London Artist Mark Anthony, Also Known as Exhibit69

Photography by Joe Murphy 

London artist Mark Anthony aka Exibit69 paints canvases, walls, jackets, guitars, even a motorbikes if you ask him nicely. He’s had commissions from the likes of Nigerian singer Burna Boy, British-Jamaican hip-hop duo, Krept and Konan, and English sing- er-songwriter, Stefflon Don. He assisted successful graffer turned mural artist D*Face. His one off Dapper Dan-inspired custom leather jackets caught Swiss Beatz’ eye, beginning a long collaboration between the two.

“I grew up in a world of hip-hop, “ he says, after explaining that while he was born in London, his parents immediately moved to Connecticut to open an art gallery. “I was going to Queens every week. It was really fucking dangerous there. I used to see the dilapidated buildings. In those days they’d kill you for your Jordans.” Although he was surrounded by art all day long — his mom and dad didn’t have a TV and gave him a pencil and paper for entertainment — it wasn’t until they moved back to Brixton when he was ten, that art become central to his interests: “coming back to London was a totally different culture. My parents weren’t into rap, they were into world music, Prince, Michael Jackson and George Michael. I was the one into hip-hop and in London there wasn’t any of that. I used to save up all my money and import the music from Red Records in Brixton. What got me back into art was the London graffiti artists, to see their graffiti around was my connection back to America.”

Life wasn’t easy, school was tough but his artistic ability saw him through. Being the “art” guy ensured he fit in with the bullies and the studious. Seeing his cousin (“an excellent artist who was way better than me”) return from his product design university course, dejected at the feedback he got for his art, made one thing certain. He didn’t want to follow in his cousin’s footsteps. So he went to work but that didn’t make him any happier. “I went into housing and social services. I was a bus driver for a bit. I’ve done every job apart from assassin”, he bleakly laughs. “It really depressed me. My routine was finish work at 5pm get home about 7pm, make a microwave food dinner, sleep that off till about 8, then paint till 3am. I did that every day. Then I’d sleep in the toilet at my job. I would shed tears in there.”

He didn’t realize it at the time but he was suffering from depression, “this was before mental health was talked about so openly. I was bad, I was suicidal and it was a dark, dark time. It sounds so cliché but art saved my life.” A deep breath and self-funded therapy sessions gave him confidence and discipline. And then his luck changed. He met London street artist D*Face at Swizz Beats’ global art project, No Commission, when it landed in London. “The girl that I was seeing actually went to interview Swizz Beatz at the exhibition and she told me to come along. I’ll always be grateful to her for that. I actually wanted to meet D*Face while I was there. After the inter- view, she got up and was wearing one of the jackets I painted. Swizz was like: “Yo! Who made that jacket?!” and she pointed at me, saying ‘him, and you should see the one he’s wearing.” That’s when I knew I was onto something. I went along the next day for when Swizz was doing his performance and had a camera crew following him and he remembered me. I was FaceTiming a friend in America and he came along and started rapping into my FaceTime. I was wearing a different jacket that time and as soon as Swizz finished, he came to see me first, which was shown on all the screens and from that people just started talking to me and telling me how dope my work was.” 

That night he managed to strike up a conversation with D*Face being pretty candid that he was depressed, hated his job, and that the painted jacket he was wearing was his CV in case he was hiring an assistant. D*Face replied, “if you can do that on a jacket you can do that on a canvas.” Which sounded good, “then he offered me a sticker and I thought he was mugging me off. A few weeks later I left yet another job and then he messaged me asking if I was still inter- ested. Perfect timing.” He stayed working at the D*Face studio for several years, learning the business behind the art and absorbing as much as possible.

Now he’s struck out on his own. Painting canvases, doing one-off commissions and, of course, the jackets. Just before Covid hit, he’d painted 35 leather jackets and the world shut down. “So I had to pivot and start doing canvases,” he says. “When the world started burning, I did a series of canvases and managed to get into Nordstrom through a guy named Harris Elliot. He’s the man that gave me the shot and opportunity to get into a department store in America. They priced them at $3000, even on sale they go for about $900. Everyone thought I was going to carry on doing the jackets but I was working on the canvases. I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I have managed to develop skills in business as well. I’m negotiating with people I’ve never met. I’ve done commissions for celebrities, I’ve got a couple of Gs saved up from the jackets and it’s  allowing me to paint freely. I’m not even trying to sell work at the moment. I’m not robbing Peter to pay Paul. I’m not a household name but seeing the journeys of those who’ve come before me, I know I’m on the right track. Look, I’m here talking with you!”