HE’S PUTTING himself about a bit for a man who wants to remain anonymous.
Kid Acne, grafitti-ist, musician, street artist and now mainstream-Millennium Gallery art establishment exhibitor.
It’s no way to keep your name and face out of the papers.
Especially when your work is emblazoned all over Sheffield streets from The Moor to Shalesmoor, you’re about to create a cartoon series for Channel 4 TV, produce a pop-up art exhibition in Paris for fashion house Kenzo and already have your work on Prada t-shirts.
There must be easier, more effective ways to remain unknown?
“I want people to identify with my art not my face,” said the 32-year old Hallam University fine art graduate when asked if he’ll have his picture taken for The Star.
“I had some of the celebrity thing when I was doing the music but I’m much more comfortable with people looking at the work than being interested in me.”
Fair enough. But we can’t ignore the man – or the kid’s – presence, anonymous or not.
Malawi-born, Leicestershire raised and Sheffield-based Kid Acne – known as Ed to his friends – is impressing a lot of people with his work and his hugely popular Millennium Gallery exhibition.
He began with a spray can in the street as a 12-year-old. He became known as Kid Acne when he and his friends were making up Hip-Hop style nicknames.
He was a kid with a spotty face.
Now, 20 years later, he’s off the streets and in demand.
From the heavy-lined cartoons of his teenage years to record sleeves, grand-scale street art, subverted female super-heroes, a strange ouija board with flying chairs, 3-D Dr Seuss-shaped ghosts and a reworking of masonic ceremonial regalia, the Kill Your Darlings exhibition at the Millennium Gallery charts his progress as an artist.
That’s quite a journey. Something for everyone, you might say.
“Grafitti is like going fishing, you do it for a few hours, make a picture then it’s out of your mind,” said Kid, who informs us that Kill Your Darlings is about the artist’s process of cutting some of his or her favourite characters from their work.
“I was really pleased when they asked me to do it. Short of being in the John Martin room I can’t be any bigger in Sheffield. I see the city as home now so it feels good to see my stuff in there.
“When I was offered it I thought ‘wow’ people are taking notice. I have thought about leaving Sheffield a few times over the years but to realise that like-minded people are enthusiastic about your work is a good feeling.”
He wants to get his art down to, well, a fine art.
“With the patterned walls I have done at the Millennium Gallery I wanted to lose almost everything,” he said, pointing at the 1970s wallpaper-type patterns.
“How much of your work can you get rid of and still be you? I think my work is identifiable through the shape of these lines. That’s why I never sign my work. I want people to see the work itself as the signature and see something in it that they recognise.”
There is a dark edge to the ouija-board inspired centrepiece of the exhibition.
“I had a strange experience using an ouija board when I was young and I think there are different ways of looking at it. My mum thought it was great fun, my dad hated it.”
“I think my work has that about it.”
As a 12-year-old Ed appeared on Rolf Harris’s Cartoon Club on TV and saw that, although his hero was everything he had hoped, the presentation was more than the reality.
“Rolf was really nice but the way it all worked seemed less than it should. It was like seeing behind the wizard’s curtain.
“It made me think that you shouldn’t wait around for the perfect opportunity, you just have to do something yourself. Almost like ‘If they can do it I can do it’.
Now that the work – and presumably the money – is flowing in, what’s the goal?
“I don’t want to be super-rich but when you come from a working class background there is a drive to make something of yourself. I have no problems with making money, it’s just not my main inspiration.
“I enjoy what I do and I like it when other people like it too but to continue to enjoy it I have to challenge myself.
“It’s not about making money, I have to fund a lot of what I do. It’s a compulsion. I feel compelled to do it because I love it.”
Listening to the peoples voice
A COUPLE of hours on the streets of Sheffield and you know where you stand.
Kid Acne doesn’t take a lot of notice of critics but he does hear the voice of the people when he’s working on large scale projects in the city.
“I have been out in Sheffield painting a lot and people always stop and make comments,” he said. “They tell you whether they like what you are doing or not.
“I think it’s important to know what people are thinking of what you do. I’ve picked up one or two phrases, like: ‘I’ve seen worse’. In a way it’s a back handed compliment but I like the humour in it. I see art, dj-ing and grafitti as all part of the same thing - making things. I never did grafitti as an anti-establishment thing, I just liked the scale and colours.
“It’s never been about being the best but presenting an alternative is important.
“You can’t criticise unless you do something yourself. I did the stuff that I thought was missing. I wanted to create my own universe of characters.”
Big names joining the queue
PRADA, Kenzo, Brompton, Thornbridge Brewery and now a Channel 4 series.
Things are going seriously right for Sheffield’s Kid Acne.
As his work goes mainstream at the Millennium Gallery the Kid has his work all over the place.
He has been to Brazil, Australia and Azerbaijan to name but three to work on various projects.
“I never thought I would be able to afford to go to places like that but people ask me to go and I do – it’s great,” he said.
“The trick of it, like in dating, is not to look too desperate,” said Kid overlooking his first big exhibition.
“The Millennium Gallery people came to me as did Kenzo, Brompton and the others.
“They had seen my work and wanted me to do something for them.”
The award-winning Thornbridge Brewery created a lager called Kill Your Darlings – label designed by Kid Acne – and provided the bar for the exhibition’s opening night.
“The Channel 4 animated series is based on my characters and it is the opposite of the kind of work I have been doing on this exhibition so that’s going to be exciting.
“I like to do what interests me and to take an alternative view.”