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“it’s all worked out well” — tone, street artist

“it’s all worked out well” — tone, street artist


The decorative cement panels of the new John Lewis building are being hoisted into place just over Eastgate from TONE’s flat.

From his living room you can sit and watch as they swing above the streets and are bolted onto the steel frame, and if you’re one of the people doing the bolting, you can look from the scaffold into TONE’s living room and see what he’s up to, too. Right now he’s having his photo taken.

“I try and rotate my jackets for photographs now,” he says, mid-costume change. “I think if I keep wearing the same stuff for photos, people will be like, oh, he always wears that.”

He’s choosing between a new metallic orange CP, and the old Stone Island jacket he had on: “I’m wearing this today for the first time in about a year because I dyed it the other day. It didn’t come out as well as I wanted it to because it’s linen. It was like a beige, and I did it china blue. I’ve just ordered aqua green, which I’m going to put over the top of it and see what happens.”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

The colours are precisely named, and the image TONE has in mind for the photo is precisely arranged.

“What we’ll do is, if you want to get a photo of me with a cig like that,” he says, “And we’ll get the watch viewer in. That could be a good one. What do you reckon?” He adopts the pose he has in mind. “What do you reckon?”

“We could do that,” says Shang-Ting, who is watching through a viewfinder.

“We could, and we will,” says TONE.

And then he relaxes, and laughs, and lets us take whatever photo we want.

More and more people are asking to take TONE’s photo. A photographer emailed out of the blue a few weeks ago, to tell TONE he had the look she needed. “What could I say?” he asks us.

This is on top of the work’s he done this year, which has been bigger than ever before, and more complicated than ever before. “It’s blown up since I’ve done your office,” he says; since the spring, we’ve been making The City Talking beneath TONE-painted walls, and soon half of Leeds will be doing its thing beneath TONE-painted walls.

“I’ve done 212 Cafe Bar and Nation of Shopkeepers since your office,” he says. “Crowd of Favours want me to do their walls as well, that’s going to be next year. They want me to do an exhibit too, but upstairs instead of just downstairs.”

That’s just indoors. The bigger the project the slower the progress, but don’t be surprised to see civic-sized murals on some Leeds city walls in the first few months of next year.

“It’s new projects, and a new style,” says TONE. “Instead of everything being prints and small scale work, I’ve been doing all these big bits and now it’s like, woah, I can do this now.

“Crowd of Favours have been asking me for years to do their wall, and when I’ve been in there watching graffiti artists do it I’ve always been thinking, I wouldn’t even know where to start with this. Then I used your office to practice and learn what I need and how to do it, how long it takes.

“I use a projector because I want everything to be as perfect as it is on the screen. That’s the worst bit and the most worrying bit, because when it’s projected, it can’t be touched or moved for the time it takes me to draw it. In Nation of Shopkeepers they cordoned off the bar for me, but still every time a bus went past it shook the building and I was like, no, please don’t knock it off.

“I started doing things in pencil as a test, but now I go straight on in pen and get the outline done in an hour or two. Then the fun starts, spraying it and inking it in.”

Cans of paint are regimented along the windowsills in TONE’s flat, ready for immediate use by an artist who can’t function without paint close at hand, but he’s finding that the transition to larger scales takes more than a large imagination. Working outdoors means health and safety is involved; working for bigger clients for bigger sums means more forms and more bureaucracy. It’s about being a different kind of busy to constantly being painting.

“It’s all new stuff to me,” says TONE. “Before it was like, can you do me a print? Yeah. Whip it out, done. Come and do our bar, come and do our office, easy. But now it’s getting so there’s more stuff to sort out, it’s busier, it’s hectic.

“I might take a breather now. I had, not a hiatus, but I hadn’t done anything for a couple of weeks, and that’s quite a long time for me. Then last night I was up until 2am doing these stickers” — keep your eyes open — “and last week I was busy doing your front cover. So I was glad to be creating again.

“I’m going to try and get away next year. Back to America, to Chicago hopefully, New York if I can; I want to go to Italy and Iceland too, take some bits with me I can slap on the walls. I’m going to aim for another proper exhibition as well, after doing Gallery at Munro House last year. And I’m going to be doing pallet tables with glass tops on them, with laser cut designs, to sell as furniture.”

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

TONE’s annual Christmas cover for us is, of course, one of the reasons why we’re hanging out with him this grey December lunchtime, nipping old Spanish absinthe (just enough to taste) and taking his photo.

“It’s Home Alone this year, because that’s something we’ve overlooked for the last two,” he says. “It’s an iconic film for me, I watch it every year and I love it, and I always wanted to do it. But Chevy Chase is one of my favourite people of all time, so I had to get him out there first, and I class Chevy Chase and Bill Murray as more iconic, cool characters than, well, than Macaulay Culkin. So I had to get the Wet Bandits in there as well, rather than just do one character.

“But everyone is going to look at the cover this year and know exactly what it is, straight away, whereas with Chevy Chase they might not have done, unless they knew National Lampoon and loved it. Everyone can connect with Home Alone, can’t they?”

And it’s Home Alone’s twenty-fifth anniversary this year, we point out.

“So I’ve been told!” says TONE. “So it’s all worked out well.”


Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 31