Scotty Brave - Southend's Street Artist with a Vision
Updated: Mar 12
“Artist, Grafitti writer, poet, teacher, revolutionary!” – Scotty Brave’s Instagram bio says it all. The artist behind ‘Brave Arts’ has played a major part in the UK’s street art / graffiti scene for over 20 years. He has seen it evolve from an underground, secretive world to its explosion and integration in mainstream culture. He met Banksy in the late ‘90s when both were among just a handful of street artists in the UK (no comment from Scotty but I’m pretty sure he isn’t that one from Art Attack!) and has worked extensively educating and inspiring young people. Now he has exciting plans for the future!
A striking mural of Marcus Rashford in Southend High Street created by Scotty last year for Black History Month received much admiration. The artwork was just the latest in an impressive career that has taken him to influential street art events and festivals in the UK and Denmark, and exhibiting in 'Nelson Mandela: The Official Exhibition' at London's 26 Leake Street. He is passionate about enabling creativity and was recently awarded a month-long residency at Metal Southend to develop his ideas for more street art opportunities in the town.
Stumbling across a derelict factory at the age of 12 gave Scotty a life-changing introduction to the scene. The walls were filled with the scribble and scrawl of tags he’d seen before, but further exploration revealed walls covered in colourful murals that left him in awe. “I then understood it,” he says, “I realised the tags were just a signature but the artwork was out of sight. It was part of something unseen, part of a subculture of art that was developing away from the eyes of parents, teachers, and the general public, manifested in (hidden) places”.
Schools refused to recognise the art form, forcing Scotty and his peers to develop their passion as something ‘apart’ from formal education. Thankfully times have changed and many young people have since benefitted from his teachings on its history and practice through workshops and school residencies, including pupils reluctant to engage with regular education.
It’s no surprise young people are drawn to spray can art – its birth in ‘80s New York was “the first major art form to be started by ... young people who wanted their names to be put up at the end of their block, to be known, for someone to know they existed in this great big sprawling metropolis”, explains Scotty. “Painting with a spray can is also just fun. And it feels kind of rebellious … almost like a forbidden piece of art”.
Street art has “two faces”, he advises – graffiti and murals – the first being letter / name based and the second, characters or patterns. While the second has been embraced, the traditional graffiti style still carries negative associations of “problematic tagging and vandalism” and remains hidden. Scotty is passionate about keeping graffiti traditions alive and despite developing a love for creating characters, regularly uses his honed graffiti skills to make the letters of his name the central focus of his designs.
Looking to other street artists, Surrealism, tattoo magazines and comics for inspiration, his characters are often striking, colourful, powerful fantasy figures. He has an innate sense of impactful images and has created a series of captivating seven-eyed tigers – a particularly powerful one with eyes containing heart-shaped pupils for a Justice for Grenfell event. Frequently pressed to explain their meaning, he prefers to stay silent – “I’m interested in the mystery, the supernatural, the sense of wonder it creates. I want people to ask themselves questions, be wowed or confused”.
A recent development in Scotty’s work has been the ‘glitch’ method - whereby an image is corrupted and transformed through changing its coding and re-opened – spray-painted onto canvas. This will allow him to build up a body of work as like other street artists, all he has left of 99% of his work are photos! They were most recently exhibited in a new creative community venue Scotty actually helped establish in Southend – 'Third Space'. In partnership with local creative community group The Cultural Assembly, he is looking forward to developing it further.
His visions for the future of local street art also have community at their heart. Proposals include more designated sites for all street artists - both graffiti and mural, experienced and new – with walls managed, renewed and protected.
A Southend ‘Festival of Street Art’ or ‘Street Art Quarter’ similar to Brighton is a possibility, with a mixture of temporary and permanent art, aswell as plans for a site with less public exposure. Scotty explains “There is still a massive scene of people choosing to paint regularly in hidden places in fear of their work being judged …(and) also artists who are coming up and …need space and time to develop their work. A big beautiful mural on a building is great but only gives opportunities to a handful of artists ... It’s great to develop that but (also) develop a grass roots idea”.
Leigh-on-Sea skate park is a place he has in mind for this and consultation has already begun on how the site could be modified. A wooden design in the ’90s provided wall space for Scotty and his peers to paint, attracted wide interest and established their names - photos of their work even appearing in international graffiti journals.
A recent upsurge of tags in Leigh-on-Sea points to a growing interest in the scene. Scotty explains, “every little scribble or tag or signature you see is a ... person aspiring to do that bigger, bolder, more colourful, to have more space and be able to spend more time on that. All you really see is the scribble and the quickness of just being able to get away with it. But if you took these guys and offered them a space for their artwork, you’d see amazing things … you’ll see peoples’ work develop, opportunities will happen ... Public art is an opportunity for storytelling, for an improvement of the local area, environment and community".
The midst of a pandemic is a perfect time to think about bringing art outside while also providing many talented ‘hidden’ artists with the recognition and ultimately financial reward that eludes them. And a final thought-provoking point from Scotty– wouldn’t it be great if it also increased our expectations of what visually stimulates us in the public space other than road signs and adverts?!