Charley Edwards AKA “Pure Evil” is back in NYC with a solo show as part of the artists’s in residence series at The Quin Hotel. Curated by DK Johnston the residency has featured the likes of Nick Walker, ASVP, & Blek Le Rat previously. Pure Evil channeled his inner Warhol to create a body of work rooted in repetition art featuring his trademark eye drips. Featuring portraits of such icons as David Bovie, Donna Summers, & President Barack Obama the viewer is taken to place where pop art meets The Cure. So as usual I sat down with charley and discussed Banksy, skateboarding, The Orb, and everything street art.
So give the reader some background about yourself.
Well I basically grew up in the countryside of Wales and I was a bit of a loner. I mostly listened to bands like Depeche Mode & Duran Duran. I was the only new romantic in the village. I spent a lot of my time dressing up and looking “weird” and dreaming of moving to London. So I moved to London before college and then got bored of it and moved out to San Fransisco to skateboard.
Where you studying art in London?
Yes, in fact fashion and graphics in Kingston.
So then off the San Francisco to skate board?
Yeah, I was drawn to San Francisco big time. I met up with this huge great group of skateboarders. It was an entire culture to itself out there. It was similar to street art in the way that you could show up in any town and you would know someone who knew someone and they would show you around and give you somewhere to crash. It’s an instant community of gnarly people.
Where you just skateboarding or did you design anything for the skate scene?
There was this BMX / street wear clothing label called Anarchic Adjustment and I got in with them. There were all about psychedelics and UFO’s so I started working with them because it was so interesting to me. I decided right then and there to just stay with them and reinvent myself and so I stayed in San Francisco for 10 years.
Where you going by Pure Evil at that point?
No, I was basically just a clothing designer working for them. Then I discovered the electronic music scene in San Fransisco and so I started off tripping out listening to bands like The Orb. I was like “wow what is this music?”. I would spend my time in all the local record stores buying up all this weird electronic music, and DJing at chill out rooms at Raves. Then I eventually discovered drum machines and stuff like that. But all the time I was seeing guys like Barry McGee and TWIST and this other artist who doesn’t work on the street now named Reminisce. She would paint white horses running through the streets San Fransisco. They were the first big influences in what was street art to me. Then there was an area on Market St. called Psycho City which was always changing and was kind of like graffiti heaven at the time.
Were you actually producing records at this point or just DJing?
I was making electronic music for a label called Fax. It was based out of Frankfurt and so I would go out there and record with this guy named Pete Namlook who would also sometimes come down to San Francisco and work with all the artists making trippy ambient music.
When did you leave SF and get into the Pure Evil stuff?
I was feeling the urge to get back to London in around 2000 and one of the most influential things that happened at the time was someone saying to me ”hey there is in an exhibition around the corner” and It was in a dodgy old alley and it was the first street art show that Banksy had done in London. Banksy didn’t get any permission from anyone and just put up a bunch of stencils. This was eye opening for a bunch of people including myself. He didn’t have to have a gallery to show his work because the streets were literally his gallery. We just showed up because we heard there was free beer and then Banksy just schooled us. I was always trying to get my fathers paintings in galleries. But galleries were not that inviting at this time and this made us realize that we could showcase art ourselves without a traditional gallery. There was also this gallery called ALLEGED in NYC run by Aaron Rose and he would say “hey get your friends together and lets do a show!” and thats something he instilled in a lot of people.
So tell us a little bit about your father and his art.
He was a huge influence on my art. He was like an abstract contemporary expressionist painter from Wales who painted every single day of his life. It was a big, big, big, impact on me. He taught me what it is to truly be an artist. It was not just hanging out and talking about what you are gong to do. I was actually sticking to what you were saying and absolutely painting every day. His mission was to paint and he made his life about painting.
So literally grew up with a paint brush in your hand?
I remember when I was growing up helping him to stretch canvases and set up art exhibitions. There were always pencils and canvases and paint all over the house I could use to express myself. My mother was a poet and my dad was a painter, and I was expected to go the direction of painting, but I felt that my life was kinda being mapped out for me so at that time I kind of refused to be an artist and went to design and music. I remember reading NME and dreaming about being in London instead of the country side of Wales. I wanted to hang out in London with Steve Strange, and dress up and wear eyeliner, and go clubbing.
How did Pure Evil eventually come about?
Well I came back to London and I always remember the lyrics from a song that talked about making a stand. So when I got back to London I felt like an ant… kind of invisible and I wanted to make a stand. I wasn’t part of any group in London like I was in San Francisco so I just started going out and painting and doing stencils and writing pure evil everywhere. I was kind of inspired by a rabbit I had killed as a kid. One day I was drawing in my black book and this rabbit I had killed reappeared and wrote “pure evil” next to it, and that was the sort of the birth of that.
That’s the vampire bunny image?
Yes, and then it became a throw-up. I just kept working on it, and working on it, getting looser and looser with it. I think the original ones were a little sketchy but anyone who writes graffiti knows that looking back on what they did and kind of shudders at the first time they write something.
Where is the new body of work for The Quin show coming from?
I was always interested in looking at Warhol’s and I got an email from a company in China that said “We can make you any Andy Warhol you want” and they sent me pictures of a Jackie and a Liz Taylor and Electric Chair and a huge list of others. I thought that this was something that Warhol would have really loved. So I started doing an image of Liz with tears coming down and then she passed away and at that point when she died everyone felt all nostalgic about her, and everyone wanted this beautiful dark image of her so after that I released a Jackie… and then a Marilyn… and it just grew from there. It’s like when you start dong something and your copying, copying, copying, but it doesn’t matter where you take it from, what matters is where you take it to. So I kept extending the group to include pieces like the Bowie’s and Donna Summers like my own Warhol Factory.
How did you and DK get together?
We actually just started talking online and just started plotting the show. I heard about the Quin and heard it was a pretty cool place and I spoke to Blek Le Rat and he told me “The peanuts are quiet expensive but the rest of the place is amazing”. So if that was his only qualm about The Quin that was alright with it.
Can you tell us a little background about your gallery, and King Robbo, and all that fun stuff?
So I wanted to have a space to show my own work and found a little shop front that happened to be in the trendy town of Shortage and that was the Pure Evil Gallery which still continues to grow. I also run a gallery two doors down which is called The Department of Stuff. So far we have done over 50 shows with many different artists and are just having fun. I am also using the space as my own personal studio which I am working non-stop every day in. So I feel blessed to have the space.
How did you meet King Robbo?
Someone from my local paint shop told him I was a good guy so he came to visit me and I shit my pants because he’s a big guy! But we ended up getting on really well. So I realized that he was as nervous about showing his work to people as he would have been painting trains and dodging the British Transport Police. He was a hardcore guy with a background in armed robbery and ultraviolence but then I really started to understand that he wanted to show people that he really could paint, and he wanted to win them over, and it was brilliant.
Was his work well received while he was alive?
It was funny because we did the show and the sales were just meh, but as soon as the film came out about him and Banksy the sales went up significantly, and of course it’s a depressing truth that when someone passes away that also meant that people want their work more, plus the mystery behind the accident made people really wonder what happened, which also brought things to another level. But what is more interesting is that if Banksy hadn’t painted over him and this whole backwards and forwards between the artists did not happen he wouldn’t of had such a resurgence of interest in his work. He was actually truly appreciative of all of this and you hear the rumors and the stories about them but the reality is they were two artists just having fun. It was not a graffiti war.
Any last thoughts? Other upcoming shows?
I have shows in Norway coming up, a show in Hong Kong coming up , and in Paris and London. But I just can’t wait to get to New York it’s going to be amazing. I just can’t wait to go into a corner shop and buy a chocolate milk, or any of the other little amazing things you can only get in a New York corner shop.
Make sure to buy some peanuts at the corner shop before you get to The Quin though…
HaHa yes exactly.
All Photos and text are © Matthew A. Eller 2016.