Experimental multi-media artist Mike Ballard began his career at just 14 years old, as the graffiti writer ‘CEPT’. Twenty years on, he helped to transform the visual landscape of London. Ballard talks to Schön! Magazine about his design inspirations, his impressive profile of exhibitions and what we can expect to see from him in the future.
You started your career at a young age. What was it that triggered your interest in art?
A book called ‘Subway Art’ which was published in 1984. It’s by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant. It was the first documentation of New York subway graffiti. I was absorbed by the fact that you can create your own tag and develop your own style of calligraphy. Another book called ‘Spray Can Art’ by Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff also caught my attention. I was heavily inspired by both books, drawing and travelling.
Where do your artistic ideas initially come from?
My inspirations constantly change. At the moment the Internet is my main source. I feel like there’s so much out there, you’re completely bombarded. A vast amount of my ideas come from growing up, hip hop music and taking bits from other people and putting it together to make a new object that didn’t exist before; especially when making a collage. I enjoy making things primitive and giving it a twist.
How did your time at Central Saint Martins impact on you as an artist?
It majorly impacted on me as I had never studied art before, I’d only self-taught and watched other people beforehand. It encouraged me to be more open-minded, and step away from being so channelled into a graffiti style. I therefore looked more towards making multi-media pieces and began to become more experimental.
You can be seen as a diverse artist due to the broadness of your work. What are the reasons for keeping your art so broad?
I don’t want to be a one trick pony that does one thing and then milks it for the rest of their career – I would just get bored very easily. I don’t ever want to just be a painter or a video artist. I’d rather have more options and be an open artist.
You make use of a wide variety of mediums. How do you appropriate a suitable one for a particular project?
I look at my work and decide if there’s a certain element that is worth picking out and explaining further. For example, when collaging I will tend to make that focal point into a video or incorporate audio. A good example is the spray can work I did: I had a video of the cans being sprayed and then a canvas painting which was the residue of the video – it provided a finishing effect.
You have an impressive profile of solo and group exhibitions behind you. Is there a particular one that you could single out, and why?
The last show I did which was called I.D.S.T., in Brixton; this has been my favourite show so far. The gallery was great, as were the people and the space was amazing – I had three or four separate rooms. I feel like I created a really immersive exhibition, and it’s definitely my favourite to date, but each exhibition is a progression and will be better than the last.
What can we expect to see from your upcoming solo show in London in September?
I haven’t finalised anything idea wise yet. I’m currently creating work then I’ll create a title and see how it all fits together. I want the paintings upstairs to stand very slick by themselves and the multi media downstairs will kind of be the under belly of what goes on.
See more of Ballard’s work at www.mikeballard.co.uk
Words / Samantha Wilkins
Follow her on Twitter @WILKINSSAMANTHA