Somewhere between the 1535 execution of Sir Thomas More and 2000, Charles Uzzell Edwards became the street artist known as Pure Evil. It’s a pairing of an odd lineage that has produced fanged bunnies and Warhol-esque portraiture famous throughout the streets and galleries of the world.
A child of Contemporary London and 1990’s Silicon Valley era San Francisco, Pure Evil is also a child of his times. His art of primarily modern icons expresses both biographical signature and western culture critique. His pop culture symbols are spewed, and therefore viewed, along the urban and artistic landscape from Sao Paulo to Sydney. It’s the artistic and commercial success that has allowed his London gallery to host shows for more than 60 independent artists.
Pure Evil was born in the form of Charles Uzzell Edwards in South Wales in 1968. He grew up in a world of art thanks to his father, Welsh painter John Uzzell Edwards. The father’s artwork undoubtedly impacted his son, demonstrated in a range of influences from Cubism to Minimalism, from Picasso to Chagall.
The physical and cultural landscape of the 1990’s U.S. intrigued and beckoned the young Pure Evil–upon completing his studies in graphics and fashion in London he set off for California’s West Coast. He established himself in San Francisco, working for the Anarchic Adjustment clothing label as a clothing designer. He produced countless t-shirt graphics for screen printing, dropped in on the West Coast rave scene, and travelled to Japan where West Coast Street Wear was a hot item. Pure Evil also became involved in the musical fabric of San Francisco and recorded as an electronic recording artist for Pete Namlook’s ambient electronic music label, FAX (based in Frankfurt, Germany).
Street art of course proved to be Pure Evil’s most important artistic discovery during those 10 years. Inspired by the initial influence of Twist and Reminisce, with a dose of skate culture thrown in, Pure Evil graced freeways with “Dump Bush” slogans and tagged gun stores as “Murderers.” But there was one image he couldn’t fulfil with graffiti or sketches–Pure Evil felt the pull of “Dirty London.”
He returned to his homeland on the cusp of the new millennium. It was no coincidence that fang-sporting bunnies began appearing on the streets of “The Smoke.” The artist explained several years later in a BBC Blast interview that the bad bunny showed up one day in his sketchbook. The image came from a hare that he had killed with a shotgun in his youth and it had returned to haunt him for his past sins. The label “Pure Evil” went bag and baggage with the symbol, and the artist adopted the new name.
Pure Evil always considered the moniker a bit over the top, and it has long since evolved into something of a joke for the artist. It does, however, justify his artistic excursions into the darker side of people and their social ills, a worldview that stems from his Catholic upbringing and is dominated by the theme good versus evil. It is also handy that the bunny takes a mere 5 seconds to create, which keeps you one step ahead of the police if you are marking the streets of a new city.
The symbol proliferated, as rabbits often do, and so did Pure Evil. The artist began an association with the people involved in Bansky’s “Santa’s Ghetto,” and he started creating prints for Pictures on Walls. When the U.S. denied Pure Evil’s application for re-entry it was a ‘Deus ex Machina’ (Gods Machine) moment for him, where his life changed direction in a completely unplanned way. There was no return to the USA. The artist set up shop in a small shed in the Black Mountains of Wales. After a productive period of Isolation and soul searching he moved back to London and prepared for his first Pure Evil exhibition in 2006. The success of those shows enabled him to open the Pure Evil Gallery in Shoreditch in London’s East End in late 2007, and the Department Store Gallery opened 2 doors down in 2013.
Today, Pure Evil enjoys the success of a street artist as global brand. The artistic integrity remains just as much in evidence as his commercial good fortune. The reputation of The Pure Evil Gallery has grown remarkably, due to its support of independent artists. The Pure Evil music studio sends its output to a website for free downloading. He found time to appear on the BBC version of “The Apprentice” during its 2012 season, all the while maintaining a monthly radio program, leading workshops and presenting lectures. And then there’s always artwork to produce.
Pure Evil has employed the usual suspects of contemporary street art media, and then some: spray paint, pastels, glow in the dark and phosphorous paint, acrylics, neon, steel, stencils, tempera paint and markers, as well as various methods of screen printing. They all played a role in developing his art, and yielded the following best-known works.
The rabbit reject with the Count Dracula overbite is the artist’s calling card. Pure Evil claims it simply showed up one day in his sketchbook along with his new street artist name. It became the Alpha, and the other creatures in the sketchbook were wiped out.
New Logo for the London Hackney Looting Team
Pure Evil asserts that this image went viral virtually as soon as he posted it–more than two million viewed it and / or reposted it by the artist’s count. He says he hesitated to put out such an incendiary image at first, but his belief in the role of artist as a risk-taker overcame his uncertainty.
Pure Evil explains that a chance email from a Chinese “copy village” gave impetus to his “Nightmare Series.” The village offered, via email, a list of artists it could reproduce, including three Andy Warhol paintings. The idea of Warhol’s entire artistic output distilled right down to three small 64 x64 pixel thumbnails of Jackie Kennedy, Liz Taylor and an Electric Chair became the inspiration for these doomed and dripping celebrity portraits. Why are they crying ? “Its an illustration of the heartbreak and sadness we have all experienced in relationships in the past.”
Ethos and Principles
Pure Evil has been forced to put his mouth where his art is, and vice versa. It’s true, he’s had little to say in the way of explaining specific works. But as a world famous artist and a gallery owner, he has offered many principles on the work of the artist, as well as guidelines for potential exhibitors.
These are eight points derived from the artist’s website that sum up his overall approach to artists and art-making, in his trademark tongue-in-cheek style:
• We are opposed to seeing artists as a commodity
• No conceptual artists or poseurs
• No curators allowed in the building they will be shot on sight
• Principles before Profit
• Wear your Politics proudly
• We are an Alternative Ideological Force
• The Gallery should be a Mecca for Independent artists
• We need to have the feeling of exhilaration from meeting an artist and seeing their work..
Pure Evil has spoken on several occasions regarding success and the idea of selling out. Regarding the latter, he claims to have given the notion a great deal of thought and then rudely dismissed it. As to the former, he said this to a BBC interviewer:
“The secret of my success,” Pure Evil told the BBC, “is that I’m always questioning everything I’m doing. I’m never comfortable. I’m never going to sit back and go, ‘Yeah, that was great.'”
Several times Pure Evil has laid great claims to the richest of ancestry, including kings, European families, and eight saints. Most ironic among the list is that of Sir Thomas More, who served as Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII (and was later decapitated at the hands of the King). Sir Thomas coined the word, “Utopia,” the antithesis to the dystopian subject matter of Pure Evil’s social-political artwork.
“I think to be a successful artist you have to choose between being a popular artist or a good artist. I think being a popular artist is giving people what they want. And being a good artist is giving people what they need.”