Oker is one of the most prominent creative voices to emerge from the UK’s graffiti scene. A pioneer of the art form back in the late ‘80s, he was one of the first to graffiti London’s underground and is credited with bringing New York’s tagging style to the U.K. He's been on the scene for over 30 years, yet the masked artist remains an enigma to most despite his prolific spread of work across the British capital.
Following on from its work with 15 up-and-coming New York graffiti artists last year, Coach, in partnership with Wavey Garms, commissioned Oker to reinterpret the brand’s signature print in a series of works on shutters across London. Watch him do so in the video below.
“With my work, I want to communicate that anything is possible," Oker says. "You don’t know who you might inspire on the way to school or commute to work. I honestly just hope it will bring happiness to someone in the community."
The perception of graffiti has changed a lot in recent years, it is now considered less a form of vandalism and is widely accepted within modern society as an art form in its own right. Even so, when fashion looks to tap into the graffiti subculture, the connection can seem tenuous.
“Fashion brands have tried for an age to utilize and integrate graffiti into their styles and haven’t always been that successful,” explains Oker. “This could be down to getting fashion artists to do their version of graff on clothes instead of incorporating stuff from real writers. Now brands like Coach are starting to respect graff as its own art form and collaborating with graffiti artists in their own right, it seems to be taking a positive turn."
Raised in London, Oker became hooked on graffiti after his babysitter gifted him a couple of picture books on the topic as a kid. Honing his skills painting trains throughout London’s underground, he migrated to New York in the '90s where he spent several years immersed in the city’s growing graffiti scene and linking with its Kings. On return to the UK, he brought with him the city's tagging style, which got him the attention of the influential names causing a stir in the art world including Banksy and Barry McGee.
“In New York, they have the best tags and throw ups. How could it not influence my style,” he expresses. At the time, New York was a creative melting pot of art, youth culture, fashion, and music which helped give rise to its influential street art scene. Coach has been operating in New York since its first workshop opened in Manhattan in 1941, and the leather goods brand has grown to embody the city’s effortless style. With graffiti so embedded in the city’s creative heritage, it was the obvious art form of choice for the project.
“Coach has been giving modern artists a platform for a while, I really respect their support to the graffiti community and am quite humbled to have been able to work with them in such a way,” Oker explains.
The project explores the meaning of identity, a concept fundamental to both graffiti and fashion. According to Oker, “Consistency, being up, style, relevancy, persistence, and longevity," are the critical factors that influence an artist's identity. The same could be said for a fashion brand. Much like a graffiti writer’s moniker, a brand’s signature is a stand-alone form of identification that conveys a message and indicates ownership for as long as it stands. Coach’s now-iconic Signature C print, which debuted in 2001, is a visual manifestation of the brand’s identity, which the brand is now exploring in new ways through its partnership with the creative artist.
Head to Coach.com to shop the Signature collection.