The last decade we’ve seen stencil art changing from something simple and reproducible to rocket-surgery work with 15 layers of stencils and 25 colours depicting an ironic post-modern interpretations of 90’s graffiti. Pahnl takes a different approach. The Oxford (England) based street artists is mostly known for his stick-men, women, cats and dogs in all sorts of variations. The simple characters speak the international language of stick and Pahnl is a master in letting them convey a multitude of emotions, despite their (visible) lack of eyes, ears or reproductive organs.
But don’t mistake simplicity for simplistic work, Pahnl’s works can be as complicated and detailed as any. He’s a true craftsman who puts the greatest effort in every detail of his work and cuts stencils with surgical precision. Another impressive feature of Pahnl is that he can do just about anything! Stencil cutting, screen printing, video editing, web-developing, he does it all with the same skill and intensity. He’s one of those people you’d love to hate, if he wasn’t such a nice guy on top of all that. In the end though, Pahnl is all about his street and stencil work, so we’re happy to present you with a long overdue interview with Pahnl!
“It’s way more fun interacting with the city and dropping my little characters into our world to live and survive.”
What are you working on right now?
I recently started drawing a new ‘universe’ where robots are fighting man in a game of capture-the-flag gone wrong. It’s called ‘The Singularity War’ and it’s just a good excuse to show man and machine shooting the shit out of each other. We had the opportunity to paint a wide 16 meter (albeit 1 meter tall) wall at Upfest this year that’s just gone. So next I want to begin working on it as a series of panoramic prints telling the war. Mix in stickers on the street presenting little vignettes of this imaginary world and it just brings me a lot of excitement.
Elsewhere, I recently started doing a thing called Wildcard Wednesday. I ask people on Facebook to suggest a random word or phrase. I pick one from all the suggestions and use it as a starting point to make some stickers for the street. It gets me to do some street work on a regular basis (it’s so easy to get caught up in studio work, as that’s how the bills are ultimately paid) but it’s a nice way to get some participation from other people. Street art is a very public medium and this is an interesting way to combine the internet and the street but it’s just a bit of fun really.
“If you’re not part of the process, it of course is still art but I’m not sure you’re the artist.”
From what I’ve seen, you do everything you do with care and seem to be quite good in a lot of things: Your art, screen printing, photography, video-editing, webdeveloping, am I forgetting anything?
I do a bit of animation too, haha. Yeah, I think it’s an artists job to do as much as you can. I’m not a fan of Warhol’s factory or Hirst’s army of interns assembling his ideas. If you’re not part of the process, it of course is still art but I’m not sure you’re the artist. But anyway, I like to do as much as possible. If I get an idea, I can make it a reality without waiting for someone else to be ready. I’m very particular with my work.
I guess that’s why I chose stencils, they produce a precise image and that suits me beautifully. The point is if I was asking someone else to, say, experiment with photographing something over and over again, I’d be scared I was pissing them off. If I do as much as possible, I’ll keep working until I’m happy or I’m exhausted.
Concerning that question, I was wondering if you ever feel like you’re spread too thin and would be better off focusing your energy on one thing in specific?
I mean stencils are generally at the heart of everything I do and the other mediums feed into that. It all helps bring the little world I’ve created to life. The things that can get in the way are admin stuff and posting orders out. I love making a tight, tidy box but packaging stuff and dealing with the boring side of being an artist is what saps time away from the good shit.
Do you consider yourself part of the street art scene?
Yeah, for sure. It’s how I started and how I still am. If I had the financial freedom to do whatever I wanted, I’d pretty much stick to street work. It’s way more fun interacting with the city and dropping my little characters into our world to live and survive.
I know a lot of guys start that way and then transition to pure gallery work, which is all good. Art is still art and there’s no point fighting amongst ourselves about being a fake or using street work as a way to gain credibility. I’d rather talk to any kind of artist than, say, a banker, y’know?
How did you transfer from ‘one of us’ to a full-time artist?
I’d been going to more and more show openings, made lots of friends and connections via a couple of Upfests and things were getting busier. I thought, well, why not take six months to give it a shot full-time. I set a financial target to hit in that time but four months in, London West Bank Gallery asked if I wanted to do a solo show in half a year. It’s an incredible gallery, beautiful space and I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) say ‘no’.
Nonetheless, I had to kind of make work for myself in those first few months because I went from doing it in my spare time to having all the time available for art. These days, I can fill every day with work no problem. It can get a bit much at times (especially when there are no clearly defined work hours or such a thing as ‘weekends’) but it’s always better to be too busy, than too idle.
“I think you can always make excuses as to why you’re not in a situation to make what you want to make.”
You seem to be very dedicated to what you do, can you offer starting artists (or anyone who wants to make their living by doing what they love) some advice?
I think you can always make excuses as to why you’re not in a situation to make what you want to make. And I don’t mean being stupid and immediately quitting your day job. You do your day job and then you spend all the spare time and energy you can sacrifice to making your art when you can. There are always exceptions but for most artists, it takes time to get to the stage where it supports itself. A lot of time. Like, a shit ton. I spent something like eight or nine years doing this in my spare time before going full-time.
If you sincerely care about making your work a reality, you won’t think twice about pushing yourself further when everyone else is enjoying their free time. But if you’re just looking for fame or money, that kind of motivation doesn’t last long when no one else cares or is buying your work. Even then, there’s no guarantee. Being good at what you do is a bare minimum; the rest is luck, chaos and a bit of hustle.
Could you tell me a bit about the screen printing business you’re working on?
Well I wanted to be able to play around with screen printing a lot easier. I’ve worked with a number of print houses but, understandably, everything is going to cost. I can’t just play around with different techniques or colours as easily. I built a vacuum printing table, bought some screens and just started learning the process by trial and error, more error, a little less error and then a bit of success, haha.
Friends started to find out I was screen printing and now I (with my girlfriend, who is deeply involved with all things Pahnl and printing) print other artist’s work. We’re in the process of getting the site up at www.editionprinting.com and we’ll see how it goes. It’s enough that we just print all our own work. At the same time, we love working with other artists and making the process as friendly as possible, as screen printing can be a bit intimidating at times.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
No major plans for the future, as we’ve just come off the back of a massive show titled ‘A History Of Us’ at The Herbert in Coventry. We spent a year working on a 44 meter long timeline of humanity’s inventions, famous people and notable discoveries and so we’re still winding down from it all. But ehm, yeah, more street work, more prints and just keeping things fresh!