“It was cold, dark and windy and I remember looking at my tiny hand holding this big can of spray paint, then up at this huge wall and thinking the spraycan, the wall and I shared a secret. Now I know what it was – we were starting a journey…” Temper
Street art tends to take a back seat to the gilded framed works that colour the walls of museums and galleries, which, thanks to their portability and saleability, draw in the crowds (and profits) by the thousands. However, some of the most skilled and track-stopping art I have ever seen has been displayed in outside spaces, for all to admire, free of cost.
Street art is often provocative, beautiful and loaded with cultural expression; decorating an otherwise bland streetscape. Yet, for all the wonder these wall murals inspire, there is yet to be a distinguishable move from concrete to canvas. The idea alone of creating graffiti art on canvas can seem paradoxical. That is until you see the works of Arron Bird, more widely known by his artist name, Temper.
Temper is creating quite a stir with his innovative fusion of the ultimate urban medium – the spray can – with subject matters more aligned with the Pre-Raphaelites, creating something fresh and exciting and at the same time uniting audiences at polar ends of the art spectrum.
After completing his first street painting at just 11 years old, ‘Street Level’, he has since honed his technique and become one of the most significant and sought-after graffiti artists in the world. In 1993 Temper started a business venture called ‘Blind Mice Clothing’, designing unique T-shirts. Popular amongst many, from skaters to celebrities, the brand took off, along with his career. From there, his career rocketed through a succession of exhibitions, including his "Minuteman" exhibition, which attracted a record of 38,000 visitors in under a month for the venue. But Temper didn’t just break records – he set them too: He was the first graffiti artist to be chosen for a major piece of public art - The Cube, and the first graffiti artist to have hosted a solo exhibition in a Government funded gallery space.
Shortly after ‘Minuteman’, Temper was scouted by Coca Cola and commissioned to create limited edition designs for their drinks cans across Europe. This took his designs from the gallery walls to the large-scale, international arena – under the mass gaze of the public eye. And although graffiti art isn’t to everyone’s taste, what I like about Temper Art is that he dares to experiment with his uncanny skill. His latest exhibition, ‘Post Graphaelite’ sold every piece within fourteen days, raking in a whopping £1.4m. This is the first time any artist has crossed the boundaries of graffiti art and ‘high’ art and Temper skips over the divide with enviable ease.
Temper’s recent character depictions are intricately researched and designed; every decision in this collection is rooted in symbolism, astrology and ideology, presented in a refreshing blend of modern graffiti art and Pre-Raphaelite influences. This marriage of urban techniques with sumptuous, elegant influences of the Pre-Raphaelite masters introduces many young graffiti artists to a new realm of spray painting. Indeed, Temper Art alludes to a movement in art history that could never be scoffed at, not even by graffiti artists with a penchant for ‘street cred.’
Far from distancing himself from ‘high art,’ Temper openly and cleverly acknowledges the skill and complexity of the Pre-Raphaelite masterpieces, by creating a collection that appreciates the subtle contemplation of symbolism within art, beneath the aesthetic surface. Just like the flowers Millais chose to place around the drowned figure of Ophelia – the red Poppies symbolising death and sleep – Temper Art chooses flowers, colours and various other elements associated with each sign of the zodiac to compose the paintings in his collection.
In Eupo and the Emerald, the emerald ring on the bed alludes to the modern birthstone of Taurus – the Emerald. The Moon’s Grateful Era, pictured above, represents Cancer – whose ruling planet is the Moon, whose birthstone is moonstone; whose flowers are water lilies; whose element is water, and whose physical correlations are the breasts and stomach. Every aspect of this painting is intelligently and thoughtfully designed. The final composition is so carefully engineered that it is difficult to believe the details were accomplished with a spray can. Temper controls his medium with astonishing instinct and is quite literally painting the way for a generation of graffiti artists to move from the streets to the gallery, and to vaster audiences.