Published: 17:30, 17 September 2018
Catman has been making his mark on the streets since 2012.
But now, the enigmatic street artist – widely regarded as Kent’s answer to Banksy – is branching out.
He’s just exhibited his first solo show at the Graffik Gallery in London, and is now keen to bring his artwork to the streets of Canterbury.
Catman sprayed his first piece on a wall in Gladstone Road, Whitstable, six years ago.
He had come across a piece of “Grinchy” graffiti, featuring a goblin-like face beside the words ‘Santa isn’t real’.
He added a jolly Father Christmas, holding a paintbrush, and doctored it to read ‘Santa is real’.
“It went down really well because of the location,” he said.
“It was right next door to a school.
“It took a lot of patience, because I came up with the idea in January and I had to wait a whole year until Christmas before I could do it.
“But suddenly, it went viral.
“A reporter from the KM Group got hold of me and asked me ‘what name are you going under?’
“Catman was already a nickname, so it became my artist name.”
Since then, he has kept his real identity under wraps.
“I try to keep the secret mainly between friends and family,” he said. “I think people like that anonymity in art, and not knowing who made it. It could have been anyone.
“I’ve had people talk to me about my art without knowing who I am. Saying positive things, luckily.”
Before venturing into street art, Catman studied fine art at the University of Creative Arts in Canterbury.
“I concentrated on sculpture, which uses a completely different set of skills,” he said.
“But then I did a year in Rochester, studying architectural model making, and that’s where I learnt to use a scalpel.”
Now, he creates his street art using layers of acetate which he meticulously cuts to make intricate stencils over which he sprays acrylic paint.
But while his style and medium are avant-garde, his subject matter is often based on the traditional.
In many of his pieces, he gives classic paintings a modern twist – Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring wearing a tracksuit and pushing a pram, or Magritte’s The Son of Man with heavily tattooed legs.
“I love traditional, classic art,” he explained. “I love Picasso, Basquiat, Dali.
“I would say my favourite artist is Caravaggio. In Rome last month, I was lucky enough to track down some of his masterpieces in their natural settings.
“I like looking back at that kind of painting and updating it. That way, I can bring it to a new generation.
“Young people don’t necessarily get excited by classic art, but when you put it in a street art form they see it in a very different way. You see kids really excited by it. They think street art is cool.”
Catman explains he still enjoys the thrill of painting illicitly, although many of his peers have avoided litigation by asking for permission before targeting buildings.
“A lot of street artists aren’t taking risks any more, and I’m not ready to give that up completely,” he said.
“You get a real rush while you’re doing it. I usually work by night, but I’ve had a couple of close shaves while spraying.
“I’m driving around constantly, looking for places to paint – it’s an obsession.
“If there was a perfect wall I’d find it quite hard to turn it down. And as soon as you see the wall, that’s when you start scoping the area for cameras and overlooking houses where people might call the police.
“The wall needs to be flat and plastered, not brickwork, and in a very prominent position,” he said.
Since he emerged as a street artist, Catman has frequently been likened to the world’s best-known graffiti artist – Banksy.
Despite the inevitable comparisons he’s keen to forge his own reputation.
“It was a compliment when I was first coming up,” he said.
“My first few stencils were inspired by what he was doing but now I distance myself from it. My work is different.
“Our processes are very different. He uses two or three layer stencils, so he can get his pieces up in a matter of minutes but I don’t think street art would be in the place it is if he hadn’t come along.
“Every street artist, even if their work is nothing like his, has to give Banksy credit for making street art acceptable.”
Previously, Catman has sprayed images on eye-catching locations including a roundabout and the railway bridge in central Whitstable, and the side of the Catching Lives building opposite Canterbury East station.
Some of his best-known images are his “shop local” and “drink local” pieces in Whitstable, where the independent shop scene is struggling.
“Unfortunately I don’t think the message has worked,” he said.
“Lots of big shops have moved in just outside the town, and are making it difficult for the smaller shops.
“Obviously Whitstable has changed massively over the years. A lot of people say not for the better, but I think it’s changed for the better.”
Catman, who has lived in the town all his life, says he has no plans to leave.
“Whitstable is a good place to be able to operate out of because you’re not too far from London and Canterbury,” he said.
“I really everyone who’s supported me,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have got to the point I am if people hadn’t put their faith in me.”
Now, he has plans up his sleeve for a new piece in Whitstable.
“And I’d like to replicate my Usual Suspects piece in Canterbury,” he said. “I want to do more here.”