The elusive street artist taking on the world

The elusive street artist taking on the world

From notes left on 4x4 owners’ windscreens questioning their penis size to hacking London Underground adverts Foka Wolf is on a mission to make you think.

Subversive street artist Foka Wolf has an air of mystery about him. He’s never photographed and doesn’t like to give away too much for obvious reasons. He’s based somewhere in the UK’s Midlands area and has been using text installations and interruptions to highlight and protest against inequality for nearly a decade. From notes left on 4x4 owners’ windscreens questioning their penis size, to hacking London Underground adverts and taking over full advertising billboards, his pieces are subtle enough to make you think they might be real. Then you take a second look and realise what he’s done.

When did you realise the power of using words in your work?

I started out making hand-drawn classified adverts on stickers for all sorts of random shit like “Iz your nan acting weird? Call this number” and “Illuminati secret blood sacrifice party”. Some of the ones that were a little too offensive would get torn off and picked at. I would then put another sticker next to it that would read “Do you like picking stickers off lampposts? Call this number”. Once I found out that written words could create change in the physical world, I was hooked. From there I kept the same idea but went bigger.

Have you ever put up a piece and thought it would get loads of attention but realised it was too subtle and made people think that was just the advert?

When I did the “If you drive a 4x4 you could be entitled to a free penis enlargement on the NHS” advert, I had a number that was connected to an answerphone. Some people would call up with serious enquiries about the penis enlargement, which I found very surprising. It made me realise that there is a demographic that will fall for absolutely anything that is framed right.

Your work is very political – what makes you angriest?

It would be inequality that the people at the bottom are experiencing. Also it’s the manipulation of the working classes into blaming everything but the government for their hardships.

How did you get into activism and subtervising?

I would say it was from listening to a lot of Bob Marley as a kid! I didn’t realise it at the time, but a lot of the things that were sung about in reggae music left a mark on me. I would also say that street art led me down a path of disrupting. Following people like Banksy and Shepard Fairey as a youngster showed me that you could create your own propaganda. I wouldn’t describe myself as an activist as I really don’t feel like I’m doing enough to be counted as one, but I like to think I give people ideas and tools to use from what I do.

“If you sugarcoat a message within humour, poetry, song or art you will be able to soften them up enough to shove your idea into their brain”

Foka Wolf

How important is it to make sure there’s an element of humour in your work?

I think humour or any sort of art magic is so important when you are trying to convey a message. If you just shout a message down at someone they are most likely going to double down on their opinion. If you sugarcoat a message within humour, poetry, song or art you will be able to soften them up enough to shove your idea into their brain.

As it’s so often text-based, how much of your art training goes into creating your work? Am I right in thinking you did sign-writing after art college?

All sorts of stuff I learned in education is used in my day-to-day work but I wouldn’t say you necessarily need it to progress. I did sign painting as my last job but all of that was self-taught through the internet or from advice from friends. Learning sign painting did give me a basic understanding of layout and the importance of fonts, but most of the adverts I do are completely lifted from other adverts. I think that if they are in the public domain (our eyeballs) it’s fair game to steal off them. I would advise anyone to try it as an exercise. It makes graphic design a lot easier.

As an artist you must surely want to be able to see the reaction to your work – I guess Instagram is good for that but when a piece is live do you linger about watching?

I get out of there ASAP and then come back to take a photo. Sometimes I catch people at that moment and usually receive good feedback. The best reactions are from the phone calls as they are the most real. Or comments on social media from people who don’t follow me.

Do you sit under the ads you put on the London Underground to see if people notice or hang around the 4x4s watching people pick up the notes you’ve left saying they need penis enlargements?

Haha! No way. I get very self-conscious – I just get out of there quick, and let them do their thing.

How many death threats have you got? Do they bother you?

I have received the most death threats from the ‘Voodoo classes for kids’ poster I put up. Usually from religious people, funnily enough. They don’t bother me, but that is why I like anonymity.

When you’re doing bigger commissions, like the 35-metre mural STRIVE FORWARD WITH AMBITION piece – how worried are you about getting nicked for previous work. How do you get around it? Or is it a question of not advertising that it’s Foka Wolf doing the piece, you’re merely an artist who got asked to do it.

Yes, so I will just say that I am a sign painter until it’s all finished. I really don’t worry about getting nicked because my work doesn’t really count as criminal damage as it’s paper.

What’s the most powerful sentence you’ve 1) used yourself 2) ever read?

  1. Ignore the Kids, Burn the Planet.

  2. “I believe that magic is art, and that art, whether that be music, writing, sculpture, or any other form, is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images, to achieve changes in consciousness… Indeed to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people's consciousness, and this is why I believe that an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world to a shaman.” Alan Moore

Follow Foka Wolf here.

This piece appeared in Huck #80. Get your copy here.

Enjoyed this article? Like Huck on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Support stories like this by becoming a member of Club Huck.