April 19, 2014

Street Art in Brick Lane

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Perhaps the fewer words the better about this topic of street art as it speaks for itself and does not require a degree in Art to understand. Street art by definition is for everyone who can see it, not just a few profiteers and collectors that build up value in terms of rarity and exclusivity. It encourages collective viewing.  It has mass appeal because it is so direct. It is not called 'street' art for nothing. That's where people find it, on side streets, broken brick walls, high above doors, or perched on lintels or even as sculpture hidden on lamp posts or as subverted street signs. It is not just stencil and anarchic statement either, as Bansky, Robbo and Blek le Rat have made popular. Nor is it just symbols as signatures of the artist,  but can have a whole range  of styles, from subtle portraiture to more screen-print style Pop art devices using simple blocks of colour, and even pointillist technique of bleeding colour dots.

Bansky's latest work in Bristol
Street art is differentiated from graffiti because it is more than just someone spray painting their name in fat, squidgy lettering as fast as they can, then running away because it is illegal. It requires planning, intelligence, skill and can be surprisingly innovative and thought provoking. It is graffiti that has earned its 'bad boy' reputation. It is not all by guys either. As Bansky says in Wall and Piece "People think that graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish....But that's only if it is done properly." It takes it out of the 'trophy cabinet' and delivers it back to the people. In this way, its controversial side is sealed. The debate on whether it is vandalism or the most genuine 'public' art may rage on for a while yet as his new work has proved. Paradoxically, it may even end up being shown in a real gallery since it was removed from the wall it first appeared on. What you think about it, depends  entirely on your point of view, as some people now are taking it apart brick by brick  claiming to preserve it (but later to sell it). Others object to its surreptitious tactics.  

Street art is a very contemporary form of art, and part of a huge movement across the world to challenge what is public property. This has taken it to a new level. A new gallery My Art Invest has just opened in Shoreditch where people can buy and sell shares in famous street art works, inspiring young investors, using a system of co-ownership, creating a kind of alternative art market, but it still remains contradictory and challenging to conventional perceptions of what constitutes valuable art and how that should be displayed.

Just let the variety of styles fill your eyes in these images here, and marvel at its ingenuity. Even the guerilla tactics can be admired for keeping the public on their toes. The artists themselves are too numerous to mention. But I have a few personal favourites. Most of them can be found on and around the walls and streets of Brick Lane. This goes way beyond just Banksy stencils with their anarchistic statements. Bansky is only the most famous name. He has paved the way for others like ROA, famous for huge animals, Louis Masai, Milo Tchais, Bom.K and Liliwen, Otto Schade,  and Ben Slow to also gain acclaim.

Who, for example, could have imagined a huge suspended bow and arrow positioned across from one building to the back of another where you can see the shower of arrows landing into the brick wall. This expertly utilises the public space near the Truman Brewery in a way no art gallery could ever emulate, making the entire street part of the context of the art, and making the viewing experience less exclusive, more inclusive and much more immediate.There are frequent sightings of new sculptures, little moulded pieces on crumbling brick walls, or tiny artworks pinned to the walls for people to take as they please. Also key symbols such as  the credit crunch monster, the pixellated alien face, and other more elaborate paintings, one is even scratched on glass rather than drawn, having a refined etching quality to it. 

The variety is remarkable. Some styles are more sophisticated, like the girl's face and hooded face on Whitby Street by Jimmy C. He uses an 'aerosol pointillist' technique, using dots of colour, and requiring great skill in the placement of each dot, creating overall harmony. Yet it retains the drips, which are the signature of a 'street' artist. Many other works still retaining the signature dripping of paint style to prove it has to be executed at speed like a hit and run car crash. Another Italian artist uses a style similar to Jean-Michel Basquiat's, and goes by the number 108 rather than a name, and Blu also from
Start around Fashion Street and keep looking
Italy is already a favourite, as he makes videos of how his paintings progress across walls and buildings. The flow of invention is evident. 108's Nero's works however are recognisably distinct from Basquiat's. That is what adds to the excitement. 

All of this worth viewing when you are tired of the two Tates. You just have to walk around Brick Lane near Fashion Street to find them. It is a gallery hidden in plain sight that belongs to the whole community of, not just the people who live around there, but everyone who walks through, making the entire area between Aldgate East and Shoreditch stations a kind of free public exhibition space. Each day it changes, and you might be the one to find a brand new artwork.

© Kieron Devlin, 2014
all rights reserved 




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