IN CONVERSATION WITH: Pegasus
“When a lot of people ask me how I got started I always say it was down to Amy, if it wasn’t for her there really wouldn’t be Pegasus; the death of Amy was the birth of Pegasus, so that was a strange one for me.”
Meeting in his small studio on Caledonian Road, leaving the wet, cold, grey weather of London at the door, one is immediately immersed into a kaleidoscope of neon colour – and glitter – and the glamorous celebrity-fuelled world of Pegasus.
A Chicagoan, London has been home to Pegasus for the past 15 years during which time he has gone from hanging out with the early-noughties Camden It-crowd – including the likes of Amy Winehouse – to being a world-renowned artist whose subjects include everyone from Tina Turner (“she reached out last week wanting a portrait done for her birthday”) to the Royal Family.
There seems to have been this movement over the past 10/15 years of graffiti being less about ‘tagging’ and more about creating works of urban art, especially with the rise in Banksy’s dominance in this area. How did you first get started and were you always working as a street artist?
I’ve lived here for about 16 years and it was only really when I first moved over that I first started hearing about Banksy as he really wasn’t as established as he is now. But, same as me you know, I never intended on being a graffiti artist or street artist. I was always an artist, but never intended for this to be my style of work. When I first moved here my friends were people like Amy Winehouse and I hung out with a lot of performers and actors and people like that, and it was only really when Amy passed away that I grabbed a can of spray paint and did this weird looking mural of her in Camden, and it was the first time that I had a stencil or drawn a stencil or painted anything with spray paint.
Would you say that those early years spent in Camden – and your friendship with Amy especially – was the launch pad for your artistic career?
When a lot of people ask me how I got started I always say it was down to Amy, if it wasn’t for her – and it’s such an unfortunate event – but there really wouldn’t be Pegasus, and I love Amy… to me she’s the top of everything for me, but the death of Amy was the birth of Pegasus so that was a strange one for me.
Amy does seem to be your muse and a source of inspiration, what a lovely way to honour her memory.
Yeah it’s great, you know I still do a lot with the Amy Winehouse foundation and anything I can do to help is there, I have a great relationship with her parents, so there is that bond and closeness still for me.
When you painted the Fallen Angel, didn’t the council whitewash the first mural? That must have broken your heart!
It was kind of a weird one for me as, like I said, it was the first piece I’ve ever done, and after that, I dunno, I got this weird adrenaline as I was painting it as I was doing it illegally in the middle of the night and it was on the side of a Starbucks of all places, and as I was painting I thought I was going to get in trouble for this but I didn’t care as I was doing it for my mate and I was heartbroken and sad and the next day it was blown out of proportion as it was all over the media all over the world, mistaken as a Banksy piece and I remember looking at it and thinking “poor Banksy”!
What a compliment to your work though, being confused for a Banksy!
Great compliment to me! But poor man he’s got to deal with this right now. But it’s kind of like that whole adrenaline of sneaking round and looking over my shoulder as I was painting and this is what it’s come to.
And now it’s gone from you having to sneak around to people requesting you come and paint their walls!
Yeah exactly! It’s strange. Like you say, from me sneaking around in the bushes to now getting a call from established companies saying “oh Ed Sheeran’s coming down to our property would you mind painting a mural of him?” it blows my mind sometimes.
Do you still have to sneak around sometimes?
Sometimes! When I’m in the States I sneak around as nobody knows who I am there! And also it’s very different there. Even if you get permission to paint a piece there’s still things you have to do like get permission from the local authorities and get permits…
That makes it boring surely?
It’s crazy, and even then there’s a chance that you could still get prosecuted even if you’ve got the right documentations, everything has to be squared up and you’ve got to be part of an organisation.
Street art is huge in the States isn’t it? In San Francisco aren’t there entire streets and districts covered in murals?
But they’re all associated with organisations and done through schools or charity projects, or community projects, things like that, so you don’t really get artists like myself who decide to paint a picture of Madonna or the Queen…
Or a pregnant Kate Middleton…
Yes, or a pregnant, naked, Kate Middleton…
Have you ever found yourself in trouble for the subject matter of your art?
Sometimes. I mean, not by the actual people but the newspapers go for me.
How do you choose who to “target”?
I know this sounds strange, but I went through a long period of painting people that I liked and I admired, and then I kind of went through a phase of where everything in politics was just pissing me off and I ended up doing a lot of political work… Trump, Teresa May, Brexit, Kim Jong Un… and I ended up getting so angry in my own head that I need to back up from that and return to painting people that I admire and people look at all my Royal work and think that I hate them or despise them in some way as I always paint them in this cheeky way but I actually really love them. I’m such a stupid fan of theirs.
I guess they do provide you with so much material to work with without even intending to. You have your pick at the moment of subject matter to paint!
Yes it seems like the wrong thing to do to be a graffiti artist and love the Royals, it’s like a massive no no and I always get called out by other graffiti artists…
Your style is quite unique and different to most graffiti artists, the fact also that you focus on iconic and well-known figures, what do you think makes someone an icon? How do you decide who is worthy of painting?
Longevity and looking at someone’s history – it’s something that I do all the time, I look at somebody like Madonna for instance, to me she is the top of the list as far as inspiration goes. Everything I look at and find to be success, that power and total control, and I’m doing this piece on Tina Turner and people like that, that’s a star, that’s star power that’s longevity, that’s someone who has been through everything and is still going strong, so that’s how I choose the people that I paint.
I guess with people like Madonna she is the top of the family tree for pop icons, everyone seems to have just derived from her.
If you look at her from the beginning of her career she’s really been a voice for a lot of women that are around now that wouldn’t be doing what they are doing if it wasn’t for people like Madonna. You know, she’s inspired writers, she’s inspired other singers, actors and actresses and to me she’s amazing.
Have you ever had chance to meet her?
Yes. I’ve met her several times and it’s never been a very good experience! They say never meet your idols, and it’s true!
What happened? If you are allowed to say…
Um, well, I won’t say too much because hopefully one day I’ll get to meet her properly and if there’s anything nasty in print I’ll ruin my chances! But, I met her once at a signing and I was told very specifically to not make eye contact with her, do not ask her any questions and for God’s sake don’t touch the woman! And I was so nervous when I went up to her and I just asked her if I could shake her hand and she looked at me with total disgust and she said to me “I don’t know where your hands have been, but you can touch my pinkie” And I jumped at it and I grabbed that pinkie so fast!
Going back to Banksy, they recently covered one of his works in plastic to protect it, and I wanted to know your opinion on that, whether urban art should be left to the environment and allow other people to paint over it or let the wind and the rain give it character…Outside your gallery you have covered your pregnant Kate Middleton…
That was only because we had so many threats of people wanting to destroy it, we had this person that we caught in the middle of the night and they were literally measuring it up [to take it off the wall] and so we thought we really should protect it. It looks different when it’s protected and it will make people think that we are watching it. There are lots of street artists who will take the time to make a piece and you put your heart into it and then the very same day a tagger will come along and just tag it, or a kid will throw some paint up and all over it. I understand that street art is about evolving, and I have no problem with people painting over my work. I don’t know, it’s a difficult one to answer. I can see why people want to protect Banksy’s work as they view it as an investment, they see it as potentially millions of pounds being damaged…
Unless it gets shredded!
Yes! Unless it gets shredded. That was a great publicity stunt. If it’s one thing that man knows how to do it’s a publicity stunt.
It sounds like you’re not far off that yourself with some of the works you produce! What is the process then to produce your stencil styled images? Do you work from a photograph and then sketch?
So it mostly comes from a photograph and then I’ll add some things to change it, but this piece was literally just paying tribute to her [Carrie Fischer] just after she’d passed away.
It seems that celebrity deaths are your thing!
I know! I went a while where I would paint every celebrity who had passed away, just hours after they passed away, and then I realised that I was building a reputation for myself, becoming the grim reaper of graffiti, an obituary artist. I went through a phase where someone would be in hospital and I’d get a call from a journalist or a particular publication saying “Oh have you heard so-and-so is in the hospital, are you going to do a piece and if so we would be interested in covering it!, and I thought oh no I don’t want to be known as an obituary artist. Some people if they meet me might see me as a jinx!
Which is your favourite pieces that you have created?
I love painting the Royals, I love painting the Queen. I’ve gotten into this habit of painting the Queen as a pin-up. I love it and I love doing it. I’m not saying I particularly love the way that I paint her but if I look at my work too much I start to dislike it and I see little flaws. But I do love painting the Queen. She was quite sexy in her day and lot of people think it’s disrespectful and I should be thrown in the Tower for that, but if I was her age and someone painting me to look like that I would probably look at it every day and think I was pretty hot back then… Look at people like Joan Crawford, people who were aging but always kept beautiful portraits from their glamour days.
Let’s have a look at one of your pieces in here; Whitney Houston. Another dead star!
You know I’ve got this client in India and they’re very superstitious about these things, and we were talking about this project with me going over there for 3-4 months to paint big Bollywood stars and he was saying “we love your work but we don’t want it over here in India, we don’t want dead people on our walls we’re too superstitious, it’s a bad omen for us!” But, that’s how I make my living!
What’s the inspiration behind using glitter?
I just like sparkly things! Also, I think it adds another element to it as well. With soft lighting the glitter and the diamond dust is really prominent. I spray and sprinkle while the paint is still wet. I’m always covered in it and I look like the biggest Queen and when I cycle home with the streetlights I look like a disco ball!
Visit Pegasus in his studio on Caledonian Road, or keep up to date with him here: https://www.pegasusartist.co.uk/