What’s your name and where d’ya come from?
My name is Kev Grey, I’m an artist from Liverpool and for the last 23 years I have specialised in producing black and white artworks and illustrations.
How did you get into making art?
It all started in the mid nineties, the type of things that were influencing me, I started trying to do my own versions. I was making cut and paste fan zines, photocopied underground comics, just trying to find a way to get myself out there, get my work seen. That continued up until about 2000 when I started getting commissions which has continued up to the present day. Lost Art was one of the first companies who I actually did commissions for. That started by doing, I think at first flyers, a t-shirt then some hand painted shop signs, that quickly led to doing East skateboards graphics too!
Has the relationship with the shop continued over that whole time?
Yeah, I’m sure it was 2001 I started with Lost Art. At the time i'd made a couple of fan zines, Mackey had reached out to do some stuff for the shop, I may have done some other t-shirts for some other smaller brands, but nothing special, so it was a big deal to get involved with Lost Art. This was when it was in Quiggins, it was a real hang out spot. So it's really good that I’ve continued all that time to go back and forth with the shop and to have been part of its development.
Do you feel your style of art has grown from your love for skateboarding and the culture around it?
Definitely! My introduction to skateboarding was at the very end of ‘88/’89. I had one of the plastic penny boards, I went to my friends birthday party and someone had brought a copy of the Santa Cruz - ‘Streets on Fire’ video, it was like a punch in the face seeing what people could actually do on a skateboard. A few months later I got my first “real” skateboard which was a Natas board obviously after watching that video. The other thing about that video was the music, if you remember that video there was about 3 or 4 songs by Black Flag. At the time I was into bits of heavy metal which my older cousins were into but that instantly got me into punk rock. A few months later I found Probe Records in Liverpool because I was searching this stuff out, so even the music that I got into from that first video, which I’m still into now, all comes from skateboarding. I was very lucky at 10 years old to see that video and it have such an influence on me.
Now that you have got back into skateboarding has that love affair for it grown again?
I skated up until about ’95, what I do remember from that time is the shape of the boards quickly changing from when I got my Natas board which was that old fish tail type board, then suddenly everything was popsicle shape. So I saw all the early 90’s side of skateboarding, around the mid 90’s I really got into graffiti and the skateboarding faded out a bit. I became obsessed with graffiti and really became focused on getting my art out there. But then through friends and being involved with Lost Art I was always around it, I was always keeping my eye on graphics. I’ve always thought back to my influences, all the World Industries stuff, Deathbox, Santa Cruz, to this day I love their graphics. Then around 4 years ago my son was about to turn 4, he’s just turned 8, and I bought him a board to encourage him to get into it, thought he might enjoy it and I put one together myself just with the intention of rolling around with him. Within two months, when he was going to bed I was getting my board and going out skating. I just got that feeling again where I could have the worst day ever, go out skating and have a smile on my face for the next three days. I loved it, I remembered everything I loved about it and quickly fell in love with it again. That was almost 4 years ago and I’ve been out every week since weather permitting.
Give us a bit of background to the spot we’ve been skating today?
The spot were we just skating is the curb I skate, I have a few other little spots but that’s my main one. That came about because when I just started to go skating again there was a few months were I was just getting the feel of it again. I'd come home and my legs were hurting but I just wanted to get it back, I spotted that curb and I thought it looked perfect. It actually reminded me of a spot in Crosby from years ago. There was a building called the Pioneer building on Crosby Road and it was undercover and that had a waxed curb, it was a similar height and I saw it as something I could skate because it reminded me of spot I used to skate. I went down and I was rubbing wax on it, rubbing wax on it, slappy, slappy, wearing it in and now its lovely, it slides like a treat!!
How does that sort of DIY, going to find a spot, attitude translate from skateboarding to other aspects of your life?
If I was to compare it to making fan zines, i'd even compare it to graffiti. The way I see it nobody wants me or has ever asked me to do this, everything I’ve ever done whether it was making artwork, painting graffiti, skateboarding you just do it because you want to. When you first starting doing it no one cares, then the more you do it, people might start to know who you are or you make friends, have similar minded connections with people. It all ties back to that DIY ethic; punk rock i'd say it comes from. I mean I’m not in a band but it’s the same as people putting out their own records or DIY gigs, it's all connected and it's all the same.
What kind of things have you been involved in outside of Lost Art? And do you think getting involved with the shop in 2001 had much to do with doing artwork full time in 2002?
Definitely! Since 2002 I’ve done lots of commissions for other people. I’ve designed guitars, I’ve done work for music festivals. I did a lot of work for Vans, they flew me around Europe, took me to Hong Kong to do things like customise people’s shoes, paint skateboards, I’ve painted a mural at the House of Vans. My main client at the moment, which has been for the past few years, is a brewery in Nottingham called Black Iris Brewery. I design all the beer cans for them, the keg clips, the cask clips and any merchandise that they need. I do a lot of my own prints, make my own t-shirts, I run my own publishing company called ‘Gamblers Grin’ I’ve released a couple of hard back books of my own work, I put my own fan zines out, I’ve curated a couple of books of other people’s art work. Sometimes I see things and I forget I’ve done it, as I say it’s a good 20 years since I started doing it so as you can imagine there’s a lot of work out there. What I would say is I still remember being 15 and having that drive to get my work out there but nobody had seen anything, now jump forward 25 years I still have that same drive and excitement about getting my work out. I love seeing it being used for stuff whether it be a t-shirt, a sticker, anything. I still love it as much as I used to, that’s one of the reasons why, even though I do a lot of commercial work for people, any time I have a spare half hour, hour, week, i'll put my own stuff out. That’s why I’m always putting prints out, always working on a book, always looking for a wall to go and paint graffiti on, I love it as much as I used to and I always will, that’s the way I feel.
You brought out a children’s book recently? Is that your first one? How was it received?
I released it last year and it's called “Harley the Happy Hobo”. I have two kids of my own and when I had my first son, like a lot of people I had no reason to look at children’s book. It wasn’t really a side of the art world that I was familiar with, but the more I read them I found so many original styles and I loved the short simple stories. It reminded me of the days I used to make comic books. I just naturally came up with the idea of putting a short story children’s book out that, to me, was a way of trying to tell a story to my kids and convey a message that I would like them to receive and hopefully other people would benefit from it and enjoy it too. (Dave) Mackey has kids, a lot of other people I grew up with have kids so Mackey asked me to sell them through Lost Art and its been received really well, it was a fun project, I’ve no plan for another but who knows?
Is there a sense of being from Liverpool that goes hand in hand with who you are and the artwork you create?
Being from Liverpool, as a kid I didn’t see a lot of other stuff going on that was similar to what I was into, or at least I wasn’t aware of it. So I grew up with almost a sense of alienation with my interests and it was good coming from Liverpool discovering other people who liked the things that I liked. I actually moved away from Liverpool in ’99, I went over to Yorkshire for 10 years, so now I’ve come back it's amazing to see all the different things that go on. The city has developed so much! I mean things like New Bird, gigs you see going on, there are so many artists and designers based here which is something I never saw as a kid. It was nice to go away, develop what I was doing, come back and feel there were so many like minded people here. I love living in Liverpool again!
Thanks to Kev for having us over for a chat and a cuppa!
Photos - Kathryn Davies