Previously known for painting on walls, under the name CEPT, Mike Ballard moved inside from the streets a while ago and has been focusing on his canvases and installations.
You’ve previously taken inspiration from psychedelia and sci-fi – what’s floating your boat now?
Now it’s more urban abstractions. I’m more interested in the removal of graffiti now. Graffiti wants to be permanent and last but it never is – the marks of covering it from the maintenance teams are more permanent. I’d rather look at the removed bit, the abstract from the graffiti. I started noticing things like the stacked manhole covers in the pavement and wanted to take things like that from the urban environment.
So you’re saying your abstract work now as Mike Ballard wouldn’t be what it is now without what you did on the street?
Definitely. Just from being into graffiti and discovering places that people wouldn’t normally notice. You go to dirtier parts of town because you’re looking for places to paint and then you see all this other interesting stuff while you’re doing it – manhole covers and rusted fences, hoardings and the buff marks that people have made. All of them are accidental abstractions and the weathering of stuff – the patinas on metal. That type of thing is what I’m replicating.
Have you always painted in a fine art capacity – has it always been concurrent with your graffiti?
When I first started painting on canvas I was still painting on the street, but it just gives you a chance to do something different and a bit more precious. When you’re painting on the street you’ve got no say of what happens to it.
Do you feel less constrained by a canvas than a massive wall?
It’s a lot freer. I have so many preconceptions of how my pieces should look on the street and you’re always painting in the same style as what you’re known for. You get bored and you try a different approach. If I paint on the street I’m on autopilot as I know what I’m doing. The canvas work is totally the opposite; it’s more stripped down, considered and slow. It’s definitely more me.
Photo: Tom Medwell