‘Rocket’ is taking off

David Attenborough
David Attenborough
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ONE day 10 years ago, while Chris Butcher was studying for a fine art degree at Barnsley College, a tutor took him to one side.

“She knew I loved my graffiti,” he says. “And she said I was wasting my time, she said it was just something kids did.”

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

Since then Chris has spent eight years running his own business, travelled to five of the planet’s seven continents, spoken at universities around the world, done TV work, held hundreds of classes for youngsters and has – as these pictures show – quite literally made his mark across Sheffield.

And he has achieved it all as a graffiti artist.

“I understood what the tutor was saying,” says the man who goes by the name Rocket. “But doing this is all I’ve wanted to do since I was 14. I’m 31 now and it still gives me a buzz.”

We’ll come to the international stuff shortly. For now, though, you may well have seen his local work.

Chris busy at work on more artwork

Chris busy at work on more artwork

His commissions have included decorating everything from lecture theatres at Sheffield University to shops in Campo Lane, while he also spent five years working with children at Swinton Lock Activity Centre.

But perhaps his most notable Sheffield pieces are two huge city centre murals completed just last week.

One, in Sidney Street, shows Charles Darwin. The other, in Charles Street, is David Attenborough.

He hopes to do a third of Brian Cox.

“They’re part of a green series I’d been wanting to do,” explains Chris of Penistone. “The owners wanted something distinctive on their walls so I suggested this. The feedback has been really positive. Sheffield is a city that likes art.”

It’s a long way from the first wall he sprayed back in Penistone.

“I use to doodle graffiti designs on my school books,” he says today in his city centre studio in Sylvester Street. “Then one day I bought £10 worth of spray – which was a lot of money to me – and did an abandoned wall by the railway line. I was so proud I told everyone. My parents told me to make sure I didn’t get in trouble. But I wasn’t doing any harm.”

From there, after leaving Penistone Grammar School, he spent six years studying for that fine art degree.

And he’s been building his reputation since – with commissions coming from as far away as San Francisco in the US, Bogota in Colombia (“We were protected by an armed guard while we did a wall in a... less nice part of town”) and Cairns in Australia.

Just last week, meanwhile, he was approached by ITV show Tonight to create a design for a cut-away shot.

His parents don’t worry about him getting in trouble anymore.

“Why have I been successful?” he muses. “Well, hopefully because people like what I do but I’ve worked hard too. A lot of my jobs abroad have been at festivals where I run workshops. Often it was expenses-only but it’s a way of getting your name out there. Then the paid commissions start to come.”

Now, he and partner – fellow graffiti artist and former Diary star Sarah Yates – have just had their first baby, Fern.

“What I’d love is if she wanted to be an artist too so it becomes a family business,” muses Chris. “Although you never know, she might rebel and be an accountant.”

See more of Rocket’s work at www.rocket01.co.uk