Minuteman Exhibition, 2001
As the first solo exhibition by a graffiti artist in a public gallery, the Minuteman show was a huge turning point for the culture. Housed in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, it put Temper face to face with the Pre-Raphaelites. ‘Prior to the exhibition I didn’t know what Pre-Raphaelite was,’ he confesses. ‘When I went into the space that I’d be exhibiting in – I’d never been in an art gallery before – one of the guys gave me a crash course.’
‘They were beautiful oil paintings, but kind of elitist: when you look at their work it’s so easy to feel insecure. But he told me the Pre-Raphaelites used to do a lot of drugs, were into wife swapping. That took away my insecurity in a way,’ Temper smiles. The work of Birmingham-born Edward Burne-Jones caught his eye, in particular ‘The Depths of the Sea’ – a mermaid clutching a sailor, at first glance attempting a rescue but actually gripping him beneath the waves to drown him.
‘Some parts of the establishment didn’t want to give space to this thing called graffiti, so in true Temper fashion I tried to change their perception,’ he goes on. ‘That painting took Edward Burne-Jones four years, so I decided to paint it in four hours. I called it Post-Graffalite.’
‘It wasn’t meant to be disrespectful: I wasn’t suggesting that it came even ten percent to achieving the same artistic highness. But I enjoyed doing the painting, and what was the point of being the first graffiti artist in a public gallery without actually making a few statements? It did make a couple of the non-believers believe.’ The vast majority of the 38,000 people who visited the exhibition, many of whom didn’t expect to like the work, had nothing but positive feedback to give.