" You have to be tough and at times very thick skinned as you’re baring your soul to the world.. "
The Journal went to meet Artist Anthony McEwan aka Rugman at his studio in North London. The Scottish native who moved to London back in the 90's to become an artist for some of the biggest names such as Donna Karen and Calvin Klein has forged a very successful career of his own. While living in Shoreditch Rugman was lucky enough to work alongside some of the biggest names in street art most notably Banksy where his signature style really developed into what you see today. We ask about his process, what he thinks is integral to an artist and if he has any dislikes about the world he resides in.
So who is Rugman? What’s your background?
Rugman is the nickname I was given for being so hairy, I had a hairy chest and full on sideburns by the time I was 14 and shaving every other day. It’s like I had hairy dungarees on so the name made sense. I started using it on the street with my stencil and paste ups and it’s grown from there into a brand, I am the "hairy artist". I came to London from Glasgow in 96 to study at Chelsea Art School and never looked back. When I graduated I worked in the fashion industry as a graphic artist and traveled all over spending time in the USA selling designs to fashion houses like Donna Karen and Calvin Klein. I then worked mainly in smaller Indy labels from 2002 but always maintained my own studio where I painted in the evenings. I was very lucky to live in Shoreditch at the hight of the street art scene and started doing paste ups and stencils around Bricklane and took part in POW's Cans Festival with Banksy, Faile, Eine, Pure Evil and many more great urban artists, from there my work transitioned into the gallery environment and was picked up by a few gallery’s. Since then I’ve been super lucky to maintain an awesome bunch of collectors and followers of my work. I’ve exhibited my work internationally with many solo and group shows most notably my solo show ‘Earth Mother’ at the world famous The Saatchi Gallery on londons Kings Road.
How would you describe your art?
My work was born from a very bold graphic background in fact my first real education with art and design was skateboarding in the early 80’s. The bright bold graphics on decks like the early Gonz boards and Psycho Stick to name a few. These and the culture of skating inspired me and ignited something within me that still burns today, in fact without skating I probably wouldn’t be doing what do. There’s always been a very bold decisive use of line in my work too which I believe is also influenced from my love of tattoos especially traditional. I would say my style through the years has progressed with human form at the centre, which can range from caricature to more flowing female form which is more recently moving into abstract female figures. I am a commercial artist at heart and always want my art to connect with the main stream public.
Do you think your art reflects your personality?
I must admit I straddle both lowbrow and highbrow work. I would say that on the lowbrow work reflects my more comical side yes as I love to make people laugh and I feel my icons series does this perfectly. There is a light hearted feel with these pieces but some of the symbols and tattoos carry a heavier undertone. My higher brow work I suppose you could view more as spiritual which comprises of my Earth Mother series. These works can be more abstract at times and tend to be more female forms collaged with animals especially birds. I have worked with stencil spray paint for many years and I have really refined the use of this to incorporate pencil and ink into the work too. My new up coming solo show at Sotheran’s Book and print gallery are a perfect example of these. I have collaborated with old etchings from their archive of Sir John Goulds documentation of birds from the mid 1800’s which I have worked on top of with my sister mother stencils of female figures.
In your opinion what’s integral to the work of an artist?
I would say first off you have to realise and understand how tough it is to make it as an artist. What is truly integral is to realise it’s not a sprint it’s a marathon and through time and dedication you will find your style and hand writing, this is super important because you don’t become an artist overnight or by just going to art school. You become an artist through time, dedication and endurance. You have to be tough and at times very thick skinned as you’re baring your soul to the world. Also never think or assume you’ve made it or your work is complete, you have to keep on the move and work hard. I know I’ll be painting and drawing right up to the day I die. Never stop learning.
Is there anything you dislike about the art world?
It took me a long time to really recognise myself as an artist due to imposter syndrome I could never really pronounce myself to the world as an artist ha ha, it just felt way too pompous to say for a wee working class lad from Glasgow. Even though I’ve been drawing from the age of 5 or 6 and art runs through my veins it just felt like something un-achievable for someone with my background. The art world when I was younger seemed like a very closed society especially with someone of a working class background but when street art and urban art started to penetrate the art gallery system it gave me the confidence to grow and realise there is a place for me at the table to be a full time artist. I love the art world and all it’s taught me both good and bad and it’s an honour and privilege to be part of and to call myself an artist after many years of hard graft and putting the time in.
How do you cultivate a collector base?
This again doesn’t happen over night it takes many years and the courage to keep going especially when it gets really tough and you’re making very little money. I’ve been grafting hard for almost 22 years on my style and through this people begin to recognise your style and appreciate you as an artist. I have many friends and collectors who have been supporting me for years and obviously with things like FB and Insta you can open up a whole new fan base with good content and hard work.
Has your way of working and it's process changed over time?
I’d say my craft has progressed and my understanding of how to use many mediums to execute what I am trying to achieve on canvas or paper has become more refined. This in turn helps to achieve a higher level of finished piece. This said I’d say there still is that very graphic influence at the heart and soul of my work and my process has become better with knowledge and skill.
Here at The Hobo Journal we love to travel hence the name, where is your favourite place on earth and why?
Well I’ve always been massively influenced by America especially East and West coast. With artists like Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Harring, Claes Oldenburg, Ed Ruscha who all had a massive impact on me as an artist I was intreaged by big America, Pop America and 50’s America. Also my 2 favourite British artists Hockney and Blake were heavily influenced by American culture. I went on a road trip around America back in 2001 doing 9k miles in 2 months and it was a feast for my eyes and my heart and soul loved it. I must admit I’d live in NYC or LA in a heartbeat if I had the chance again.
More images below from Danny Woodstock Photographer