Who is Cartrain?
cartяain is a north-east London graff, stencil, collage and street artist associated with the graffiti urban art movement.
What is Cartrain known for?
cartяain is well known for having his work appropriated and sold without recompense by Gilbert & George, and his copyright tussle with Damien Hirst, which ended with cartяain taking (and holding ransom) a pack pf pencils from Hirst's Tate Modern installation, Pharmacy
Where can I buy artwork by Cartrain?
You can find available work by cartяain at his website here.
The cartяain interview: THE SOAK UP #3:
VATC: Back to your earliest memory of tagging in Leytonstone, how did this all begin?
cartяain: I didn’t move to Leytonstone until I was around 12. Before then I was living on Palmerston Road in Walthamstow in the flat above Premier Carpets & Furniture. Growing up in close proximity to Walthamstow Market in the 90’s was an interesting experience and there was a lot of graffiti around at the time, most of my friends came from broken homes and it was just something that a lot of my friends were doing at the time.
VATC: Who are the artists that most inspired you for your pen tags, stencilling, graff work etc.?
cartяain: I guess influence from Banksy is hardly subtle in a lot of my work, especially the earlier stuff. But I took a lot of inspiration from traditional graffiti before I had even heard of Banksy from writers like Phude and Oldly, around 2004-2006 their stuff was everywhere, literally on every road in East London. As for the more traditional art I’m doing, well there's a lot of influence from artists like Joseph Cornell and Antoni Tàpies, especially around the Post Street stuff and its relation to Informalism.
VATC: For someone discovering you for the first time now, how would you describe your work?
cartяain: Somewhat of a weird mashup between traditional fine art, post punk and graffiti.
VATC: How important is humour in what you do?
cartяain: Whilst humour isn’t often the main focus of my work humour can be used as a tool, often to soften the atmosphere around serious topics and discussions. Someone who I think did this really well was Philip Guston.
VATC: You’re sat staring at a blank page – where do you go for inspiration?
cartяain: Often my best ideas come from going out for a walk. You can draw as much inspiration from a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop as you can from the Sistine Chapel. Especially if your imagination is vivid enough to combine these two elements and picture the Sistine Chapel being repurposed as a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop.
VATC: Who do you like to make proud with your work?
cartяain: I’m not making art to make anyone proud. I know a lot of people get irate by what I do and to that I would say it’s not my fault, neither the fault of my paintings. If someone works themselves into a frenzied tantrum over one of my artworks then they should probably take a step back and re-evaluate their thought process before directing criticism towards myself.
VATC: Is there any element to your work that you feel people sometimes miss?
cartяain: I think that people often omit my work based on unfounded preconceptions that I’m an illiterate, bad-mannered, inarticulate, hostile and poorly educated person. I think a lot of these misconceptions are founded around the fact that I grew up in a highly troubled and dysfunctional environment. I feel class discrimination is very much alive in the art world today especially in the “East London Art Scene” which was always a traditionally impoverished sector of London. To weaponise someone’s social, psychological and economic status and then use that to perform an unjudicial character assassination as to why this person is absent of artistic value is extremely supercilious and hypocritical.
VATC: When you create a piece of work, what do you hope the viewer will do with it?
cartяain: Whenever I sell a painting or print it’s a very humbling experience, the client purchasing artwork is demonstrating that they see value and appreciation in what you do. I wouldn’t ever want my artwork purposed as “investment art” and I’m opposed to the idea of it being used for speculation purposes at Sotheby's or Christie's. For me art is a form of alchemy where worthless pigment is transformed into therapeutic remedies to alleviate suffering for people experiencing psychological or emotional discomfort.
VATC: Describe your mind in one word
VATC: Has there ever been a time you’ve felt like giving up? If so, what kept you going?
cartяain: Art is related to life. Living without art would be like living without life.
Giving up on art would be like giving up on life.
VATC: What advice would you go back and give to a 15-year-old you?
cartяain: The art world is a very small place, It’s just as unforgiving as it is pretentious.
VATC: What was it like sneaking your work into the Tate and the National?
cartяain: Back then security at museums was a lot less strict than it is today. When I was arrested for “borrowing” that packet of pencils part of the resolution involved a Boardroom meeting at Tate Modern between myself, Senior Management at the Tate and the Metropolitan Police. The Head of Security informed me that he was well aware of the Cardboard box incident and found it somewhat funny. I was told that gluing things to their walls is far less serious than removing artwork from them.
VATC: If you had the world’s attention for 30 seconds, what would you say?
cartяain: Try not to be too judgemental otherwise the child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.
VATC: I read that you've started your art degree? Is that so? If so, what do we get to see from you for the next few years?
cartяain: I’ve tried to complete my Foundation Degree in art and design twice now. The first time was as at The Working Men's College in Camden during 2010. I enjoyed attending there and some of the people on the course were interesting characters. But despite what a lot of people might think I never made a lot of money from the Damien Hirst feud, most of it was stolen from me by unscrupulous art dealers and bad friends, so much so that I didn’t have the financial capability to complete the course.
The second time was at Tower Hamlets college in 2011. Included in all of my University Applications was the collage artwork I did of Gilbert and George. This was before they unveiled their reworked version of same artwork “Double Doors” at the White Cube Gallery. Needless to say all of my University applications including ones from Central Saint Martins, The Royal Academy and Goldsmiths were rejected and I dropped out of college.
VATC: If we created a Cartяain Playlist, what would be the top ten songs/bands in it?
cartяain: I spent most of my life living on Colworth Road in Leytonstone, Damon Albarn from Blur grew up nearby on Fillebrook Road, recently he wrote a song (Mr Tembo) where he sings about “Going back to Colworth Road” I’d love to include it on the on this list but I honestly and without prejudice am more of an Oasis kind of person.
Check out the Cartяain playlist on Spotify here