On the lower edge of the country sits Devon, a county known for its sandy coastline, wild ponies and cream teas. But one of the more unlikely success stories of the southern region is of self-taught spray-wielding ‘Koe1’ whose portraiture has been making waves nationally. With several originals on show in the gallery currently and the recent release of his print “Souls Apart”, we spoke to him to find out a little more.
“The scene is relatively small in Devon compared to Bristol and London for instance;” Koe began, “but I would say if anything it has made me want to push myself more as an artist.” It can be hard at first to gain notoriety outside of a location which isn’t geographically central, particularly in street art which relies on people travelling through and seeing it to spread it further afield. But like many others Koe has noticed the huge effect of social media on self-promotion; “it’s been a great tool in getting my work out there, sharing my pieces with followers and enthusiasts and spreading the word outside of Devon.” However, the closeness of Devon’s scene also promotes a ripe breeding ground for collaboration and growth. Koe himself works repeatedly with Zhe155 and Mau Mau, who not only collaborate as friends and artists together but also inspire his own practice greatly.
After discovering art in school he found it was the only subject which both focussed and inspired him. “After that,” he explained, “the art developed through the people I met, the first of which were two brothers from London who introduced me to the book ‘Subway Art’ by Matha Cooper.” The brightly painted, highly industrial trains of the New York subway system were a million miles away from anything he had been previously exposed to in Devon, from there his interest grew. “I starting out tagging and got a buzz out of it. I developed a keen interest in street art and started to experiment with other mediums such as stencilling, typography and freehand painting which I still continue to use today in my work.”
Since starting out, Koe’s work has evolved a very distinct style, making his portraits highly recognisable. “Portraiture in art stands out to me mainly because no two people are exactly the same, I like how portraiture paintings can convey such strong emotions from the subject to the viewer. Each portrait holds a unique individual story.” His paintings typically feature women with greyscale skin tone and fine details, their hair made up of his signature tag repeatedly overlaid in teal and pink. “I have always liked and been interested in black and white beauty imagery of women,” he explained, “similar to what is seen on magazine covers for fashion. Teal has always been a fresh colour and stood out to me more than any other and I used to paint my logo in Magenta so, knowing pink was a complimentary colour to turquoise, I chose to use both colours as an experiment on a wall in Australia.” He liked this aesthetic so much that he then took his ideas home to the UK and experimented further, formulating these two base colours until he had an entire palette of tones and shags. “They worked really well with the black and white portrait studies I was working on at the time. You could say it has now become my signature style which people now recognise me by.”
But it doesn’t all stop there, as Koe has many plans for the future and where to take his work next. “I plan to travel and paint more on the street,” he began, “meet more artists and link up with those I’ve painted with before. There's a few collaboration murals already planned for 2017 with Carl Cashman in Southsea and Zabou in East London so keep an eye out for those.” Finally, he also opened up about some exciting new plans very close to home, hoping to secure a wall in Norwich to paint and also hinting that there could be a solo exhibition on the cards, right here at our very own Moosey!