Tom ‘Inkfetish’ Blackford has been painting on the streets for over a decade. Evidently inspired by Japanese comics, he has a dark sense of humour that permeates many of his characters. We catch up with him as he prepares for his debut solo show ‘Imaginary Friends’ at London’s Blackall Studios on October 18th, which combines childhood images with adult themes. For more information check out www.globalstreetart.com/imaginaryfriends; for the opening night guest list please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Relying on Yourself
I’ve been making art forever. It’s been an obsession throughout my life, something I can always fall back on no matter what else is happening. After anime and Manga started hitting the UK around 1992 I wanted to be a comic artist/animator. At the same time graffiti was exploding around me and everyone at school was getting into it. Graffiti was the cooler of the two obsessions and it suited my rebellious attitude.
I chose the name ‘Inkfetish’ eight years ago (2004) to reflect the fact that I was concentrating on illustrative work on walls. I was trying to distance myself from traditional graffiti as I’d got into trouble through bombing. I was also taking on commercial work as a freelance illustrator. I still ultimately consider myself an illustrator, although when people ask me what I do these days I usually tell them I’m a painter. As far as painting illegally goes, there are ways for me to do it, but the drive to ‘get up’ has been overshadowed by other things.
I studied illustration for a year and a half at university before quitting after learning nothing. It wasn’t until I dropped out of university that I started taking the technical side of graffiti seriously. I was frustrated that the conventional artistic route I’d chosen hadn’t allowed me room for self expression. I’m a self taught artist in every respect.
I’ve never thought London was a great place to paint, simply because there are so many graffiti artists these days and not a lot of places to paint! Saying that, when I speak to guys from my crew like Rews (from Melbourne) and Achoe (from Norway) they tell me how good we have it regarding spots compared to their cities, so maybe we just moan a lot! I visited Tokyo recently, which was impossible to paint. There was not one legal spot in the whole city! Thankfully I hooked up with local artists IMA and GKQ who were able to take me into Chiba, a city next to Tokyo where we were able to paint. Obviously the punishments in Japan for illegal graffiti are ridiculous.
My art is pretty much a visual series of manifested daydreams. I couldn’t tell you who’s specifically influenced my art or shaped my aesthetic approach – I think style is something that develops subconsciously. That said, Japanese animation and comics have had a huge impact on my life and I think that’s clear in my characters.
The commercial graffiti related work I’ve done has been fun but I was truly honoured to be asked to exhibit at Pixar. The show was based around one of my all-time favourite movies ‘My Neighbour Totoro‘! I won’t forget the experience of showing my work amongst some of the World’s leading concept artists and animators!
I’ve wanted to do a solo show for the last three years but finding the right time and place to do it has been more difficult that I first thought. I’ve felt in a great place creatively this year and so producing a body of work on canvas seemed to be the natural way of showing how my work and it’s themes have evolved outside of my street work. In a way, I’m glad it’s taken so long for this to get off the ground as I’ve never felt so ready for it!
I always try and keep an equilibrium between my fine-art (indoor) work and my street work. If I’ve been doing a lot of commissioned art, I’ll naturally feel the need to go out and do something just for myself.
I’m trying to master building a closer relationship between my canvas and street work right now (in terms of technique). I want to paint some bigger walls too. I’d love the opportunity to spend a week painting something outside!