Somewhere between the 1535 execution of Sir Thomas More and , Charles Uzzell Edwards became the street artist known as Pure Evil. It’s a pairing of odd lineage that has produced fanged bunnies and Warhol-esque portraiture famous throughout the streets and galleries of the world.
A child of contemporary London and San Francisco, Pure Evil is also a child of his times. His art of primarily modern icons expresses both biographical signature and western culture critique. His pop culture symbols are spewed, and therefore viewed, along the urban and artistic landscape from Sao Paulo to Sydney. It’s the artistic and commercial success that has allowed his London gallery to host shows for more than 60 independent artists.
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Pure Evil was born in the form of Charles Uzzell Edwards in South Wales–the year most commonly cited is 1968. He grew up in a world of art thanks to his father, Welsh painter John Uzzell Edwards. The father’s artwork undoubtedly impacted the son, demonstrating a range of influences from cubism to minimalism, from Matisse to Chagall.
The physical and cultural landscape of the 1990’s U.S. intrigued and beckoned the young Pure Evil–upon completing his studies in graphics and fashion he set off for California’s West Coast. He established himself in San Francisco, working for the Anarchic Adjustment clothing label as a designer. He produced countless t-shirt graphics for screen printing, dropped in on the west coast party scene, and dropped a lot of psychedelics. Pure Evil also became involved in the musical fabric of San Francisco and worked as an electronic recording artist for Peter Namlook’s ambient music label, FAX (based in Frankfurt, Germany).
Street art of course proved to be Pure Evil’s most important artistic discovery during those 10 years. Inspired by the initial influence of Twist and Reminisce, with a dose of skate culture thrown in, Pure Evil graced freeways with “Dump Bush” slogans and tagged gun stores as “Murderers.” But there was one image he couldn’t fulfill with graffiti or sketches–Pure Evil longed for “dirty London.”
He returned to his homeland in the new millennium. It was no coincidence that fang-sporting bunnies began appearing on the streets of “The Smoke.” The artist explained several years later in a BBC Blast interview that the bad bunny showed up one day in his sketchbook. The image came from a hare that he had dispatched in his youth and had returned to haunt him for his past sins. The label “Pure Evil” went bag and baggage with the symbol, and the artist adopted the new name.
Pure Evil always considered the moniker a bit over the top, and it has long since evolved into something of a joke for the artist. It does, however, justify his artistic excursions into the darker side of people and their social ills, a worldview that stems from his Catholic upbringing and is dominated by the theme good versus evil.
The symbol proliferated, as rabbits often do, and so did Pure Evil. The artist began an association with the people involved in Bansky’s “Santa’s Ghetto,” and he undertook creating prints for Pictures on Walls. When the U.S. denied Pure Evil’s application for re-entry, the artist set up shop in a small shed in the Black Mountains of Wales. After a productive period he moved back to London and prepared for the first Pure Evil solo exhibitions in 2006 and 2007. The success of those shows enabled him to open the Pure Evil Gallery in Shoreditch in London’s East End in late 2007.
Today, Pure Evil enjoys the success of a street artist as global brand. The artistic integrity remains just as much in evidence as his commercial good fortune. The reputation of The Pure Evil Gallery has grown remarkably, due to its support of independent artists. The sound studio built in the gallery’s basement sends its output to a website for free downloading. He found time to appear on the BBC version of “The Apprentice” during its 2012 season, all the while maintaining a monthly radio program, leading workshops and presenting lectures. And then there’s always artwork to produce.
Pure Evil has employed the usual suspects of contemporary street art media, and then some: spray paint, pastels, glow in the dark and phosphorous paint, acrylics, neon, steel, stencils, tempera paint and markers, as well as various methods of screen printing. They all played a role in developing his art, and yielded the following best-known works.
The rabbit reject with the Count Dracula overbite is the artist’s calling card. Pure Evil claims it simply showed up one day in his sketchbook along with the street artist moniker.
New Logo for the London Hackney Looting Team
Pure Evil asserts that this image went viral virtually as soon as he posted it–more than one million viewed it and / or reposted it by the artist’s count. He says he hesitated to put out such an incendiary image at first, but his belief in the role of artist as a risk-taker overcame his uncertainty.
Pure Evil explains that a Chinese “copy village” gave impetus to his “nightmares.” The village offered, via email, a list of artists it could reproduce, including three Andy Warhol prints. The idea of Warhol reduced to three images fascinated Pure Evil and became the inspiration, in concert with Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” series, for these doomed and dripping celebrity portraits.
Ethos and Principles
Pure Evil has been forced to put his mouth where his art is, and vice versa. It’s true, he’s had little to say in the way of explaining specific works. But as a world famous artist and a gallery owner, he has offered many principles on the work of the artist, as well as guidelines for potential exhibitors.
These are six points derived from the artist’s website that sum up his overall approach to artists and art-making, in his trademark tongue-in-cheek style:
- Artists are not a commodity.
- The gallery rejects conceptual artists and the like.
- Curators are banned from the premises under threat of death.
- Principles comes first, money second (maybe).
- Political belief is not for the soft-spoken.
- The gallery is designed to be an independent artist Mecca (and sometime safe house).
Pure Evil has spoken on several occasions regarding success and the idea of selling out. Regarding the latter, he claims to have given the notion a great deal of thought and then rudely dismissed it. As to the former, he said this to a BBC interviewer:
“The secret of my success,” Pure Evil told the BBC, “is that I’m always questioning everything I’m doing. I’m never comfortable. I’m never going to sit back and go, ‘Yeah, that was great.'”
Several times Pure Evil has laid great claims to the richest of ancestry, including kings, European families, and eight saints. Most ironic among the list is that of Sir Thomas More, who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII (and later decapitated at the hands of the long-suffering Henry). Sir Thomas coined the word, “Utopia,” the antithesis to the subject matter of Pure Evil’s social-political artwork.
“I think to be a successful artist you have to choose between being a popular artist or a good artist. I think being a popular artist is giving people what they want. And being a good artist is giving people what they need.”