London Artist Paul Insect Burrows Into NYC, Unveils New Solo Show

December 12, 2014 | Aymann Ismail

Paul Insect has been creating work in the public space since long before street art was popular and recognized as a thing. The 40-something anonymous artist, who cut his teeth with some of the UK’s most renowned outlaws and creative talents, has embellished walls without permission from London to Palestine to New York, among many other cities. In addition to cultivating an illicit career on the streets, he has established himself in the gallery world as well.

He’s currently in town and preparing for a solo show — Paul Insect: 2033, Original Works Created in 2014 — at the Allouche Gallery in Soho, which opens on Saturday. “It’s kind of the future of portraiture,” said Paul to ANIMAL about the exhibit. “It’s all about covering up who you actually are and everyone being quite false these days.”

Since it’s hard to define his instantly recognizable style, here’s a bunch of art-speak from the gallery’s press release that does a good job explaining it:

Paul Insect is known for his unique and individual sharp-edged images, which draws from the absurdism of Dada and is combined with the sleekness of modernism, yielding surreal renderings that point playfully at the deep dark underbelly of adult life. In the 1990s, Insect became known for his witty stencil and spray painted works, before transitioning to the gallery scene with color-drenched canvases, which teetered precariously between tradition and something far more messed up. Never before has chaos been channeled in such clean lines.

Having only found out about the show hours ago, I asked Paul if he could do a quick Q&A in between mounting his show. He agreed.
When and where did you first put up your art in the public space?
When I was about five, I took a shit in some bushes… I believe that to have been my first bit of public art.

What is Paul Insect up to these days?
These days, I enjoying painting lots in the studio and trying to have as much fun with my street work as I can. My aim is not to be too serious.

How different is the work you put out on the street compared to what you put in the gallery?
It’s very different. I try my hardest to avoid bringing my street work into the gallery space. Street work is for the street, in my view, and not for gallery walls. This is why my paintings are very different to my street work. I do street work to relieve the pressure of working in the studio. It should be fun, it should be quick, and not too thought out. Whereas, gallery work — you have time to think and change the work.

Do you do commercial work?
I’ve not done any commercial work for over nine years now…although, saying that, I did work with DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist on their “Renegades of Rhythm” tour this year, but I don’t see that as being a commercial job.

A lot of British street artists prefer to remain semi-anonymous. Why?
I can’t speak for any other artist. I prefer to remain anonymous, because I like it that way. I’d rather my work speak for me, than me having to speak for my work. Most street artists these days are desperate to be on film, or be photographed, but also, most ‘street artists’ don’t actually do illegal work, so being anonymous should not be a problem for them.

In the UK, is there a division between street art and graffiti or is that all just a thing that media outlets like ANIMAL conjure up to cause controversy?
Yes, there is a division, and there should be.

Why the sudden proliferation of Paul Insect and BAST on Instagram?
Bast and I have been working together for a good few years now, making small stop motions films. We seem to be on the same page when it comes to making work. Keeping it loose, make it quick and move onto the next idea. We have big plans for next year. But for now, I can’t say anymore than that.

NY beer rats #trashcans #mtarat with @bastny #newyork #budrat #tunnelrat #paulinsect #bastny #creeping

A video posted by Paul Insect (@paulinsect) on

Speaking of which, did Instagram kill graffiti/street art?
Today’s image is yesterday’s digital chip paper. The underground has nowhere to grow anymore. Whether that answers your question, I don’t know.

What’s the biggest difference between the art scene in London and NYC?
NYC has layers and years of history. London, most of it got washed off for the Olympics in 2012, and CCTV makes it difficult to paint on the streets in London. NYC is a burning bonfire of creativity. London is a flickering match flame.

What do you want the world to know about Paul Insect that it doesn’t already?
I’ve helped out with a lot of work that people love, adore and even cut from walls, but no one knows I was involved in that.

They do now…

“Paul Insect: 2033, Original Works Created in 2014,” Paul Insect Dec 13 – Jan 11, Allouche Gallery, NYC

(Photos: Aymann Ismail/ANIMALNewYork)