I recently wrote a post about how I wasn’t convinced that street artists ought to exhibit their work in galleries. I’m still not entirely convinced, but I saw an exhibition today which helped me to see that it can work for certain artists. The exhibition I went to see was The Mr Brainwash Summer Show – a pop-up exhibition at the Opera Gallery on New Bond Street, London.
Mr Brainwash, real name Thierry Guetta, is the kind of artist that people either love or hate. There are a lot of negative thoughts out there about him and his work, but personally I’m becoming quite a fan. The first Mr Brainwash pieces I saw “in the flesh” were his recent pieces on the corner of New Oxford Street and Museum Street in London (here & here). These murals are huge, and at the time I couldn’t have imagined seeing them in a gallery, but somehow it works. I think Mr Brainwash’s work is very accessible, and quite commercial. Much like Banksy’s work, Mr Brainwash’s work is suitable for posters, postcards and other items one might buy in a gift shop. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, although I know some people would see it as a negative. But I think it’s this commercial aspect that makes Mr Brainwash’s paintings (and sculptures) work so well in the gallery space. Some artists work well in the wild – I think Mr Brainwash works better here in the gallery…
Here’s some more about the artist, from the Opera Gallery:
Thierry’s love of art and film led him to follow the lives of some of the most prolific street artists of our time as he made it his mission to shadow, record and question those who dominated the streets. This led to an unexpected collaboration; the elusive Banksy utilised Thierry’s street art footage and eventually turned the camera on the only man who had ever filmed him.
Their collaboration resulted in a remarkable documentary coined as part personal journey and part exposé of the art world with its mind-altering mix of hot air and hype.
Now an artist in his own right – his very alias ‘Brainwash’ suggesting a tongue-in-cheek jibe at the street-art world he has seemingly so easily and successfully infiltrated and mastered, Thierry has adopted a pop-art style which is now coveted world over.
Approached by Madonna to create the cover for her greatest hits album, Celebration, Thierry then went on to be commissioned by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to direct the campaign for their latest album. Future collaborations are tipped to be none other than Justin Bieber! And with Kate Moss, The Beatles and Queen Elizabeth amongst his loyal subjects, it seems that the UK has offered Mr Brainwash some of his greatest muses to date.
Personally, I would like to own art like this. What do you think?
There seems to be a growing trend for graffiti artists to make their way into galleries. I’ve seen a few exhibitions of street artists’ work in galleries recently, and still remain unsure as to whether or not I like it. In the case of the two artists I’m going to mention below, both are artists whose work I respect. Both work to large-scale and, for me, part of the joy in seeing their work is thinking “how on earth did they get away with that?”. Street art isn’t always about the most intricate detail or mastered technique – sometimes it’s about the time and place.
Stik usually paints on walls and doors around London, and is famous for his simple stick man character and brightly coloured backgrounds.
His work which was on display in the gallery was similar, but for me it lacked something.
The character was the same, and the playfulness was certainly there, but the atmosphere of the gallery and the fact that these pieces were now considered pieces of art to be bought and sold, altered my impression of the work.
ROA usually paints huge-scale animals on the sides of buildings. In fact, the same day I went to the exhibition I happened to see him at work:
The exhibition consisted of pieces which the viewer was encouraged to touch and move. I liked this, but I found his work much less interesting than I had hoped.
The scale was, naturally, much smaller, but I found the quality lacking in these imaginative yet macabre pieces.
So, I’m still not sure what I think of graffiti artists presenting their work in gallery spaces. In a way, I think I prefer to see their work on the streets. I like the excitement of ‘discovering’ a new piece when I’m walking around Shoreditch, and that excitement is somewhat taken away when the work is in a gallery constrained by four walls. Another thing I like about the work on the streets is that it has this element of roughness about it. Often these pieces are illegal, and the artist has to rush a bit to get it finished before being caught. The pieces displayed in galleries are 100% legal, and that takes a bit of the fun away, doesn’t it? Also, the rough surfaces that graffiti artists often paint on bring something to the pieces – whether it’s a wall, a door, or something else, it becomes part of the art. In the case of Stik’s work, the smooth canvases almost ruin the piece for me. ROA has obviously tried to keep some of the roughness, but I’m not convinced it works.
What do you think? Would you rather see this:
Have your say below, and don’t forget to leave a comment in the comments section!
Do you remember back in March when I had a chance encounter with one of my favourite graffiti artists Paul “DON” Smith? Well, he kindly agreed to do a quick interview with me by email, and it gives me great pleasure to share it with you today. Naturally, I’ve included a lot of images of his work, too. Enjoy!
So, should I call you DON or Paul?
LOL. Don is great, but pauldonsmith.com could be better, so you know how to get hold of me.
How long have you been producing street art?
I have been an active graffiti artist for 25 years, but my recent street art, where I create images that I think an audience/people may like, has been a shorter time; say 5 years or so.
Have you always worked with stencils, or do you ever use different techniques?
I have mostly been a freehand spraycan artist, but I am now a mixed medium artist, I have starved myself long enough, I am free.
Why do you choose to make street art, rather than painting on canvases and exhibiting in galleries?
LOL. I do both, but mostly its on the streets, for now I paint originals and paint original limited editions, through selected galleries or my website.
Have you ever got in trouble for painting somewhere you shouldn’t have? If so, what happened?
I used to get into a bit of trouble, but that has long gone; my teenage years, many years back. The police know of all my illegal work, as they offered me a clean slate if I could tell them of other works. It saved time them knocking at the door again, me time and them time, it’s called “taken into consideration” (TIC).
Do you have a “day job”?
Yes I am a self-employed graphic designer.
Do you have any objections to your work being referred to as “graffiti”? Is there a difference between “graffiti” and “street art” as far as you’re concerned?
Not really, I am just more selective now on the locations. It’s all the same, it’s just if the audience can communicate with it or not, if it has a message or is it just ‘ME’ ‘ME’. The market has opened up with the wonderful success of Banksy and Blek.
You seem to paint a lot of portraits (which is why I love your work!). Is there a reason for this?
I think it’s a nice thing to see. One will identify with it quickly and may find it endearing. I tend to stick with portraits that influence myself and I am reaching out to see if others feel the same. Artists, musicians, actors, writers, thinkers, designers, distinguished characters, also portraits of individuals who the audience/people do not know and it’s interesting to place them on the world stage.
I’ve noticed a slight religious theme to your work recently. What’s that all about then?
Powerful images are amazing to paint. I do little twists too with this, like “Queen save the God” [below], I had not seen it reversed before and thought it was nice as the Queen/monarchy is head of the church. Keep the faith, it’s a great thing, like humans, we are powerful.
Which other artists do you admire?
Monet, Turner, Constable, Duster UA, Rodin, Hodgkin and many others.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell my readers about your work, or about street art in general?
More to come so watch this space!
A big thank you to DON for taking the time to talk with me! For more information about DON’s work, please visit his website: pauldonsmith.com.
I hope to do more interviews like this and in person in the future, so watch this space and do get in touch if you’re an artist who would like to have a chat.
In March I went to an exhibition at Tony’s Gallery in Shoreditch and got two for the price of one. The artist I went to see was OLEK, but I didn’t realise the gallery also had an artist in residence: Malarky.
I’ll start with OLEK’s exhibition, “I do not expect to be a mother but I do expect to die alone”. This was the first UK solo exhibition by Polish-born, New York-based artist OLEK.
The exhibition or, rather, installation, was basically a knitted room. Everything as far as the eye could see was knitted, crocheted or wrapped in wool. Even the floor. It was unfortunate that it was raining heavily on the day I visited the gallery, but it was nice to take off my wet boots and walk about on the wooly carpet for a while.
I’m not art expert, but I enjoyed the exhibition. It was fun, playful, and certainly unique. I particularly liked the people.
If you’re after some arty blurb, here’s a quote about OLEK’s work from the Tony’s Gallery website:
Both playful and rich in metaphor, the brightly coloured work on display features multiple designs including Olek’s trademark camouflage motif. The omnipresence of explicit messages crocheted into the objects, are statements revealing her position as a female artist in an art world that is inclined to have sexist opinions. These text-based pieces replicate actual missives sent to the artist by SMS text messaging, immortalising intimate details of her past relationships. The viewer thus becomes witness to Olek’s personal history as she continues her exploration of modern day concerns, touching upon the themes of privacy, technology and communication.
The show’s title is a direct quote from “I do not expect”, an appliquéd blanket produced by Tracey Emin in 2002.
I have to say, I prefer OLEK’s work to Emin’s, although I can see that they do both fall into the same camp of “I wouldn’t really want that on my wall”.
As I mentioned earlier, I was also able to see some of Malarky’s work at Tony’s Gallery. Actually, it’s never that hard to see Malarky’s work as he’s a street artist and his pieces are all over Shoreditch. What I liked at Tony’s was the way that his work became incorporated with OLEK’s.
Malarky’s work was also on display downstairs in the gallery:
It was weird to see Malary’s work so small, as it’s usually so big:
There’s been a lot of fuss in the press this week over the new Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern. The media have been labelling his work “con-art” and saying that it s a case of “the emperor’s new clothes”. Art is so subjective – one man’s art is another man’s rubbish – so who’s to say what belongs in galleries? Is Hirst’s work any better or worse than Emin’s, or indeed OLEK’s? Does the fact the Malarky usually paints on walls make his work any less valuable than Hirst’s? What do you think?
Tony’s Gallery: website
Today I had the day off and ended up down the Southbank. It was a glorious day, and something incredibly cool happened. I always stop by the skate park when I’m walking past so I can see the latest graffiti and street art. I have become quite the graffiti hunter over the last few months, and love to find new pieces by my favourite artists. A lot of people think graffiti is just vandalism, but it’s not. I agree that some tagging can just look messy, but have you seen some of the art on the streets of London? Some of it is really incredible.
One of my favourite street artists is Paul DON Smith, and today I was lucky enough to run into him while he was producing a brand new piece of work.
DON’s work, along with a small collection of other street artists, is what I would call “real art”. His work, quite often portraits, is beautiful and full of so much detail. The piece I saw him painting today took about an hour and a half, which I never would have imagined. You always think of graffiti as being something fast, not something which consists of layers and layers of paint applied using different shades of spray paint and different stencils. Details are added in with marker pens and tipex, and it’s so much more than just writing your name on a wall.
Once I realised I was watching DON at work, I had to stick around to the end. The finishing touch was a stencil of the words “queen saved the God”.
When I spoke to DON, he seemed particularly proud of this little twist. He said he’d been thinking about the Queen and religion, and wondering if people in the UK were losing their faith. He said this was a “thinky piece” and it is. I love how he’s used an image of the famous Michelangelo piece and turned it into a comment on the state of religion in the uk.
I spoke to Don briefly after he finished his new piece, and asked him how he could get away with working in broad daylight. He said that it was ok on this particular part of the Southbank (there were two other artists working at the time), and that he usually worked during the day and didn’t “give a fuck” about getting caught. He was off to Shoreditch to paint the same piece there, too, and happily posed for a photo before leaving.
Interestingly, DON seemed keen to get his work in a gallery, but I personally think the streets of London are a better gallery for his work than any four walls could be.
Keep an eye out for Don’s work around London. There’s a lot down at the Southbank skate park, and around Shoreditch, although they do tend to get painted over quite quickly. One you’ll see a lot is his money man – a banker who is just letting all the money run down the drain.
Here are some other pieces by Don, which I think you’ll agree are much more than mindless vandalism.