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After hours with 10 Foot, London’s most notorious graffiti writer

Great article in the Financial Times, reset your cookies and get a free read or maybe you already subscribe.

Article taken from FT magazine – Miles Ellingham (published Feb 3rd 2023)

He risks his freedom and his life nightly. Why?

10 Foot differs from the other shoppers at Halfords in two ways. Firstly, true to his name, he’s taller than everyone else, much taller. Secondly, 10 Foot isn’t planning on paying for anything. “I think I’ve used more of this than anyone in the country, and I never knew it was £10.99,” he says, gazing at a 500ml can of black matt spray paint. For someone as productive as 10 Foot, one night’s supplies might cost anywhere between £80 and £150. But 10 Foot maintains a strict buy-none-get-everything-free approach to stocking up. Today, in addition to a few cans of paint, he’s looking for enough timber to build a makeshift grappling hook and rope ladder. He won’t tell me what for, only that it’s “high stakes”. I believe him. “Let’s keep it moving,” he says. Not having found exactly what he’s looking for, he leaves empty-handed.

I still don’t know why 10 Foot agreed to meet me. He’s easily the most prolific graffiti writer in London and one of the most productive globally. He’s been repeatedly approached by fashion brands, music labels and TV showrunners with offers to collaborate, most of which he’s turned down. There are two Instagram pages, each with thousands of followers, dedicated to documenting his output. One of them, @10Foot_Everywhere, has noted his work in the background of porn videos and video games. Taxi drivers and haulage workers across Europe will likely recognise his work. I once messaged him asking which cities he’s tagged, expecting a relatively short response. Instead, I received the following: “Yeh, I mean . . . Paris, Berlin, NYC, Philadelphia, Buenos Aires, Funchal, Lisbon, Oslo, Copenhagen, Snowdonia, Dublin, Galway, Cork, Waterford, Los Angeles, San Diego, Washington DC, New Orleans, Miami, Monterrey, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Guadalajara, Ajaccio, Milan, Sicily, Corsica, Bari, Tirana, Moscow, Marseille, Rome, Bogotá, Kuwait, Pereira, Quito, Port-au-Prince, Kingston Jamaica, Kingston Surrey, Guildford, Glasgow, San Antonio, Dominican Republic, Havana, Cancún, Panama, Taipei, Bangkok, Tokyo, Okinawa, Kyoto, Osaka.

Almost every middle-sized town across the UK from Shaftesbury to Shrewsbury to Grimsby to Burnham-on-Crouch. All the far flung islands . . . Wight, Scillies, Shetlands, Orkneys, Inner and Outer Hebrides. Every state in Mexico. Anyway u get the idea lol.” The list is extensive, but nowhere bears his mark more than London, his home, his favourite city. Sometimes his tag is spelt out, 1-0-F-O-O-T; sometimes it’s rendered visually as a foot outline next to a numerical one, with a toe doubling as the zero. It’s so widespread in London that it’s rumoured to have appeared in a recent James Bond film, though I couldn’t find it, and it was included in the opening credits of the hit show Top Boy. 10 Foot has a particular penchant for tagging bridges and overpasses, but he also paints shutters, windows, bus stops and, most significantly, London’s sprawling network of tracksides and train carriages. If you live here, to have his tag pointed out to you once is to see it almost everywhere you go. Graffiti, from the Italian graffio, meaning scratch, is defined by New York transit police detective Bernie Jacobs in the 1983 documentary Style Wars as “the application of a medium to a surface”. Going by Jacobs’ definition, humans have been writing graffiti since the Paleolithic era. In modern terms, however, there is one crucial distinction: graffiti is not street art. It is not the mural of the nondescript, beautiful woman delicately holding a blunt from which a cloud of smoke arises spelling the word “community”. It’s not the adaptation of Magritte’s “The Lovers” with Covid-19 masks instead of veils, not the colourful depiction of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Nelson Mandela embracing over the phrase “anything is possible”.

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