Dedicated. Stubborn. Certifiable. A sucker for punishment. All ways to describe the UK-based graffiti artist, INSA, who recently gained global recognition for his new-school approach to the old-school craft of graffiti, or as he calls it GIF-iti. His approach shows a mad dedication to the traditions of graffiti, where rather than take the shortcuts that Photoshop might allow, INSA chooses to travel the long road, sometimes taking many days to complete a single 600-pixel-wide animated GIF.
He creates his labor-intensive GIF-iti by painting and re-painting the walls of buildings – each time making slight changes – and then photographing each change in order, later creating a looping sequence of images, which make an animated GIF. The biggest challenge and the key he says, is to ensure that the last image layer links smoothly back to the first, which may have been painted a week earlier. His most recent GIF-iti project was a collaboration with artist Stanley Donwood, commissioned for the album release from new supergroup, Atoms for Peace, featuring Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers.
INSA’s résumé is as eclectic and interesting as his art – reflecting an equal measure of outlaw and convention. He’s been commissioned by companies like Nike, Sony, Kangol and Kid Robot. His work has taken him around the globe where he’s left his unique mark on buildings in Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Luxembourg, Lisbon, Hong Kong, Warsaw, Berlin, Brussels and Montreal. And he has spent his fair share of time in courtrooms and even prison, all for his art.
In part one of this two-part blog post, INSA gives us a peek into his process and the urban art culture:
What inspired you to create GIF-ITI?
I realized I was viewing more paintings online than in real life, the majority of art I was accessing was on the internet. Whether that was street art from around the world, or exhibition openings on blogs, and it disheartened me a little, because although it was great to be able to see so much work, I realized this was never the way the artist would have intended for their work to be seen. So I thought an interesting way to play with this idea was to create art specifically to be viewed online: to the point that you could not actually see it in reality. So, in fact, the internet becomes the best viewing platform for the work.
Describe your creative process and how you incorporate Photoshop into your workflow.
Do you think in terms of what you’ll eventually do in the software (Photoshop), or does that come later?
Photoshop generally comes in at the end, when I’ve done all of the painting and photographed all of the layers. I upload and overlay all of the images and create a GIF. The process is more about the physical act of painting numerous frames, and involves a lot of mental planning, every stage of painting has to preempt the next step, and the final frame needs to lead into the first in order to create a good looping GIF. The thing I enjoy about this process of painting a GIF is that it begins where most artwork ends.
What other types of art do you create and what other mediums do you most enjoy? What do you consider to be your primary/favorite medium?
I like to explore all different types of medium and try not limit myself to any one thing. Spray paint is my natural medium, but recently I’ve also been working with sculpture, and I’ve always considered photography a major part of my output.
What unique challenges do you run into when painting on a building?
It varies from building to building; accessing the surface as a whole can be problematic. Reaching different spots on a building requires balance. Sometimes I’ll find myself with one foot on top of a ladder while gripping onto a brick, to finish the top of a wall. It’s a much more physical act, using the whole body – stretching, climbing, reaching – compared to painting a canvas in the studio.
Has your graffiti ever gotten you in trouble with the law?
Yes. It comes as part of the territory – graffiti by definition is illegal and so most of my younger years were spent breaking the law. This inevitably ended up with numerous court appearances and a short time in prison. This was, of course, long before graffiti was rebranded as ‘street art,’ and artists could make money and travel the world as celebrities!
When it comes to urban artists, street credibility and integrity often seem to be top of mind. How do you reconcile the outlaw artist with the businessman who needs to make a living? Do you ever struggle with questions of selling out?
Yes, it is something I think about a lot before I take on any job. I consider the morals and implications behind it. Generally, I try not to let money be the dictating force in my work or life, but sometimes, I prefer to think of it as ‘buying in’ rather than ‘selling out’. If corporations want to pay me to do what I already do, I am not changing what I would be putting out anyway, so I don’t have a problem with it.
Do you consider yourself part of the graffiti art community? How do you feel about the graffiti art movement shifting from a fringe, outlaw movement into the commercial mainstream, with the massive attention that artists like Banksy, C215, David Choe, Dan Witz and countless others have garnered?
I do consider myself part of a generation of artists who started painting pre ‘famous’ Banksy, where the notion of getting paid or being famous outside of the subculture just didn’t exist. Any artist who is getting paid to do what they love, more power to them. But I do think it’s a shame that kids starting out today can’t approach graffiti/street art with innocence, because the draw of fame and money attracts an influx of people getting involved for the wrong reasons.
Big thanks to INSA for taking the time to chat with me and give us all an inside perspective on his work. Check out more of his GIF-iti below and come back next week for Part 2 of my interview with INSA.