Featured Artist: Kev Grey, Black Iris

One of the greatest joys of researching for Beer by Design was one half of us (Liz) discovering new breweries and beer brands that the other half (Pete) knew about but had kept to himself. Black Iris was a zinger of a discovery – a cacophony of black & white illustration packed with character and attitude. Kev Grey tells his story…

So Kev, what’s your design background? “I wanted to be an artist since the early 1990s when I discovered underground comic books, skateboard graphics and graffiti as all of these things made me feel that art was exciting, fun and contemporary. In 1995 I attended my local art college for a few years then was accepted in a fine art course at Sheffield Hallam University during which time I continued drawing, making fanzines and painting graffiti. With thanks to the punk rock/underground music I grew up listening to I have always naturally had a D.I.Y attitude and approach to my work so in the early (pre-social media) days of my art making I was always actively getting my work out into the world as much as possible through exhibitions, making zines and travelling to other cities to meet like-minded people. In the very early 2000s I began getting artwork commissions and the ball has just kept rolling ever since.

Besides Black Iris some of the more notable commissions I’ve worked on have been designing skateboard graphics for East Skateboards and Lost Art in Liverpool and travelling around Europe and Hong Kong with the shoe brand Vans to customise shoes for them at live events. I also designed the signature Schecter Guitar for Porl Thompson of The Cure back in 2005. I’ve also designed lots of other stuff like gig posters, album covers, t-shirts and jewellery and run my own publishing company Gamblers Grin since 2008 through which I release books and zines of my work. 

What are your influences? “In my early teenage years I was really taken with the comics of Robert Crumb, Evan Dorkin, Dom Morris, Al Feldstein and The Gurch, as well as the skateboard art of Jim Phillips, VCJ and Marc McKee. I was also really inspired by the traditional tattoo flash I saw on some of my family members who had collected tattoos during their time in the navy (the majority of the tattoos on my arms are copies of what my grandad had on his arms). All these early influences are what I initially blended together and gave me the idea to start drawing black and white, comic book style tattoo inspired imagery. Although I’ve progressed and broadened my influences since then these early influences are the foundation of what I do and are still very relevant to me today. “

Tell us about your work with Black Iris. “It was about 7 years ago when I first met with Alex from Black Iris at which time they were making the transition from brewing out of the back room of their local pub to opening up their own brewery. From what I remember he basically asked me to design them a new logo and a couple of pump clips, one of which being the still popular Snake Eyes. Alex was already familiar with my work as even though we didn’t know each other he lived in Sheffield the same time I did and we moved in the same circles, so luckily for me when him and Nick were making plans for Black Iris my work came to mind. Jump forward to now and we’ve worked on a ton of great keg, cask and can designs as well and merchandise and other bits. It’s a great job to have as the beer concepts are always fun and different enough to keep it fresh and exciting.”

Apart from your own, which is your favourite beer design and why? “I don’t really have one favourite beer design but I do pay attention to artists/designers who are producing work for other breweries and think it’s amazing to see such a variety of impressive, different styles adorning beer cans. I will say that some of my lifelong favourite beer designs are the classics like Tetley’s huntsman or the old Skol logo when they replaced the O with Jim Bowen’s face. Stuff like that to me is very nostalgic and timeless and reminds me of how exciting it was when I first started going to pubs.”

When you knock off on a Friday, what’s your go to beer? “My favourite Friday evening drink is Red Stripe washed down with Mexican food or Jerk Chicken.” 

Favourite bar? “In all honesty I haven’t been a regular pub-goer for quite a few years so I haven’t really got a favourite or local now but ever since I was a teenager I’ve always preferred old man pubs that are rich in history. A few favourites over the years in my home city of Liverpool have been The Swan, Ye Hole In Ye Wall, The Globe, The Old Post Office, Roscoe Head and Ye Cracke.”

Favourite bar snack? “Dry roasted peanuts.”

What have you been listening to recently? “One of the perks of spending a lot of time in my studio is I’m able to listen to a lot of music. Some of my recent favourites are Gillian Welch, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, FEAR, Butthole Surfers, Hank 3, Social Distortion, Mojo Nixon, Wovenhand and Primus to name a few. My regular podcasts are The Last Podcast on the Left, The Patdown with Ms Pat and The Nine Club.” 

Reading / watching anything interesting? “I’m halfway through a book titled Behold The Protong about the polish sculptor/artist Stanisław Szukalski’s theory of human development which is crazy but fascinating. I’m also currently reading the new issue of Dark Side (my favourite magazine) which keeps me up to date with all things Horror. As for TV I enjoyed Netflix’s The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel plus my wife and I are currently rewatching the complete X Files series which is just as good as I remember from when it was first released.” 

What are you looking forward to in 2021? “I’ve been quite lucky with everything that’s gone on in the world since last year in that lockdowns and restrictions haven’t changed my life too drastically and I’ve still been able to work as normal, but that said as a parent I am looking forward to next week when the schools open again and my two kids can go see their friends and get back to a normal school life. Personally I’m just looking forward to the weather improving so I can go skateboarding more and basically just working hard and enjoying what I do for a living. I’ll also hopefully get to go to a few gigs later this year. I have really missed live music.”

Cats or dogs? “100% I’m a cat man. Over the past few years I’d say about 80% of my artwork has been created with my cat Ivy asleep on my lap while I’m drawing or asleep on the chair next to me. My wife bought me a great book titled Of Cats and Men: Profiles of Histories Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers and Statesmen which I’d highly recommend.”

Thanks Kev (and Ivy).

To choose some brilliantly designed Black Iris beers, click HERE.
Follow Kev and Black Iris on Instagram and buy some of his art as prints HERE.

Published by beerbydesign

Beer widow, picture researcher, author- and dog-wrangler.

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