Color and Shape: The RALPH Interview.
For some, letterforms can mutate and twist into irreducible tangles of technicality whose fierce aesthetics seem to mirror a part of the environment they’re born in. For others, however, graffiti becomes more playful and soft, allowing for a fluidity of forms and colour that evolve and grow around concerns of expression, shape and moment. One such purveyor of this style is UK based writer RALPH, whose quiet reduced forms concentrate their subtle energy on the interplay on colour and form.
“What happens when you move this bar here? or what if you break this part up or take this part away? Although this may differ in my more recent pieces, in every piece there is still structure, and to me there is still a form and a function to these shapes, colors, lines and negative space. You can still hint at a letter through a combination of these things.”
Could you introduce yourself and give us a little bit about how you got started? what first drew you to the artform etc.
I am Ralph a graffiti writer and part of Liverpool’s Everton Egg Club. I have spent most of my time from an early age drawing and painting and as I got older I became more and more interested in the spaces around me. The industrial landscape of Liverpool is something that has always influenced me and after filling countless sketchbooks with ideas and pieces shaped by the writers I had seen and met it became a natural progression to start painting myself.
Who were the writers you met early on? any people you particularly admired?
There were quite a few writers. I think locally writers like azid were the first people to show me the ropes, take me out painting and give me a few sketches. He is where my obsession with structure came from. Beta was another who I painted some of my first peices with and have painted with ever since. Dead One has always been a big influence even though I wouldn’t admit it to him. Then you had the TFB lads, some of which make up the rest of EVERTON EGG CLUB, they were always doing amazing stuff. Apart from local writers someone that stands out early on and to this day is Raek OLC. I managed to get my hands on a graphotism when I must have been about 14 that had a massive feature on his stuff and I think this was the first time i’d seen this kind of thing being done and being pushed to different level. But the list of people is endless.
what exactly is it that you like about the industrial landscape?
I grew up around the docklands of Birkenhead and Liverpool and also worked there. There is a real beauty to grimy parts of the city, the parts that made the cities we explore, paint and live in. The huge man made blocks of brick and steel which cut into its surroundings and the people which fill these areas, living and working. I think there is something beautiful to it all.
“What attracts me to things is the way a shape or line can be applied to any surface and the way in which it is done through the approach or medium used i.e spray paint, a roller, a paint brush, it can have a totally different feel to someone else’s approach to the same kind of ideas”
Your recent work has a bit more a reliance of the interplay between shapes and colors as opposed to just doing traditional letterforms, could you talk about how you came to your style and how you see it these days? As it differentiates from these traditional letterforms, where do you place it in terms of graffiti?
I don’t really know where I stand in terms of graffiti. I studied fine art but dropped out after a year, I wouldn’t say it had much of an influence on my graffiti but if anything it had an opposite effect. It stopped me painting for a little while and made me realise the things that I hated in art school, and to an extent in graffiti, were the constraint to a particular aesthetic and style. When I first started drawing and painting graffiti I did all the usual stuff, drawing straight letters endlessly and really focusing on what makes a letter the letter. What happens when you move this bar here? Or what if you break this part up or take this part away? Although this may differ in my more recent pieces in every piece there is still structure and to me there is still a form and a function to these shapes, colors, lines and negative space. You can still hint at a letter through a combination of these things. Taking a letter and stripping it back to something more abstract and interesting.
why do you feel what you are doing is important to graffiti?
I wouldn’t say that what i’m doing is important to graffiti as a whole. I think the way a wall is approached is just as important as the piece itself. The idea of just painting with a pot of emulsion and a can of paint and creating something interesting to look at whilst just relying just on lines and the aesthetic to do all the work. I like the rawness of walls created like this, with movement and feeling and speed rather than agonising over a line being perfect. I see that there is a purpose to all approaches to painting and it’s finding a way in which you like to work and this is something I want to take further and experiment with it.
Is there anything from outside this culture that feeds into what you do?
As part of Everton Egg club one of the obvious answers is football. But apart from that I think just anything that is attractive to look at. If i’m focusing on color I always look at Henri Matisse’s Paper cuts. They were done when he couldn’t really paint anymore and they completely focus on the simplicity of form and colour and what it can do. I think with the endless influx of visuals we can look at all day long, through our phones and computer screens connecting us to all parts of the world we can easily look or stumble over influences and inspiration is endless. I follow hundreds of accounts that for example would only post about plants just because one day I wanted to draw a plant. Sometimes relying on social media can be bad thing but I think that everything feeds into it and draws from it sometimes, for better or for worse.
What makes something attractive to look at for you? in terms of influence. Is this simplicity of form and colour the main thing which attracts you to things?
I’m visually drawn to to the simplicity of how someone can achieve something effectively and interestingly, whether it is through form and color or something else. For example Robert crumb, I am really into how he can show movement and switch up and change the complete feel of his drawings by the way in which he simply puts pen marks on a page. What attracts me to things is the way a shape or line can be applied to any surface and the way in which it is done through the approach or medium used i.e spray paint, a roller , a paint brush, it can have a totally different feel to someone else’s approach to the same kind of ideas and I suppose I am drawn to seeing this kind of experimenting with things.
Could you tell us about the Everton Egg Club? ‘Eggy’ is a term i’ve only recently been introduced to, could you describe it for those you are unaware?
I don’t really know where the term eggy comes from, I think it’s just something which has entered the vocabulary of the local graff crowd to describe a kind of look and feel to a piece. Us as a crew all have various styles which are different and we do different things, however we bring them together under the umbrella of Everton Egg Club. Even though there are differences there is a distinct ethos and feel which runs through all of our pieces whether it’s through the approach to painting, the wobble to a line, the colours you paint with or the feel of a piece at the end. It can be described by one word as we sit round after painting, ‘eggy’.
MURDOK – ‘Eggy’ is a term DeadOne described to me as perhaps meaning the same thing as ‘ignorant style’, something which has progressed through strict technical ability and gone back to base elements in order to free itself from creative restrictions. I haven’t heard it outside of the distinct group of writers RALPH mentions, so I would think it’s an interesting colloquialism.
Examples of other EEC writers:
News / Seim / Dan1 / Ralph.
How do you start a piece?
I go through stages with this. I will draw relentlessly for weeks and do a piece based on a sketch then the next few I’ll basically freestyle them based on parts of drawings and playing with a similar aesthetic to the piece. I’ll then go back to drawing and start the whole cycle all over again till I get bored with that….then start all over again.
“It’s all just a cycle I will hopefully never escape.”
Why do you keep doing this?
I go through stages evey couple of months where I lose interest a bit and take myself away from it all. I’ll start trying to concentrate on other things but inevitably I’ll be drawing something and I’ll see a part of a piece developing then I’ll get excited again and I’ll be up and out the next day painting. It’s all just a cycle I will hopefully never escape.
Could you sum up graffiti in 3 words?
It goes on.
RALPH’s work is simple, but within this simplicity reveals perhaps the base understanding of what we’re all trying to do – match colour and form into something we find well balanced enough to put it out into the world. The work proves that technical proficiency doesn’t have to only come from strict letterforms, but just in the harmony of shapes and how things fit together. Eggy.
All pictures from RALPH’s Instagram