Perish the thought, but, just in case, there’s Imbue. Call him a smart aleck, a wisecracker, a practical joker guerilla artist. Imbue distills revisited iconography, constantly questioning images from advertising and pop culture by perverting its context. Mickey Mouse on a cross, Snow White in a cheesecake pose, installing a Steely Dan machine on Brighton Pier”street art is Imbue’s way of mixing things up.
A pop artist is born
Imbue was born in London on January 19, 1988. He spent his childhood in the Southeast England county of Kent. The artist recalls always having a creative bent, a pursuit fueled by his father. Many times his dad brought home boxes and tape from work, and the youth set to cutting them up, sticking the pieces together, and otherwise making a great mess. It also proved a lot of fun and served as an early introduction to a crude and rudimentary form of working with found objects and installations.
Art became Imbue’s favorite subject in school and his only area of study in college. He has stated that college granted him a freedom to explore, and the experience provided him a great opportunity to discover many different types of art.
After his school days, Imbue took a spare room with his brother who had moved to Brighton, relocating to Great Britain’s south coast. The young artist was immediately taken with his new surroundings, especially its people and it local feeling of community.
Imbue’s initial street art experiments in Brighton covered numerous techniques, employing paint, markers and printing as he worked towards his unique style. By 2009, he had made his mark, artistically speaking, and held his first solo exhibit, “A World Gone Mad,” at Brighton’s Ink-d Gallery.
Raising a ruckus
“I like to just mess with advertising.”
The use of recognizable images allows Imbue to work on several levels. It affords him a direct, immediate connection with the public. He delights in subverting pop culture images to give them a new, twisted meaning. In a sense, he plays upon the conditioned public, testing its blind adherence to the everyday logos and icons in their lives.
He also relishes any controversy he can contrive, whether it’s simply mixing things up or acting as a way to keep commercial interests honest. He’s a tireless proponent for any effort designed to keep the Disneys and Mattels of the world from getting cockier than they already are. It’s his way of reinforcing the importance of J. Doe; his way of standing up for him.
“I sort of appreciate the efforts and techniques of advertisers,” he’s observed, “and I kind of employ them myself, but in a more fun way.” He created a bit more fun with his WKD Vodka campaign in 2009, one of his favorite works.
The poster he designed displayed a photo of a WKD bottle, its bottom half smashed away, a nauseating red hue adorning the jagged edges. He reproduced the brand’s stock logo and tagline in the bottom right corner, “Have you got a WKD side?” Imbue printed 500 copies of his work and pasted them throughout Brighton in advertising spaces and in drinking hotspots.
Needless to say, the company caught wind of Imbue’s campaign and was not pleased. Lawyers could only come up with an address for the artist’s parents, so they sent their cease and desist letter to him by way of his mum. Imbue proudly declared, “I got an amazing reaction off them…I’m glad I created an image that actually reached the top of WKD.”
2008’s “Drug Vend” is another of the artist’s favorite pieces. He created this installation with two candy-vending machines, one labeled “Heroin,” the other “Cocaine.” He filled them with small packets containing coriander and sweetener, then stationed the work on Brighton Pier during the height of summer. Imbue fully documented the installation and public reaction”the YouTube video received in the area of 20,000 views.
The artist doesn’t reserve all his playfulness for the streets and galleries. In 2009 he decided to respond to a “send us your gold” advertisement. After receiving his free kit, he promptly filled and returned the envelope with chocolate gold coins. Four days later he received the disappointing form letter explaining that Cashmygold.co.uk was unable to make him any sort of offer for his treasure.
The big street
Imbue never stops experimenting with tools and techniques. Each new project entails a search for its proper media of expression. Exhibitions allow him to stretch out and display efforts that are more polished than his street work, but his artistic concepts remain rooted in bastardizing known symbols and objects. “That’s kind of my favorite thing to do,” Imbue explains, “adjust and doctor existing things to create something with a new meaning.”
The artist enjoys his “inside” work, but it’s clear from interviews that he relishes the street. He finds more creative freedom in public spaces, the ability to create more openly without the consideration of what people think. Sometimes Imbue just feels like his wise-guy self and wants to bomb a billboard”that’s something he can’t achieve in any gallery.