Graffiti Artist INSA Discusses Inspiration, Motivation and Incarceration


I was fortunate enough to sit and chat recently with INSA, a bleeding-edge urban artist out of the UK, who gained notoriety with his animated GIF graffiti projects he calls GIF-iti. In Part 2 of my interview, INSA discusses his affinity for ladies footwear and tells me which building he’d most like to graffiti. He also shares a Twitter feed that offers a glimpse of his delinquent side, and we learn what projects INSA has on-deck for the next few months. If you missed Part 1 of my interview with INSA, you can find it here.

Take a minute to check out the time-lapse video below, which was part of the ‘White Walls Project’ from Unit 44. It will give you an idea of the kind of labor it takes to complete one of INSA’s GIF-iti pieces … then enjoy the rest of my interview with INSA.

What are the recurring themes in your artwork, what subject matter do you find most inspirational?
Constantly recurring themes in my work are the contradictions in our wants and needs, exploring commodification and objectification, and the way female sexual identity is aligned more with consumerism rather than real human connection. Or to put it simply, I paint a lot of high heels.


Does your artistic inspiration/motivation come more from political/social ideals or is it simply creative expression?
There’s a conceptual thinking to my work that comes from an awareness of social issues and themes, but I wouldn’t say that everything I do has a direct political or social message.

How do you choose the buildings you paint?
Fortunately, these days it’s more a question of choosing between buildings I’ve been invited to paint rather than finding buildings myself. Then it comes down to size and surroundings. I like buildings that allow a painting to exist in an otherwise mundane setting. 

If you could GIF-iti any building in the world, which building would it be and what would the design be?
I’ve painted some pretty big buildings, but my need for a challenge is never sated. I’m always keen to go bigger. Right now I’d love to paint the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle  a huge council housing complex (project) that is all boarded up and about to be demolished, down the road from where I live.

Are your GIF-iti pieces predesigned or do you improvise them on-site?
A bit of both. Generally I don’t draw everything out beforehand, but I have a very clear idea in my head of what needs to be painted to make the animated elements work.

Do you photograph your pieces with a DSLR, a mirrorless camera or a point-and-shoot?
It varies. It’s important for me to have a good quality image, but in some situations I’ve only had a point-and-shoot, and no tripod, so it’s a case of using masking taping to attach my P&S to a lamppost across the road from my painting to ensure a fixed position shot.

How important do you consider image quality in your photos to be to your final output?
For the GIFs, interestingly, it is important but not integral, as the final output is only 600 pixels wide and compressed into GIF format, so I know any superior quality will be lost. But in all my other work, image quality is paramount.

INSA yacht

Do you always get permission to paint your outdoor locations?

How do you combat civic efforts to curb graffiti art?
Try to not get arrested.

What are your favorite public spaces to work in?
Ones in hot countries!

Where is the line (is there a line) between graffiti art and vandalism?
Yes – it all comes down to the viewer. I really enjoy the art in a pot of paint spilt on the road because it’s chaotic, but at the same time it’s a mess and an accident. It’s the same as a tag on a shop shutter – it can look beautiful or be dismissed as a criminal act. So ultimately the line is subjective.

Were any of your GIF-iti pieces commissioned or were they all pieces you created for yourself?
All of them were created for myself, except for the latest one, which was a collaboration with the artist Stanley Donwood, commissioned by XL Records, to celebrate the launch of the new Atoms for Peace album.

What was your most unusual, fun or interesting commission?
Working at minus 35 degrees in the Arctic sculpting six-foot-high heels, was perhaps one of my most unusual working environments, creating a bedroom suite for the famous ICE hotel in Sweden.

What’s next for INSA?
I’m about to head to Australia next week for a couple of months. Later this year I’m working on several interesting projects, and will be doing a lot more traveling – to Shanghai, Brazil, Canada – as well as doing a lot of experiments back in London, developing the GIF-iti into augmented reality, to experience the work firsthand through different viewing platforms.





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