Profile: Monorex

From a small collective of graffiti-inspired artists, Monorex has become a creative studio to reckon with, taking big brands to youth markets. Garrick Webster talks to founder Terry Guy about TV ads, going stateside and maintaining the street vibe

When the new Suzuki Swift commercial aired on 23 August during the MTV Europe Music Awards, it marked an exciting new phase in the development of London-based creative studio Monorex. It’s the first television work it has tackled and the gang of friends who six years ago started by customising baseball caps are starting to realise just how much their business has matured.

The spot sees Monorex regulars Disco Teck and Alfa drawing all over a massive backdrop in their street art style. Their brief was to highlight key features of the vehicle, and bring their own interpretation of the car and its urban surroundings to the black-and-white mural. ’It was so much fun,’ enthuses Monorex founder Terry Guy. ’In the seven days on set, and liaising with the directors, client and producers, we learned a lot and truly realised how far we had come as a company. The artists really enjoyed themselves and we are hoping this will be the first of many [such commissions].’

Guy and studio manager Ro Elfberg make it easy for big brands and ad agencies to employ street artists in their campaigns. Creatives like Jimi Crayon, Mr K and Stika as well as Alfa and Disco Teck work as part of the collective on a freelance basis, producing art and design work with an immediate and authentic vibe that comes up from the street, while also bringing reliability and professionalism to commissions. A larger circle of secondary artists, with a variety of styles and skills, are called upon as and when they’re required.

When the England football World Cup squad was revealed earlier this summer, Umbro asked for a big, hand-painted England shirt for each player, to appear in locations all over the UK. ’The client wanted 30 walls to go up around the country in the space of seven days, so we called in quite a few new and old faces, and built four strong teams with the right skills to paint at speed, but able to keep a close eye on the quality needed for this international campaign,’ says Guy.

Monorex has already gone global, with studios in Australia, Sweden and Ireland. The latter recently pulled in a major job promoting Bulmers Berry cider, which included painted billboards, poster advertising and launch parties in Dublin and Cork, where Monorex artists customised giant Bulmers bottles. A viral stop-motion animation was created, with painted berry vines taking over a car and kidnapping human beatbox Reep One, who provides the soundtrack.

Guy is a tireless networker and he’s in New York as we’re talking to him – the perfect cue for the studio’s next announcement. ’The latest big news is that I am moving to New York City to start a Monorex presence that side of the Atlantic. We already have a few projects lined up there and recently collaborated with Umbro and Alife on an event for the football World Cup,’ he says.

The Monorex formula that Guy wants to replicate overseas lies in its family-like atmosphere. At its four-storey Shoreditch headquarters in London, artists come in to work using the studio facilities, but they can also hang out there, using the roof terrace for barbecues. Everyone’s creative opinion gets equal treatment, says Guy. Meanwhile, projects like Secret Wars – live art competitions it runs in cities across Europe – help Monorex stay in tune with street art trends and find new talent.

Plans for 2011 include a new London studio and possibly one in Tokyo, and a big live art event with Tate Modern and The Roundhouse. But all of this will happen after a much-needed holiday. ’2010 has been by far our biggest and busiest year yet,’ says Guy. ’I am looking forward to our winter break in Thailand – we will close the studio down and disappear off the radar for a good few weeks. Everyone in the family deserves it.’

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