We had fantastic opportunities to see street art in England — just the tip of a very big iceberg, really — and it's a very exciting and fascinating phenomenon.
We'd seen work by the best-known of them, the British artist Banksy, in Los Angeles and were amazed, one day in Brighton, when we were walking from the station to the hire-car place, to find this one on a corner pub wall:Shortly after, also in Brighton, we spotted this:Nick recognised the tag of a French artist, C215. He is also a poet, and does portraits commercially as well as on these paste-ups.
A lot of street artists paint, or print with stencils, on paper which they can then paste into place quickly without being seen. Painting directly on to walls is a lot harder to do without being arrested for vandalism. I suppose it's the sudden appearance of art by someone well-known, or just of something that's really good, the occasionally political nature of the works, and this sense of the subversive that have brought about all the mystique surrounding these artists.
And I have to say that it was exciting to find stuff like this, unannounced and a little bit mysterious. It must be so much fun to live with an art movement evolving and going on all around you, out in the streets, free, irreverent and often humorous.
In New York in April I'd come across this piece — — by a Brooklyn artist, elbowtoe, in a SoHo doorway.
There's lots of street art, and out-and-out graffiti, in big cities like this, but the good stuff really shines among the dross. The fact that it's put there so quickly, silently and (almost) anonymously, and that you could walk straight past it without seeing it, means that when you do notice it, you feel included in it. That's awesome.
In London, though we'd run out of time to examine anything at length inside Tate Modern, we did get to see the six huge works on the wall facing the river. This has been London's first big exhibition of street art, and it finished this week. (Does this mean they'll be washed off?)
The three artists (from left to right) whose works are in the pic above are Sixeart from France; JR from France — this is a huge paste-up of a very sinister looking guy who at first looks as though he's pointing a gun at you as you approach the building, but eventually it's revealed to be a camera; and Faile from New York.
There's also work by Os Gemeos from Brazil (I didn't get a pic, strangely); Nunca from Brazil — showing an Indigenous Brazilian sipping a cup of tea with his pinkie extended, in a dig at the fact that a street artist has made it on to the walls of one of England's grand Establishment institutions; and Blu from Italy.The massive face is cut away to show the nightmares going on in his head:
While Lily and I were at my cousin's wedding, Lily's boyfriend Nick went back to spend the whole day at the Tate. An accomplished illustrator and cartoonist with a strong political element to his work, Nick went to a panel discussion at the Tate that night, with English street artist Pure Evil and an art critic and journalist debating the trend to see street art as a commodity — note the perspex sheet over the Brighton Banksy!
When Banksy was in LA for an exhibition a couple of years ago, signed and numbered prints of his work were on sale on opening night, with Hollywood stars and other social hotties picking them up for $500 a pop. And you can buy greeting cards with his designs on them.
It's definitely the latest Big Thing.