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Pref - More Than Words

Words:

Edd Norval
September 20, 2019

Peter Preffington aka Pref, is a British street artist that chooses clever visual wordplay over tags and illustrations. Combining his astute technique in typography with a writer's eye for the relationship between words - and the imagery they evoke in his audience - Pref is a leading figure in a style of street art that's still in its infancy, yet is growing considerably.

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Words are a crucial part of graffiti culture - from its roots in hip-hop and in the braggadocio of its pioneers. Getting your name out there in the most visible and hardest to reach spots earned instant credibility for the artist. Since its halcyon days, graffiti has morphed into many branches from its original source. There are still the hardcore practitioners, purists of the form, then there's those who have chosen a more illustrative approach through street art, eschewing the tags for images.


In between those two lies a very small niche of artists who continue in the vein of graffiti, utilising words over images, but without the adherence to graffiti's unwritten rules. These typographic artists don't neccessarily use their own names, nor fully embrace the variety of aesthetic styles used in street art, yet draw on archaic forms of signwriting and bring them into a new horizon, built for a new era of audience.


Amongst this (unfortunately small) list, is Pref, whose groundbreaking and mind-bending wordy works more than make up for the lack of competition in the field. The Londoner took to graffiti on his journeys around his home on public transport, catching subway art and pieces on walls. His spontaneous and slapdash introduction has fed into his creative philosophy of working in a sort of freestyle manner, rather than being bound by sketches he has previously made.

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It's crossed Pref's mind about introducing characters - something he has done a couple of times, but to the overall feeling of it not actually adding much to the final piece. There are already a multiplicity of various factors - from environment, to colours and his overall mood and feelings, that gives his lettering a sense of lottery. The outcome is never predetermined, yet still somehow guided by fate. At the end, when he steps back, the artworks are as new to him as they are to his audience.


Creating art in such a spontaneous manner can be risky, but the effect is something very truthful and raw, an off-the-cuff, straight-from-the-heart sort of finish. Like Jack Kerouac's 'spontaneous prose', influenced by the syncopated bebop jazz rhythms and whatever stimulant came to hand. The finished piece is almost secondary to the process, at least for an audience who are lucky enough to be able to witness it.


On The Road is an American literary classic, so that's not to say the product in any way has less value, but it is in the path to its completion, fully wrapped up in amongst the realm of chaos, that creativity reigns in the fertile land. And just like Kerouac's words, Pref's also seem to come with their own rhythm, one that moves in time with the passing train, wobbling with the warbling chatter. It's not just a part of the environment, but a product of it.

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Pref's intelligent work is neither graffiti nor street art, but something that floats around between them. I get the impression that he enjoys crosswords as an adult and definitely enjoyed wordsearches as a child. In a past life he may have been a copywriter at an ad agency. He was most certainly a signwriter in one them.


In this life though, Pref makes up the small, yet powerful contingent of artists choosing to focus on words, like a spraycan wielding poet daubing walls with things that make us scratch our heads and tell our friends about.


Just like the paintings that first stoked his imagination, the images that talked to him from the passenger seat, they create an open dialogue with a city where many are voiceless and whose words can otherwise be swallowed up into the ether.

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