Graffiti artist Bisco Smith brings the streets of New York City to London gallery, OMNI
By Bailey Slater | Art | 13 May 2022

Bisco Smith ‘RE/STRUCTURED’ at Omni Gallery

Eastcastle Street’s hottest new gallery has just opened its doors, and it wants you to come and sneak a peek. 

Situated next to London’s busiest shopping district, OMNI is a multi-disciplinary arts space that welcomes contributions from artists all over the world. The gallery’s forthcoming schedule is set to host six talents who have never shown in the British capital before, with each artist getting carte blanche over decorating the gallery and its raw concrete surfaces – though one private viewing room is reserved for a couple of mega-bucks pieces, currently hosting a series of Damien Hirst’s Spot paintings.

American graffiti artist Bisco Smith is the first of this bright and bustling array of artists to exhibit and transform the space. A New York native, Smith brings with him RE/STRUCTURE, a show whose prefix speaks to cycles and repetition, of making things again and again. The idea came to the artist many moons ago at the start of the pandemic. At the time, Smith was going through the motions as a new father while watching in horror as the world spun out of control outside his apartment. “The city was getting decimated,” he elaborates, “and with a newborn, it was just crazy.”

Bisco Smith ‘RE/STRUCTURED’ at Omni Gallery

As priorities changed and patterns shifted, Smith’s work couldn’t help but get caught up in the rapid rejig of American life. Each piece birthed itself in response to life events and happenings, with hidden messages acting as motivation or reminders in Smith’s signature style of abstract graffiti text. With this, the artist gives each canvas, plinth or paint-splattered glove the ability to tell its own story. Some are made with thick rollers that are contorted into unrecognisable, curvaceous forms. Others are sprayed onto canvas in the traditional sense, only to be painted straight over as new forms come to life across the canvas.

Speaking to us on the eve of the gallery’s opening, Bisco talks candidly about the history of his craft, his undying love for the written word and the guiding and instinctual spirit that informs his many artistic passions.

Bisco Smith ‘RE/STRUCTURED’ at Omni Gallery

Bailey Slater: Hey, Bisco. Tell us about your first-ever exhibition in London.
Bisco Smith: All the artwork is based on writing, born from music and freewriting. Writing really gives me energy, and so I found a way to translate that into paintings very organically. I used to do graphic design and make record covers in the music industry, pre-internet, it was exciting and the best time for physical stuff, which I obviously love. My background is graffiti, DJing, rapping and hip hop, so I found this crossroad of music and art through making this work super organically.

One day I just started writing raps on the wall instead of on paper, and it brought my graffiti, my music and that stream of consciousness all into the moment. And this iteration of my creativity was born, approaching everything in the same way I would approach it onstage. It’s like when you’re rapping if it’s not something already written. What I learned from that art form is how to trust the moment, how to be in the moment and how to just jump into something without overthinking it. All of this work [in RE/STRUCTURE] is how I’m trying to get there. It’s to not think it’s work, it’s to be free, confident and in a moment, learning from music.

BJS: When did you start the kind of art you’re making now?
BS: I do proper traditional graffiti, pre-‘street art’. The 90s, 92 is when I really got into it and I was living outside of Manhattan, in the Connecticut suburb of New York City, so graffiti was bleeding into where we were at. I’ve skateboarded since I was very young too, so there are two cultures kind of combined. We were doing vandalism on train tracks and abandoned buildings and never once did I think this was a means to make a living. But I’ve been doing it ever since and following what I feel like doing. Somehow it got me here. I still do some burners – like nice, colourful graffiti – but I’m not really breaking the law much these days.


We were doing vandalism on train tracks and abandoned buildings and never once did I think this was a means to make a living.”

BJS: And what about the different techniques you use that don’t involve spray cans?
BS: When you do graffiti you roll the walls first, I still get my paint from Home Depot in the States. Everything’s learned through graffiti: I went to art school for graphic designers and was never taught painting, you know? The tool of the roller is learnt through graffiti. I do use spray paint, but in my first studio I couldn’t because it would destroy everybody. So I kind of found a way out of that. 

I love spray paint – I think it’s my favourite paint for the sheer fact you could like make a line, and then paint straight over it. I get these moments of explosive energy, so I’ll be making multiple paintings at one time because this [points to a painting made with a roller] needs to dry. There are only so many bursts.

BJS: How did you meet the guys at OMNI?
BS: I was in Lower Side Manhattan at my friend’s restaurant and Matt [Matthew Lord, OMNI co-founder] was across the street at his friend’s restaurant. I think a mutual friend of ours was at the table and he was like, ‘Here, you gotta meet this gallery guy.’ They were opening a gallery and had seen my work; I was at the point in my career where I was showing but not really at galleries. So we connected and just got working on it.

BJS: A lot of the work in Re/Structure is on these vast canvasses and murals, but it also slopes into the smaller scale on plinths and gloves. Do you have a preference for the canvas you work with?
BS: I think they all have their own enjoyment, in a way, like with murals and street stuff I love being outside and talking to people that pass by. In terms of scale, I like painting big. It feels more powerful to me. The first painting when I realised that was [by Jackson] Pollock. I’m not even sure which one it was, but I was at the museum like, “Wow, you can make paintings this big.” And it was a scale, that’s a lot of commitment for an artist.

Bisco Smith ‘RE/STRUCTURED’ at Omni Gallery

BJS: With the written word being so engrained in your practice, what happens when you get writer’s block?
BS: If I’m blocked there’s a lot of other things to do in the studio other than actually putting the paint on the canvas that you see. Like, I might prime shit. So if I’m not in that space, I’ll typically get everything ready for the chaos and the explosion and expression – but don’t do it. It’s like when I make beats, I’ll chop everything, take all the drums, all the technical elements, and then leave and come back tomorrow when it’s time to do the creative stuff.

I like painting big. It feels more powerful to me.”

BJS: The way you’ve used colour, or rather the absence of it, is super interesting. Do you always like to keep your palettes this bare-boned?
BS: I always use black and white for the most part, so if there’s colour there’s a reason. I’ve done some red downstairs and that’s about immediacy, Room 2 is about construction and structure, and also my son. He loves these diggers and all this stuff, and being around him, seeing this utilitarian colour the whole time really resonated with me – restructuring is basically because of him. The pandemic will fade, but he will not.

Bisco Smith ‘RE/STRUCTURED’ at Omni Gallery

BJS: Can you talk to me about some of the pieces that close the exhibition?
BS: I think this one (pictured above) is strong because it’s a reminder of gratitude – which I have tattooed on my hand, so when I’m writing I like to think about that. It also says ‘fortitude’, which came to me as I became a parent and a full-time artist going into the pandemic, describing the mindset that it takes to just exist in our current world. It’s a lot. I had to remind myself to have mental fortitude because it’s easy to go low, you know? It might be one of my favourites just for the reasoning behind it.

BJS: There are a lot of – literal – layers to these works.
BS: The underpinning is basically… It’s subconscious. I truly, deeply believe in intention. And if I write something in there and then go and paint over it, it’s still there, and it’s still radiating the energy whether you see it or not. You might not know it, but you’re gonna feel it.

Bisco Smith’s RE/STRUCTURE runs at the newly opened OMNI (located at 56-57 Eastcastle Street in London’s Fitzrovia) from May 12th to June 5th.

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