In January and February 2020, outsider artist Bubba 2000 presented a solo show to the public in London that focused on the faces of celebrity, in particular from the world of music, and brought together many of his works on canvas for the first time in “Persons of Interest”. From depictions of Mick Jagger, to Debbie Harry, Amy Winehouse, and Jarvis Cocker, his highly sought-after work attracted plenty of foot traffic, extending the show at Leydens, but this relatively retiring artist has a wider body of work that is often even more enigmatic, suggesting a challenge to the status quo while leaving the viewer to speculate on deeper meanings.
While rockers are often the subject of his public art, other favorites seen in his native Sheffield, UK, include children displaying “big moods” in contrast to hostile environments, and a lot of his pieces include the use of simple phrases or full-sentence challenges which leave the viewer to consider the relationship between the words and the images in question.
As a former comic artist and illustrator, Bubba 2000 is well aware of the many possible platforms by which to reach the public, but has his own reasons for choosing what he feels is the most outsider, and most direct, platform of all—the walls and pavements of public spaces.
Now, during quarantine, he’s faced a major roadblock to some bigger retrospectives of his work that were meant to happen, but he’s dramatically zagged into a hive of activity to keep productive during this time. Notable are his musically rich livestream art creating on Facebook and, perhaps the biggest statement of all, a 25-foot-tall tribute to the local health care providers in the NHS in his native town.
We checked in with Bubba 2000 about his recent exhibition and his many activities through which he reaches out to his community and music and art fans on the interwebs.
Hannah Means-Shannon: You’re definitely not alone in disliking the term “Street Art”, though “Graffiti” is probably disliked more widely. Jessica Goldman Srebnik of Wynwood Walls wants us to adopt the more general term “public art” and give things a broader canvas. What do you think public art is/does/can be?
Bubba 2000: Well, to me it just seems an over-simplification, like an easy way to label something y’know? To me “Street artists”, when I was a kid, were the people that you would see that would do those chalk paintings on pavements. I’ve always thought the term “outside(r) art” is more fitting; you’re outside of conventional norms of art and you’re sticking your stuff outside, making the streets a gallery! When I started sticking up paste-up stuff in the mid 90’s, it’s because illustration work wasn’t deemed “proper art” and no one would exhibit or show your stuff off. It was almost an embarrassment to be an illustrator/comic artist! The internet was in its early days, so there wasn’t the access and platforms to show your stuff off. It wasn’t enough to tell people that you were any good, you had to show ‘em, so that meant hitting the streets.
HMS: Music, music, music! Why are you so engaged with visual reference to music and musicians? Is that simply a language that is broad enough to reach the public in a direct way?
Bubba 2000: Couple of reasons: my Mum was a professional singer and my dad a jazz drummer! Add the fact that I have an older sister, well, growing up in the 80’s I would hear musicals playing in the kitchen, Jazz and Funk playing in the sitting room, and then 80’s pop blaring from my sister’s room. I like to draw and paint icons. Well, I kinda see it as a grown-up pop poster, the same way you would cover your walls or wear a t-shirt with your favorite artists to project your identity, I like to think what I do is the same thing but for grown-ups.
HMS: Do you still wish to stay fairly anonymous and let your work speak directly to people? How much do you want the public to perceive a continuous personality behind all your pieces?
Bubba 2000: There runs a heavy risk of confusing the creative output of someone with the personality behind it; I just don’t want people to confuse the two. I’m a fairly regular bloke and, in the same way that some people don’t “take their work home with them”, I’m the same in the respect that I’m not gonna bore my family and friends with what I’m working on. Sure, if someone messages and wants to talk about art or whatever, then I’ll try make time for ‘em as they’ve been kind enough to show an interest in my work, but if people go too far and want to know about me, then I give the stock reply of “I can assure you I’m a crushing disappointment in the Real World.” LOL.
HMS: What’s the exact situation when you put up a new piece of art in Sheffield? Is it commissioned at all, or you wait for it to be taken down or stolen?
Bubba 2000: Artists can be a lazy bunch, talking about what they’re GOING to do, being seen in some hip joint lapping up the praise and attention. Me? Like I said, don’t tell people what you do, SHOW them! I like being spontaneous; I can have an idea on the Monday, draw it to a point I’m happy with over a couple of days, then cut a stencil and be ready to spray by, say, Thursday, so by the end of the week that’s a piece of work finished! It’s really a straight split, sometimes I’ve been approached, others I’ve asked people if I can stick something up; there are cases if something’s been boarded up or whatever, that I’ll stick a poster on.
When I’m working nowadays, I “hide in plain sight” as in I wear coveralls and a high viz vest. The world we live in nowadays, well everyone is stuck in their own little worlds, or on their phones, so nine times out of ten, you’re left to it. I used to, ironically, get more grief when I would do stuff in the dead of night, from drunks coming home from clubs or whatever.
HMS: So, if you have a bunch of possibilities and ideas for pieces, do they start as a pile of sketches you choose from? Or is it a more spontaneous leap to large form?
Bubba 2000: It’s an even split, I have tons and tons of doodles but also photos of people I want to draw, and also expressions, or sayings that can trigger a basic image. I try not to be too try-hard or smart, as then you’ll just get labeled as being a “Banksy clone” or whatever! But nah, I’m always being inspired by stuff, and they all act as what I like to call “springboards”. As a rule, Monday and Tuesday I work from my studio at home, where I sit behind the artboard.
The rule is you’re not allowed to leave until you have a finished illustration in A3 11x17 size, which is a luxury considering what you had to churn out when I was doing comic books! But nah, a mentor of mine taught me that, “It’s not perfect, it’s finished”, which is a GREAT rule to work to. You can build up a real body of work in no time at all and also, who’s to say you don’t revisit the same subject and do an updated version?
HMS: Regarding setting up in London for your show, “Persons of Interest” at Leydens, many of those works appear on canvas for the first time. What process went into bringing that about?
Bubba 2000: As I always do, I produce the original “working illustration” comic book art paper size (as mentioned above) from there I simply scale up, same as I’ve always done.
HMS: Do you think that public art is going to have a political side to it no matter what the subject matter is? To what extent are you political and want to be in your work?
Bubba 2000: Public/outsider art has always been a way for one person to get a message out to the masses, from people protesting the Roman occupation to mobilizing the “common man” in the French Revolution, there’s something still powerful about someone getting off their arse to think of a message, write it down, print it, and stick it up on walls. All it’s really costing is your time! That’s what I think’s great about outsider art; okay, not everyone is gonna like what you do, but not everyone likes having billboards for McDonalds or some shit perfume being hawked by some reality T.V. star in your eyeline! This is a democracy where ANYBODY that has something to say can get a message out there.
With regards to the visual medium, art can always be interpreted differently by the viewer. I try not to overexplain some of my pieces, as different people will get a different message out of my piece. Far be it from me to dictate what they should or should not think; I’m just glad that they took the time to engage with it, be that either positively or negatively, as--and without sounding pretentious--“An Artist”--then I’ve succeeded in getting a stranger to engage with what I’ve done.
HMS: In your hometown, is what you do considered scandalous/not very interesting/super cool?
Bubba 2000: Honestly? I have no idea! To me you’re only as good as your last job, so the minute you start thinking you’re great or giving it the big “I AM”, you’ve lost the humility that made you different and interesting in the first place. Like I said, not everyone is going to like what you do and a LOT if it will be damaged, stolen, destroyed! You just take it on the chin and create something new! You have the photo, you documented that it once existed, so don’t be precious about it, move on, do something BETTER next time.
HMS: To speak about a specific work of art you put up in February, what exactly went into thinking up and carrying out the slogan and image for “Stop Making Stupid People Famous”?
Bubba 2000: Well, the original piece from about ten years ago read: “Accept the banality of your life and keep making stupid people famous”, but I figured it was too wordy and came across like the ramblings of an angst ridden 14-year-old who had been rejected by that girl he really liked, LOL. I guess, like everyone, I’ve just been getting more pissed off seeing the “Age Of Entitlement” in full effect, reaching the crescendo where “reality” T.V. Meat Puppets can become multi-millionaires on their stupidity alone. If anything positive has come from Corona, it’s been like a mass wake up call. People realizing that we don’t have to put up with this shit no more, y’know?
HMS: Not to speak of a difficult subject, but I heard you had significant gallery plans for this Spring and they’ve, of course, had to be put on hold. What was meant to happen and what did it entail?
Bubba 2000: Oh, the whole situation has been a barrel of laughs, LOL! So, after years of prep and getting shit to a stage where I felt comfortable releasing my arty farty shenanigans into the world, shit hit the fan! The London show (“Persons Of Interest”) actually got to open, but even now the paintings are almost being held hostage in a gallery where nobody can see them! I had a load of events and stunts planned that all had to be cancelled, but as any freelancer knows you have to adapt to survive. Shit NEVER goes to plan!
HMS: Tell me about your decision to do livestream videos on Facebook of your drawing process, and can you also tell us what figures and personalities have ended up getting the biggest responses?
Bubba 2000: I used to do them a while back. It was more outta laziness, as I would get loads of messages asking “How’d you do that piece?”, so figured the easiest (laziest) way to do it would be to stream. Add the fact I used to DJ and my feed was filled with livestreams of guys standing behind a laptop, I thought “Fuck it, let’s make stuff interesting.”, and would mix on my laptop whilst drawing in between tracks. Combine booze and it makes for an entertaining watch, I hope. Why take yourself so bloody seriously, y’know? With regard to subjects I’ve drawn, sometimes I’ll finish whatever I was working on that day, then as the booze flows and tunes play, I’ll take requests. Tom Hardy had a pretty good response.
HMS: You visibly love drawing to a soundtrack. Don’t deny it. What makes the best drawing and painting music?
Bubba 2000: Right, when you’re doing the initial sketch or layout, then I find that orchestral film scores can really help. They open up that part of the brain that helps you visualize and step outside your comfort zone. Then when I’m doing the “clean” pencil and ink illustration, then it’s a mixed bag really: anything from old school hip hop, to funk, guilty pleasures, and 80’s music. Then when I’m painting or doing a street piece, I always listen to house and electronic music, even rinse in some drum and bass if the mood takes! The energy behind it makes you be more sporadic and carefree. I also listen to a lot of old mix tapes from back in the day, such as Erol Alkan, 2manydj’s, Stuart Price, dirty electronica mashed up, lovely stuff!
HMS: But seriously, are you a vinyl record or cassette collector at all?
Bubba 2000: Well I started DJing in the late 90’s on vinyl and I blame that for me having a busted up back now, LOL! I’m a bit of a hoarder/collector, so still have all my old CDs, tapes, and records, but I would say that nowadays I’m always buying at least one piece of vinyl a week. This week, for example, I purchased the Sigrid album and also a Rick James album--from one extreme to another, LOL!
I’m still desperately trying to get hold of a copy of Three Feet High and Rising by De La Soul on vinyl, though! The original pressing would jump and scratch like a bastard, so I purchased the album on cassette, which incidentally, was the first album I purchased with my own money and still own! But yeah, that shit has never been re-issued in the U.K. The latter double disc and original versions go for like $100! I like ‘em but not that much, LOL.
HMS: Who are some other musicians, bands, or songs that you feel have had some kind of impact on your life and your way of seeing the world?
Bubba 2000: Well, growing up in the U.K. at the time I did (late 80’s/early 90’s), I think the main type of music I was exposed to was the first wave of Indie bands, but the first real “scene” I got into, which I think also helped shape my politics, was Two Tone. In particular, The Specials and their debut album. I got exposed to Prince as I had a Saturday job in a comic store in the summer of 1989 (They paid me in comics.) and they played the Prince Batman soundtrack on repeat. From that, I started listening to more Prince and became a lifelong fan. My Dad was a Jazz musician so was pretty exposed to that from an early age. Oh, and I’ll always have a love for They Might Be Giants and The B52’s.
HMS: What led up to your wonderful NHS tribute street art recently? You made the art into posters, I think…
Bubba 2000: When lockdown first kicked in, I kinda felt like I wanted to do something to show my support to the brave women and men risking their lives for others. I’m locked out of my studio, so decided to recycle a piece I did from Valentine’s day of a small boy praying for love. I remixed it with the logo, made a bunch of posters, and stuck them around the Hospital. I just figured that if you had been working and had a really long, hard, crappy shift, then maybe my posters could raise a smile!
From there, a lovely couple who had previously spoken to me about a commission--well they were open to the idea of having a 25 foot praying child on the side of their house, so I got busy one day with the paints. The local community have taken it as their own, which I love. When I do a piece, it doesn’t belong to me anymore, it belongs to the people y’know? That probably sounds a bit pretentious in retrospect, but it’s true.
HMS: At Tower Records, the slogan is No Music/No Life also written as Know Music/Know Life. How would you interpret or relate to that statement in your own life?
Bubba 2000: I think what any creative types do, well, it’s a gift y’know? Like I said before, any creative art can be judged in different ways. What one person likes, another might hate! The person who created it doesn’t own it anymore. It’s out in the public and, as such, people should be respectful of that. Show your support for creatives, especially with the world being as it is at the moment. It’s creative people that have helped entertain and cheer up everyone in lockdown.
But to know music, you have to know it as the soundtrack to your own life! We all have songs that emote in us a memory of a time, place, or person, so be true to yourself. If you like something then LIKE it, don’t follow the herd. Be true to yourself and emotions.
I’m a soppy old bugger at heart ain’t I?!
[In the grand old days when Bubba could work in his studio...]
Check out Bubba 2000's Facebook page here.
Stay tuned for his art drops and calls for requests and prints on social media also, including Instagram.