Exclusive Interview with Robbo: On Banksy, Graffiti and More by Helen Soteriou
Towards the end of 2009, the ever present Banksy went over a classic piece of UK graffiti by street king Robbo, creating a great deal of heated discussions from both sides. In this interview by Helen Soteriou, Robbo speaks out on all things Banksy, where and what he has been up to since his retirement from the streets, and outlines his plans for the future, as well as a peek into his counter-attack strategy against Bansky. Read excerpts from the interview below, while the exclusive piece in its entirety can be found at Juxtapoz.
Helen Soteriou: Can you tell me about your background and how you got into graffiti?
Robbo: I’m from Scottish and Irish decent but I was born in London. I am a Londoner, a true Londoner.
I got into writing my name back in the late ‘70s during the punk and skinhead movement. I was a skinhead, like most of the guys round my way. They all used to write an ‘O’ at the end of their name. You had skinhead writers like ‘Wilko’, ‘Bozo’, and ‘Rolo’ and that was where it began for me, I wrote ‘Robbo’.
I used to hang about with the bigger lot and I was about 9 or 10, and it just progressed from there. I just kept doing it. I was writing around the estate, on the buses, on my way to school and on my way home.
I just liked seeing my name everywhere.
You have been thrown into the media spotlight overnight because of Banksy’s actions – why do you think he painted over your piece?
A friend of mine had a book coming out called ‘London Hand Styles’. It was different to all the other books. It was all about tagging and bombing. So he approached me and asked me to give him some photos and he wanted to get some quotes off me. I was happy to oblige. I was reminiscing and then all of a sudden he asked me what happened with Banksy, and I had said that we had had a fall-out in the 90s when he was a cocky young fella. I reinstated that in that book, and I think it came out September last year.
December of last year, a couple of months later, Banksy decided to go over probably the oldest piece still standing, which was from the 80s and it was from a completely different era. It might have been tagged and bombed but it was still a part of history, whether it was mine or not. So for him to have such a big ego to think he can swipe that bit of graffiti history and use it for his own gains, I just could not put up with that.
I think he did that as a litte ‘f*** you’ to me thinking I would not come back doing anything because I have been out of the game for a while. He didn’t like that I released a story in a friends book, so that was his little way of getting back at me…plus he had a film coming out two months later and he knew it would cause such a storm, and it was going to get him a lot more press and people talking about him again…but he was totally out of order, as far as I’m concerned, and as far as real graffiti writers are concerned.
It was a sort of win-win situation for him. He thought he was getting one over on me and having the last say, and having people talk about him again just before his film come out, so that is what I thought it was all about really.
What would you say to all those people who think it is a publicity stunt?
No, I’m not Banksy.
That first happened when some people on Banksy’s forum went ‘Robbo has took it the wrong way’. ‘Banksy is paying homage to him’. If Banksy was paying homage to me he would have left the roll saying my name on it, so everyone would have known it was my piece that he used, but he totally wiped that bit out and he used it for his own gain.
Then in amongst all these, comments like ‘it has been the best piece of work that he has done for a long time’ and ‘I think it might be a collaboration between the two’ … the first time I read about it was on the forum, and then recently about 6 weeks / 2 months ago there was a rumour going around that it was started by his PR team, and I really do believe that. They are not silly people. I thought the way that they would want to get out of it is to spread the rumour saying it is a collaboration, by saying that Banksy is the bigger and better guy by helping out an old school legend like myself, getting me a higher profile, and just doing me a favour. I really believe that rumour was started by and spread by his pr team…but it just a rumour.
Do you think there will ever be a reconciliation? If Banksy approached you now what would happen?
Banksy will not do that because his ego is too big. You know what I thought he might do? I thought he would do a big me up piece. It would have made him look better – like he is the bigger man – in his circles, for street art fans, and gotten credit from graffiti artists.
Do you have a message for Banksy?
You have woken-up the wrong person. You woke me up, you bought me back. I think you realised it was a mistake to start this. It has back-fired and now you have to deal with the fall out whether you like it or not.