You might have seen the humorous posters and questionable advertisements on show across Birmingham and London. In episode two of 'In Conversation With' we spoke with street artist Foka Wolf, who has been labelled the 'Birmingham Banksy'. We learnt about how it all started and the feedback that the work receives on a daily basis.
So to start, I know a lot of your responses in other interviews have been varied to this question and I know you won’t give it away fully now but is Foka Wolf a collective of artists or is it just yourself?
Foka Wolf: Well the thing is I’ve got lots of people around me that I like to bounce ideas off so I do get a lot of help from friends so yeah I would say it is a collective.
Can you tell me a bit about your background before you started under the name Foka Wolf?
Foka Wolf: So I’ve been doing street art for about ten years but when I started out it would mostly be illustration based and I would stick little pictures around the city. Then I started to do these split up head pieces which again I would put up around Birmingham. So I did that for a bit whilst working my normal job which was on a construction site, I did that for about five years. I decided to go freelance as a designer about three years ago now. In that time I started to make fake classified adverts on stickers which I would just put on lampposts around the city. They would have a fake number on for just bizarre, weird abstract things. It was good for me because it allowed me just to throw my ideas out there and onto something. I didn’t really care about the spelling or how something was worded because I thought that added to the charm of them so I kept that up for a few months.
Can you remember the first piece you did?
Foka Wolf: Well I can’t remember the first sticker I did. However I knew someone who could do large format printing for quite cheap because that’s how I used to paste up my original illustrations so I thought I could get these classified adverts blown up massive for very little money. Last April I found out you could get a Skype number for like £5 a month so I got this random 0121 number. I thought, who are the easiest people to bait into calling this number and I thought of 4×4 drivers. So I had this idea of sticking something roadside at some traffic lights to basically piss off 4×4 drivers and get them to call this number. Within around a day of it being up it went viral on the internet, it got mentioned in newspapers and was put on sites like LADbible. I thought shit, I was doing the other stuff for years which no one gave a shit about and then I did this, which just blew up. Then we obviously had the phone number…
People call these numbers don’t they because I know on most of the ads you put out you leave contact details, so do you get a lot of responses?
Foka Wolf: Yeah they do. At the time we had the number set up on the computer in the studio so it would ring out loud. Me, William and a few others would answer these phone calls and record them, it was a lot of fun. I then had a baby so I stopped doing it because it was a bit time consuming with no sort of return and I needed to start making money. I did that for a few months and then it was at that point I realised I could probably start doing more activism stuff because once you’ve got that reach on the internet I thought ‘oh I should start doing something good with this’ so I’d still do some weird stuff but then throw in some activism stuff. For example, there is this new building not far from the studio. They had pulled an old church down and I stuck something up in addition to their poster and advertisement. The tagline I had was “Erasing history to maximise profit”. I printed something on a box which was like a police robot unit and then left it outside Digbeth Police Station.