Last week I attended an illustrated talk by musician, illustrator and street artist Kid Acne. This event was part of the Off the Shelf festival in Sheffield and Kid Acne, real name Ed, designed the logo for this year’s festival. We got a snapshot of the last 20 years culmination of work which led to this design.
Kid Acne is prolific in his making, adopting the pseudonym as a teenager he recorded home made hip hop records, explored fanzines, designed posters and dabbled in graffiti. He explained how hip hop and street art came hand in hand, inherited from the USA, New York in particular.
Over time he developed his logo and typography style, working in factories to pay his student debts, once he got commissioned to do the artwork for the band Plaid, he realised he could make art for a living.
As the demand for his work grew Kid Acne explained the importance of having a good working relationship with others; designers, producers, musicians, every project was a collaboration. He talked about ideas that didn’t quite work out and needed to be refined and reworked. He breathed new life into old works through screen printing on top to create limited editions.
He spoke about the narrative in his work. For a long time he anchored his graffiti with character bookends. These characters often taking the guise of people in animal costumes. This choice, he explained, made these characters universally relatable. Irregardless of race, gender, age we can all relate to an animal or at least some of the characteristics of an animal.
Later he decided to stop signing works and writing his name altogether to see if his style was recognisable. It was. Releasing music and touring, his art work took the backseat for awhile but all the time he continued to keep sketchbooks and notebooks. When enough was enough he decided it was time to make art again, taking his notebook scrawlings and turning them into large scale murals.
Concentrating purely on typography, he put down the spray can and picked up a roller, he wrote things like; “You’ll miss me when I’m gone” a conversational piece about a building that was going to be demolished, “Better than nothing” a backhanded compliment from a member of the public. This relationship with the general public being key for a street artist. He picked up on other things people said and wrote this as well bringing humour into the work. “It’ll do for now” and “I’ve seen worse” for example.
There is a sentiment to some of the work and a commentary on the social climate of the time, as he painted the same walls he first graffitied all those years before. “That’ll learn ‘em”, “You’ll thank me one day”, “You couldn’t make it up”, “Stick to the plan”, “You get the idea”. He joked about collaborating with the council as they removed the work and the ephemeral nature of street art. He spoke about how the space dictates the work and how he works his compositions around that.
Kid Acne now exhibits in galleries, makes commercial work, takes on commissions, canvases, screenprints and murals. This 20 year journey finding his personal voice reimagined as a festival logo. And according to his bio he still has acne.
I took away a few things from this talk, firstly my realisation of how uncool I am (I’m okay with that), secondly the need to keep making, reworking and to stick with it and thirdly echoing Kid Acne’s reason for his name choice – to remain childlike but not be childish.
The Off the Shelf Festival continues until the 29 October, find out what’s on here.
Featured Image: Kid Acne, You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone, Sheffield Art College
Also published on Medium.