Graffiti artist Robbo has been daubing the walls of London for many years, recently shooting to wider fame after a series of artistic clashes with Banksy along the Regent’s Canal. But there’s much more to Robbo than stencil wars with street art’s favourite headline magnet. Examples of his work will soon go on show (and sale) at a charity event in support of Combat Stress, an organisation that supports war veterans. We visited the artist (and, apparently, shoe shiner) at his studio and joined him for a pint at his local boozer to find out more about the mysterious man behind the headlines.
It’s clear that Robbo is a talented artist in his own right, who wants to move on from the whole Banksy vs. King Robbo brouhaha. That is fish and chip wrap news now, and even though it was never Banksy's intention to give Robbo a platform, he honourably gives credit where it is due.
Robbo is putting his art and name forward for a charity event that holds personal significance for him. The new pieces will appear at Esher Fine Art gallery, and focus on themes of peace and reconciliation. He has other projects in the works but is doing this for a friend and fellow artist.
“A good friend of mine served in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Robbo. “He is a British soldier. When he came back from Afghanistan he was a changed man and if it wasn't for this charity Combat Stress, he told me himself he would not be here today. That just touched me. He asked me to support it and to do some artwork for it and I think it is a good cause. It saved my mate and it is saving other soldiers.”
“At the end of the day, I don't agree with the war but I do back our troops up. They are sent to do stuff they have got to do from the government and they pay the price. They are let down and I am going to help them.”
So just who is Robbo? He sums himself up perfectly as ‘working class and proud’. He is definitely an ‘old school chap’ - and this exhibition isn't just a charm offensive for the press. We spent some time with Robbo at his local pub. He’s clearly well-liked and respected, bantering freely with the landlord. Several locals interrupted our conversation to say 'hello'. To them, he is a hard working family man who 'shines shoes' for a living.
Our conversation was also very frank and open (although, of course, we can't reveal any specifics about his life). Robbo isn't afraid to voice his opinions and expects others to return the gesture, but that trust and respect need to be earned. It is inevitable that 'the suits' and 'yes men' are knocking hard on his door right now, but Robbo, by his own admission, has 'been around the block a few times' and is in no way naive. The close circle of people who are aware of his dual identity have known him for years, and they do a thorough job of protecting him.
Tonight he looks exhausted. He puts in 12 hour days at work and from there he goes on to his studio where he will toil again till the early hours of the morning. Then he’s up again by 6 am. But who can blame him? He has this one chance to show the world what he is made of and he is grabbing it tight with both hands and seeing how far it will take him. He has the opportunity to showcase his work to his young sons and father, which he admits is immensely important to him. He wants to take them on this journey too, and let them into his secret world.
Robbo's work features in the Urban and Graffiti Art exhibition, in support of Combat Stress, at Esher Fine Art, 128-130 High Street, Esher, from 4 July to 1 September.
By Helen Soteriou. All images copyright, Robbo.