The millionaire graffiti artist
By Louise Brierley
"It’s who I am, it's in my DNA structure." Temper talks about how his art nearly drove him to suicide, on working with The Twang and his celebrity fans.
Temper at work
Arron Bird - aka Temper – has not slept for four days when I meet him at his studio in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. He’s been working non-stop on a portrait of Bob Dylan for a private client.
He’s come a long way since he first picked up a spray can on the streets of his home city of Wolverhampton. His last collection 'Post Graphaelite' made him a cool £1.4 million!
But it does not stop there. “Within the next five years I am going to be the biggest name in art,” he said.
From the Post Graphaelite collection 08
From concrete to canvas
Temper, a council worker's son, first came into contact with graffiti in 1981 - at the age of 11 - after meeting fellow graffiti artist Goldie on the local scene in Wolverhampton. Within six months he was doing it himself.
Influenced by hip hop culture he honed his aerosol skills over the next few years illegally spraying tags, bubble letters and figurative images on subways and factory units.
By the 90s, he and Goldie were some of the first graffiti artists to get paid for their craft. Temper painted youth clubs and held live demonstrations and set up his own t-shirt business. In 1995 he created his first art collection on canvas.
From 'Decade' collection 02
But his path from concrete to canvas was not without problems. During this time he lost several members of his family. “I had four nervous breakdowns and attempted suicide,” he recalls. In fact he started his first collection “after being in a support facility for ten weeks.”
He explains, “The best graffiti artists are sensitive and deep. You have to use every sense you've got: Touch, smell, temperature. It’s a thinking man’s art.”
Making graffiti history
In 2001 Temper's big break came, Coca-Cola commissioned him to create imagery for a limited edition Sprite can. "It was the most successful designer can they've had in the UK," he reveals.
Sprite cans courtesy of Coca Cola
In the same year, he was awarded a solo exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. He became the first graffiti artist ever to have a solo show in a major public gallery space. His "Minuteman" exhibition broke all attendance records attracting 38,000 visitors within four weeks.
Soon after, advertising supremos Saatchi and Saatchi hired him to paint a wall at their offices in London.
Since then Chelsea Football Club has commissioned him to create six paintings for its players lounge and in fact his work hangs in the home of football billionaire Roman Abramovich as well other celebrities such as former England striker Ian Wright, former Birmingham City player Robbie Savage and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
Courtesy of Chelsea FC
Talking about his success he said: "It doesn't feel like I've got the full credit in this country that I should have. I inspired a whole generation of graffiti artists."
His best known collection, 'The Good Die Young', demonstrates the passion he has for his art. His celebration of 27 iconic figures whose lives had a premature end was inspired from a note Temper had written in a sketchbook after he had lost members of his close family which said ‘Why do the good die young?’ He dealt with this loss by picking up an aerosol can and spraying his soul onto canvas.
His more recent projects have marked his advancement as an artist. 'A New Day' featuring 24 figurative nudes - to represent 24 hours in a day - pushed back the boundaries of graffiti art. It sold out within five minutes of its launch at The Mailbox in Birmingham.
From 'The Good Die Young' collection 02
And his tenth and latest collection, 'Post Graphaelite' is his biggest financial success to date. The 12 large portraits, representing a different zodiac sign, sold for £1.4 million. It was exhibited at Whitehall Palace in London in 2008.
Talking about his works he said: "Everything I've done is real - you can either like my work or hate it - but none of it's a lie."
Temper first met Birmingham band The Twang after the launch of the first album. Soon after front man, Phil Etheridge rang him up one day about potentially designing the front cover for the next album.
"It was something I wanted to do," he recalls. There are only five bands that I'd do the artwork for and The Twang are one of them."
New album 'Jewellery Quarter'
He spent a lot of time with the band before coming up with the design. "Once they'd come up with the title for the album, ' Jewellery Quarter'," he said, "I had lots of conversations with them. They talked about trying much harder as a group and wanting to push themselves.
"From that I remembered the famous image of the American soldiers raising up the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II. I wanted a similar image for the band - showing them pulling together."
"It took two weeks to do one and a half months work," he admits. "I'm a great fan of the band."
In 2007, Temper became the first graffiti artist to be selected for a major piece of public art. The Cube development is set for completion in 2010 and will be Birmingham's next landmark building.
From 'A New Day' collection 07
It is designed by architect Ken Shuttleworth. "He's my favourite architect," he states. "Birmingham needed another statement building. Shuttleworth has a character and finesse in his work. He's a genius"
Temper's sculpture will be in the central atrium of the building but at the moment it's under tight wraps. "It's a bronze sculpture and it will be a scattered piece," is all he can reveal. "If the cube is a jewellery box, then my piece is the diamond in the middle."
And his work doesn't stop at the cube. He has numerous collections, movies and comics in the pipeline, plus an exciting project in New York in December and is also in talks about doing a 16 day tour across Europe. "I'll never be able to stop!" he admits.
"It's a bit obsessive, I feel I was put here for a reason, it's my life purpose. I've achieved ten percent of what I think I can. Real sad in one way 'cos you never get to shut off and in another way very blessed."
last updated: 17/08/2009 at 15:27