As part of the Burning Candy crew, Sweet Toof was one of London’s most prolific graffiti artists throughout the 1980s and ’90s. Eventually, Sweet Toof evolved his signature gummy chompers into oil-based paintings and sculptures. The Fresh Factory show offers 33 of Sweet Toof’s pieces, plus what might be his largest grin ever, wrapping around the Vandoort Place street-side length of the building.
I was particularly attracted to the Mexican folk art influences in Sweet Toof’s work. The smiling skeletons in his paintings are whimsical and foreboding by turns. Like the vanitas genre from which Sweet Toof takes cues, his paintings portray life as hand in hand with death. Sweet Toof created his iconic teeth after he lost 10 friends in a series of freak accidents in a short period of time. He was fascinated with the idea that teeth are the only part of the skeleton seen in the living body. The florescent grimaces remind us that we’re never far from our inevitable decay. Yet the bright colors in Sweet Toof’s palette keep his work from becoming macabre, coinciding with the Mexican tradition of honoring and celebrating the dead.
Many of the works, including a take on a rocking horse, incorporate paint rollers, a nod to his roots on the street. His paintings echo his words, as dictated to the staff of Fresh Factory, “Get one’s teeth into things, before it’s too late.”
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE