Aroe is an insane graffiti writer based in Brighton who creates unbelievable free-hand pieces all over the world, from Russia to Egypt, Malaysia and Columbia. We’ve just released two exclusive new prints by him, so we thought it was about time we pinned down this spray painting maverick!

When did you start painting?


How did you get into it?

Remember back in the olden days when there were only like 2 channels on TV? I lived in the era of the best fads like skate boarding came out and then BMXs came out and then one night me and my brother were watching Top of the Pops, like everyone else was, and the ‘Buffalo Gals’ by Malcolm McLaren video came on and it had graffiti in it, it had break dancing and everything. Me and my brother were just mesmerized by it.

The next day we all went back to school and of course everyone was like, “Did you see it? Oh my God what was that? What was that thing where they were pulling the records back forth?” Everyone that day was either a break dancer or a graffiti writer. Because if I’m interested in something I’ll just do it, I’m not going to sit around and wait; I went out and got some paint. On Saturday morning we got paint and all did pieces around where we lived. They were all terrible!

There were no legal places because graffiti didn’t really exist before. So it was pretty mental! Pieces just appeared everywhere over that week and over the next few weeks. They were all terrible but there were kids across the whole of England doing it because everyone had watched Top of the Pops. It all spread really quickly across England.

Did you do it anonymously?

Yeah, you had to. It was the main reason that I moved to Brighton eventually. Once I’d been done for graffiti, once I’d been prosecuted for it, the police then assumed that every time there was any graffiti done it was done by me.

Also once the fad died out (by ’85-86 hip hop was dead) if you were into hip hop around where we lived everyone thought you were a weirdo. By the early ‘90s I came here one night, I’d never been before, and within 10 days I moved here. I just thought this is a place for young people so I moved here. And it just changed everything. The environment here is just much more geared to people and people doing what they want.

Is graffiti your obsession?

It isn’t everything, I’m not a weirdo. But if you want to be good at something you’ve got to be really into it haven’t you? You’ve got to really focus on it. I’ve got mates who’ve got nothing to do with graffiti because I think it’s good to have a break from it. But when I’m painting I’m all about painting.

I think tenacity and sticking to what you intend to do is the most important thing. I like to start at the point that other people are satisfied and then I have to excel upon any level of achievement they set. If someone says “I’m going to do this piece on Sunday”, I’ll say “Yeah, cool, I did a piece on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday."

Do you think you’re competitive?

Yes, super competitive. Anyone who does graffiti is competitive. If they tell you they’re not they’re lying. And anyone who says they don’t do graffiti for the fame is lying.

It is interesting because you’ve got to balance this really tough game where you want the fame and you want to notoriety and the kudos but you’ve also got to earn that in a way that you’re sought after by the police and by the authorities. You’ve got to balance it so you don’t get nicked.

I think I’ve been very lucky and fluky in the way I’ve done it. I was incredibly wanted to by the police. I’m not antagonistic and I don’t enjoy that side of it but I’m also not willing to stop doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to compromise my integrity to do what I want to do. I want to a graffiti writer that I would be jealous of.

What have you risked for graffiti?

I’ve risked everything. I’ve risked losing my house, I’ve risked losing my family; I’ve risked everything. But you know, without risk there’s no reward. Nothing good is easy.

You’ve painted all over the world haven’t you?

Yes and I still paint trains actively in other countries. I still do illegal graffiti across the world. I do illegal graffiti because I think it’s more important than legal graffiti. It’s not in a confrontational way I just think it should make you question things. I’m not trying to be antagonistic and I’m not trying to be mean I just want to do painting wherever I want to do it.

If I’m going to do a painting for an art gallery it will be a variant of something that I’ve done on the street or I’ve done on a train.

When I go and paint trains in foreign countries I always try and paint something that’s going to capture the public’s eye. Once we painted these trains near Venice and we did these big burners but I painted ET in the front of Elliott’s bike and suddenly everyone in the station stopped and was looking at it. It was the first time I’d ever seen the public taking note of graffiti because they could see it was ET. I just thought, there it is, you’ve got to paint for the public.

I’ve gone on and on trying to find the most ridiculous things I can paint that are iconic on the side of trains. I did a series of paintings of Grace Jones. Instead of there being a sketch on a piece of paper for inspiration, the inspiration for them ran around Italy and got washed off in a bowl of acid and is now in a puddle on the floor. Whatever painting I’ve done the initial draft of it was done in the dark on a train. I just think that’s ten times cooler.

What’s your motivation?

My motivation is to do stuff that makes people think ‘f**k I wish I’d done that or that’s sick’. I try to paint the most complicated, most new, weirdest idea in the most unusual places. Life is full of miserable shit why do you want to look at people complaining about capitalism or this or that? I don’t care. I want to look at something that’s beautiful.

Are you inspired by other artists?

A lot of my thing is that I look at other people’s paintings and think ‘Oh f**k me that’s good, I’ve got to really step up’. A lot of guys my age have already set in their ways and gone ‘that’s it graffiti’s got to look like this’ and they keep pedalling out the same old shit. I can’t do that, I’ve got to change all of the time.

The next kings are already here doing graffiti you’ve just got to try and hold them down. Once a young person has taken over you’ve got to play catch up. Playing catch up when you’re older is much harder so you need to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a game really and if you play the game hard enough you can alter the rules!

There are these twins from Serbia called Sobekcis, I’ve got a painting with them on the side Filthy Media. It’s the one with the weird owl looking over the top, it’s on a grey building and it’s pretty mental. It’s one of my favourite paintings. But they are absolutely at the cutting edge or something that’s so revolutionary in graffiti that if you don’t recognise that you’re going to get left behind instantly.

There are other guys too taking graffiti to another level. Anyone who says it’s all been done is done. Every year new techniques are invented. Graffiti will never die out because of the simplicity of what it is. It is you making something from nothing. You take your name and make it as famous as you can. Here’s the way you should do it – you have to have good style, you have to have good ideas, you have to have good places and you have to have tenacity and nerve and a will to do it.

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