You would be forgiven for thinking there is nothing worth visiting in Hackney Wick apart from the occasional art exhibition and a few hipster bars offering the latest craft beer and food fad. Although the area has undergone a clean-up over the past five years, the area remains a sprawling industrial and development eyesore. But look closer and you will see that building site hoardings and condemned buildings offer a canvas for street artists to take back ownership of an area destined for gentrification.
One such building is the derelict Lord Napier pub on White Post Lane, which has become the focal point for street art in Hackney Wick. Somewhat ironically it was here under the painted phrase ‘Meanwhile in East London lunatics decorate a building’ (remaining from the Hackney WickeD art festival in July 2016) and the aggressive gaze of a Mighty Mo and Sweettoof collaboration that I met with the street artist known as Subdude. He was busy pasting an illustration of a glum-looking person with a speech bubble that reads “It takes no genius to be a conformist.”
“It’s just a message of protest,” said Subdude.
“I hope done with some humour too. It’s word play and it’s trying to make people smile and laugh.”
Subdude’s work evolved from an accumulation of these stylistically very direct satirical written statements. His first (completed a few years ago) was ‘robbery is the sincerest form of business’ which he spray-painted using a stencil on Rivington Street near Cargo in Shoreditch. Laughing bitterly SubDude told Rebel Rebel how his work did not go quite to plan because the next day a robbery took place right next to it and a journalist wrongfully construed that the thieves had sprayed the graffiti.
“That kind of freaked me out a bit,” he confided. “So then I stopped doing anything for a while.”
This was partially the reason he switched medium for the most part of his street art, moving to fly posters designed using Adobe Illustrator.
In 2016, he began to combine his phrases with illustration. Subdude explained that for every artist there is a struggle that is reflected in their work. Candidly, he told Rebel Rebel his struggle with manic depression was reflected in the forlorn “little dude” he designed for his posters (which he was told by a friend resembled him).
The sceptical phrases that have accompanied this image have reflected his dubious views of politicians and corporate greed. He explained that his inspiration for his first statement ‘robbery is the sincerest form of business’ was born when in 2009 the then British Prime Minister David Cameron said “we are all in this together” which angered Subdude.
“The protest is through my work and I could do a lot more like everybody but that’s what I do best I think.”
His work became more controversial when he began featuring a series of posters of President Trump with phrases that include ‘Fake Views‘, ‘Tangerine Tyrant‘ and ‘Bad Hombre‘ swapped the significance of his phrases with the images involved. These very dynamic and demanding images cannot fail to stand out and firmly grasp your attention. Even more so given the state of world affairs with Donald Trump’s contentious presidency and also Brexit.
Subdude said that the latest designs of a series of Theresa May in bondage-wear with phrases such as ‘Make you obey‘, and Vladimir Putin respectively, similarly attired but accompanied by ‘Hates a pussy rioter‘ generated a mixed reaction.
He said, “I have like 500 positive responses to Theresa May, but then I’ve had a few saying it’s misogynistic and sexist. People did not realise that I ran it alongside Vladimir Putin and that I am not taking the piss out of women!”
Subdude is not one of the first and will not be the last to create politically inspired street art. Since the birth of civilised society people have used ‘graffiti’ or ‘street art’ to convey their beliefs directly without the need for much more than something to scratch out a symbol in a public space.
Fast forward to the present sunny day in March, back outside the Lord Napier Pub where Subdude is now fly pasting a striking poster of Sir Philip Green (another controversial character who has recently been the subject of a wave of scrutiny in the media) with the caption ‘Sir Fill-Up Greed’ followed by ‘Have yachts Hate have nots’.
Asked whether he would feel the same way about his work if legality was not an issue, Subdude said:
“You don’t do this thing unless you enjoy taking a risk in some way and that makes you feel alive.”
He told me of a statement a girl he knew had said that resonated with him:
“If it’s not going to make your heart beat faster what’s the point?
“When I am doing the art that makes my heart beat faster and yeah maybe it is in the threat of arrest.”
Although he still admits that at the age of 43 he would prefer not to be arrested.