In a quiet road leading off of Brighton’s Trafalgar Street, Scott Kingdom was putting the finishing touches to a graffiti masterpiece – a giant multi-coloured tag, depicting the word ‘Scare’. Designed to appear as a 3D image, it featured a flock of giant bats flying out of an ‘S’ shaped crack in the brick wall. A student at the local art college by day, he was responsible for many of the area’s most skillfully composed murals. He specialised in anamorphic perspective, a technique used by artists to trick the eye since the Renaissance. Influenced by pavement chalk illusionist Kurt Wenner, Scott hoped soon to be recognised for his work in the way someone like Banksy, Paul Insect or Darren Cullen was. He had already earned a little money, receiving commissions to brighten up a wall in Kemp Town and a warehouse in Hollingbury among others. Still he could not still resist the thrill of going out at night to illegally spray his designs in the graffiti hotspots of the city, wanting them to be viewed and compared with the best of the local street art.
Scott grew up in Horsham, West Sussex and had moved to Brighton six months previously, to take a degree at the art college, encouraged by its vibrant street art scene, and reputation as a haven for members of the counter-culture. He also wanted to escape the ever-watchful gaze of his narrow-minded, overly aspirant parents. Brighton was a cosmopolitan place with a dark, sleazy underbelly that appealed to the rebel within him. It was a place where it was easy to slip under the radar of officialdom, and where individual self-expression was celebrated, or so he had imagined. While Scott had expected to find himself at the centre of a group of like-minded souls in Brighton, instead still felt like an outsider looking in. Brighton already had its graffiti heroes and was, as he was discovering, a very tough place to make an impression.
The major graffiti sites of Brighton were dominated by a shady and secretive cliché of ‘Old Masters’ as they were referred to in hushed tones. Several of them had alleged links to the criminal underworld. They only let an artist into their group, when they felt that person has paid their dues, and they judged the work of others with a critical and informed eye. Scott was doing everything to win their approval, but so far, the mysterious Old Masters had completely ignored his efforts. This was something he had to change, and the only way to do that, was to leave his dramatic mark on the city.
Scott’s part-time job in a supermarket paid towards the rent of his student room and allowed him to buy the best quality spray paints available. He also volunteered his time teaching school kids how to paint street art as part of community projects, and this year intended to take part in the city’s world famous B Festival. Scott’s best friend, Calum, was a lanky and slightly less cool teenager at the same college. Calum was on the photography course and dreamt of being a photojournalist on a top magazine. He was nerdily obsessed with graffiti, knowing the names of all the legends of London, Paris, New York, Rio and beyond. Calum regularly photographed Scott’s work for various magazines and websites. The escaping bat design has already taken Scott the best part of the night to create, and Calum had now arrived to photograph it. “Sweet” was his only comment as his shutter began to whirr.
The local police patrol car passed by, cruising down Trafalgar Street towards London Road. The guys hid in the shadows until it had gone. Upon returning to the wall however, Scott and Calum could not believe what now faced them. Black paint had been sprayed over Scott’s artwork, and painted upon it, in luminous white, was a realistic-looking cracked gravestone with ‘RIP Scott’ written on it.
“Were there any tags on the wall when you started, man?” Calum asked, looking worried.
Scott admitted there were. Calum freaked out, his voice suddenly high and shrill, “You must never spray over old graffs, man!” Calum explained that the art Scott had replaced might have been by one of the feared Old Masters. He looked around for a tag or some clue to the earlier painter’s identity, but Scott had obscured not only the design, but also the tag. There was the small possibility that the artist who has made the gravestone threat was bluffing, but in Brighton, there had been violent deaths attributed to feuds over graffiti – a fact Scott, as an outsider, was not until this moment aware of.
The black paint on his wall was too thick and wet to paint over for the time being, so Scott called it a night. Heading for his student room, in a house conversion off Stanford Avenue, he heard a low hiss as he passed beneath the viaduct. It was not the hiss of a spray can, he knew that much. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the spitting cobra in the centre of a graffiti design, coil and lunge towards him. Scott leapt back, a car’s hooter blared as it clipped him, knocking him to the ground.