Interview with Recoat
Recoat are an Arts Enterprise focused on promoting Street Art Culture within a public realm, founded by Amy Whiten and Ali Wyllie over ten years ago. Since closing their Gallery in Glasgow's West End in 2013, the pair have thrown themselves into a number of different projects both for and by local communities across Scotland and abroad, encouraging the public to take creative ownership of the spaces they live in outwith the gallery walls. We talk to Recoat about their latest projects.
I couldn't help recognising that you both make artwork under your own names (Ali as Rekor, and Amy as Syrkus). How has your own individual work been influenced since forming Recoat?
Obviously a lot of street artists have pseudonyms to hide their identity so they can do illegal work, but in our case it was about putting some distance between ourselves and our personal work from our gallery and projects. It is hard to pitch your own work to clients so this has always felt like an easier way to do that.
Part of why we started Recoat was because there wasn’t a space that exclusively showed the kind of work we made and were into. Opening Recoat Gallery gave us the chance to show case our work but more importantly it has given us opportunities to work with many artists we admire, to watch them work, learn techniques, and pick up tips for professional practice and practical skills.
Amy: Before Recoat I didn’t even use spray paint so a huge portion of my style has evolved since starting. Insa showed me how to paint without overspray, Elph suggested I try not using black in my paintings (which I rarely do), and I learned loads about mapping large-scale pieces from Askew. I’m so lucky to have learned from all these guys and each time I work with someone else it gives me confidence to try new things and push myself.
Ali: The personal work I made before Recoat was mainly Graffiti. Meeting so many different kinds of artists has inspired me and I don’t feel so constrained, my work looks very different from that now, it’s evolved.
Recoat's projects couldn't have been made possible without the involvement of local councils and communities. Given this year's Turner Prize shortlist - featuring Assemble, a collective of 18 artists and designers nominated for a renovation project within Gramby Four Streets - it seems that awareness of community-led projects is on the rise; and with it, a greater acknowledgement of place-making.
Is there any one particular project you felt most satisfied with in this sense - for bringing creative significance to an area, or a certain cause? If so, what was it and why?
We both love the Assemble project, their work is very inspirational. Yes, we’re really lucky to have worked with groups all over the UK making artwork in their communities.
Amy: One of my favourite projects we have done that raised awareness of a certain cause was for Amnesty International for the Edinburgh Festival. It was one of our first mural projects where we curated the project and we selected 5 artists to paint murals that were displayed during the festival. It felt like a huge responsibility and honour to illustrate a real AI case and raise awareness about it. I found the project educational and very moving. I believe the piece I made is still one of my strongest.
Ali: I feel like all of the murals we paint or curate will have an impact one way or another and I like that idea, that someone might see the mural Moneyless that Mark Lyken painted in an abandoned torpedo base in a remote Scottish town and feel inspired or someone having a low day might feel happier from seeing the colour in one of the In Common murals in Glasgow City Centre. You never know what ripples they have, and that’s pretty cool.
Since closing the gallery, Recoat seems to have taken less of a curatorial role and become a more active, project-led enterprise in facilitating opportunities for street artists. However, many enterprises within the arts struggle to maintain the balance between having an sense of integrity and pandering to false advertising. Have you ever felt the pressure to compromise the friendly, close-knit community for the sake of running a profitable business?
Running a commercial gallery, maintaining a physical space and producing 10 plus shows a year at our gallery was sadly not sustainable. We still feel it is really important for us to curate exhibitions though and we aim to do this 2-3 times a year.
As you say, we changed the emphasis of our business in 2013 so we focus more on producing art projects and education programmes now. These include commercial projects aswell as community projects; we work with charities, brands, festivals, community groups, design agencies and all sorts of different people. Of course it is always important to us that the work we do feels comfortable when aligning ourselves with other brands or corporations. So far we feel like all of the Recoat partnerships and collaborations have felt good.
Amy: The thing that makes me feel most compromised is when we or our artists are asked to work for very low or no fees. It is really common, even from huge brands and corporations. In the past we have agreed to this believing that the promised ‘exposure’ would be worth it. It almost never is, If we want artists and designers living and working here, continuing to make beautiful, inspiring work, it is crucial that they are properly valued and paid accordingly.
Ali: We’re designers, so think we’ve always been happy working for clients and to a brief. Some jobs are easier or more fun than others of course, but getting to paint or helping other artists to be creative is always going to be better than the alternative of not getting to paint or be creative.
You just participated in Thype, an exhibition of artists interested in exploring typography in different ways. Given type has such a intrinsic role in the history of graffiti writing, how important is typography to the branding of your own business?
Amy: Yes, we were really delighted with Thype. We curated it in partnership with the Graphic Design Festival Scotland. Many of the artists featured in the show came from a graffiti background and the reason we selected them is because we found it interesting to show how they’ve evolved that into something really quite different for exhibition but you can still see the roots and inspiration coming from graffiti.
Ali: I’m the graphic designer in our partnership and I do all of our branding. I started out as a graffiti artist and then studied Graphics at Art School. Typography within our brand has always been important but I wanted our brand to be behind the scenes, for it to be subtle and just black and white so that the artwork we or others create is the focus. The artwork is the most important thing always.
Because we represent a genre of art that features various categories (graphic art, illustration, street art and photography), we didn’t want our brand to scream Graffiti because that would be misleading and distracting. While Graffiti is relevant within the genre, it isn’t what we do or exhibit since Graffiti is only true Graffiti if it is illegal. Sometimes we reference it in our branding through a paint splatter here or there because that seems right, since much of the work we create is spray painted and the starting point for all of this was that I started out as a Graffiti artist.
Recoat are celebrating the launch of their new website along with a screening of their film 'In Common' this Friday at O Street studio, get your tickets here - www.eventbrite.co.uk
Look out for their new website from Friday and keep an eye out for news and updates here - www.recoatdesign.com
Interview by Rachel Boyd