Anyone who’s been to Ku Bar Leicester Square recently won’t have missed the eye-grabbing artwork of a shirtless soldier. The image is by the artist TradeMark, aka Mark Wardel, and this Saturday the bar hosts Ku Tattoo, a celebration of tattoo culture and fundraiser for Diversity Role Models. We spoke to Mark about his career so far.
Hi Mark, you and your artwork have been intertwined with London’s gay club and bar scene for a long time – how did the relationship begin?
The London club scene was absolutely the place where I discovered a subject and context for my art. As soon as I finished art school up North in 1978 I hightailed it straight down South where, as a devotee of David Bowie, I naturally gravitated towards the panache and glamour of London’s clubs like Blitz, Legends and The Embassy Club. There I met, befriended and started painting other Bowie devotees such as Boy George, Steve Strange and other fabulous freaks and fashionistas, many of whom went on to become world famous. Most of our social lives were carried out in these clubs and one of the fabulous characters I met was Laurence Malice. And so when in 1990 he decided to start Trade at Turnmills he brought me on board to produce all the original artwork for the club, and as the popularity of Trade and my imagery exploded I was suddenly in demand to produce artworks for most of the best gay clubs, bars and businesses in town.
Your work is incredibly varied but there is always something recognisably TradeMark about it – how would you describe what you do?
I’m fascinated with faces and bodies, and these have always been the main subject of my work. Although the inspirations for my classic club art included punk graphics, Soviet propaganda and a lot of late 70s/early 80s New York artists like Stephen Sprouse and Richard Bernstein, many people still associate my work with the look of Warhol and his aesthetic of flattened screen printed imagery. However, my technique is quite different from Warhol’s as my work is all hand painted in oil or acrylic on canvas. I did actually meet Andy Warhol in 1986. He photographed me and commissioned me to make him one of my hand painted T-shirts. I still have the one he signed; it’s one of my most treasured possessions.
Tell us about your Trash DNA website.
Trash DNA is the online store through which I sell prints, posters, T-shirts, badges and other affordable and collectable art products. I was constantly getting enquiries from people who wanted pieces based on my classic club imagery but who didn’t want or couldn’t afford to spend big money on original paintings, so I decided to set Trash DNA up as almost like a designers ‘diffusion’ range. We are slowly building up the range of products with some iconic images from the archives as well as fresh new designs and we are about to unleash a sexy new T-shirt featuring the image of the soldier guy from the painting in Ku.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently painting an official portrait of Marc Almond, which will form the centrepiece of an upcoming exhibition of his photographs, record covers, artworks and ephemera to celebrate his 60th year on the planet.
How did you get involved with Gary and Ku?
Gary knew of my work in the early days of Trade and soon after that he opened the very first Village West One bar in Hanway Street and commissioned me to create all the promotional artwork for it. That bar was really the first of the ‘continental style’ gay bars and really kick-started the whole ‘gay revolution cafe-culture phenomenon’ in Soho. It was a step away from the old blacked out windows style of gay venues that had existed up until then and of course it was very successful. I continued to produce artwork for Gary when he expanded further into Soho with the bigger Village bar, Kudos and Village Youth etc, right up to The Light Lounge. At Ku Tattoo this Saturday customers can sport temporary tattoos of the artwork, along with the super-handsome topless bar staff, in a celebration of tattoo culture. It’s also a fundraiser for Diversity Role Models. It promises to be sexy, worthy and fun all in one beautiful, artistic package.