THE name Kid Acne has become synonymous with Sheffield’s urban landscape and his images have become regular fixtures in public and commercial spaces across the city.
At the same time he is rapidly becoming one of the Yorkshire’s best cultural and commercial exports, exhibiting across Europe and the US and applying his illustrations to a host of global products, from super-cool collectable toy figures to a T-shirt collection for Prada.
Now he has come indoors for the first solo exhibition in his home city, Kill Your Darlings, in the Millennium Gallery which puts a fresh context on the familiar creations that have established his name, as well as introducing a number of new commissions produced especially for the exhibition.
It takes its name from a motto used by writers to describe the painful process of cutting cherished characters or scenes which don’t serve their overall story. Revisiting some of the creations which have helped to establish Kid Acne’s international reputation, the show celebrates the DIY ethic and often transitory approach he has refined over the years.
“The title isn’t so much about saying I don’t do that any more but understanding it’s all part of the same story,” says the artist. “I might be interested in something for six months and develop a tunnel vision so it’s good to look through a curator’s eyes or that of the audience.”
Murals, illustrations and sculpture trace the development of his work and show how he has carried the wit and subversion from his days as a graffiti artist and fanzine creator through into adult life as a designer, artist and musician.
Kill Your Darlings features comic books, record sleeves, flyers, fanzines, sketch books and screen prints, as well commercial commissions such as skateboard graphics, vinyl toys and porcelain figures. New work includes large scale sculptures, paintings and a live-action short film.
Prominent in the gallery are two giant polystyrene and vinyl ghosts hanging above an ouija board, marking a move into 3D creations. “I am just starting in this line of work,” he says. He has in the past produced a series of ouija boards. This one has handmade gold lettering imprinted into a round tabletop.
“I did play around with ouija boards as a kid and had a horrific experience but I was interested in them as something so open to different interpretations. Someone said into was a return to the idea of carving your name into the school desk. The table, incidentally, was a bit of a wreck so I like the idea of bringing a piece of Victorian furniture back to life.”
Recycled doors are to be found hanging above the Millennium Gallery Avenue with on one side the “hair” pattern which is a motif throughout the show and on the other paintings of different characters. It represents two sides of street art.
For someone who made his name with street art, it may seem as though coming into a gallery suggests he has gone soft. “I have taken part in exhibitions since I was 16 and always been involved in group shows,” he points out. In fact Kid Acne has exhibited both in the UK and internationally, including StolenSpace, London, Iguapop, Barcelona, Spain, Myymälä 2, Helsinki, Finland, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Western Australia, and Fredericks & Freiser Gallery in New York.
“There’s a preconception that all that I do is street-based or mural work but this shows that the early fanzines and my music is part of the same thing. Rather than being pigeon-holed I like the thought of being a jack of all trades.”
From the gallery’s point of view, expressed by curator Rowena Hamilton, is celebrating the huge creative community in Sheffield by engaging with an artist who combines a sense of the grassroots with someone who has established his name well beyond the city. Kid Acne’s art career began with an appearance on Rolf’s Cartoon Club at the age of 12. Within a year, he’d started writing graffiti inspired by its infinite scale, colour and immediacy. Alongside a small group of friends, he spent his teenage years making underground fanzines and releasing limited run 7-ins vinyls on their Invisible Spies imprint.
That’s when he acquired the monicker Kid Acne. “All my mates invented these hip hop names and that was what I was in those days, a spotty teenager. When you are 15 you don’t think that is what you are going to be called in your adult life.”
Kid Acne - and whatever cutting edge urban image comes with the name, he is in reality a softy-spoken bloke with a beard - approaches the exhibition in the same way as his street art. “My role ends tomorrow once the show is open and then it’s over to everyone else to enjoy,” he says. “I like the fact it’s ephemeral and it can be up for 12 weeks and then it’s gone.”
Kid Acne: Kill Your Darlings will open with a free launch party at the Millennium Gallery on Friday in conjunction with Tramlines. As well as the chance to see the exhibition in the Craft and Design Gallery, there will be a live performance from hotly tipped local band The Heebie Jeebies, DJs, creative activities and a bar featuring an exclusive Kill Your Darlings lager created by Thornbridge Brewery. The exhibition continues until October 23.