The Secret Society of Super Villain Artists is hellbent on “making a difference in the world while having a good time doing it,” according to its mission statement.
The loosely affiliated global network of artists regularly protest social injustice, raise cash for charities, champion causes close to their hearts, host exhibitions and promote each others’ work. They call themselves villains.
One villain, British street artist Angus, likened the underground movement to hit 1999 Brad Pitt/Edward Norton movie “Fight Club,” as members are “from every walk of life you can think of and we all have that one thing in common, art.”
It all began “as a happy accident,” according to its founder, a street artist from Merseyside in northwest England who goes by the moniker Silent Bill.
Silent Bill describes himself as “a middle-aged family man with two kids and girlfriend artist.” He works in the care sector, hence the need to preserve his anonymity. He said he inadvertently started the society “as a joke” when he created and shared its tongue-in-cheek logo online several years ago:
His artist friends were intrigued. Silent Bill shared spoof application forms on social media. When people returned them customized with their own art, he thought “perhaps some good can come from this.”
The society grew. Silent Bill said hundreds and possibly even thousands of people could now be involved around the world.
“Every now and then I come across factions of it that are in remote locations doing stuff and putting up art that we weren’t even aware of,” he explained. “It’s bizarre as I often think do they know we even exist? How did they come across the logo? It’s generally their variant of the logo but they are running with it and doing all kinds of mad creative stuff and we love that.”
But the group’s self-described “anarchistic structure” means Silent Bill can’t keep track of every single villain.
Some “rogue elements” have brought the society into disrepute with vandalism, he acknowledged, but he doesn’t condone such activities and just wants “to encourage people to be creative and share their art.”
Members “do their own” artistic thing and “regroup for when there is a major project,” Silent Bill explained.
In 2018, they held an art protest calling for government assistance to help regenerate an area devastated by a gas explosion. They regularly sell or auction their art to raise money for animal shelters, food banks and the homeless, and they sponsor sports teams and buy instruments for children in the Palestinian territories.
Another villain, Liverpool-based ceramics artist Hex, told HuffPost “an unwritten key ethos of the society” was “giving back and helping.”
“We are all human, we all struggle to sell art, but it’s easier to donate a piece of art and this way people have a chance to win a piece that they could never afford in real life,” said London-based RS75. “I guess it comes back to we are all equal and will help anyone in need.”
Several villains described the society as “a family.”
“It brings artists together from different countries,” said Bristol-based street artist John D’Oh, who credits the society with getting his work exhibited in Spain and Australia.
Hex was “overwhelmed by the comradery and encouragement” from fellow members after joining the group. Now, villain colleagues are the “first stop for technical support and critique.”
It’s “truly egalitarian,” Hex added. “They have gotten me in magazines, international galleries and street corners all over the world.”
“SSOSVA members will go miles out of their way to help those in the community,” added Merseyside street artist Kiwi. “I’ve never been one to give in to bystander apathy, SSOSVA seems to be made up of similar people.”
Street artist Diff, also from Bristol, said membership provided him “a sense of worth and purpose” during a period in which he was “struggling with life challenges.”
Being able to ask and receive honest advice from fellow members was “very important” to his work, he added.
The society’s strongholds are in the English cities of London, Liverpool and Bristol — the hometown of the famed but elusive street artist Banksy. Other members live in the U.S., Australia and across Europe.
Silent Bill refused to confirm if Banksy was a villain, but did admit to having “contact with the big fella” and said the art star had sent him “a very nice gift.”
“I’ve never met him but by all accounts, he is a very nice guy and he liked what I did,” said Silent Bill, who referenced Banksy with this parody poster:
The society continues to evolve and attract more members, said Silent Bill. The #SSOSVA hashtag has more than 10,000 posts on Instagram. More than 8,000 people follow its Facebook page.
“It has brought a lot of people together and it has had a go at making the little differences where it can,” Silent Bill said. He now envisions moving it “beyond the subculture of urban art” to a movement for good with a wider audience.
“Art has the power to move you and inspire you,” he explained. “I can’t recall the last time the ‘X-Factor’ inspired me to make a piece about quantitative easing or anti-fascism, yet a piece of street art can make me think about a social theme such as feminism or anti-consumerism.”
I first started doing street art because it’s like your only voice, no one listens to you, you vote and it gets overturned, you protest and you get labeled criminal, it’s hard and frustrating to have your say in the world. But that’s not the case with street art, we all get to have our say. I feel like it’s our little dig at the state of the world, I feel that as one person in today’s world, we can’t change the world, however I think it’s possible that we can change the world of one person.