.
“And that’s why I tell people, particularly young people that I meet, that you’ve got to be out and about, seeing people, hooking up. You can’t do everything online, you need that physical connection.”
He worked with the Mayfair gallery for five years and was involved in both group and solo shows. But it was a solo show in a gallery in Percy St in 2016 called No Face Like Phone that really brought him to national attention. Exploring the fear that people experience when they are without their mobile phones (nomophobia – no-mobile-phone phobia), the idea came to him when he was out for dinner with a friend who constantly checked her mobile phone and posted to social media throughout the meal.
“I just sat there thinking, this is so rude. It made me question society and our current phone addictions.”
Since then, he’s been moving back to his roots – textiles – and reveals that he leaves home every day wearing something he has made – today for example it’s a denim jacket covered in quotes.
“I come up with a lot of quotes, all of the time – I get urges and when you get the urge, you need to surge. I put the quotes on fabrics and I’m going to have an exhibition of them. This in fact is the sort of thing the V&A should be doing. Places like The Tate and the V&A are more like businesses now rather than creative spaces. There has to be a balance of endorsing creatives and local connections. We need more space and scope for local talent – there are local people doing amazing things, but they don’t often get the platform.”
And while he agrees that the internet is a very good platform for people to showcase their work, it does lead to saturation – “I’m overwhelmed by our ability to create stuff”.
He’s just finished a collaboration with the Museum of Croydon and the National Portrait Gallery and is also in discussion with Made in Croydon to launch a different type of enterprise at one of the Made in Croydon markets – watch this space. He’s heavily involved in youth work and has been working with young people for over 12 years. At the other end of the spectrum he also does art workshops in care homes and was recently involved in a Windrush project.
But his long-term plan is “international domination – in a nice way. Grow local, think global. That’s how I work and it’s why I’ve invested so much time in Croydon. I always ask how I can connect with people, for me it’s all about the constant communication.”
And he leaves me with one final piece of PINS wisdom.
“Make connections, change perceptions”.