Imbue has become something of a household name around Birmingham recently, his subverted adverts, posters and religious icons keep us guessing and re-imagining iconic symbols in our world. You’ll see his unique art popping up all over the city with stickers, posters and installations. Previous works have included in situ installations such as Drug Vend on Brighton Pier that featured two sweet vending machines filled with ‘supposed’ packets of heroin and cocaine, the results and reactions from passers-by were then filmed. Seaside towns have recently been linked to high drug usage, cracking the façade of the happy go lucky seaside town – a cheeky line instead of the traditional 99.
Another piece titled WKD Vodka Campaign landed him in hot water with the company stating they wanted him to remove the work with a cease and desist. This kind of work doesn’t happen in isolation, it’s the reactions from the public and companies involved that enrich it and support the message. After all, any publicity is good publicity, is it not WKD?
The images Imbue uses are so universally known from Disney to Coca Cola, it’s the twists that make us question what we are viewing. Really we should be scrutinising mainstream advertising more, instead of letting it bombard and manipulate us. I asked if he ever gets worried about copyright or upsetting more orthodox religious types, “copyright is a grey area, but the law was changed a few years ago allowing the right to parody, this is a good step forward and great for artists. There is a big difference in copying something and trying to pass off as the real thing, compared to referencing or appropriating an existing idea into something new. That’s how the creative process works; everyone is inspired by what came before them.” As for religion, Imbue says he “never sets out trying to offend and my work is not anti-religious. I’m not religious myself but I’m really fascinated by it and all the art and culture it has produced for thousands of years. I’m interested in where religion fits in the world today. As religion declines in the west, what has society replaced it with, what is important to people now?”
Many are quick to define this type of work as one thing, street art, guerrilla art, pop etc. but Imbue is not keen on being tarred with a single brush. “I’m really not sure how to define it, I definitely found my way in through street art and I do still love to put work out there, but I’m not a street artist and I think the street art scene has become saturated and lost its original edge. Really, I’m just an artist and I don’t limit myself to any medium or particular style.”
He’s lived and worked around the country, most notably Brighton but now sees our city as a permanent home, “I was in Brighton for around 7 years. I moved up to Birmingham with my girlfriend nearly 3 years ago and I really love it. It’s such an underrated city with so much going on under the surface. People are doing good things in Brum and everyone is friendly and pretty humble. I’ve got no plans to leave, I really feel at home here.” Now working in a collaborative space in Jubilee Centre with friends he says, “we’re all working on our own projects but we can also work together and keep each other inspired and motivated. It’s always good to bounce ideas of someone else. The space is run by Matt (Provide Shop), architects Jay and Adam (space_play) and myself. We spent about a month doing up the unit and now it’s a really nice environment to work in.” The space is indeed great, industrial, factory ceilings and smells of an old school gym. Outside of the studio space, people were taking part in pole dancing and art classes as we visited. Despite his collaborative space to work in, Imbue is not planning any collabs with artists in the near future, “I think I prefer to work on my own for most things. I do have some new, more complicated ideas so I might try and collaborate with someone with the right technical skills. I like the idea of collaboration and I think great things can come out of it.”
He’s previously been coined ‘The Banksy of Brighton’ which he says has been a blessing and a curse, “ I don’t want it to define me and I want my own voice and identity. I was first called ‘The Banksy of Brighton’ by The Independent and that was a huge thing for me, it added some credibility to me as an artist but it’s a bad habit of journalists to compare anything remotely street art to Banksy. I don’t want it to follow me forever.” It does indeed stink of lazy journalism and a lack of understanding to label everything in this form as the next ‘Banksy’. In reality artists such as Imbue are treading their own path. Interestingly, Banksy has created his own ‘artist persona’ with his real identity under wraps for most of his career; Imbue says that he doesn’t necessarily think this is important. “I don’t make a conscious decision to try and stay anonymous anymore but it’s the art I’m putting out there, that’s what I want people to see I want to create stuff that is consistent so I guess I am creating a persona and a brand. I try to keep my social media all about Imbue, rather than me on holiday or what I’m eating.” And what about the name imbue, where did it come from? “I’ve been using the name Imbue for over 10 years now; it started at college as a t-shirt brand with a friend. Eventually, we lost interest in the clothing and as I got into stickers and street art I continued with the name. If you look at the dictionary definition Imbue – inspire or permeate with (a feeling or quality) that fits with what I want to create.”
Imbue comes up with ideas that are executed beautifully and visually eye-popping; he says his inspirations come from, “all over the place, I’m constantly thinking. I always have a few ideas floating around in my head and they gradually piece themselves together and evolve into something I can make. I’m really inspired by technology and where we are heading in the future. It feels like the world has completely changed in my lifetime and I’m now trying to create art that explores this.”