UK Authorities Going After Real Threat to 2012 Olympics: Street Artists

07.21.12 Bucky Turco

Darren Cullen is the founder of Graffiti Kings, a London-based marketing outfit that is commissioned to do legal graffiti-style art for major brands like Microsoft, Calvin Klein, ESPN, and even official government agencies, an accomplishment he has adopted as a tagline for his business: “The only professional graffiti company approved by the British Government.” It’s a reference to the outreach he did over a decade ago for railway operator Connex Group, which hired him to convince vandals to stop bombing everything and instead paint their train stations, with permission. Cullen says the program was such a success that a government organization called the DETR (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions) used it as a case study in their report and sent it to local councils all across the country.

So it was with great surprise to the 38-year-old aerosol artist that authorities showed up to his house at 7am on Tuesday and arrested him. “Mate, un-fucking real,” he told ANIMAL when reached by phone Friday evening, as this is the last thing he expected to be busted for. “Not at my age, not for graffiti, especially for vandalism which I don’t do. I’ve been painting commission work for 15-odd years.”

The Guardian confirmed that he and three others were arrested for “suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage,” and reported that it’s all “part of a pre-emptive sweep against a number of alleged graffiti artists before the Olympics” like some sort of real life Minority Report. One site says that officials are trying to sanitize the city, yet at the same time, entities like the London Pleasure Gardens are hiring prominent street artists to decorate their spaces. Even one of Cullen’s recent jobs was to spray paint a taxi (pictured) for one of the networks covering the weeks-long sporting endeavor.

His computer was seized along with a phone, an iPad, lots of spray paint and other tools he uses for work. “They’ve got all my equipment,” he said. “It’ll take at least two to three months to get all my stuff back.” Cullen says he was interrogated for several hours about writers he doesn’t know, a train he never painted, and a website he once created for a graffiti magazine.

The group of men have yet to be charged as the police continue their investigation and were all released, but had to accept oppressive bail conditions until their court date in November. One of the restrictions is that Cullen cannot go within a mile of any Olympic venue, countrywide. The reason? To “prevent the commission of offences and the integrity of the Olympic games.” They even furnished him with a map of the UK detailing the places and arenas he must avoid that stretch from Portland in the south to Glasgow, Scotland.

He says that he had no plans to attend the Olympics, but since it does have such a huge footprint in London, it’s going to hamper his daily routine for the next few weeks, but not as much as the other two conditions: Cullen isn’t allowed to possess “spray paint,” a necessary tool he uses to make a living, and is prohibited from riding the subway, the mode of transport he uses to get around. “This could put me out of business, I could lose my mortgage.”