Graffiti artist Darren Cullen aka SER from South London began his graffiti career way back in 1983, at the very birth of British graffiti. His path in graffiti started like many graffiti artists with the birth of hip-hop culture in the early 80s. Exploring every aspect of the graffiti-writing scene SER found himself emblazoning his name across the streets and walls of London. This led to a greater need to increase his presence to the public so began the systematic destruction of the train networks and rail infrastructure across the UK & the world.
There then comes a point in every graffiti artist’s life when their illegal activity becomes of great interest to the Police and having a prison cell as a second home isn’t that appealing so SER needed to rethink. This spurred SER into forming the Graffiti Kings collective with some of the world’s best graffiti & street artists to go legit and take on the world.
SER is the only graffiti artist approved by the British Government & was chosen as the official street artist for the London 2012 Olympic Games. In his spare time, if Darren Cullen is not painting, you will find him somewhere in Kent, camping with his wife and three children or Carp fishing catching NOTHING.
GRAFFITI ARTIST SER IS BORN
In the early 80s hanging outside the pub while Dad was inside having a drink was a way of life. My cousins and I would sit outside for hours playing games while drinking our bottled Coke and eating crisps thrown out the pub door to us. While sitting outside the pub one day I noticed a group of older guys painting the word CASE on a wall. From that day I would see the word CASE everywhere in Croydon (where I lived in South London). I later found out CASE was the name of a Punk/Ska band from Croydon and they would paint their name all over London while playing gigs. Also during 1981 to 83 I would see other paintings on walls but much more colourful and bigger stuff. What it was and why it was there I didn’t know but loved looking at it. Then in 1983 when I was 10 years old two school friends (brothers) came back from a New York holiday with photos of New York trains and walls covered in graffiti. When I saw the photos I shouted WOW that’s the same stuff I keep on seeing but what is it? They then told me that while out in New York their parents explained what these paintings were about and the brothers also adopted cool nicknames (‘Fazer’ and ‘Blade’). So naturally, I took a nickname too (mine was ‘Flash’). We would scribble our names on everything copying the letters from the New York photos they had. Later I was shown the book Subway Art & watched a movie called Style Wars, we watched these kids also painting their nicknames/tags on walls & trains but these kids were using spray paint WTF was spray paint? that day was a life changer, we all caught the bug BIG TIME and started learning about spray paint! We’d pause the movie and copy the artwork from the book for years.
Years went by and I changed my tag/nickname MANY times until I kept the name I have now – SER
GRAFFITI ARTISTS FOR HIRE – THE START OF A CAREER
My younger brother Danny was also involved in graffiti and was arrested in the mid-1990s. The police were pretty cool about it and said there were graffiti workshops at a local youth club in Mitcham – they suggested he should go down there.
Danny and I turned up to the youth club in Mitcham and found lots of other kids standing around waiting but there wasn’t any workshop. Due to a miscommunication between the probation service & the Police, there hadn’t been any for months as they hadn’t found an artist to run them. Every week for two months this was happening and each week the kids turned up and were told the same story and they were trying to contact the graffiti artist called SER as he was ‘the best there is’ (BIG HEAD MOMENT). Danny and I were told this story while looking at each other with a smile as he was saying my name. As we are leaving from the youth club the project manager came over to me as he had heard my name SER being called by a lot of the kids as we left. He asked me if I was Darren Cullen the graffiti artist called SER, I replied yes and he started dancing around the youth center like Mary Poppins! He asked me if I would teach the workshops and in short, I accepted – they would pay and give me spray paint. This is the day that changed my life. To be honest, if it wasn’t for that day my path in life was on a direction to darkness.
DARREN STARTS YOUTH CENTRE
By week two we were already turning kids away. Teaching one day a week became two days a week and eventually five days a week and twice a day! The youth club was delighted with the numbers and other council youth services like Croydon, Sutton, and Lambeth had all heard about my workshops and asked me to run my workshops in their Boroughs. My time was already full over in Mitcham so I started asking my friends to teach as well! Graffiti Kings was formed.
PAINTING TRAINS WITH PERMISSION
What happened next was crazy! The manager of West Croydon train station walks into the youth club and asked for me. He has a problem with the local kids vandalizing his station but he didn’t want to call the police; he got to know the kids by their first names and wanted to help them. He asked me if I would work with the kids by letting them join our workshops but all the workshops were full so I couldn’t help him. He said we can paint the outside of Wallington train station. That’s right – the manager of a train station asked graffiti vandals to paint train stations, so we did 🙂 history had been made.
A few months after we painted the station the station manager got back in touch and said the murals had been untouched & the public loved them so he asked if we would paint some more. The train company Connex employed me full-time painting stations with the kids/teenagers responsible for vandalizing their stations but when it came to employing me there was no job title within Connex for my job description (professional graffiti artist), so in order for me to become an official Connex employee I had to stand on East Croydon station blowing a whistle telling the train drivers when they could take the trains out of the station, yes this really happened. After 3 days I was officially a station attendant, the days/months after that I never got to see another whistle. I started painting the stations and called my friends & their friends to help out, guys like Stylo, Solo-One, Dane, Mear, Rough, She-One, Eine & the king himself Banksy. It was an amazing time in London as we were now being able to show the world how artistic this art form really is. One year later Railtrack and Thameslink employed me to work for them doing the same thing: working with ‘vandals’ to paint stations! getting them to be creative and see graffiti as an art form.
Six months into my employment, local authorities had noticed that the graffiti vandalism in the areas I was working had seen a massive drop, in fact, the lowest ever! They put it down to the project I was creating which was, in short, engaging with the vandals on a level they understand. They moved me over to Kent to see if it the project could be replicated. It was possible and we painted stations in Kent with the same effect of less vandalism and I saved them millions!
A government department called the DETR came in and evaluated the project. The DETR found the project a big success & published it in the 1996 DETR report, the report was sent to every UK government department and basically said – if you have a graffiti problem speak to Darren Cullen 🙂 BOOOMMM…. I was officially endorsed by the government.
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