The Rise of the Non-Conformists

When I was a teenager I didn’t fit in. In fact, as soon as I realised that I wasn’t like most of the other kids, I actively tried to do everything I could do be different from “the norm”. I thought other people were sheep, and rebelled against wearing labels or doing anything that was seen as mainstream. I dyed my hair every colour you can imagine, and got quite a lot of piercings. For anyone who’s interested, I looked like this.

My friends and I used to talk about how one day the “freaks” like us would rise up against the rest of the people. I had dreams about people coming up out of the sea like an army of pirates, ready to stand together and do battle against the people who tried to put us down.

I know now that I was just being a teenager, for the most part, but there is still an element of the non-conformist in me.

Today I spent most of the day in Shoreditch, and I had two things on my agenda: to attend the Whitecross Street Party, and to see the Olympic Torch Relay.

As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I really don’t care much for the Olympics. However, I felt that, as I was going to be in the area, I really ought to try to make the effort to be interested and watch the torch go by. It was, after all, probably the only chance I would ever get. I arrived at Great Eastern Street about half an hour before the torch was due, and there were already people lining the streets. I tried to feel their excitement, but couldn’t quite get in the mood. People banged on Coca-Cola sponsored drum things that were being handed out, drank free Coca-Cola and waved flags.

Olympic Torch Relay, Shoreditch

Prior to arriving, I had been at the Whitecross Street Party, dubbed “The Rise of the Non-Conformists”.

Whitecross Street Party

I had wandered up and down the street, happily snapping photographs of street art and artists at work, and generally soaking up the atmosphere. I chatted with the artist DON about his recent work and watched him stencilling a new piece out on the street.

DON

DON at work

Then I popped in a gallery and a lovely girl dabbed glitter on my face and took my photo to put on Facebook, and I felt like I belonged.

Standing waiting for the torch, I listened to some people talking next to me. They were full of almost obsessive excitement for the Olympics, and I felt like turning around and just asking them “why?”, but I didn’t. They wouldn’t have understood me any more than I understood them.

When the torch came by, it was all over in a flash and something of an anti-climax. I barely saw the guy who was carrying it, and didn’t have a clue who he was anyway.

There goes the Olympic torch - shame you can't see the guy carrying it!

There goes the Olympic torch – shame you can’t see the guy carrying it!

So I headed back to Whitecross Street, back to my people. When I got back there, the streets were buzzing with life, colour, good smells and great sounds. Eating a delicious chocolate brownie, I happily mingled with the non-conformists, and watched an artist called INKFETISH painting this somewhat anti-Olympics piece…

INKFETISH

INKFETISH

And another artist called FETCH painting this:

Whitecross Street Party

FETCH: Inspire a generation…

Enjoy the Olympics if that’s your thing, but these are my people, and this is where I’ll be.

“Belong to where you are” – Kemistry Gallery


Olympic Cleansing

Olympic rings

The Toaster Crew – this piece didn’t last long

The Olympics are coming, and boy do we know it. Here in London it seems to be all anyone can talk about. Forgive me if I sound a bit bah-humbug, but I’m afraid it doesn’t interest me at all. Yes, I know most of you will probably ask “How can you not be interested?” and tell me things like “It will only happen once in your lifetime!” and “It’s going to be spectacular.” I’m not about to argue with you. You’re probably right that it will be spectacular and I’m sure I will never forget that London 2012 happened in my lifetime. I’m just saying, I’m not really interested and I’m not planning to watch any of the games. It’s simply not for me.

I don’t really care what other people get up to though. Go crazy. Enjoy it. Fill your house with odd one-eyed mascots and union flags if you so desire. I won’t be joining you, but that shouldn’t stop you having fun. (Although I have noticed a strange tendency in many folk to try to urge me to join in – much like a colleague urges you to drink in the pub when you know you’ve had enough, but he still wants to get more wasted and can’t bear to do it alone.)

When it comes to the Olympics, while I am mildly fed up with hearing about it all, and wish the newspapers would talk about other things a little bit more (rather than the two-page spread the Evening Standard had tonight showing Twitter photos of Olympic athletes’ bedrooms), there’s only one thing that is really bothering me…

I love London. It’s a brilliant, diverse place to live. Each area, north, south, east and west, and each of the 32 boroughs, has its own personality and character. Whatever the Olympics brings with it, I have been crossing my fingers that it will only help to add more diversity and interesting culture to London. However, in a last-minute panic to “clean up” London, Hackney Council appear to be destroying the soul of my beloved Shoreditch.

On Sunday I was having one of my wanders around the Old Street/Shoreditch area, looking for new street art, when I rounded a corner and saw something that made me sick to the stomach. Hackney Council vans parked up next to gleaming white walls. I don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but I can tell you for one thing that the piece below is gone, and that was enough to make me really angry.

Mo'Pegz, Shoreditch

Mighty Mo & Gold Peg – It’s because of Mighty Mo that I started to get interested in street art

How dare they go around “cleaning up” the streets in this way, destroying art that has for so long made the area what it is? Who are they to decide what art should stay and what should go?

Not far from where this piece has been removed, I noticed a new mural by “Olympic approved” CODE FC on the somewhat questionable Shoreditch Ad Wall.

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

'Walk For Truce', Shoreditch Ad Wall

This wall on Great Eastern Street, I have recently learned, is “available for both Art and Commercial projects” for a fee “starting at $750 a week”. The wall has, in the past, been used by 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures and The Disney Company, as well as Beck’s Beer and the launch of Soul Calibur V. I unwittingly took photos of the Soul Calibur ones myself, wondering if it was in fact art or advertising, and now I know. (Actually, the pictures in that case were really cool, whether they were advertising or not – I guess there’s a whole other blog post I could write on that topic!)

So graffiti artist CODE FC (who holds a degree in Public Art and Design from Chelsea College of Art) and graphic artist Jack Haslehurst (also from Chelsea College of Art) have participated in this ‘peace mural’ project, to celebrate Lord Michael Bates’ ‘Walk for Truce’ and broadcast Baroness Tanni Grey Thompson’s ‘Plight of Britain’s Disabled’ for the London 2012 Paralympics. CODE FC, who had an exhibition entitled “20:12” at the Curious Duke Gallery in London in June, has been creating Olympic-themed street art for a couple of years. What I don’t understand is why his work is deemed acceptable (and, in fact, legal according to this article), and other artwork on the streets is being destroyed.

Code FC

CODE FC

For me, CODE FC’s work is pretty bland, although I guess the “cameras for heads” thing is making some comment about the media’s role in the Olympics. The mural is for a good cause, so I’m not saying it shouldn’t be there – I’d rather see this piece of art than some billboard featuring those bloody mascots or that awful 2012 logo – but why should CODE FC’s work be promoted in this way while the streets are being “cleansed” of other art which doesn’t quite fit the image the Hackney Council are trying to portray to the rest of the world?

Other street artists have also been making Olympic-themed art, but I suspect none of these pieces will last long if the Hackney Council “anti-graffiti” mob find them…

Graffiti - Ronzo does Olympics, Dalston

Olympic pigeon – Ronzo (www.ronzo.co.uk)

Shoreditch street art - Olympic graffiti

Illuminati Olympic- Mr Moustache

I wonder what would happen if Banksy decided to paint something for the Olympics? I suspect, like his Jubilee piece, a sheet of Perspex would be smacked over it immediately and people would flock to see it. But what makes Banksy or CODE FC any different from Mighty Mo and Gold Peg, whose piece above was recently painted over? Surely the concept of “freedom of speech” should apply to the artists who work on the streets of London. I want to hear what they have to say – don’t you?

Teddy Baden

Mandeville by Teddy Baden (www.teddybaden.co.uk)


From graffiti to gallery… Part 2

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 Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, 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…

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

Mr Brainwash Summer Show at the Opera Gallery, London

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?


From graffiti to gallery…

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.

I’ll start with Stik. ‘Walk’ by Stik was an exhibition at the Imitate Modern in London which was held from 19th April – 10th May.

Walk by Stik at the Imitate Modern

Stik usually paints on walls and doors around London, and is famous for his simple stick man character and brightly coloured backgrounds.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Stik

His work which was on display in the gallery was similar, but for me it lacked something.

Walk by Stik at the Imitate Modern

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.

Walk by Stik at the Imitate Modern

Moving on to another artist, let’s look at ROA. ROA’s exhibition ‘Hypnagogia’ was on at the StolenSpace Gallery in London from 20th April – 6th May.

ROA - 'Hypnagogia' at the Stolenspace Gallery

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:

New ROA piece in progress, Chance Street

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.

ROA - 'Hypnagogia' at the Stolenspace Gallery

The scale was, naturally, much smaller, but I found the quality lacking in these imaginative yet macabre pieces.

ROA - 'Hypnagogia' at the Stolenspace Gallery

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:

Stik

Or this:

Walk by Stik at the Imitate Modern

This:

Ben Slow, ROA, Malarky...

Or this:

ROA - 'Hypnagogia' at the Stolenspace Gallery

Have your say below, and don’t forget to leave a comment in the comments section!


An interview with graffiti artist Paul “DON” Smith

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!

Street art by DON

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.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

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.

Legend of the Fall, Tom & Twiggy, by DON

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.

DON in Shoreditch

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.

DON in Shoreditch

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).

DON in Shoreditch

Do you have a “day job”?
Yes I am a self-employed graphic designer.

Street art by DON

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.

Quee saved the God by DON and Our Diamond Queen by DON

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.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

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.

DON: Queen Saved the God

Which other artists do you admire?
Monet, Turner, Constable, Duster UA, Rodin, Hodgkin and many others.

Image courtesy of DON

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!

This image is courtesy of DON

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.


OLEK and all that Malarky

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.

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.

OLEK

I’m not art expert, but I enjoyed the exhibition. It was fun, playful, and certainly unique. I particularly liked the people.

OLEK

OLEK

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 do not expect" by Tracy Emin

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”.

OLEK

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.

OLEK & Malarky

OLEK & Malarky

Malarky’s work was also on display downstairs in the gallery:

Malarky

Malarky

Malarky

It was weird to see Malary’s work so small, as it’s usually so big:

Malarky

Malarky

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?

Related Links

Tony’s Gallery: website

OLEK: website

Malarky: website


A chance encounter with an artist

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit quiet on here of late, but I’ve been so busy with Japan related stuff on Haikugirl’s Japan and egg hunting on Picturing England.

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: Queen Saved the God

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.

DON: Queen Saved the God

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”.

DON: 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.

DON: Queen Saved the God

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.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

Here are some other pieces by Don, which I think you’ll agree are much more than mindless vandalism.

Street Art & Graffiti in Shoreditch - Don

Legend of the Fall, Tom & Twiggy, by DON

DON in Shoreditch

DON in Shoreditch

DON in Shoreditch

DON in Shoreditch

DON in Shoreditch

DON in Shoreditch