Profile: Paintshop Studio

The duo behind Bournemouth’s Paintshop Studio discuss influences, style, and completed projects with FX

Words by Sophie Tolhurst

Paintshop Studio, founded in 2007, is made up of Rick Walker and Sandra Ramos, with the former on the creative side – ‘the fun stuff… and the dirty work,’ Walker jokes – with Ramos using her background in advertising and client services to make the rest of the business work.

Its style is informed by graffiti, which has interested Walker since childhood. As a ‘kid of the 1980s,’ he says, ‘I wasn’t very good at djing, or breakdancing... but I was quite good at painting, so I just got into the visual arts side of the hip-hop movement, and then carried on really.’

Although graffiti was Walker’s first love, given there wasn’t much in the way of paid graffiti work at the time he decided to train as a graphic designer. It was his experience in that industry that inspired the formation of Paintshop Studio – though partly it was reaction against it. ‘It was kind of a response to over polished, over-communicated messages,’ says Walker. The stark contrast with graffiti presented an opportunity: ‘I was painting a lot on the streets and finding I was getting a better response from doing a painting on a street where I was designing a billboard... So it made me think... people respond much more to hand-painted, handcrafted art, and that there was quite an interesting market there. So, I was able to bring my two passions of design and graffiti together.’

Over a decade on, Paintshop has established a body of work that aims to keep the energy of graffiti, but to mix it with the discipline of design. Within its arsenal of tools are hand painting, typography and signwriting (collaborating with a growing community of signwriters), applied to large-scale murals or wayfinding for interiors with equal success.

The Bayswater College project won an FX AwardThe Bayswater College project won an FX Award

It was hard to get people to understand what exactly Paintshop was offering at first. ‘We were doing the odd sort of office interior, but people would come to us as a graffiti artist and they would want graffiti, or they would come to me as a designer and want design... it’s been a long journey to actually be able to marry the two,’ says Walker.

As for the style, many people had a fairly fixed and narrow idea of what graffiti can be, and this was something Paintshop wanted to open up as it developed its own style of artwork. ‘Over the years we’ve been able to find our own vocabulary on what our artwork looks like, and it is this sort of hybrid between graffiti and typography... and anything goes between that,’ Walker explains. ‘The more projects we do… we’re finding all this new, untouched ground where no one else is working.’

For Bournemouth University’s residential offices, Paintshop created a richly layered mixed-media artwork, with vinyl, posters, and picture frames integrated into hand drawing and painting. Similarly, Walker describes Paintshop’s approach for the restaurant Chit Chat Chai in Wandsworth: ‘They wanted to create a sort of street vibe in what was a… fairly boring space, so that was a really fun one to do, to create lots of different styles of Indian street artworks on the wall.

‘One of the walls they had was still sort of the plaster – was a bit patchy in places, falling off the wall – and we talked them into keeping that and painting on the rough plaster, and then peeling a bit more of it off, so creating this really old, weathered look to the wall.’

Paintshop’s work at innovation and investment firm Zx VenturesPaintshop’s work at innovation and investment firm Zx Ventures

Closer to the traditional realm of graffiti, the studio also creates large-scale outdoor work. In 2017, it made what was believed to have been the largest mural in the UK, a creative typographic piece spanning the textured concrete facade of a brutalist car park in the town of Worthing. ‘It was about a celebration of Worthing, so we took the word “Worthing” and turned it into an anagram that said “right now”. ‘It was a big typographic piece but in a style that takes a couple of looks to see the writing in it… this huge “right now” – you could see it for miles away!’ Walker explains.

The studio has been based in Bournemouth after a move down from London four years ago. The move was made with the assumption that they would just travel to wherever their projects were, but Paintshop has been surprised to find a lot of work close to home in its new community, with local clients including several bars and restaurants, offices, live-work spaces, and Bournemouth University.

While Bournemouth is certainly appreciating Paintshop’s skills, the studio is invested in its local area too, as demonstrated by its self-initiated project, the Upside Gallery (upsidegallery. The site of this outdoor gallery was the underside of a 1960s concrete flyover that interrupts a strip of garden along the river Bourne between the town and the sea. It was, Walker says, ‘this horrible space, where everyone sort of ducks their heads and runs through!’ He and Ramos decided to turn it into a positive space: ‘We walk there a lot with our kids and thought this would make the perfect outdoor gallery.’ Though it took a while to convince the council, thankfully Paintshop was able to get funding for the project from Arts Council England, and completed it in September last year.

Paintshop commissioned a different artist for each of the 11 large concrete columns, with one artwork of the studio’s own created for the project. All of the artists involved are those who Walker describes as ‘finding their own path from traditional graffiti… to more into art… [while] changing peoples’ perceptions of what graffiti was or is’.

Ramos explains: ‘I think for us it was quite a good way for us to show how art can transform a space… from just being quite an oppressive grey concrete underpass, to a place where you can feel inspired. ‘And at a relatively reasonable cost!’ Walker adds.

Since finishing, the studio has had quite a few inquiries, and they say it is something they would love to explore more. At the same time, Paintshop is keen to work more in interiors, and with more and more businesses approaching the studio, it seems like what clients want has shifted in Paintshop’s favour. As Ramos explains: ‘In the last few years there’s been a massive appetite for people wanting to connect with their audiences more in places like restaurants, and bars… where people do want more than just “OK, let’s look at the fixtures and the fittings”.’

Working on interiors projects also poses a new challenge and opportunity for Paintshop. Taking a more involved role in the interior design beyond being commissioned just for a standalone artwork ‘enables us to build in function and art and put this together and actually transform spaces, which I think is what is appealing to us at the moment’, says Walker.

This way of using artwork is inspired by one of Walker’s early influences, the 1970s Supergraphics movement, first discovered via an old graphic design book his mother picked up in a charity shop for him. Supergraphics, as Walker describes, was ‘quite a niche movement… [that was] all about applying graphic design on a large scale, and working with interior spaces.

‘Right now’, an anagram of ‘Worthing’, featured on a car park facade in the town‘Right now’, an anagram of ‘Worthing’, featured on a car park facade in the town

‘A designer would come and change the whole shape of a room with graphic shapes – you might start with a box shape and by the end of it… [have] all the perspectives distorted.’ ‘So we are really interested in that idea, where artwork can change the feel of the space and the dynamic of it.’

Paintshop came to FX’s attention last year through its Bayswater College project, done with Tigg + Coll Architects, which won an FX Award in the Graphics and Wayfinding category. Paintshop created painted floor numbering and colour-coded schemes on each floor, where the artworks lead you through the space. Although Paintshop was initially recruited by the client for a wall that they didn’t know what to do with, by the end, as Walker explains, ‘we’d sort of designed all the wayfinding and graphics, signage, and even the toilet door signs’. This is not the first time a client has been so pleased with Paintshop’s work that they have invited them to contribute more to a scheme: for another, Zx Ventures ‘added more and more pieces’ to an initial commission until Paintshop’s work became ‘very much integral to the whole look and feel’, says Walker.

There is a successful formula in what Paintshop does, and it had a lot of projects underway before Covid-19 put everything on hold. After spending some time applying their skills to smaller jobs – such as labels for beer cans and skateboard decks – Walker and Ramos are looking forward to getting back to work.

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