Birmingham artist Temper speaks to Jon Perks about working for Ozzy Osbourne, public art, and a new period in his life.
Arron Bird turned 39 last week and began a new period in his life. Better known by the name Temper, his spray can canvases sell for thousands and have won him a string of famous clients and countless plaudits from the art world.
It’s all a world away from his teenage years in the Black Country, when the only outlet for his creativity were the walls and subways which he ‘tagged’ with aerosol spray paint.
His professional work has adorned everything from Sprite drink cans to the cover of The Twang’s last album, Jewellery Quarter.
The last three years, however, have seen the acclaimed artist suffer from health problems, stress and spells of creative drought, brought on by his unhappiness with how management and galleries were representing him.
Happily, those dark days seem to be behind him, with a string of commissions and projects set to reaffirm him as one of the country’s most exciting contemporary artists – and a cultural icon of whom Birmingham should be proud.
At his city centre studio, Temper spoke exclusively to the Birmingham Post about the past, present and future – including his new public art for The Cube, commissions for Ozzy Osbourne and Retail Birmingham – and his new outlook on life itself.
“It’s definitely a new period,” he says. “I used to take media coverage, money, people’s friendships not for granted as such, but I was always busy in my own bubble; now I don’t want to be famous, I want my work to be respected; I don’t particularly want to be rich but I also don’t want to be worrying about money instead of working; my outlook on everything has changed.
“All the representation I’ve had for the last three years through management and galleries made me unhappy to the point that it put a massive strain on my business, me and my creative life.”
Temper now finds himself a man in more demand than ever; his ‘‘new period’’ kick-started by a commission from Retail Birmingham for a series of paintings Cut From A Different Cloth, portraits of famous fashion designers such as Paul Smith and Alexander McQueen, which were displayed in Birmingham city centre.
“My creative juices were all over the place, so doing the stuff for Retail Birmingham got me back into painting which was pretty cool,” he says.
“I thank Steve Hewlett [from Retail Birmingham] for that; he knew I’d been poorly and he’s a big fan of my work; I hadn’t painted for ages and I wasn’t sure if I was going to paint again – that was the truth of it.”
Cut From A Different Cloth was soon followed by a commission from Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne for an intimate portrait for their LA home and the completion of The Lovely People, Temper’s public art for The Cube building, which will be unveiled this week.
Next year will also see Temper work with Aston Villa on a fund-raising project for Acorns Hospice. A new Temper original will become the label for a special batch of wine from Aston Villa’s Beaujolais Nouveau run in 2011. The canvas will be auctioned to raise money for the local charity.
All the projects are close to the artist’s heart for different reasons – but it’s his portrait of the Osbournes which seems to have made the biggest impression on Temper.
“It’s the first painting where they’ve been painted as a couple, which for me that was the one thing that I really treasured,” he says. “To put them together – it wasn’t these two A-listers, it was Sharon and Ozzy as a couple. It’s two human beings in love.
“I named the canvas One because even though there’s two people they are one – one can’t live without the other.”
The stunning painting of a smiling Ozzy and Sharon was accompanied with a private time delay film showing the artist at work – with a soundtrack of The Beatles’ In My Life, one of the Osbournes’ favourite songs.
“I wanted to do a painting that was intimate – between the painting and the viewer,” says Temper. “Ozzy’s always been an inspiration. As a kid I was into Black Sabbath and I’ve got a photo of me as a kid doing an impression of Ozzy; when I showed him the picture he wrote on it ‘nothing like me’....
“I’ve always thought his creativity in songwriting is immense. I don’t like people trying to make out Ozzy’s a comedian. He is naturally funny but it doesn’t mean he’s a comedian.
“The one thing people forget is for a singer to sing a song and put a complete image into your mind just by singing, that makes him an artist and that’s why he’s a legendary character.”
Temper finally presented the portrait to the Osbournes at a recent Ozzy concert at the Town Hall. Sharon and his three sisters were also at the private meeting.
“The reaction to the painting was phenomenal,” says Temper. “Ozzy walked straight up to the canvas and said it was unbelievable; his sisters said 'oh, he’s got you our John’ [Ozzy’s real name] and they thought the likeness was uncanny. I pointed out ‘no it’s very canny – as in spray canny...’
“They are all just great people.”
The Lovely People, Temper’s public sculpture artwork for the atrium of The Cube building, centres on seven bronze figures each denoting a local person with an inspiring story – from a mother and child to an elderly Holocaust survivor. It was inspired by architect Ken Shuttleworth’s jewellery box concept for the £75 million Cube building.
“When I started going through the creative process one of the most obvious things was to ‘put the diamond back inside the jewellery box’,” he says.
“Then I started thinking about the most precious thing locally; ‘what is the most priceless thing, the ‘diamond’ of Birmingham?’
‘‘It all seemed to head towards the people; globally people say Brummies are ‘lovely people’, so the idea came after that.”
Amazingly, this is his first real foray into the medium of sculpture.
“I think The Cube were really brave to take me on, knowing I’d never done anything like that before,” he says.
The bronze figures were cast at Castle Fine Arts Foundry near Oswestry, which has worked with world-renowned sculptors Lorenzo Quinn, Anthony Gormley and Ian Rank-Broadley, who created the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Arboretum, Staffordshire.
Dotted around the atrium, one figure is suspended in mid-air holding onto a balloon, another sits on a bench next to his sandwiches. The most notable feature of each is a large, red shiny heart.
“I’m measuring people on the size of their hearts, not their physical appearance,” says Temper. “The shiny red hearts are almost ceramic, like the shell of a Ferrari; you see your own reflection in them, so people see themselves in every ‘lovely person’.”
Temper describes The Lovely People as ‘unique, like the people’.
“They are real casts of the people, down to fingerprints and the hair on back of their hands, the texture of their clothes,” he says. “It’s all there. As with all great art, I understand that there’s going to be a real ‘Marmite effect’ to it – but I want that reaction, I want people to be intrigued enough to come down to Birmingham to see them,” he adds. “Hopefully we can grow this year by year; I’d like to hand-pick a person every year and keep expanding the Lovely People ‘family’, because I think that’d be a great idea.”
With his creative juices flowing again, Temper’s ideas factory is in overdrive. Short films, poetry, discussions over possible shows at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and in New York, plus the prospect of more public art commissions abroad – as well as a string of ideas for the follow-up to 2008’s Post Graphaelite collection of paintings.
The future isn’t bright, it’s dazzling.
“What I want to do is get back to being on the forefront of art, getting back into delivering whatever I want,” he declares. I’m floating between the commercial art world and the fine art world – I don’t belong to either and I want to use that as an advantage. The future for Temper is ‘no boundaries’.”