When he poses for photos, he won’t let me shoot his face. When I ask about opening night, he replies nervously. “I probably won’t come", he says. "I hate being the centre of attention. It really freaks me out… unless I’m shitfaced”. Mysterious Al’s been at it for more than a decade, working with high profile clients like Adidas, Volvo and Eastpak, nailing a signature style that’s part zombie kitsch, part man of the world.
This week, Al kicks off his solo show career with The Doomsday Papers, showing at StolenSpace Gallery, Shoreditch ‘til March 27. I met him the morning before the big opening. He seemed nervous.
Where does the name come from originally? Any relation to Weird Al?
No. No relation. The name’s just something I got at art school. I kind of wanted it to be gangster, like Notorious B.I.G. But that was taken. Mysterious was the next best thing, really.
What’s The Doomsday Papers all about?
This body of work is all about different faiths and beliefs, all mashed together and brought into the 21st century. Wicca, Mayan beliefs, popular culture… Everything brought together in a colourful way. Doomsday Papers, as a title, is to do with the Mayan prediction for 2012.
When do you think the world’s going to end then?
I met this nutty guy in France. He was telling me that the Mayan calendar’s actually wrong. It’s a year late. But the government and world authorities aren’t telling anyone because it’ll evoke mass panic. But I’m not sure if I believe all that shit. The only positive I can think of is, if the world does end in 2012, hopefully it’ll be before the Olympics, so we don’t have to endure that farce.
So you’re not a fan. What about the logo?
Man, whatever that is. Apparently it cost half a million quid. So it must be good.
What do you mean by “modern day witchcraft?”
When people think of witches, they think of stereotypical images of broomsticks and whatever else. But I think there’s a cooler, darker side to it that’s stereotypically English. I lived in Cornwall. I went to art school there for three years. And there’s loads of sacred stones and burial sites around there. It’s really awesome. So I kind of wanted to focus more on that side of it.
You’re also featured in a new 3D art book, what’s that all about?
Oh yeah, that’s Tristan Eaton’s project. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s got an agency called Thunderdog. He’s always been into 3D stuff, before it became massively popular. But I think he likes the more old school, red and blue 3D. The aesthetic of it.
Okay… How long have you been doing this for now?
Ten years or something.
And why’s it taken this long for a solo show?
Good question. I’ve done lots of group shows over the years but I’ve never felt confident enough of one body of work to show it in its entirety. I’ve never really fallen happily into one style. I’ve done detailed, digital-based commercial illustration work that I could never replicate in my paintings. When I started stripping it down, going more simple and abstract, it suddenly became a lot easier to create actual artwork. That happened about a year and a half ago and it’s moved quickly since then.
Did you enjoy setting up?
It was wicked. Really enjoyed it. I had some really cool guys helping me out. We’re ahead of schedule. I’ve never been ahead of schedule for anything. The private view’s tonight, then it opens properly tomorrow morning.
What’s the difference between street art and graffiti? Is there one?
Where to start, man? Graffiti writers are infinitely more hardcore. They command and deserve a hell of a lot more respect. They’re not interested in anyone seeing their work besides other graffiti artists. They don’t have an agenda. Street artists all want to make it big. They all want to be the next Banksy. Graffiti artists, a lot of the time, are completely secretive about their work. There might be someone working in your office that you’ve got no idea is a graffiti artist.
What other artists would you compare yourself to?
There’s some influences from Phil Frost in this show. Some more from AJ Fosik and Mike Swaney. They’re three of my favourite artists at the moment.
Favourite client work so far?
Probably my Adidas shoes (see above). Just ‘cos they gave me so much freedom and control. I like doing projects where you get an actual physical product at the end. Something you’ve actually made.
Have you ever turned down lucrative client work because you weren’t in control or you didn’t like the brand?
You’ve done work for Vans and Adidas, are you into sneakers?
I used to be. I’ve got about 600 pairs but I only wear three. I think it’s a fad you go through. I'm getting a bit older now and I can’t really stay on top of it. But yeah, I used to work for Crooked Tongues back in the day. My first job was working for Spine Magazine. So I got into that scene.
Are you a big horror movie fan?
I’m more into kitsch zombie movies.
Top five horror films?
Damn… Not necessarily horror, but my favourite film in that sort of genre is King Kong. The original. He’s always got an awkward, pained expression on his face. Evil Dead is really good. Night of the Living Dead. I guess Jaws has got to be in there somewhere, because it’s awesome. Braindead!
You’ve done work for DJ Yoda and the Scratch Perverts and you make references to black metal and death metal. What kind of music are you into?
At the moment I’m only listening to drum and bass. I’ve kind of dabbled with everything. I like good music, whatever the genre. Over the years, I’ve been listening to less and less hip-hop. But that probably just means I haven’t heard anything I liked since the ‘90s.
You’ve also designed decks for Enuff, do you skate?
No. But I like the aesthetic look of skateboards. I like the shape. And again, it’s about getting an actual product at the end. Enuff gave me a load of skateboards. I kept one set and gave the rest away. I’ve still got friends that skate.
When do you feel most creative?
At night. Sometimes I’ll be at the studio all day and nothing really happens. Then when it’s time to go to sleep, that’s when I get some of my best ideas.
Sometimes I just get completely burnt out. There’s nothing more frustrating than a massive creative block.
Where in the world has your work taken you over the years?
I’ve got to do some really cool stuff. I’ve been around Europe a lot. I’ve been to China… to Dubai… Japan. You always get a floor to sleep on. It’s really good fun.
What kind of art excites you?
I like stuff that’s playful. Something with a sense of humour. I really hate dull, mundane paintings. They bore the shit out of me. I like things taken out of context.
The 3D Art Book, featuring Mysterious Al and dozens of other talented artists is out now, published by Prestel. You can grab a copy off Amazon.
The Doomsday Papers is on 'til March 27 at StolenSpace Gallery, Shoreditch. For more info on Al, check out his official website.