This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
The internet is a funny place, isn't it? A lawless electronic dust bowl where anything can become famous for five minutes.
Earlier this year, an innocuous picture of a Rick and Morty mural painted on a Brighton student house spanned across our screens. Said house is now the subject of a number of subreddits, most of them populated by ardent Rick and Morty fans stewing in jealousy that they won't get to live in the house that immortalizes their absurdist, inter-dimensional heroes.
The mural was painted by an artist called AROE, an international graffiti artist who's been painting since the 1980s, and whose work peppers the walls of Brighton. He's also responsible for The Simpsons, Adventure Time, and Family Guy house murals in the Brighton area. I caught up with him to discover just how much he likes cartoons.
VICE: How did the Rick and Morty mural come about?
AROE: Well, there's an official story and a true story. Somewhere between the two is this: Brighton council sent a letter to everyone around Upper Lewes Road and Viaduct Road, asking if they could paint their houses and make them more presentable. Those houses are the first people see as they drive into Brighton, and the council wanted people to get a good impression as they drove in. I heard about it, so I approached some landlords around there about painting their houses. That's what started the whole thing.
How did you find out about the Rick and Morty house going viral?
On the day I was painting it, someone I know in Mexico sent me a message, asking what I was working on. I sent them a picture of part of the Rick and Morty house. It wasn't even the whole thing! After that, they sent me a message saying it had gone all over the place in Mexico. Rick and Morty is huge in Mexico, it seems.
What happened on the day itself?
I just turned up and started painting the house; it was probably about three hours before any of the tenants realized I was there. They came out, asked me what I was doing, and I said, "Your house is being turned into a cartoon house." They said, "Cool, man, which cartoon are we getting?" They're students; they just thought it was a good story.
It had a really good response from people passing. People beeped their horns or shouted out lines from the show. Obviously, they were lost on me because I'm not familiar with it.
Are you not a fan of the show?
I haven't got a clue about it. I've never watched a single episode. I like re-painting cartoons and think it's a really good way of communicating with people. But I have no interest in watching cartoons. I've never enjoyed them.
That's a shame. I was hoping we could have a chat about whether the cod-philosophy in the show is utter nonsense or not.
Can't help you there, sorry.
But you also painted murals of Adventure Time, Family Guy, and The Simpsons onto Brighton houses. Surely you must like cartoons a bit.
It's all just a publicity game, to be honest. If I get people into my work because they like Rick and Morty, that's fine by me. If I want to make people take notice of my stuff, painting a giant Family Guy on a house is a good way of doing it. It's similar to when Iceberg clothing used to put Mickey Mouse on their jackets in the 90s. No one liked the jackets because they were Iceberg; they liked them because they had Mickey Mouse emblazoned on them. It's a hook. It's the same with sampling in music.
How many houses have you done in Brighton?
Six or seven.
Have you had any complaints?
I've had no complaints. Honestly, the whole experience has been positive, and I just find it all hilarious. There are other painted houses around there anyway; some guy has a Pink Floyd mural now.
What are the rules about doing this sort of thing?
If the house is listed or in a conservation area, then you have to get planning permission. If the painting promotes a business, then you have to technically get planning permission. If the painting is sexual, racist, harmful, promoting drugs, or hate in any description, then it can be force cleaned. If it doesn't touch that criteria, then you can effectively do what you want.
From an objective point of view: Why do you think this has happened in Brighton, of all places?
Brighton has that bohemian "live and let live" attitude. People don't want to be that guy that doesn't let people express themselves. Then you've got tons of students around that area who are never going to complain, so the council is never going to get the complaints they need to get the murals cleaned off.
Check out AROE's Instagram here.
Follow David Hillier on Twitter.