When Jon Huber passed, the pro-wrestling scene became awash with tributes of a great talent and an even better man. From wrestlers wearing Brodie’s name on their gear to special edition merchandise raising money for the Huber family, fans and those within the industry were all expressing their grief and celebrating Huber. One such tribute that caught attention was the neon mural of London artist David Speed. The art was shared eagerly by thousands of fans, as well as industry insiders such as Cody Rhodes, Serena Deeb, and even the official AEW Twitter account.
I spoke to David on the Smark & Friends podcast from Two Finger Guns Club to speak about the piece, his background, and what made Brodie Lee as special as he was.
On starting his graffiti and mural art career:
So yeah, so I’ve been using a spray can to create work for the past 20 years, I actually started as a graffiti artist in London, I initially started painting on walls that were legal walls, where you were sort of allowed to make work. And gradually during the early 2000s, those were being shut down. And I was sort of faced with this choice to either carry on doing the artwork I love and basically risk being arrested or quit. So I chose the former, I actually had a career of about 10 years of illegal graffiti. At that stage, a lot of my friends and peers were sent to prison for doing graffiti, which made it so very real all of a sudden. And so I actually became a professional artist at that point, gave up my illegal career, and just started moving more from the graffiti side into what now would be classed as street, but the time didn’t really have a name.
So yes, I’m making street art. It’s been my business for the past 10 years. And I’ve spent the last 10 years really sort of just working on the business and just doing commercial projects for commercial clients. It wasn’t actually until the beginning of 2020 when a couple of my friends sat me down and said, all you do is work for clients. You don’t paint any of your own stuff anymore, and you should really get back into it and sort of rediscover what you love. And I took it seriously.
And then yeah, just got back in touch with my passion when corona hit because I had all the time, all of a sudden, our business just went really dry, all of the clients stopped calling so I just had this time and where I thought it was going to be the worst thing that ever could happen. It actually turned out to be the best thing because I sort of rediscovered my passion for painting.
On his signature use of neon colours:
Yeah, neon spray paint is is, I guess kind of a gimmick, to use wrestling terminology. It’s like, there’s not really many street eyes or graffiti artists they actually use neon paint, because I think it exists because people buy it for arts and crafts. And if they want to paint something and make it a bright poppy neon color, they can use that spray paint. But when it comes to actual street pieces, though, I mean, I’m the only artist that’s actually using it. And I think part of the reason for that is because it’s a nightmare to use it behave totally differently to traditional spray paint. So when I first picked up a can, I’m expecting it to behave in a certain way that cans have behaved in my hands for the past 20 years. And all of a sudden, it’s behaving differently. And so that threw me off. But I have stuck with it. And I definitely wouldn’t say it’s a nightmare anymore. I am definitely used to it now. But then that comes through I painted 98 pieces through lockdown. So I guess through repetition, that’s how you build the muscle memory. And that’s how you start to get a new material to click
On his Andre the Giant piece from July of 2020:
Yes, I don’t really like that piece because again, I was still really very much learning how to use neon paint at that point, and I don’t think I did a great job. But Andre the Giant is the subject I don’t know how many people know this but Obey Giant, Shepard Fairey the street artist. That is actually based on a photo of Andre. And so [Fairey] used to put stickers around well all around the world. He’s been on this sticker campaign, and his first sticker said “Andre the Giant Has a Posse”. No one was really doing street art back then like to see stickers on lampposts. Now, you don’t really even notice them because there’s so many. But when Shepard was doing it, it was this kind of new thing. And it was a sort of a way of getting seen and getting known. And he originally it was “Andre the Giant Has A Posse” and then it was changed to Obey Andre the Giant and then it just changed Obey Giant. And now he’s even just Obey. And that’s how people know him as an artist. But yet, knowing that it was based on Andre the Giant, he visited London, painted a huge mural. And just seeing Obey stuff I was like, well, from where my canvas is on top of my studio, I’ve got this big blank wall, I can see Obey Giant’s work in the background. So let me paint an Andre the Giant piece here. That’s not only a homage to the Eighth Wonder of the World, but it’s also kind of a nod to the street artist Obey Giant and it’s sort of this like full circle thing of one artist recognizing another artist.
On possibly creating more wrestler portraits:
With my artwork, I don’t want to go too niche. And after the Brodie piece blew up, I actually wrote a tweet on my Twitter saying, I really appreciate everyone who’s following me but just please be aware this is not a pro-wrestling account because I don’t want them to follow me expecting one thing and then that not being delivered. Although wrestling is definitely part of my life, it’s not really part of my artwork. If something moves me like the Brodie tribute did, then then I’m going to make of a piece of work and it’s for me, kind of thing. But I don’t want to have an audience that is kind of just relying on me to do wrestling stuff because I like to, I don’t want to be like niche down like that I want to have more freedom. So although I love it, I’m definitely going to reference it here and there. But I don’t think it’s going to be a regular thing.
On why he needed to paint Brodie Lee’s portrait:
I’ve been aware of Brodie’s work for for a long time. And, I mean, you can you could write a list right now of under pushed talent in the WWE. Brodie was just another one on that long list of WWE talent that wasn’t being properly utilized. So I was always aware that he was a great wrestler. Then seeing him in AEW. It was such a lightbulb moment of like, we knew anyone who’s seen his stuff on the indies knew he was great. But this was proof. And I think it was such a beautiful lesson in that the money is not everything. And I’m not saying that Brodie hated his time in WWE, that’s something that only he could talk about. But we do know that he wasn’t creatively fulfilled there. And so to see someone then take that brave step, like walk away from WWE cash, that’s a brave step, to see someone to take that leap, to bravely go to a new company that at the time of him joining, we didn’t know that it was going to be the success that it turned out to be. To then go on, and in just seven months, I think phenomenal is that in just seven months, he carved out a legacy, like what we will remember, is an incredible talent. And that’s because of what he managed to do in those last few months of his life. That to me is absolutely incredible.
So, but again, when he died, I didn’t instantly think I need to paint this guy. It wasn’t until I watched that episode of Dynamite, where they pay tribute to him. That was the key. And they celebrated him as a worker. Of course, they were like, yeah, he was dope. But that was like 10% of that program. Everything else was like, was absolutely rock solid stand up, amazing bloke he was. I was just so moved by that episode. Me and my girlfriend watched it. I don’t think I have spoke to anyone who didn’t cry during that episode. So we were in floods of tears. But yeah, it was it was upon seeing the man, not the pro wrestler, that I wanted to I wanted to mark him. And like I said earlier, it was just a painting for me. I didn’t think anyone within wrestling would actually see it. The fact that Amanda, his wife saw it and likes it, and it could offer a tiny fragment of a smile during what must be the worst period of her life. That to me makes it fully worth it. And I’m so glad that I spent the day up there honoring this dude, really it was just for me, but the fact that it’s brought other people joy is just huge for me.
On anything you could say directly to those who knew and loved Jon Huber:
I think that legacy is the most important thing that we have. And it took me a long time to realize that. And I feel like on this planet, I’m only just finding my purpose. And Brodie is one of those people that had found his purpose. And he has left a legacy. And the legacy is how you make people feel. I would encourage every single person to find their passion, find the thing that sets them on fire. There’s a very short list of wrestlers that you know are good guys. People like your Daniel Bryans that everyone just knows, that’s a good person. And Brodie, obviously was that. So as painful as it is, our job is to foster that legacy, and just pay tribute to who is someone who was obviously a fully amazing person. And that’s as human beings on this planet for a blink of an eye, which is all we’re all going to be. That’s, that’s the greatest thing we can do is create our own legacy, and honour other people’s. So I would just say to anyone, fucking whoever you’ve lost, because we’ve all lost a lot of people during this time. And whether it’s family or Brodie, or someone who’s lost someone recently, I’m not a grief counselor, I have no experience in that world, but just from a fellow human being, just take credit in their memory. Honouring their memory of the great person that they were, take solace that, although they’re no longer here, what they did while they were alive was worthwhile, and was important. And that’s, that’s all we can do. I think.
Catch the full interview – including highlights about doing art for WWE2K Games, a podcast co-hosted by David called Creative Rebels, and David’s apology to John Cena – on the Smark & Friends Podcast from Two Finger Guns Club. Click here to find it on your favourite podcatcher.