Hair Spray

Graphic artist Kev Largey on why his latest exhibition is in a hair salon

There comes that point in every haircut – when the conversation dries up awkwardly somewhere in Acapulco, when you can no longer look at your fast receding hairline, when you’ve overdosed on complimentary cappuccinos, when you need Distraction with an, er, capital D.

At that point you might wish you were in Pi Hairdressing on University Road, Belfast, where a new concept is being pioneered – the hair salon come art gallery.

Graphic artist Kev Largey has filled the salon with 43 pieces of artwork, ranging from large canvases to the less traditional format of 12 inch vinyl records.

‘I’ve always wanted to do something like this… My thinking was to take a salon, where you come in for an hour and get your haircut. You’re going to be sitting there for so long, better to sit and look at stuff rather than at the walls.’

The result is ‘quick-fire’ art. A designer for the Belfast clothing label Apache, Largey thrives on deadlines. ‘We hummed and haaed about the exhibition then decided on a day. Once the deadline was set I had to work to that. The day before the exhibition I was still painting… I only work under pressure. I would never do it if it was a leisurely thing.’

The titles were similarly off the cuff, made up on the day the exhibition launched. ‘I was going to call them 1, 2, 3, 4… but then thought fuck’s sake I’ve got to give them a name.’

His artwork on vinyl is striking – the brightly coloured discs have various motifs, such as Che Guevara, fish and ghostly white blobs. ‘I started doing them a couple of years ago when I bought a set of decks. A guy gave me a stack of records that were terrible, so I decided to put them to better use… As they are easier to paint you don’t care about it so much. With a big canvas you are more afraid to make a mistake. With a record if it doesn’t look good you can just paint over it.’

For the larger canvases he became an habitual doily nicker, using them as stencils for spray paint. Starting off with an illustration, then scanning it in and printing out A4 sized copies to use as individual sections, Largey built up the pictures in layers. The work is a new departure for the 23 year old, who has also exhibited in the John Hewitt.

‘Since then I’ve started to branch out… What I’ve tried to do with the new work was to work in a more illustrative style. I used to do stuff that I thought would appeal to everyone. With this stuff I was perhaps a bit more confident in terms of trying new things.’

After school, Belfast born Largey went to Rupert Stanley College then on to art college. In his final year he became mates with Chris Murray, the founder of Apache, and worked for the label from the outset, designing first T-shirts, then full garments.

Largey is part of the new wave, keen to fuse graphic design, video, art and music, with ‘everything becoming as one’. The widespread availability of cheap PCs and powerful software packages means anything is possible.

‘No longer are you just a graphic designer. No longer are you just a musician… Information Technology means you can be a creative person rather than being stuck in one discipline.’

Not that he’s a complete anti-traditionalist. ‘What I’m doing still requires you to pick up a pen and paper to draw a picture or write something down.’

To that end comic books have always been an inspiration. ‘I had stacks of 2000ADs. I used to draw pictures from them when I was a kid.’

Largey is the first of a number of artists lined up to exhibit at Pi, none of whom will be formally trained. ‘They’ll be inspired by the street,’ says Paul Caddell, joint owner of Pi, who wants the salon to have an artistic vibe, encompassing art, drama, music and video.

The sentiment is fitting, for in a previous incarnation Pi was Mogwai, the music café started up by David Holmes. The connections don’t stop there. The next artist scheduled is Glenn Leyburn, who has designed album covers for Holmes.

‘So far the whole thing has been hugely successful,’ adds Caddell. ‘We don’t want to play the hair dressing game. The type of people who are coming to the art exhibition are the type of people who are coming to the salon.’

'Hair-Spray*' runs until Saturday April 2, 2005.

David Lewis