Jo and Ed Hicks painted a botanical mural in Chalk Farm as part of our Art for Estates program. We asked them a few questions!
How did you start painting?
Jo: I have always done some kind of drawing or painting. I have come back to it in more of a classical sense of late – I went through a fine art background and had been doing more conceptual work, trying to remove myself from the basic, purely aesthetic side of art. It has been quite refreshing to come back to something this aesthetic! Hopefully its meaning comes from the context we are doing it in.
Ed: I have been painting professionally for about 11 years, and full-time, since around 2006. There’s not really anything else I could have done. I was doing music before, solo performing. Going up and down the country to places by yourself… At one point all you have is who you are and what you can do. You meet lots of new people, go to a place, do a thing, everyone claps, they get drunk and go home and then hopefully someone pays you…
How did you decide what to paint today?
Jo: I am more of a painter and illustrator, whereas Ed is from the street art/graffiti scene, so I am new to this all. Ed is a seasoned professional! But we have just started to do collaborations and with these botanical scenes we are using mostly old archival botanical illustrations. This is the sort of jumping off point. I’m just really into plants and greenery and stuff.
Jo’s botanical illustrations
Ed: Emulsions have a longer drying time than conventional spray paint, so there’s a very definitive layering process involved in building up colour. Jo and I have to move around between the two panels and work on different sections to ensure that the colours go on properly.
As opposed to only figurative stuff, flowers and the botanical subjects we have been working with are purely decorative and you can kind of make it up as you go along. I have been realising in recent times that, to an extent, the reason why we do this isn’t necessarily even for the outcome it’s more for the process. The raw state of engaging the right-hand of the brain and just problem solving within the moment. That’s why I do it.
What is it about it plants that interests you, Jo?
Jo: Having greenery around us is so important, so mirroring that vibrancy in art is enjoyable. It’s an age old thing to do, you couldn’t really get more classical that painting nature. That is what is nice about these kinds of paintings – bringing something a bit more classical, from the more traditional fine arts to this street art urban environment is quite interesting to me.
How do you think it translates, what you’ve been doing so far?
Jo: Really well! I am new to doing this outdoor stuff, I usually do interior stuff, but the last project Ed and I did outside together was for a housing association in Hackney. It was in an area where all the residents were constantly passing by and watching us work; it was amazing the response we got. They absolutely loved it, and I suppose that was what is so lovely about being able to change people’s environments. It was lovely to experience having that immediate response from the residents. The way I have made art before has been a different process. In a general way you make the art and you send it off into the world and you don’t hear feedback at all. So it’s a cool thing for me to have the immediate response, good or bad. It’s also a good way to tell people about it.
The piece we did in Hackney was nice because it was relevant to the local area, we did a botanical piece that was referencing an old hot-house exotic plant nursery that used to be in Hackney, a huge huge place. It was great to be able to tell the residents about their history and engage with them in that history, hopefully similar to this project.
Ed: Live painting has a performative aspect to it. Take portraiture, for example, in the classical sense. Depicting a person who is sitting in front of you has a whole different psychodrama between the subject and the person doing the work. But performance paintings have been really fun. I did the Secret Walls art battle a number of years ago and won the UK final. Girls talk to you a lot more when you’re doing live painting than when you’re doing music. Making out with a musician is a bit blasé, but a live painter is more of a novelty! But girls are not the only reason to do art…
So this is a community project – how do you balance community work with what you wanna do yourself?
Ed: Like most artists I spend a lot of time sitting around in my pants watching cat videos on the internet, trying out different types of coffee, making lists of things and putting it up on the wall, taking down the other lists of things I haven’t done and putting up a new one – I’ve got projects I haven’t done for decades! Until at some point or another, someone will call you up and say ‘do you want to come to a place and do a thing and we might even pay you’… And that galvanises you to be only 3 hours late! Selling out is the new keeping it real.
If I’m left to myself in my dark purple room full of taxidermy, skulls and mauve silk suits and vintage medical equipment, then most of the work I do alone is of a reasonably dark nature. Not necessarily Gothic, but a little bit more obtuse and grim. So it’s always nice to work in community places because your situation depicts your reality so having stuff around and about helps with folks, there is the cleaning up areas often reduces crime rates it just generally brings happiness levels up, and not particularly graffiti so there’s not really those cultural memes that can be attached to me or Jo.
Do you paint for anyone in particular?
Jo: I guess it’s generally for me, but more recently it has been for whoever is commissioning. But really it’s more about doing it because you really want do it. Completely selfish, but painting is so wildly addictive.
Thanks Ed and Jo!
Featured image is the Chalk Farm mural by Hicks and Hicks
Interview by Orlaith O’Byrne