In 2011, LDNGraffiti interviewed the legendary Robbo, Graffiti pioneer and original London King. In his own words, he went back to his very first piece on Hornsey Road, his following work, exhibitions and of course, the spat with street artist Banksy...
London's Graffiti King sadly passed away on 31/07/2014
Suffering three years in a coma after a tragic accident, King Robbo will live on forever in our hearts and minds. London's original graffiti pioneer.
King Robbo, 1969 - 2014. Rest In Peace.
"As a young skinhead living in Hoxton in the early 1970-80's, I began writing my first name 'Headbutt / Edbutt' in the late 70's, then followed suit, changing my name to one with an 'O' at the end, like fellow skinhead writers; Wilko II, Rolo, Bozo and Invader, aka 'Space Invader' (the notorious guy from North London who had no legs and walked on his hands). I moved up to Holloway and carried on writing 'Robbo' after that.
Then Kosh started writing next to me and I started writing next to him. I didn't realise it was writing in the sense of writing, I thought Kosh was a jewish kid, I didn't know it was a 'Tag' but I thought it was the most stylish signature i'd ever seen. I was writing Robbo, straight-letter, no style, and then it dawned on me what was going on."
"I remember watching the film 'The Warriors', then 'The Equaliser' on television, with the trains in the titles, I started noticing graffiti, I ended up doing a big piece just near the Emirates Stadium, just under the bridge on Hornsey Road. I was as bold as brass. It said 'The Master Robbo' with a Ghostbuster character and a big splat! It was really big. That was winter/spring '84."
"After that I moved up to Northhamptonshire. I started in this school, they were all skinheads and mods on Lambretta's. They'd never heard of graffiti. I went up there in Sergio Tacchini and Fila tracksuits, I didn't know what was going on.
I noticed a few blokes in tracksuits, they were breakers, I used to do a bit of popping but I told them I was a graffiti writer, 'What's that?' they asked. 'I put my name everywhere, I produce artwork'. I explained what is was about and they said they'd start doing it as well, so I started a crew, we were called 'The Artmasters'. Back in the day that was a wicked name to have! Like Rembrandt or Da Vinci, the real Art Masters."
"I stayed up there for six/nine months. I'd done about five pieces and bombed the hell out of the place, then when I came back to London, I was still writing and dropping pieces, as I do. My first pieces along Camden Canal were back then. I did four/five pieces. One for my brother, another was Robbo inc and 'Bee', a few Robbo's, in red white and blue, in the New York style."
"I started noticing other writers, there was Mr Stiff (Carl), and Binzy (Shuto). I'd see their names locally and so i'd drop my name next to them, and they would do the same, I wanted to meet them. Back then I'd never met another writer, and then I bumped into New Wave, we got on well. So we started hooking up, they asked me to be in the crew, so it was a new direction for me."
"Then I finally met Mr Stiff and Binzy, we started hanging about together and started a crew called 'North London Artists', at that time I didn't think I could be in two crews, I didn't want to divide my loyalties, so I stopped putting up 'New Wave' in about 1985 and started writing NLA. Nowadays it doesn't matter, i'm in six crews worldwide."
"In around 1985 I hit Morgate platform in broad daylight a few times, when there were big Mets layed up there during the day, then with New Wave, myself and Reeez from NLA. We all went up to Rickmansworth, there was a big Met where we done five panel pieces."
"I used go travelling to see pieces all over London, we didn't have the internet so the only way was to go out there and see graffiti. That was the beauty of it, there was so much stuff, you had to work hard to get noticed! It's different now, you can see everything on Flickr, you don't get bad comments. It's good though, it's positive. Writers are seen in a better light, back then we were considered dirty vandals."
"I used to love seeing my pieces roll into the platform in the morning, all the suits there moaning and me pushing my way through to get my photo. I used to love it."
"Eventually London wanted to move away and develop it's own style, away from the New York thing, we all started doing 'London Letters'. I thought yeah, I was really into my art so I started experimenting. I was into all sorts of art and music. It took over."
"I got kicked out of school, and then home, it was hard back then. Graffiti art was a release for me. It was more to me than just writing. I loved developing the London style, I was really into abstract fills and blends rather than the letters."
"We wanted to evolve, to try and do better than the New York writers. All the real good artists were painting back then, after The Artful Dodger did the Weetabix billboard campaign, things picked up. There were the Chrome Angelz painting, Shades, Jap302, South East Vandals, The London Giants and Custom Boyz were dropping good stuff back then."
"I'm very passionate, I loved the energy and excitement, the adrenaline rush I used to get. I got into doing trains, I didn't get the same buzz out of doing walls. I used to go maybe four/five nights a week to the train yard, as much as I could. I went back to using straight letters, New York style, so when the train went past at 40mph you could still read the Robbo!"
"I developed my own style even more. I done well back then, I loved it. It was all a great learning curve. I was doing stuff on the spot. I was really happy with the immediacy of it."
"I had to pack it in as I had too many family commitments, with work and everything, it got to much trying to run a business etc, it was just to hard to maintain. I always had the urge. I'd be out with mates and if someone had a pen it would be difficult to stop myself."
"For a few years, I wanted to get back into graffiti but it was hard to find the time, so the best thing that happened to me was when Banksy went over me. It actually gave me a kick up the arse. So I had to do it. So I did. When I'd done it, I thought, I love this, why have I not made the effort before. He gave me the impetus to get out there and do it, it helped me back. I don't think it was his intention to get me press etc, but I do thank him for it. He gave me the kick up the arse to get out there and do it again."
"It's nice now to still be able to express myself, as an artist, writer. It's given me a new buzz for art again."
"I'm painting regularly, not as much as i'd like but i've got so much to do now, new work, galleries, going out painting, I'm really glad i'm out again. The more I paint, the more I feel the better I get. I'm doing old school stuff, I am old school, but the more I see out there pushes me and makes me want to move on. I love the different styles, I like the abstract stuff, there was some good work at The Battle of Waterloo, Shiz and JXC using stencils and whatever, I like the style. I'd gone out and done a few stencils for a laugh. When I did the Rolling Stones Lips stencil, something stayed with me. I liked it. I thought it might be a new way to bomb as 'Street Art' is acceptable but 85% of it got buffed the next day anyway."
"At the end of the day, whatever you can do with a spray can and put up on wall, you're not going to please all of them all the time, you should be doing it for you, from your heart and if anyone else likes it, they like it, if not f*k it. It doesn't matter, it's yours. It's really opened my eyes coming back, it's made me really adventurous and I want to move on."
"The Peace Flower was done for a war charity exhibition in Esher, it had a theme of peace. Every artist has their own flower, so I thought of the CND Flower for the show, I really liked it. It's so simple, it's not been done before so I was happy. There was a charity auction and the owner put it in for serious money, £18k! I got serious interest from Bath University, they wanted it for their private collection. I was really complemented by being valued as an artist."
"With my exhibition at Pure Evil Gallery in London, I wanted to experiment with a lot of different styles. I did a set of stencils as I wanted something I could reproduce, but when you see my big abstract paintings, it's different, it takes a few months, it can't be done on a computer, it's unique. I wanted to tie it all in through the process of graffiti, from stencils to tagging to painting, it's all part of the process. I took it seriously, I wasn't pushed around. I made sure I knew I was happy with everything. I wanted to express myself the way I wanted to, I wanted to show I was an artist."
"There was no reference to Banksy, it was about me, if anything the 'Peace flower' is a gesture of peace, an end to the Banksy vs Robbo feud, It's over... I see the gallery work as working as an artist in another space. I'm not doing graffiti on trains, it's not street art, nor graffiti, it references graffiti but it's a different process. Maybe everyone came to the show expecting graffiti, but I wanted to show I was different, more than that. If people ask why i'm doing 'street art' now, at the end of the day, it's all street art Graffiti is street art."
"Back in the day we were called 'street artists' because graffiti was done on the street, that's how it's always been. It's not more complicated than that. The term has been hijacked and made 'lovely', all that wheat-pasting and stencilling, we've been doing our art on the street for almost 30 years! There's some talented street artists out there, but so many just nick an old photo, photoshop it up and go wallpapering the streets. Everyone wants to be a Banksy? Why don't you want to be yourself? I like to see original art. Why hold yourself back, go and do new stuff, push yourself."
"I look at every form of art, I love Picasso's sculpture's, they're the bollocks! Rembrandt mixing his own paints, no-one does that now, its technique. Many street artists don't know how to stretch a canvas, just printing from a PC and sticking it up, it's getting very bland. The work I do, I do for me, as long as I'm proud of it, that is what matters."
"When I first met Banksy, in the late 90's, with his mates, they knew of me. Whenever I meet someone I always show courtesy and a little bit of respect, I think he wanted to be different, bigger. When I was introduced, I said 'Hello, i've seen your name about, and he said 'Oh yeah, well I haven't seen yours.'. I thought, you cheeky little… and I slapped him, 'You may not have heard of me, but you'll never forget me', he bolted and the message was given."
"I can't imagine how big his ego must be, he's one of the most famous artists in world, he's done exceptionally well. Who hasn't heard of him now?"
"OK, when Banksy done the Wallpaperer, I understood why, because of what I said in London Hand Styles, I understand he may have been a bit hurt. All his supporters said it was the best thing he's done in ages, it's OK, it's good, but, if he had just left the little scroll on the right visible I wouldn't of had a problem with it. I painted that spot 25 years ago."
"Top Cat always gets the rat! I wanted to do a rat tail coming out of his mouth. Top Cat, the cartoon, is a crew of cats a bit like the mafia, it's all a bit tongue-in-cheek, the gravestone etc, just a laugh. It's my spot! I hope it's stays there for another 25 years, although i'm sure he will send one of the troops to sort it out. Haha." ...
"The stencil was precisely measured to fit over Banksy's original piece in Tottenham, The kids playing, it's a hot spot, I had it all planned and measured up. Team Robbo were going to go up there one night, put up a scaffold and tarpaulin around the piece and I was going to remove the perspex and add my stencil. No one would've noticed until the 'Banksy Tourists' got home and had a look at their pictures. Everything was set, we were going to go to the canal afterwards to do the Top Cat piece, when I went to pick up a key member of the team he was completely drunk and he was no use at all, so I had to abort the mission. I ended up putting up the stencil along the canal in the end. Ha, it was 6am in the morning, I was tired and freezing after all...".
LDN: Team Robbo have since completed the No Ball/s piece in Tottenham...
"Whenever I've gone over a Banksy, I've always used what's there. I've not tried to destroy the piece, but turn it into something else. It just clicks, I'm using what he leaves me and he did the same."
"When I saw the Robbo Die thing I thought, Banksy's handstyle has got worse, Ha. … But for someone to go to all that trouble, I must have really pissed them off! Some people really do take it all too seriously. It's only a Banksy! Haha..."
"When Banksy had a go at me on Facebook, I thought he was out of order. To have a sly dig at me I thought was really low of him. He pictured me as a Shoeshiner, I work hard for a living, it's not a joke. I thought that was wrong. He shouldn't have made it personal. I wanted to 'have a go' back but I thought better. So I did the dog in Essex Road, I knew it wasn't a Banksy, and followed up with the Shoeshine Rat on the Canal. I've never had a go at him in a personal way, it's always been tongue-in-cheek, even knowing what I know about him… He does like wearing ladies underwear at weekends... Ha. I didn't use that against him..."
"It's been fun, it's not a war. Back in the day it might've been. If I had just painted his work black, as he did to mine, it would mean nothing. I adapted it, that pissed him off. I trumped him. It's over now!" ...
"Banksy has been a good thing for graffiti, he's lived as the 'Art Guerilla' and 'Scarlet Pimpernel'. People love him. As a result more graffiti artists are accepted. Graffiti is looked at in a positive light, we've always been considered as vandals. There's actually quite a few pieces of his I actually like. Recently he's been a bit stale. The Tesco Kids were great, but it's been a bit overused now. He nicked the Rats from Blek le Rat, I knew of him too, early on. He's a proper bred aristocrat, he's done Street Art for a kick. I've had a few good ideas, similar to Banksy. But I won't do them. No! There's too many copycats out there, I really don't want to. It's all too easy to wallpaper Old Street… I'd much rather do a dub."
"Hopefully I can show the world I am my own artist and my own man. When you look at graffiti there a many very talented people out there writing. Respect graffiti writers, they are not what you expect them to be."
"With the dog on Essex Road, my tag was buffed by Islington Council and they left the dog stencil. It's one rule for street artists and one rule for graffiti writers, they get protected while we get buffed. That dog proved it to me. It made me want to push things further."
"I love our community and culture, it's changed a lot since the early days, but I still love it. I'd like to go back to my roots, but I still want to keep pushing things. I want to get everyone together and create a webspace where we can all publish our work and air our views."
"It's about Rock and Roll baby! For me, graffiti is the rock and roll of the art world. I respect all artists, musicians. If someone can make you tune in and make you think, thats what it's all about."
"At the end of the day, I was there and I did do it, but there were so many top draw writers back then, to stand out amongst them, you had to do that little bit more, keep on pushing yourself."
"There have been so many good people doing it. Tox and Cut, Cosa, 10Foot. They're the governors, there's only a handful of them doing it how we did. It's a shame people do pieces and expect them to be gone-over or buffed the next day. It's not real, I don't get that. We used to do a piece and it would stay there, no one would go over you, they'd have to go find another spot. I've got a lot of respect for the true 'roof artists', that get up, like Gold Peg, Mighty Monkey, BC, ATG, all of them, especially Tek33, and I love Type, got a lot of respect for him! I've got a lot of respect for them all."
"I love this spot. It is really dirty, grimy, London. Rats etc. It's what I'm about. I had to do this dub to balance the books, to cleanse my soul! The rest of the canal pieces were processed, I did this piece as a Writer, for my mates. This was real graffiti for me, it was sexy!"
"I was quite happy to let the war be over, it's been fun. It's shone a light on graffiti and the difference between street art, If anything, that was always my intention. Alright, it was Banksy, but it was more than me. It was about showing people out there we are artists in our own right. I'd thought i had achieved that, which I have. I thought well, call it a day, but after recent events, Mr B has decided he wanted to go over and reclaim the spot i've had for 25 years, again… My spot."
"So he's put fuel on the fire again, i'd left it since September last year, when i did Top Cat. It was about making a statement for graffiti writers, I had to do it. I had my gallery show last year, I made no reference to Banksy. The 'Lips' I had painted before, at Alexandra Palace, before I used them on Banksy. They're about 'Rock and Roll' not him, that's what that's about, I incorporated them into a couple of Banksy's because that was graffiti, again that's 'Rock and Roll' too!"
"It got me back into things. It was fun, don't get me wrong, but I'd moved on, into a new arena. After I did an interview [in early January, 2011] he obviously wasn't happy with the content, Banksy seems to want to reclaim the spot, It isn't the first time he's done this either, he did it in the nineties, there's a picture in one of those Banksy books, where you can see the a bit of a Robbo throw-up underneath a Banksy piece on New North Road. He did take out a few of my pieces back then as he knew i'd see them. It didn't bother me though. With the more recent stuff, people were saying they would take it out for me, bomb it, but I knew I could do better. I wanted to show the difference that I am graffiti writer, not a 'street artist'."
"He apparently was a graffiti artist... that stopped a very long time ago, if it hasn't, then let him go a do a piece, not his crew, let him do it and prove me wrong. Then we'll see. He does stencils for the mass population, for society. He knows what sells. He might get some respect from writers if he did a real piece. He won't though, because he's a toy and there's no money in it for him."
"I'm a real writer, the only wall i'm going to write on is made of bricks and mortar! The real world walls, not the 'cyber-walls', but I am on Facebook!"
"After what's happened, well, he didn't have to pick that wall, there's plenty out there, he didn't have to go over my piece again. So he's called it back on, yeah, i'll reclaim it and a few more. Even if it is just a big silver dub under the perspex..."
"The war was done and I won it. I've been witty and funny, i've done that, now I'll do what I want. I'll leave nothing for him. He won a few battles, I won the war. Like I said, he's got more than me to deal with, when he went out to New York, there was Team Robbo doing him out there, in Manchester, Hastings, Bristol and now South Africa, the team is large, it's bigger than me. He might have 50 people who work for him and do his stencils on walls, but he's not bigger than graffiti, he'll never be."
"Oh yes, the War is back on! You can quote me on that!"
"To all the guys that show support by putting up Team Robbo. I really appreciate it, it's lovely it's my name, but Team Robbo is not about me, It's about us, graffiti writers, freehand graffiti, that's what Team Robbo stands for. Anyone can write it, as long as you respect and appreciate real graffiti artists and writers, the fundamentals of graffiti and what it stands for. Nobody has to ask. It's not for stencilling, wheat-pasting or modern street art. It's the old values mixed in with the new school style. You don't even have to be a writer! as long as you understand it and appreciate us for what we are. It's not about doing something arty or to make a statement. It's about the rawness of graffiti, being creative with letters and a spray can. Be radical! That's what Team Robbo, and what graffiti is!"
"I send out a lot of love to all Team Robbo, all the writers out there, thanks for your support and for keeping it real. All the best for 2011. Obviously, to all my brothers in all my crews, We Rock Hard, World Domination, PFB, Kaos Incorporated, UA New York and KOA Australia. In particular, Doze, Prime, PIC, Fuel, Choci, Drax, all the boys from all the crews. Sadly missing Tron (RIP) from KOA. Metro & Steph KOA, my australian brothers, Duster UA. Web & Abby from KAOS inc, All the PFB crew, you know who you are, Elk for one, and of course, big up Team LDN."
ROBBO WRH WD PFB KOA KAOS inc UA.
LDNGraffiti would like to thank everyone who has helped make this interview possible. It would not be have been feasible without commitment and faith from Team Robbo. Many thanks to all writers and street artists out there for all your continuing creative output.
First published 2011. © LDNGraffiti 2020