Graffiti artist Jim, aka ‘Vision’, is the brilliance that sparked the conception of EndoftheLine; a creative collective that paints larger-than-life murals for film studios and gaming powerhouses on and off its home turf, Shoreditch.
His business partner, Matilda, explains how it all began; “Jim originally set it up about 5 or 6 years ago, he was painting the old train carriages above Great Eastern Street so it was called the EndoftheLine, because it was the end of the line before Liverpool Street. But it wasn't set up in the beginning to be what it has become.”
Under her management the company now has its own event space on a roof overlooking East London and all its misty beauty. At the time of this interview, EndoftheLine’s first ever exhibition, the White Canvas Project, is sprawled out in ruggedly urban glory atop Rockwell House, the company’s HQ.
“White Canvas Project is set up by a friend of mine called Dave from Supremebeing” explains Jim, “and the idea was just to bring artists into a place which was kind of the perfect environment to create artwork; give them free reign, give them nice pieces of furniture and bits of wood to paint on, and just create an exhibition out of nothing basically.”
Making something out of nothing is not new to Jim, who has climbed his way up and out of that all too familiar picture; the graduate struggling to live even on the margins of society.
“We've been living in East London for 8-9 years, the first 2 I was unemployed. I was struggling and I think that poverty really kind of kick starts you to wanting to get out of it. You just don't want to be poor anymore, it's just really hard.”
“As I became better and time progressed a lot more people were asking me to do graffiti commissions, and I realised that you have to be really professional if you are going to get people to pay you money to paint art. So by having EndoftheLine as a professional frontage and having Matilda as the manager, I could concentrate on the art and she could take care of the business side of things. All the money we earn from the wall mural graffiti we put back into the business - it pays to have a space like this, it subsidises everything, we give other artists jobs and share the wealth.”
Jim’s open attitude and generous approach is no surprise, he knows all too well the value of a helping hand; “We have been really lucky, a lot of businesses have given us the space for free because it's very hard to run exhibitions without much budget, so we have been supported by a lot of people very well. They give us their walls and they're more than happy for me to paint my murals.”
It is not just companies like these that have facilitated this subculture; “This area was for creative people, it was full of really interesting characters with different haircuts and crazy fashion sense; the kind of stuff I think normal Britain would probably have a problem with. But in this area people were able to be themselves.”
The district has undoubtedly evolved in the last decade, especially the street art scene; “I think in the beginning it was really new and it was really fun; lots of stickers, lots of tags, and there was a real friendship amongst everybody. It was a real tight group.”
“There wasn't anyone on the outside who cared about it, everybody treated us like criminals and the police hassled me on a daily basis. People were coming up to me and saying 'Are you allowed to do this? I don't think you're allowed to do this. I'm going to call the police.'”
“But now putting so much time and effort into painting, especially on the walls on Great Eastern Street, I think people really started to say ‘Hang on a minute. This is not just a fad, not just some stupid thing that these kids are doing, it's interesting and they are doing something really good for this neighbourhood.’”
Once known as trouble makers that were armed and not really that dangerous, street artists and their strokes of genius now sprawl across the urban landscape of Shoreditch freely, thanks to the rise of concepts like legal walls and an appreciation for a new age art form, but are they once again under threat? “Gentrification, rising living costs and things like that will push street artists out of the area eventually, because they can't compete with people with lots more money. It's a real shame because we're bringing a lot here culturally and that's probably partly why it is so popular.”
Vision’s canister handling skills are unquestionable. This year Japanese gaming titan, Konami, commissioned him to do a spray can recreation of Yoji Shinkawa’s graphic art masterpiece; Raiden. The Metal Gear Rising protagonist can now be seen looming over the masses in Liverpool, Leeds and on the back of Bethnal Green Road’s indie cinema, Rich Mix.
Jim is positively impacting his physical surrounds while trying to resurrect the soul of Shoreditch, that sense of togetherness; “The whole time I was painting there, there was a whole crowd of people watching me and I don't think they really understood what was going on but everybody was in awe because of the size of it; and I think even the hard-core graffiti guys kind of respect it because it's authentic, it's original, it's unique, it's something other people aren't doing.”
Yet the piece he is most proud of is a more humble one, not a commission but a heartfelt tribute on Scrutton Street; a fantastically wistful homage to French sci-fi comic artist, the late Moebius. “Hopefully his artwork will live on just a bit longer and people won't forget who he was.”
Having left his tag on the East End, New York, LA, Paris, Ibiza and spare walls in Spain in 2013 alone, how does he want his legacy to continue?
“EndoftheLine doesn't work with unethical companies like Coca Cola or IBM or any of these people who basically have an agenda to destroy the world for their profit." With standards firmly high during an all-time low of commercial morality, his wish list of collaborations is no less impressive; “I think Blu is one of the best, people like Os Gêmeos and Mark Bode, in this country Will Barras, Mr Jago and Sheone. These guys are incredible artists.”
And what hopes for the graffiti industry and the historical canvas, Shoreditch?
“I think by allowing people who are not actually artists to manage walls, we're creating a system of middlemen which is really dangerous for the health of the street art community.”
“The commercial aspect is taking over, and graffiti artists have always shied away from the business side of things because they don't want to be seen as selling out. The artists need to take control again and do it for the right reasons. You can't be proud about it, you have to put your head down and you have to work hard, and I think that's the main thing.”