Sorry I’m late blogging this, Robbo’s documentary is on Channel 4 tonight (14th August) but can be viewed again online here I’m on there giving my two bobs worth as are many oldskool.
I first started watching then bombing the tube trains properly when working as a messenger boy in the city in 1986 as the first proper wave of graffiti writers got serious.
Sitting on the grimy platform clutching my documents heading for PSAC or wherever my round took me; my dull dead end job was set ablaze with a riot of colour almost every time a train clattered in.
I would sit spellbound for ages, the juddering bare steel of the train, electronic hum of the motors, the smell of the brakes, mysterious allure of the forbidden tunnel illuminated in spasmodic flashes of blue lightning as the train careered in carrying its promise of renegade artworks framed by the nearly derelict tube system and crumbling Victorian brickwork of the ancient city.
This transformed the experience of witnessing train graffiti beyond the leafy lines and lanes of the Hertfordshire suburbs, where my own train painting career started.
If a train came in with a full colour piece on it I rode that car jumping out at every platform for a glimpse, then back inside until the next stop would allow me a few seconds more to grab another look….
The first names I remember seeing in abundance were Pim 17, Prime, Fly, Elf, Buf, Fuel, Ice 3, Jano, Envy, Sir Beau, Kick 4, Set 3, Chico147, Kis42, Tilt, Doze Bos, Chane, PiC, Choci and others and the one that towered above all in his sheer prolific domination of the city was Robbo 484.
Let me try and get this over to those who weren’t there at the beginning…..
Okay lets just say I was going down into the tube at Liverpool Street, amongst all the tags you’ see ROBBO 484 in paint in the prime position right next to the ticket box, about seven foot up, you walk to the platform and wait for the westbound circle line train, when it comes in you see the front and outside covered with Robbo R letters.
You get in a carriage the doors close and on each panel above the window is a Robbo tag.
As you travel along you notice Robbo tags on almost every passing platform, you get off and change onto another line, on the walk to the platform more Robbo tags, the train rolls in and… wow amazing… a Robbo full colour piece on the side, you decide to wait and watch on the platform, out of the next five trains that pull in three are covered in Robbo throw ups, you decide to go to the surface for a cup of tea, up the escalators on the curved ceiling about twelve foot from where you stand on the metal step more Robbo 484 tags.
You come out on the street, walk a couple of miles and get on at a different tube line, en route in the high street you see massive Robbo silver pieces along the high streets and on the sides of the flats.
You get to the next stop get on the train on the completely different line, more Robbo throw ups on every car of each train, you look out of the window into the tunnels, more Robbo tags out of the tunnels then overground, on warehouses you whiz past ROBBO in huge silver letters, EVERYWHERE, ALL CITY KING…and this all by 1987 which he kept up for many years.
I didn’t know who he was back then, just that he was this omnipresent enigma with apparent super powers and balls of steel, but his early pieces and infiltration of every train depot on every single line on the Underground system, his painting of trains in multiple European cities including Amsterdam, his painting of a New York subway train well after Mayor Koch’s Graffiti clampdown and his continuation of high level bombing of the London Underground system meant he was not only world renowned but known by every person who had even the remotest interest in graffiti in the late eighties, nineties and new millenium.
He painted countless panel pieces, numerous wholecars and even painted the legendary Christmas wholetrain with Drax WD. Long before the internet photos of his trains were circulated by post the length and breadth of the country, his name spoken in the hushed tones of awed reverence in the decades after he became King though he never made a penny from his efforts or even wanted to.
Cue Banksy’s entrance to the London scene in the early 2000s, at his introduction to Robbo, Banksy’s reply was…
“Never heard of you…”
Says it all really, to say you’ve never heard of Robbo in the graffiti world after all the countless risks to life limb and liberty he took to become so well known and to birth graffiti as a serious democratic movement that was open to everyone, a King, is an insult, like saying “I’ve never heard of you” to the Queen or the President of the USA…. calculated and arrogant pure and simple.
Despite being mainly a ‘bomber’ of tags, silver-dubs and throw-ups, which may well have been perceived as an eyesore to many fine art buffs, he did countless amazing pieces, his contribution to style and to the movement that we have today cannot be underestimated, there would be no “New Contemporary Art” if there was no Robbo and others like him.
Although very much ‘classic’ New York graffiti inspired he was already by 1985 making waves in the London forefront of style as is demonstrated by the following piece, when most people were still mastering the art of writing a tag.
That piece survived intact, on the back of British Transport Police HQ, no less, his sworn enemies, who had the respect for him to leave it intact for 25 years.
Apart from a few scrawls but was largely still legible and a clear demonstration of how what is now the biggest art movement in the world was pioneered in its infancy.
That is until Banksy in his infinite wisdom, destroyed the piece in the Christmas of 2009, by turning it into wallpaper, the ultimate disrespect. Robbo, by now a family man and long retired from graffiti, came out of retirement to settle the score by doing to Banksy’s ‘adverts’ what he had done to Robbo’s sacred relic, an example of the earliest proliferation of what is now the biggest art movement in world history, it should have been left for the enjoyment and education of future generations no matter how much it had been worn away over time
Somehow, despite Channel 4 making a documentary about it and millions of genuine graffiti artists around the world being outraged by it, and it being the first thing that springs to mind for millions when Banksy’s name comes up in conversation…..there is no mention of it whatsoever on Banksy’s Wikipedia page!!!!
WHO WRITES THIS STUFF???
Shome mishtake shurely…..
Why is there a Banksy ‘flower chucker’ at 00.00.09 in the trailer video????
Why did Pure Evil persuade Robbo to do his show in his gallery when he is Banksy’s loyal mate and was appalled at Robbo’s destruction to Banksy’s works???
He was so furious at Robbo’s retaliation against Banksy pieces in fact, that he was actually getting people to phone me up in early 2010 trying to find out Robbo’s real identity.
Now he’s trying soooo hard to be bestest buddys with the ‘big boys’ in the underground graffiti writing world after years of putting graffiti writers down then going on about how superior ‘street art’ is……
Curious as to why? A genuine change of heart?
Anyway, now for something completely different……