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Interview: Paris

We chat to the man behind the Mylo Xyloto era's graffiti artwork

01 Apr 2012

Interview: Paris

Hi Paris, how are you?
I’m really good thanks.

Let’s start at the beginning: how did you first get involved with Coldplay?
For the last few years I’ve been involved with decorating The Park area at Glastonbury Festival. Misty and Reg run that, and Misty’s been involved with Coldplay doing the sets for the shows and the Christmas Lights video. I think the band were putting out the word that they were looking for a graffiti artist. And I think [Glastonbury co-organiser] Emily Eavis actually recommended me first. I just got a phone call out the blue from Misty asking if I’d like to work with a band.

Paris. (Photo by Roadie #42)

She didn’t say which band?
No, I wasn’t told who they were. But then I turned up at the studio and saw some flightcases with Coldplay written on them. They’d been messing around with graffiti already. I realised that the day I turned up at the studio, when I saw that there was already a lot of it going on. But they hadn’t actually met a graffiti artist in person.

Are there any bands you would have said no to?
Haha, I don’t know! But the beauty of the whole Coldplay project was the ideas that they were bringing to it all. It was very different for me, but so refreshing as well. I’ll take on any job. But I was initially just brought in to give them a demonstration and show them how to do it.

Like a graffiti class?
Absolutely. You see graffiti and street art appear all over the place, but it’s quite rare when you can see people actually do it. So I was just explaining all about it, and I had my portfolio there, showing examples.

A real 20th Century Frescoe, by Xenz & Paris, Bristol 04

How did you learn how to do it?
Just as a kid growing up in the 80s in Hull. It wasn’t too easy to go and do oil painting or life drawing there! So me and my friends sort of taught ourselves. Hull had lots of derelict buildings then, so we used to just go there and practice in places where people wouldn’t really see it.  We’d just have fun with it.

Did you go by the Paris name from an early age?
Fairly early. I messed about with a couple of other names. It’s like any pen name, the right one comes along at the right time. I went on a college trip to Paris and that opened my eyes to seeing graffiti on a big scale, with the passion and the flamboyance of the French style. That’s when I took that name and it stuck. Which was about 1992.

So it’s the 20th anniverary of Paris-ness this year?
It is! There’s something to celebrate!

What were you called before Paris?
Haha! I’d rather not say. It was a bit all over the place. And this was pre-internet so quite often you’d maybe pick up a magazine and see that someone else was using the same name. And you can’t really have that.

Did you have any brushes with the law in those early days?
Well, you do everything you can not to get any trouble. I don’t think I got in trouble in Hull, because they don’t really make a big deal of it there and we never went out of our way to cause offence. We’d paint in abandoned buildings and places that had been left to rot for years. Nobody would bother us and we wouldn’t bother anyone else.

And in Bristol?
I did get in a little bit of trouble there, but that was really just miscommunication. We painted a wall which we’d been told had been left for a mural, but that the mural never happened. So we painted it thinking it was OK to do it, but it turned out it was a local policeman’s mural, like his pet project. So we got nicked for that. But it never came to anything serious. Just a slap on the wrists and an apology.

Did you study art?
I did. I took the art route as soon as I could, pretty much from school. I did a BTEC and then an HND and then I came and studied fashion and textiles in Bristol. Which was just a really loose, free course. At that age, I had a sort of fear of fine art – which I think you have coming from somewhere like Hull.

Your parents are not bohemian, arty types then?
Haha! No, not in the slightest! They can’t even draw. My grandad did some water colours and I’ve got a relative who’s quite a famous marine artist. So it does run in the family a bit, but not with my parents.

Was graffiti always a part of what you did, even when you were studying fashion?
It’s definitely always informed my work, yeah. The use of materials and the way you look at the world, I think. Graffiti for me always has been a very loose and free form of expression. You can get used to working on a big scale and I think for me it was always about the medium. Spray paint’s very fast and vivid. And it was really good for making textile patterns and just for painting freely.

You have worked on other music business projects before, right? Didn’t you work on a Robbie Williams campaign?

Yes, that was in 2006, I think. For his Rudebox album. We did a lot of work and you didn’t really see that much of it in the finished thing. Rankin was photographing it and we were brought in to do this incredible set which was like a fake half of a subway train and they’d actually recreated part of the Westway flyover from London, just with wood and plaster. We painted all that and it was all photographed by Rankin. In the finished cut, you barely saw any of our work, but it was a great job to be part of.

When you say “our work”, do you work as a team?
I’m mainly solo these days, but my girlfriend, Milk, paints graffiti too. And when Coldplay have asked for really big jobs, they’ve often said, “Can you get some of your mates along”. So I’ll bring in a some of my tight group of friends. Like with the Teardrop video when we needed a lot of people to paint. But it’s mainly been me and Milk that have done the massive jobs for Coldplay.

So, how did you go from that initial visit to Coldplay’s studio to show them how it was done to being more involved?
It was really organic. I think they had a good time – everyone got involved – it was quite a big group. Misty was involved and I think even the artwork designers, Tappin Gofton, popped in for a bit. It was a really fun day. We did a bit of drawing and a bit of spraying and then it was only like a week later that they called me back again to do a bit more. It seemed like it was a fun thing for them to do, while they were recording the album.

They do seem to enjoy being creative in the studio.
Absolutely. And just to have fun. So I did some more and then Will asked me to do his drumkits and from that it really started to pick up speed. I’d get these lovely phone calls saying, “Would you mind getting involved with our album cover?” and that sort of thing.

Did any of the band members show a particular aptitude for graffiti when you were teaching them?
They really all did. Everyone took to it. On the very first session we were in the Bakery and it sort of came down to everyone just picking up spray cans and running around and drawing on stuff. I was showing them the right nozzles to use and the good colours. But I think they’d been doing their homework. There were a lot of graffiti books around and they had a lot of questions to ask. They were really well schooled. I was just joining the dots.

Was the album cover the first big official thing you worked on for Coldplay?
Yeah. And then once it picked up speed, things happened really, really fast. I did Will’s drumkits – one for the States and one for the UK. And then I was contacted by Tappin Gofton about the album cover. They’d been doing a lot of research for quite a long time. All their ideas were amazing and I took to it straightaway. It happened very fast. We all just went at it for about two weeks.

All the artworks for this campaign are based on the same graffiti wall, right? What kind of brief were you given for that?
Yes. Tappin Gofton wanted that evolution of the wall, so at the end every single day there was a photographer, Kate, who took loads of super detailed macro photos. There was a good 20 pages of reference that I looked at initially. The band had a lot of stuff they wanted to put on the wall. I showed them how to do it and then I added my flavour to it as well. I think Guy mentioned they wanted to do paint bombs, so the next day I had loads of balloons with paint in to throw at the wall. And then we’d be scratching into it. The wall was incredible. It was like part of the Berlin Wall or something.

There’s so much detail in that wall. Does pretty much everything in there mean something?
I think so. I didn’t even realise at the time. When we did the album cover, obviously I’d not heard the album at all, cos it was still getting finished off and I’d not been given any of the song lyrics. So there was a lot of the stuff that the band were writing that I didn’t know anything about. The whole thing was like, ‘Let’s write whatever we want to write’. And it was a very intense two weeks. The band would be rehearsing and they’d come in either before or after rehearsals and we’d go at the wall. Since then, I keep noticing things all the time. I’ve got a signed copy of the album on my mantel piece and I’m always spotting things in there – little codes and numbers. I didn’t put any codes in there myself.

We shouldn’t be scouring it for a subtle “Hi Milk”?
Haha, no!

So, after the album artwork wall, the Every Teardrop video came next?
Yeah, that came very quickly after, just before the Glastonbury performance.

Were you officially the band’s artist in residence by then?
That was around about that time, I think. That was a real honour. Phil termed me as a “longterm collaborator”. And then very quickly I got more and more work. It was funny with the Teardrop video, because when we did the graffiti session in the Bakery, I was like, “We need somewhere bigger! An abandoned building where we can really throw some paint around.” And then before you know it, that’s what we had.

Were you a fan of Coldplay before you become involved? Graffiti is perhaps more usually associated with hip hop.

Yeah, I don’t really like the stereotypes of that kind of backpack hip hop thing. I’m very open-minded to all kinds of music and art, I just happen to paint with a spraycan. I loved Yellow back around the time I was at university. And I saw them at Glastonbury a long time ago. But I don’t really follow music that much, so I didn’t realise how absolutely massive they’d become in the last ten years. I did some homework and I was like, “Oh my goodness”. Mindblowing. I do follow album cover art, and I recognised all of theirs.

The Every Teardrop video looks like a big job.
It really was. It was a very fast turnover too. I had a meeting one day with Mat Whitecross at the site, Millennium Mills, and we had a walk around. He had a vision very early on and I had a team of about five and all of us had five or ten runners to help us. There was a theme and it was very tightly planned, but then we were also given the opportunity to interpret things for ourselves. We were told what had to happen – like the pulsing heart – but how we did it was up to us. So my girlfriend, Milk, worked on animating that heart. It was two or three days of non-stop work. The fluro room took at least a day to create. That was one of my favourite bits.

Is all that still there?
No. The team of helpers that I talked about, as we would finish in one room and move onto the next for filming, they would be in there with emulsion and cleaning products getting rid of it all! And you’d step back in the room literally an hour later and find it was all gone. Such a pity. There were bits you could’ve opened as a nightclub. It was beautiful.

And then, of course, you painted the stage sets for the tour.
Yes. That came really quickly off the back of the video. We did a few drapes – there was a smaller one for the Q Magazine shoot, I think – and then they started sending us stages and bigger drapes and it started growing and growing. We were getting pianos and guitars and all sorts.

It sounds like it must’ve been quite a surreal few months for you.
Yeah, we barely had time to think about it. I live a fairly rural existence in Bristol, doing my own thing. Then suddenly we were catapulted into this other world. But the briefs were always just so much fun, with the fluorescent paint. If I made it too graffiti, they’d send it back and say, “No, rough it up a little bit, make it look looser” and that was what I wanted to hear. It was brilliant. And I didn’t say no to anything. It just kept coming!

It’s a pretty amazing commission to get.
Oh, it’s the ultimate dream job. If you’d asked me last February what I’d have done by the time 2011 had finished, I could never have guessed it in a million years.

Have you travelled around with the band?
Yeah. In the run up to the album launch we had an incredible couple of months, doing the work in Madrid for the show there, working on the adverts in the build-up to that and also going to New York a couple of times, helping out with the Today show and Saturday Night Live and all of that. It all happened really quickly. It actually took me a while to get a copy of the album because it was happening so fast! I was seeing posters everywhere, in New York and London, and getting text messages from people about it.

Is the album cover recognisable as a Paris work?
Yeah, I think so. It doesn’t say Paris in big letters across it, but that style is. When everyone saw Glastonbury live on TV – with the instruments and the backdrops – my phone didn’t stop going off all night.

Presumably you were at the Glastonbury show?
Oh yes. We actually went out and watched it from the fields, because we’d worked on all this stuff, we wanted to see it in action with the lasers. It was breathtaking. That’s when all the pieces really fit together – when the music started playing and the boys did their thing. We realised then how big a thing we were part of.

Have you enjoyed the shows you’ve seen?
Absolutely. And it always changes. Y’know, the artwork that we’ve been doing, I always try and give it volume so that it’s eye-catching and powerful, that’s my style anyway. But when I see that as part of their live show, where I’m creating a stage set to their music, it’s just incredible.

Do you go on tour with them?
No, we’re not on the tourbus or anything, which is sometimes a relief. But they’re always so welcoming when we are at a show. We can hang out with the band. It’s wonderful.

Are you working on the stadium tour now?
Well, we’ve created an incredible amount of work already. There are lots of pieces. And some of the work for things like the Grammys and the X Factor, I actually created quite a lot of it in Bristol and then it was sent out. So I’m holding my breath and it won’t surprise me if I get a last minute phone call. I’ve been at Heathrow several times, painting things to be sent off to wherever, with like a day’s notice. It’s incredible. So I’m just ready to do whatever, wherever.

And it must be amazing that these pieces of art you created have been seen by millions and millions of people.

It really is breathtaking. I think it’s a wonderful thing, because my artwork now, in conjunction with the band, has got to an audience that would maybe never have seen it. It’ll hopefully have opened a lot of people’s eyes to that kind of art. I’ve definitely got a bigger following for my work now. It’s incredible.

Has more work flooded in for you?
I’ve been able to concentrate on my studio work, which I’ve always wanted to do, but as a self-employed artist, you’re often just hopping from one job to the next. With everything that’s happened in the past year, everyone’s been having a little bit of a rest after all the touring last year, so I was able to rent a studio in Bristol – and it’s an abandoned college, so there’s lots of walls I could paint on. I can spread out, I’ve got canvases everywhere. It’s a dream for an artist to just be able to do your thing and focus on that and not worry about paying the rent. And that’s the opportunity the band have given me.

Presumably the folks back home in Hull are very proud of you.
Oh yes! My mum’s become a huge Coldplay fan now. She doesn’t stop playing the album. I got her a signed copy – she’d been asking me pretty much since the start if I could – and she was over the moon. And now all the family are on the website reading Roadie #42’s blogs and everything. So, yeah, that’s been great.

For anyone reading this who is interested in graffiti, what’s the best way to start?
I think it’s good to work big if you can. I started on my old garage. I actually found a spray can in the street, which I think had literally fallen off the back of a lorry. We were about to pull our old garage down, so my parents said I could spray on it. So even if you can just get a big piece of old wood, just mess about on it. Graffiti doesn’t have to look like what you see on the subway. There’s a style that’s become synonymous with a certain type of graffiti, but for me graffiti is just having fun with making marks. So you could use oil paint if you want! But if you’re messing around with a spraycan, it’s good to wear a mask. And just have a doodle and see what it does. Splash some colour around, use brushes as well, drip some paint, even scratch into it.

We’ll have a whole generation of Coldplay-loving graffiti artists.
I hope so! Just make some marks where you can. Don’t worry about the kind of hardcore element. All the graffiti for this campaign has been very much just having fun. And just do it where you’re meant to do it. That’s the bottom line. Even if it’s just your pencil case or customising your clothes or rucksack. That’s another great way to start – just developing your own style and becoming an individual through it.

Final question, as always, is what is your favourite Coldplay song?
Well, as I say, my favourite from the back catalogue would be Yellow. But currently it’d either be Paradise or Princess Of China. You know on the stage sets, I’d been writing lyrics to a lot of these songs, long before I heard them. So I know the album off by heart from writing the lyrics. And Chris often jokes about the fact that he needs to give me some new lyrics to work with! But those  are my current two favourites.

Get more info on Paris at

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