Ugly Brothers: Lighting up Reykjavik’s enduring gloom
The Ugly Brothers are artists based in Reykjavik, Iceland. They are most known for their bold boozed-fueled creations plastered in and around Iceland’s capital. With an unpredictable style that varies piece by piece, the Brothers have a knack for combining letter form and imagery. Interview below —>
So both of you are from Iceland? And for the record, are you actual brothers?
Yes, both are from Iceland born and not raised. In the record we are not brothers, but our fathers are still the same person. It’s complicated. Our youngest ‘Sniper’ is adopted.
How long have you been painting and doing graffiti? Other artists in the family?
We have been doing this now for many years. Since there was actually a scene in Reykjavik. The only other artists in our family are con artists and we are very proud of them.
Can you describe how growing up in Iceland was for you? How did it affect your style and urge to paint? Was the cold a big obstacle for you to go out and paint?
Reykjavik is a cold place, dark and cold. It’s nice to visit but to spend many winters here without leaving is a suicidal mission man. We are in a funny place geographically when it comes to style, we don’t know if we should be eating hamburgers and doing chrome block letters or drinking croissants and painting like we have three left hands. We are some kind of style stepchild.
In the winter we drink a lot because its cold and depressing, in summer people drink a lot because the sun does not go down and we think we are happy… Yeah we drink a lot.
Is it easy to find large surfaces to paint on there (looks like there’s a lot of open/desert areas from your instagram posts)? Any run ins with the law? What’s Icelandic police like?
We know this city like no one else does, we always find some nice places. But being very active in a city this small is all about finding good spots without breaking too many toes. In younger years we had a lot of run ins with the law. Later years have been more peaceful, but we can smell a clash with the police in the next years for sure. You don’t run around smoking unless you want to get burnt. (Since we wrote this, things have changed.)
Since you first sent us this interview, the law has been looking to put us in trouble a lot. They have arrested people that they think is us and even gone so far to take them to court for the crimes we have been making. We don’t think anyone really appreciates all the crime we commit for this city. In the end, they will find us, it’s hard to be a famous criminal in Iceland.
I saw a video of a trip you guys did around Europe/Lithuania… What was the premise of the trip? Any anecdotes that stand out from that trip?
We went to Europe to search for love, we maid many friends but no love. We only ended up with each other like always. I think the biggest experience for us on this trip was getting introduced to the Pizza Burek in Ljubljana.
Honestly, I think you guys are bound for big things if not already... Your work is beautiful, unpredictable, unassuming. Love how how you use urban areas as your canvas. Any mural commissions or gallery showings coming up?
We just finished an exhibition up in Berlin on the June 15th - 19th in Urban Spree Gallery. There all of the brothers and the larger family flew to the mainland of Europe to drink Pilsator and tag in the streets around this gallery. Urban Spree was a great guy and we hope to also do this next year! Also we are working on a great new book, we will show how cold and shitty it is to live and paint in Iceland and how nice it can be to go on vacation. So keep eyes open for that.
How do you usually decide on where to paint? Does your inspiration for a particular piece come from the canvas you choose?
Mostly we let the booze decide for us, sometimes we are sober and see a nice wall and make a decision of our own… The outcome of each piece is of course influenced also on how much we drank and what paint is available at each time.
So you guys are part of RWS Crew? Is that a group you formed in Iceland?
Now you’re sounding a little too much like a police.
Other mediums you like to work with?
Tattoo is big for us now, it is a good medium and also a lot of people can pay for it so we are trying to make money this way. So we can eat good food and drink alcohol that is also from the shop.
Other artists or music you are currently really into?
These days we only listen to the Icelandic band called SKRATTAR, they are killing it here. They are all about smoking cigarettes indoors and wearing sunglasses at night, pretty cool guys. Also Pink Street Boys, they can really make a grown mans ears bleed.
Any other trips on the horizon? Recommendations you would give to someone visiting Iceland?
Next trip we will take is around the island, that is something we can also recommend to the fucking tourists. It’s super nice, and also the swimming pools, they are super nice.
Lastly, some advice you would give to the kiddos out there?
Don’t do drugs, don’t do suicide. And remember, school is for fools!
Interviewed by Kenji Blouin-Ito
Photos by the Ugly Brothers
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