Saturday, November 5, 2011

London Street Art

London Street Art, Brick Lane, 2007,Ravish London

London Street Art

For twenty-five years London has been subject to a beautiful onslaught of criminal activity, reprehensible to some, embraced by others, colourful, witty and provocative. Street art, phenomenon of the 1990s, developed from graffiti art, a phenomenon of the 80s, and is today a regular occurrence on London's streets; in some areas it is ubiquitous. The appeal of street art includes its unpredictability, illegality, the challenge it poses to authority, the altruism of the street artist, and the romance and poetry of the work. Exposed to the ravages of urban life, street art can be considered transient, delicate, beautiful and fragile - as a butterfly or wild flower in spring. Done well, it reaches out andtouches your soul, increasing the quality of your emotions as you trudge through the city.

David Walker, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

London Street Art Locations

Street art, for the most part, is not commissioned or requested, so is criminal and illegal. Street artists are deliberately unpredictable in locating their works. But in London there are hives, around which street artists buzz and rule supreme, where it would seem, Councils have given up on taking the works down, crushed under the weight of the art deposited or seduced by the economic and cultural benefits attendant to a critical mass of street art. One finds artists at work; fanatics on the hunt, serendipitous locals and tourists using their phones to record pieces they have come across. Three principal locations in London are Camden, East London and Leake Street in Waterloo.

View Three Key London Street Art Locations in a larger map


Camden, a grimy London Borough north of Kings Cross, is home to street art in several ways and for several reasons. First, because Camden Town hosts a community of counterculture artists and musicians, including punks and alternative rockers, it is a natural point of homage for street artists. Second, Camden offers infrastructure. It boasts a plethora of railway lines, bridges, canals and old decaying buildings, prime street art estate. Street artists love these places because they can put their work up without being caught; and for the street artist it is morally acceptable to ‘brighten up’ a neglected building, much like squatters justify moving into an empty property. Camden then, notorious for its snot and mould-ridden brickwork, is an invitation to start decorating! Finally, Camden likes to celebrate the street artist by ripping them off! Because street art, in itself or by design, often gives the finger to the man; so it's no surprise to see market traders flogging the more notorious pieces reproduced on t-shirts and canvas for its counter-cultural clientele. Street art is welcome in Camden!

Regent's Canal

The part of Regent's Canal which runs through Camden is home to several pieces. In 2009 this stretch of canal took on special relevance after it became the site of a battle of wit and ego between street-artist par excellence Banksy and an old time graffiti artist calledRobbo (see below and this TV documentary for more information.)

View London Street Art Locations in a larger map

Chalk Farm Station

The wall opposite Chalk Farm tube station commonly features street art, including a famous piece created by Banksy, and more recently an incredibly drawing of a big cat.

View London Street Art Locations in a larger map

Big Cat, Chalk Farm, 2010,Ravish London

Graffiti Art, Chalk Farm, 2010,Ravish London

East London

In East London the Boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets feature large amounts of street art, ShoreditchBrick Lane and Spitalfields constituting the Mecca of London street art; a de facto open air gallery, a 'square mile of street art' to compare with the 'financialsquare mile', the City of London, its southern neighbour.

View London Street Art Locations in a larger map

East London has seen a flowering of street art for several reasons. First west Hackney, and Shoreditch in particular, host a community of artists, designers and musicians. In Shoreditch, artists rent out the abundance of low-rise warehouses, originally built to house London's furniture industry, but left vacant by the middle of the twentieth century following the industry's decline. Young student artists, Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst amongst their number, moved in in the early 1990s; their success seemed to draw more artists to the area. The integrity of the artistic community was and has been strengthened, like many artistic communities, by being juxtaposed with a community of considerable wealth, the City of London, to the south. Graphic design studios presumably furnish the design needs of financial institutions. Several galleries have sprouted up, supported I would imagine, by money from the city, which walks in and around the streets of Shoreditch with a choppy pace, on high heels, in pin stripe suits, perched upon fixed gear bikes, looking to invest, looking to procure a painting that will help develop one's sense of taste and individuality.

Arguably, inspired by Banksy and other graffiti artists, galleries and businesses in Shoreditch have seen the attraction of and benefits to be gained from showing and commissioning art on the outside of their buildings. This mass of legal street art, has helped cement Shoreditch’s place as the spiritual home of street art in London, and has attracted artists from all around the world, some of whom are invited, and some come of their own accord to put works up. A lot of street art in Shoreditch is posted by artists who are not based in London. Roa is from BelgiumC215 is from France. The more informal works have been encouraged by the fact that Shoreditch is dowdy, and despite the wealth, activity and creativity, provides a smorgasbord of abandoned buildings, railway lines and wasteland car parks, upon which artists feel more than happy to mount their work. Shoreditch, now, has become so known for its street art, that it would not at all be surprising to hear that artists go there, precisely because of the exposure that it provides. The streets are patrolled by bloggers, writers and photographers, who record, sort, categorize and analyze the works on the internet, with the vigor and detail of a gallery show handbook.

Shoreditch provides a smorgasbord of canvases for street artist, including wasteland, Shoreditch, 2010,Ravish London

Village Undeground regularly features legal street art, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

The Foundry, an old bar and art centre, used to commission legal art work before developers decided to turn the building into an Art Hotel, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Another location for what seems to be legal street art, Curtain Road, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

I’m pretty sure the gallery next door to BLT has use of this wall for depositing street art legally, Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

Some of the street art may be the result of a need for exposure, especially from artists who struggle to find a way of getting their work in galleries. Frustrated, frothing at the mouth for exposure, angry with the way things aren’t going, these artists mutate, David Banner-like, not into the Incredible Hulk, but into street artists. To them with the angry eyes, Shoreditch with its building sites, car parks and dilapidated warehouses, looks like canvas, the city like the venue for their first show.

Clearly there are some artists who post work in the streets, despite making a handsome living from art or some other profession.

One question remains unsolved though – why and quite when did Shoreditch become a center for street art?

Regardless of the answer, what we know today is that Shoreditch and its surrounds have become an open air art gallery; an evolving pastiche of graffiti, posters, free drawing, stencils, tags and quirkiness – all tattooed into the brick and mortar of this post-industrial environ. Shoreditch is awash with people who cannot resist stylising orabnormalising either themselves and/or some part of the surroundings. Like some kind of wild animal which instinctively shits as and when it needs, the artistic denizens have to express themselves immediato.

No opportunity is lost to create art in Shoreditch, face on the inside of a cigarette bin, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

Surprise and irony is the name of the game, evolve and shock, a new twist, Sod The Rich (anagram of Shoreditch) Sticker on a London Underground stickers on Tesco Salt Bin on Kingsland Road, 2011,Ravish London

Bronze coloured cast of a boot stepping into some dog shit, Great Eastern Street, 2007,Ravish London

Randomness is the only God, fitting motto for the stylists of Shoreditch and Hoxton, 2009,Ravish London

This for me is one of the best random pieces of street art, I will always have a special place in my heart for this piece, Brick Lane, 2007,Ravish London

Marvellous piece of improvisation, Shoreditch, 2009,Ravish London

This street sign appears to have been graffitied, by the same person, with the same can, using different tags, Willow Street, Shoreditch, 2010,Ravish London

Stylizing a post box, Spitalfields, 2008,Ravish London

The East London urban art scene is unlikely to last forever given it is the symptom of a delicate juxtaposition of industrial decline and economic force. The irony is that the same factors which created the scene are likely to destroy it. The financial district of the City of London, lying to the south of Shoreditch, which seems to have played a significant role in creating and stabilizing an artistic community on its fringe, is slowly expanding northwards and eastwards. Plans are afoot for the glass foot soldiers of mammon, fuelled by speculative property investment, to replace old warehouses with a caravan of Starbucks and Japanese sushi forecourts and privatized spaces. For now, with the financial crisis, which hit London in 2007, the plans are on ice, but come a new capitalistic spring we'll find the expansion leading to a reduction in dead spaces to portray art, increased security to capture and ward off artists, increased property prices and the eventual eviction of the artistic community. Maybe, like obsequious serfs, the artists will shuffle, fearful and yet faithful, untidily, a bit more northwards and a bit more eastwards, or maybe the scene will dissipate. Until then lets enjoy what the community puts out there.

Village Undeground Trains, 2007,Ravish London


If you decide to visit Shoreditch visit Blackall Street, an unprepossessing back street, strewn with beer cans and the occasional dog shit, which runs behind several galleries and graphic design studios, whose artists, I presume regularly pepper the street with the innovative and provocative paste-ups that you see there. Also check out Old Street, Kingsland Road, Rivington Street, Charlotte Road, Shoreditch High Street, Curtain Road, Bateman's Row, New Inn Yard, Leonard Street and Great Eastern Street.

View London Street Art Locations in a larger map

Blackall Street Paste-Up, 2011,Ravish London

Blackall Street Paste-Up, Prince Edward, 2011Ravish London

Blackall Street Paste-Up, Bortusk Leer Monster, 2011, Ravish London

Blackall Street Paste-Up, Taxi Driver, Robert De Niro, 2010, Ravish London

Blackall Street Paste-Up, 2010,Ravish London

Blackall Street Paste-Up, 2010,Ravish London

Boredom is Counter-Revolutionary, Blackall Street Paste-Up, 2008,Ravish London

Spitalfields & Brick Lane

Spitalfields and Brick Lane are awash with street art. Other streets worth checking out are Sclater Street (for graffiti), Fournier Street and Fashion Street.


Waterloo – Leake Street

A third spot to look for street art, in South London, is Leake Street, a disused railway tunnel just behind Waterloo Train Station. Leake Street became a hive for street artists and graffiti artists after Banksy organised a street art festival there in Spring 2008. It appears that the use of the tunnel for the festival led to the authorities designating the tunnel, a place where one can legally paint, so four years later it is still attracting graffiti and street art.

View Three Key London Street Art Locations in a larger map

Cans Festival

The festival's name The Cans Festival was a play on the name of the French Cannes Film Festival. Banksy's intention for the Cans Festival was to "transform a dark forgotten filth pit" into "an oasis of beautiful art". "I've always felt anyone with a paint can should have as much say in how our cities look as architects and ad men," Banksy said. The rules of engagement for the first Cans Festival were that no freehand lettering or characters could be sprayed on to the tunnel walls, stencils had to be deployed and artists were not allowed to spray over work already on the walls. Apparently, anyone who turned up to the exhibition with paint and a stencil could report to a manned reception, where they were provided with a space in the tunnel to put up their art. It was reported that, “While police patrolled the tunnel vigilantly throughout the duration of the exhibit nobody was charged with criminal damage." Auger, who attended the festival, said, "Watching a father and son work together pulling out stencils, taping them up, shaking the can and handing it off to each other as they contribute their own piece was a beautiful thing to see…. I also saw kids as young as 10 (rough guess without asking them) spraying through stencils as people watched on while taking pics - another beautiful thing to witness. I even saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair pulling out her camera and taking shots while being pushed around - another plus for the show."

Cans Festival II – Street Art Recycled

The Cans Festival resulted in a number of spin-off events, all of which took place in the same tunnel. These included a second street art festival 'Cans Festival II – Street Art Recycled" held in August the same year. Mark Jenkins writing for Time Out said of Cans II, "For this 'recycled' version of the original street art festival, the organisers have let a load of new artists and graffiti crews loose on the same tunnel in Waterloo. The result is striking - the space is completely reworked with the focus more on street art in its purest form and less on more populist stencil work. A bold move, and one that sets it apart from its previous incarnation". A striking aspect of this event was the use of old vehicles; which were parked along the length of the tunnel and painted in different colours.

Painted cars at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti artists will not be prosecuted at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Pair of breasts, Mike Marcus, at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti artists will not be prosecuted at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Colourful work at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Alexandre Fato at the Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Leake Street during Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Andy Warhol, Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Painted Car, Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Street art and knitting festival festival

Spin offs also included a street art and knitting festival held in 2009. The Londonist reported from the event that, "While most of the knitting and crocheting was done with traditional wool, works in other materials, such as audio tape or plastic bags were also on display. Some were done on the spot while other people had clearly been preparing for the assault."

Exit Through the Gift Shop Premiere

Finally the tunnel hosted the premiere of Banksy's street art movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop in 2010.

London's First Ever Street Art Battle

In 2009 London witnessed its first street art battle, between the founding father of British street art Banksy and old graffiti artist Robbo. The story, according to Robbo and denied by Banksy, started with a chance encounter between the two in a pub in Shoreditch in the 1990s. By this time Robbo, who had made his name putting graffiti on trains in the 1980s, had retired from the craft; but was still renowned within graffiti circles. On being introduced to Banksy Robbo was aghast at the way Banksy dismissively commented that he had never heard of Robbo. Robbo acting with the egomania you'd expect of a graffiti artist, promptly slapped Banksy and told him 'you aint head of me, but you wont forget me now will you'. Apparently, this coming together wasn't disclosed to the general public until 2009 when Robbo was interviewed for a graffiti book called London Hand Styles. Robbo seemed to suggest that the publication provoked Banksy, which Banksy appears to deny.

Either way, what is clear is that following the publication of Robbo's statement, a few days before Christmas 2009, Banksy altered what is likely to have been Robbo's last remaining piece of graffiti, a twenty-four year old piece that he had produced in 1985, painted underneath the British Transport Police headquarters underneath a bridge on Regent's Canal (see before and after. Banksy's work was ingenious; he managed to incorporate Robbo's graffiti into a stencil of a workman wallpapering the wall of the canal, Robbo's graffiti becoming the wallpaper. However as described by the Sabotage Times "it was for many people in the street art community a slight on the work of Robbo". Within days Robbo decided to dust off his spray paint cans and launch a counterattack, replacing the wallpaper with the words 'King Robbo' Banksy's decorator now putting up a giant tag in homage to Robbo. Banksy replied by adding the letters FUC to King Robbo , which prompted a Godfather like retribution on various Banksy pieces (see Guardian report and tit-for-tat modifications.

London Street Art of Note

London boasts hundreds of pieces of street art. The standard varies from tags, blobs and blotches that a two year old could accomplish (see Jonathan Jones of The Guardian on the banality of street art) to work verging on genius. Here we portray some of the more notable pieces to have graced London over the last twenty-five years. Have we missed something obvious?.

The Rabbit, Roa, Curtain Road, 2010

A pleated garage door, on Curtain Road, was used by Belgian artist Roa to portray two different images, the outside of a rabbit and the rabbit's circulatory system, so that one could practically view the animal 3-D. It is one of the few pieces of street art that I have seen arrest people, causing them to take a lung full of oxygen to fuel the excitement it piques.

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Roa Rabbit, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Wall Chiselling, Leake Street, 2008, Alexandre Fato

The wall chiselling and plastering of Alexandra Fato takes the concept of street art to another level, because rather than adding to the walls, he subtracts, using the colours and texture of the wall's underlying material, together with overlays of plaster, to create his images. His wall chiselling in Leake Street, at the Cans II Festival was the most impressive piece by some margin; Fato's dexterity and ingenuity invokes a desire to cry as the only possible reaction to such wonder and beauty.

Alexandre Fato, Leake Street, Cans Festival II, 2008,Ravish London

Dalston Lane Mural, Dalston Lane, 1985, Ray Walker

For some Ray Walker's 1985 depiction of the 1983 Hackney Peace Carnival, on account of the fact that it was painted with the agreement and probably at the behest of the authorities, would not count as street art. It is, however, the most stunning piece of street art in London, standing head and shoulders above all murals. Walker used this mural to capture the paradox of humanity's capacity for war and peace on the one hand and the ability to get so much enjoyment out of each other's existence on the other, juxtaposing the fear of nuclear war which gripped Britain in the early 1980s and the spirit of festival and carnival, a regular feature of London summer life. It is not only a glorious piece of art; it is a fine testament to the multicultural spirit of East London's summer festivals.

Ray Walker, Dalston Lane Peace Mural, painted 1985, 2010,Ravish London

Ray Walker, Dalston Lane Peace Mural, painted 1985, 2010,Ravish London

Ray Walker, Dalston Lane Peace Mural, painted 1985, 2010,Ravish London

Ray Walker, Dalston Lane Peace Mural, painted 1985, 2010,Ravish London

Ray Walker, Dalston Lane Peace Mural, painted 1985, 2010,Ravish London

Orange, Red, Black Graffiti, Village Underground, 2008

The most stunning display of abstract graffiti, a complexity of orange, red and black shapes, was emblazoned across the walls of the Village Underground art studios in 2008. Not only was the design stunningly sophisticated and an invigorating explosion of colour, the artist camouflaged the neighbouring lamp post, creating an optical illusion.

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Graffiti, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

The invisible communication between artists

Beyond individual pieces of art there are synergies brought about by the juxtapositions of scrawls, tags and art to marvel at. This has been referred to as ‘the invisible communication between artists’. Here we present some of the best mash-ups.

Blue and Red Graffiti, Shoreditch, 2007, Ravish London

Sticker Composium, Bethnal Green, 2011,Ravish London

Graffiti and Street Art combining to create a certain ambiance, Coronet Street, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Invisble communication on Blackall Street, 2010, Ravish London

One of the best examples of synergy between graffiti artists, Brunswich Place, 2007, Ravish London

The Evolution of London Street Art: from graffiti to street art?

How did street art come about? Who bought it to London? How has it evolved and who has been responsible for its evolution since it arrived in London?

Worldwide developments: how did street art come about?

Trowelling the internet for insights into the development of street art, it is not altogether obvious that street art popped into existence at a particular point in time, i.e. that it was the brainchild of the ‘father of street art’. Street art is not rooted in the emergence or development of just one community, although it has been developed and played a role in the expression of several different communities.

However, before we start trying to work out how street art came about, it might be worth stopping to consider what, precisely, is street art? At its most basic it may be considered the practice of painting pictures on walls, or more specifically the walls of streets in villages and towns. Like this we might argue that street art, as art, has existed since the inception of human society and from the moment evolution gave birth to the desire and ability to create images.

Others might argue that street art is something political, it is about attempts to colonise the public space, through the presentation of signs, symbols, discourses and opinions on behalf of and by the oppressed, impoverished or disenfranchised. Again, by this definition street art would have a pretty long history, with political slogans, being written on the walls of towns and villages, for the last two hundred years.

However, for most people, street art is a modern phenomenon specifically related to urban environments, involving use of the spray pain can, being in the main illegal; and presenting challenging and taboo subjects. But how did these components emerge and converge to produce what we know today as street art?

The advent of street art might be defined by the coming together of a number of affordable technologies; including the spray paint can, railways, cheap air travel and maybe the computer. Of these, arguably the advent of the spray paint can is the most important. The spray paint can, an icon and key tool in the use of street and graffiti art, was invented in the 1920s, but perhaps more significantly was manufactured in the United States from the 1940s onwards. Certainly, if the spray paint can is the sina qua non of street art it explains why the first example of street art is claimed to be that of Gerard Zlotykamien, a Polish Jew. In 1963, Zlotykamien started spraying ghostly human images on the walls of Paris, in remembrance of those who died when the Americans dropped a nuclear bomb on to the Japanese city of Hiroshima in the 1940s. Apparently when the bomb dropped the heat from the explosion was so intense that many people were obliterated, all that remained was a black carbonised imprint of their bodies, left on the walls of the city.

Arguably, graffiti and street art came into existence, after the mass production of spray paint cans in the 1940s; Spray paint as artefact in Blackall Street, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Tribute to the spray can, Bethnal Green Road, 2010,Ravish London

Tribute to the spray can, just off Brick Lane, 2009,Ravish London

At the same time political activists and gangs in the United States were starting to use spray cans to put their political messages and mark their territory on the streets. By the 1970s the practice of scrawling one's name on a wall or a train had given birth to more elaborate, razzmatazz and colourful forms of writing known as graffiti art. Graffiti art was considered a key part in the development of an urban cultural movement, born in 1970s New York, known as hip hop. Although graffiti art started off as a sub-cultural practice it quickly gained acceptance in the commercial art world in 1980s New York.

Interestingly then it would seem street art and graffiti art, took off in different places, in Paris and in the States, but that it was in the States where graffiti art began to take off as a mass participation activity. Quite how graffiti art evolved into street art, is, however, not clear, but again, it may be that this evolution took several paths, across several places. The first thing to emphasize is that there does seem to have been a transition in the work of graffiti artists, from graffiti, which is focussed on writing one's name, to street art, which is about creating concepts, pictures and images. This is a little contentious given that some graffiti artists insist that graffiti art and street art are practised by different communities with distinct values. It is argued graffiti artists paint for notoriety and illegality, whilst street artists paint to become accepted and to earn money. There may be an element of truth to this, but the reality is there is a large population in the middle who do or have done both.

The emergence of street art from graffiti art can be, arguably, put down to two things. First, it is not hard to understand that graffiti artists, having perfected their own particular style of writing characters, took to the idea at some point of drawing objects other than letters, and so start to delve into street art. Furthermore, it might be argued that many graffiti artists, are in actual fact frustrated artists, who would like to paint for a living, but who don't have the opportunity or confidence to do it. Driven by their passions, but held back by their lack of opportunity, many take to the spray paint can; and find that graffiti, a relatively simple form of art, propels them to more creative works, hence creating the genre of street art.

It has also been suggested that street art was a response of conventional artists, who, inspired by graffiti artists, decided to investigate the ways in which they could take their art to the streets. King Adz reckons the explosion in graffiti in the States, combined with post-World War II slogans plastered around Paris, contributed to Parisian artist Blek Le Rat stencilling street art in the 1980s. . Similarly, Fondation Cartier explains how, in 1980s New York, "artists inspired by the explosive energy of graffiti art brought their practice to the street. Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring exhibited their work alongside the writers, forging friendships and artistic connections."

London developments developments

London and New York have been linked for years by finance and business, but seem also to share a common cultural history, which may help explain that following the development of graffiti art in New York, Londoners and Brits quickly picked up on these practices, introducing them to the streets of London in the 1980s. Adam Neate for example talking to Aesthetic Magazine described his own journey and the influence of American graffiti art:, “In the mid-80s my cousin was interested in the graffiti scene. VHS was coming over and there were a few graffiti videos coming from America and also acts like the Beastie Boys and hip-hop music. I would go to my cousin’s house where we would mess around with spray cans; I was only nine or ten at the time. As I got older I discovered books including Subway Art and Spray Can Art, which I would get from the library, they were really colourful, and I wanted to replicate what I saw."

Malarky, a street artist who paints in London regularly, provided the following account inStreet Art LondonI was always a doodler and then when i got into skateboarding when i was 13 or 14 I was subjected to a lot more art that related to me and this is when I started doing drawings for stickers and putting them about, gradually got into doing graffiti and for a while I was doing letter pieces but my letters normally always ended up turning into characters and then I started focusing on characters and just drawing stuff that made me smile… I worked a few different design jobs and started meeting like minded people that were already working as successful artists, loved the studio culture and just chilling with friends and drawing so I just started doing that. As far as street art goes, I like to paint outside, I can’t really explain it, I like to add some colour to the streets and reclaim a bit of bland street surface, if you what I mean. Here we see then that someone who just liked to doodle, seemed to evolve into doing graffiti, although interestingly Malarky seems to gloss over the day he decided to turn from private doodler to public vandal.

In the United Kingdom it was arguably Banksy who set the trend in making the jump from graffiti to street art. Together with the national media, who captured and communicated his work up and down the country, Banksy, Moses like, raised the consciousness of graffiti artists and conventional artists, showing them the possibilities, utilities and benefits of depositing street art in the promised land known as London. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising if, Banksy, who has proven to be an expert in the creation and maintenance of a successful commercial brand, deliberately targeted London as part of a strategy to make a name for his brand. For many street artists, who have ambitions to be known and for success, it's not just producing street art that matters, but producing street art thatmatters, which means producing street art in London. As Aidan While points out, “the social production of art is a collective practice that depends on complex interactions between artists and… patrons, dealers, critics, gallery owners and collectors"

Since then the street art has taken on a life and energy independently of Banksy. Gallery owners and graphic studios in Shoreditch seem to have been prompted by the work of Banksy to commission art on their walls. This seems to have encouraged a constant flow of gratuitous work, posted illegally, for company. The result is a cacophony of colour and oddity; a square mile of street art. Shoreditch has come to be seen as the spiritual home of street art, as the place where street artists, from all over the world come, some invited and commissioned, some not, to put up their work. Banksy, who came from Bristol to put his street art up in London, was the pathfinder, the first of many to beat a path to the Big Smoke to show their wares. Still most of this is theoretical, it would be interesting to know, from those in the know, when street art first arrived on the streets of London and who bought it here, and at what point Shoreditch began to turn into the open air art gallery that it is today – answers on a postcard. It would also be interesting to find out more about the development and emergence of institutions like Village Underground, the place on Curtain Road and even places like 333 who regularly commission artwork on their walls, and who or what influenced them to do this.

The 333 club in Shoreditch, seem to regularly commission art on the outside of their building, 2011,Ravish London

The Yin and Yang of Street Art: Sharing and Ego

Yin, an explosion of energy, an attempt to mean something to someone, a fire fuelled by a need for recognition and acceptance, yang, a deep breath in, a chance to reflect, an opportunity to disconnect and feel one's real emotions; to disengage from the zeitgeist.

The Yang of Street Art

The beauty of street art for some lies in 'free expression'. To understand free expression we need first to get our heads round the fact that humans often need to suppress feelings, emotions and truths; for to reveal them would be dangerous; could challenge social elites; social arrangements; like a young girl, sexually abused by her father, who knows that revelation could break the family unit. This suppression of truth, feeling and experience, creates a tension, which street art, like literature and music, allows people to release, momentarily, in controlled conditions. Street art then, as a form of free expression, as yang paints the ineffable, it announces terrible fears, murderous anger and deep shame. It does this unfettered, free from retribution or consequence. It is a chance to ignore, momentarily, the demands, expectations and requirements of society. Street art, then, is a sigh of relief, a scream. The artist, on behalf of society takes a breather, checks its pulse, listens for its beating heart, and speaks truth to feeling. Beglgian street artist Roa argues, "Graffiti is one of the most free art expressions of the world; you don’t do it for money nor for an institution, it’s free expression and it liberates yourself creatively from a lot of restrictions". Street art, trustfully, intimately, kindly and softly, invites us to sit down and feel our own emotions and soul. In this way it is contrasted with commercial advertising, which seeks to undermine our self-esteem, chip away at our taken for granted sense of being accepted, bullies, charms, pulls the wool over our eyes, mis-sells, predisposes and biases. For some, street art is part of an idealistic utopian philosophy that art should be for the people, free and accessible. It represents a democratisation of the consumption of art; enabling a direct relationship between the artist and the public, unrestrained by the interest of gallery owners or the social mores of the time.

So the street artist as yang, as 'a fragment of society' is not trying to make us do or besomething, but inviting us to take time out to feel something real within. Street art is thus indulgence, meditation and yoga. Indeed, it is interesting to note that one of the first examples of street art, the paintings of the victims of the American nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima on the streets of Paris by Polish Jew Gerard Zlotykamien kept a suppressed feeling alive, kept the wound open to the air, so it might heal. We find the need to share supressed feeling inspiring other street artists. French artist C215 stencils the faces of real homeless people and street children into the walls of London; listlessness, apathy and sad they are. He says, "I have just been representing the people that really belong to the streets, and kids who have no chance in life. I am an orphan myself and I am quite obsessed by splitting of personality and sensation of emptiness: I am supposed to have a borderline personality, and cutting stencil then painting is like a personal therapy about my own fears, my own ghosts."Mike Marcus, London artist, likewise, talking to Sense Lost says "I have a rich internal world. I spend much of my time upset or angry about what humanity achieves verses what it is capable of. I think a lot about my role as a fragment of society and think that others should similarly acknowledge that they have the power to make a better world if they just started caring. Much of my work talks about this in some way."

C215, Spitalfields, 2011,Ravish London

C215, 2008,Ravish London

Street artists who have a mission to share feelings, may work anonymously to foreground the feeling they want to share. London artist Adam Neate who painted for the love of painting explained to Aesthetic Magazine that one day, finding his home full of his own work, he decided to give some of it to a charity shop. Passing the charity shop later, he realised the shop had discarded the work for rubbish collection, so he decided to take the art back and leave it "hanging on nails, or leaning against lampposts in the streets".Neate explained to The Independent that the point was to put the art out there "for people to enjoy". Said Neate, "I didn't get any feedback for years as I never saw where the paintings ended up".

The yang of street art is about sharing feelings, Love is All You Need, Hearn Street, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

The yang of street art is about sharing feelings, Old Lady, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Anonymous often means fun and light-hearted, simplest is often the best and this is one of the best, Um, Drysdale Street, 2010,Ravish London

The ideal of anonymity in street art is revered because it supports the ideal of free expression. On revelling in and resonating with the shared feeling, the onlooker is left with a frisson of wonder, an appreciation for altruism, "Who did this, where did they come from and where did they go?" Creating art to share means the artist has to be in some part an altruist; maybe a true amateur, impoverished because he or she cannot do anything other than give, a part-timer or an aristocrat. The irony of anonymity is that no artist can ever be known for his anonymous works; it is an accolade he or she must take with to his or her grave if she is ever to own it.

Whose idea was this? Hanging box-basket, Stroud Green Road, 2008,Ravish London

Furthermore it might be argued that for street art to really be free expression to be something shared with the onlooker, it needs to relate uniquely to the environment and/or to the people who live in the environment. That is to say, street art can be thought of as street art or street artStreet art arguably should interact with the street or people in some way. It can incorporate a piece of the street or environment into the art. Or it can be an attempt to speak to the people in the street, something particular to who they are and their lives. Banksy is arguably the best example of a street artist in this sense, his work consistently makes use of and incorporates the environment.

Momentarily, the big black cat painted on the wall of a side road of Kingsland Road reflected the reality purring in front of me, 2008,Ravish London

The big black cat in full view, 2008,Ravish London

One of the rare bits of street art relating to the Bengali inhabitants of Brick Lane, 2011,Ravish London

Dedication to Billy Brown Junior, Local Man, 2011,Ravish London

Free Hand Street Art, Herakut, Blackall Street, 2007,Ravish London

Street writing

Another good example of the yang in street art is what I would call street writing, arguably a form of street art, and in some ways, bizarrely, a return to tagging, but not for self-promotion but instead to share thoughts and ideas. There is, arguably, a knack to street writing, in being poetic and short, simple, intelligible and yet deep. Some of it is comical.

Two people lament the loss of bikes (the second writer’s message can just be made out underneath the first message), Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

We Scream in Silence, Brick Lane, 2010,Ravish London

The Moon Betrayed You, Brick Lane, 2009,Ravish London

This was the best of several Mudwig insults, graffitied on to the walls of Hoxton in 2008,Ravish London

Charly is wasted but I like Charly, Kingsland Road, Saturday Night, 2008,Ravish London

Sometimes just a small addition can reveal an underlying violence, King John Ct, 2008,Ravish London

The Yin of Street Art

But just as life is yang so it is yin, just as it is introspection and calm, so it is desire and competition. Street art, like life, is shaped by both these forces, and here we explore the yin of street art. The fact is that the denizens of London are, invariably, à la Dick Whittington, drawn to the Big Smoke by ambition, desire and avarice. The city is like a magnet, pulling all the energy of the ambitious towards its center, rendering it a black hole. The insatiable desire for attention, status and wealth means that Londoners struggle to maintain a dignified social spirit in their business and dealings. This is wellillustrated by the politics and practice of street art, which over the last fifteen years, has added to London's credence as an artistic and creative capital, and made some artists rich and famous, and which constitutes, for the most part, vandalism of private and public property.

We find then, street art a tool for getting on in the world. One of the principal motivations driving a good number of street artists is self-promotion. Street art is regularly monickered. It is offered freely, but often as samplers, advertisements of what people could buy, and investments in one's street credibility. Here street art is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end. It is illegal advertising, fly-postering. Cartrain, a street artist from Walthamstow, started off peppering his local neighborhood with work, but moved on to Shoreditch and Brick Lane, claiming that no-one was taking any notice of his work in Walthamstow. Its perhaps not that people in Walthamstow were not noticing – I expect they were, it’s that Walthamstow doesn’t have a community of artists and bloggers who were going to create a white heat around Cartain’s work – in which Cartrain could bask. Cartrain moved from yin to yang.

Street artists, far from providing an alternative to consumerist messages, illegally extend the commercial colonization of public space from the billboard and the phone booth to the pavement and wall. Some artists put their work on the street as part of a commercial strategy to make a name, to create a brand and a demand for that brand, which they then service through internet based merchandising operations, and through galleries once their name is made. T-MagicShepherd Fairey and Banksy whether by design or in effect have all done this, i.e. used London as an advertising hoarding. According to Charlie Gower, ‘In effect the street work is there to act as advertising for their main work, for sale in galleries. These guys, the likes of Fairey, Banksy and Invader are very much brands now, by their own creation’. In many ways then, this street art scene is marketing on the blind side. Many artists don't attempt to make their work relate to the environment or to the people who walk around. Instead, street art is simply appended to the street, so using the street as an open air art gallery.

T-Magic Street Advertising, 2007,Ravish London

A really good example of marketing on the blind side is The Obey Giant poster campaign, planned by Shepherd Fairey, and conspicuous in London between 2007 and 2009. The work comprised a series of posters bringing together political protest icons superimposed on psychedelic backgrounds. The work was posted way above eye level, giving a sense you were being gazed upon by a manifestation of political power or the representation of ideology. Interestingly the images did not point to any particular type of ideology, just ‘ideology’. One of the first posters I noticed, off Old Street, had the face of a beautiful looking Middle-Eastern looking women wrapped in a headscarf, with two guns, with flowers coming out of them. When I saw this poster, I wondered whether it was about women’s oppression, Islamic revolution, a fashion house, or was it one of those sophisticated advertising campaigns which sell you an icon, bringing the brand in later. Turns out it was the latter. According to Obey Giant the aim of their ‘campaign’ was to ‘stimulate curiosity and bring people to question both the campaign and their relationship with their surroundings. Because people are not used to seeing advertisements or propaganda for which the motive is not obvious, frequent and novel encounters with Obey propaganda provoke thought and possible frustration, nevertheless revitalizing the viewer's perception and attention to detail’. This phenomenological project would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that Shepherd Fairey backed the campaign up with an internet based merchandising operation; which rendered the campaign an incredibly successful attempt to commodify, market and sell ‘counterculture cool’. Once the consumer has fallen in love with what seems ‘counterculture’, has invested time in cracking the secret, the next step is naturally to want to buy into this new exclusive intellectual movement, and get a t-shirt. I nearly did, but a sense of buying into nothing produced a sickening effect inside of me, that stopped me. Obey Giant seems to engage with an agenda of social justice, of helping the suppressed in some way, but when you look deeper into it, all you can find is offers t-shirts, posters and stickers. As Mark Vallen has observed, "Perhaps the most important falsehood concerning Fairey’s [Fairey is the founding father of Obey Giant] behavior is that it is motivated by some grand theory of aesthetics or weighty political philosophy - but I’m afraid the only scheme at work is the one intended to make Fairey wealthy and famous …it’s also not impossible to view Fairey’s work as right-wing in essence, since it largely ransacks leftist history and imagery while the artist laughs all the way to the bank."

Obey Poster, Phenomenological or Comercial? 2007,Ravish London

Obey Poster, 2007, Ravish London

Obey Poster, 2007, (If you stand some steps away from this one you will see a face)Ravish London

Obey Poster, 2007, Ravish London

Obey Poster, 2008, Ravish London

Obey Poster, 2007, Ravish London

A likely critique of Obey Street Art/Advertising, 2008, Ravish London

In certain cases whilst a street artist may set out to paint for painting's sake, they later cash in on their anonymity and the mystery underlying their initially anonymous work. Ben ‘Eine’ Flynn painted the letters A-Z, in a rather attractive font, on steel shutters of shop fronts around East London between 2007 and 2009. Although it appears that the project had not started out with commercial intent, later on photographs of the letters were used to produce posters for the pop band 'Alphabeat' in 2008 (although I am unclear to be honest as to whether Ben Flynn was paid for the use of these photographs in this way).Even our selfless hero Adam Neate, was with time identified and then invited to do a gallery show, in effect cashing in on his altruism and anonymity.

Eine Shutter, Redchurch Street, 2010,Ravish London

Eine Shutter, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Eine Street Art turned into Advertising for Alphabeat, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Two years later, in 2010, a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between street art and advertising occurred in Shoreditch, London, with a series of street art pieces, which coincided with a large advertising campaign, launched by clothing brand Converse. The campaign started in a fairly orthodox albeit exhaustive manner. Converse paid for every bit of advertising space they could get their hands on in Shoreditch dressing several famous people from the world of rock, pop and television; and linking them together as if they were all cut out of paper; New Order’s Bernard Sumner, being the jewel in the crown (See this video as an example). But then around about the same time, street artists started to create a series of derivatives, some clearly using the campaign's initial imagery, others providing abstract reminders. The purpose behind the use of ever vaguer representations, this evolution from advertising into abstract street art, was seemingly an attempt to encourage the onlooker to make a link between Converse and the deep psychic sense of cool that one associates with free expressionist values of street art. It is a disturbing cloud.

Converse Advertising, Shoreditch, 2010,Ravish London

Converse Advertising, Shoreditch, 2010,Ravish London

Converse Advertising overlayed on street art, Village Underground, Shoreditch, 2010,Ravish London

The same space being used for street art, is being used for advertising, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

The same space being used for street art, is being used for advertising, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Advertising becomes represented in art, but is it art or advertising? Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Advertising becomes represented in art, but is it art or advertising? Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Fragmented advertising juxtaposed with image, art or advertising? Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Fragmented advertising juxtaposed with image, art or advertising? Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Now advertising reduced to a symbol (a pair of shoes and a posture) embedded in abstract street art, Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Now advertising reduced to a symbol (a pair of shoes and a posture) embedded in abstract street art, Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

Now advertising reduced to a symbol (a pair of shoes and a posture) embedded in abstract street art, Village Underground, 2010,Ravish London

In all these cases, we feel cheated, for what seemed like an altruistic act, an act of giving, is actually a sampler, a special offer, your first hit. In this way we grow weary and cynical about street art, it is just marketing.

Interestingly graffiti artists sometimes claim that whilst street artist are interested in money they, the graffiti artists, are interested in the higher values of fame and notoriety. Graffiti artist Aroe, talking to Charles Darwent, said, "Street art and graffiti are completely different…. I do graffiti just for the fame and for respect from peers within my sub-culture. For those so-called street artists, it's all about money. They would be laughed off by proper graffiti artists. It's not about their work, it's their attitude. I'm not interested in galleries. I'm not a trained artist and I don't look at it as something noble; I'm just writing my name…" One commentator, commenting on the fact that a graffiti artist turned street artist called Ben ‘Eine’ Flynn, had given evidence in a court case against a tagger called Tox in 2010, said, “Tox is a real graffiti artist and you'll see his name on London's walls years after the street-art wankfest is over…. and could probably do 'better' work if he wanted, it's just that you don't care about things like that when you paint for fame rather than money." However trying to make it look as if wanting notoriety is more holy than wanting money, is in actual fact a narcissism of small differences; it is all yin at the end of the day. Besides, history shows that most graffiti artists, despite playing their anti-consumerist, anti-authority anti-money credentials, given half the chance to earn some decent money from art, jump at it. For example Robbo famous graffiti artist of the 1980s, recently engaged by Banksy in a well-publicized graffiti-street art battle, used the publicity gained by the battle to star in a Channel 4 documentary and to sell paintings at his first ever gallery show. Tagger-extraordinaire Tox has been accused of selling paintings of his Tag for considerable amounts of money. It's just that graffiti artists very rarely get near that opportunity, so notoriety is all they can ever aspire to, and so they tell themselves notoriety is all they ever wanted. The point is, the real difference is the one between free expression, anonymity and uniqueness on the one hand and selling, self-promotion, marketing and reproductions on the other.

Its not always easy to distinguish between street art and graffiti, Great Eastern Street, 2010,Ravish London

Interestingly, for some people it is one particular aspect of the yin of street art and graffiti, its illegality, that makes street art and graffiti what it is. One of the best examples of this type of work, occurred on Christmas Day in 2007, when a number of taggers, decided to enter the Northern Line tube tunnel, walk down the line all the way to Camden, and then sprayed Happy Birthday Jesus all over the walls. Banksy, in 2011, created a piece in Tottenham, not a place known for its thriving street art community and has also carried out installations in St James Park. For those who see street art in these terms, Dalston Lane Mural, the Tate Modern Exhibition of 2008, any work deposited at Leake Street, and arguably displays deposited on the walls of art studios and art squats would be excluded because they were either commissioned or we can expect to see artwork deposited there without resistance from the authorities. Can we call this art, street art? Well, of course we can, but it is true to say that commissioned works lack the dimension of surprise, shock and antagonism that some street art can bring. Graffiti artistRobbo explained to Sabotague Times that for him, ‘graff’s always been rock’n’roll, a way to rebel and be creative’. It is the illegality of street art, which appeals to a number of fans, and which results in Council's taking action to erase the works. For example, in April 2007, Transport for London painted over Banksy's iconic image of a scene from Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta clutching bananas. Two years later Westminster Council demanded that a Banksy mural must be painted over. Robert David, the chairman of Westminster’s planning committee said, "If we condone this then we might as well say that any kid with a spray can is producing art." He said. "To go and deface other people’s property is graffiti. Just because he’s famous doesn’t give him that right."

Tensions in Street Art

The tensions between yin and yang, inherent in street art, are often talked about, discussed and negotiated. Despite the ideals of street art, few artists can be said to be in the game purely for the love of free expression. The temptations of going professional are always there. London artist Mike Marcus, talking to Alice Jayne Burns explains that, “it becomes complex once you get to a certain level. It becomes necessary to devote a large amount of time and energy to ones practice and that is not possible while holding down a full time job. However, even artists need to eat and pay rent and personally I'm not one for living in a squat and fishing around in bins." Sirus 23, writing in LSD, commented on the tension within each and every artist, the tension between producing art for its own sake, or producing art as a means to an end, as a means for survival. He said, "There is so much to discuss on the street art front on the pros and woes of galleries and the relative dangers versus wider exposure of flirting with the mainstream…. It applies to my world of the now defunct proper illegal warehouse party scene too. But there is this truth to bear in mind when contemplating any of it. They can wipe your piece or shut down your rave – you’ll do it all again with fresh determination somewhere else straight away – Bigger – Better - Fucking Viral.. And it will always have the impact, integrity, truth , raw power – and above all the freedom of the underground. But there will come a time – and it will – when a gallery owner sidles up to you in the back end of Hackney and offers you an expo – or a club owner offers you grands to play in a club you wouldn’t be caught dead in. We all have to earn a crust and the waves of belief are sadly finite if cyclical – so I would be a naïve idealist to claim that accepting certain proposals is in any way wrong. It’s just always worth remembering that if you truly believe in something – no one can EVER shut you down by force. But once you are tempted out – inch by millimetre – there is so often no going back."

Street Artists – charmers and deluded

Whilst many street artists, graffiti artists and the lowly tagger are self-publicists, there are important differences. The point is, is that street artists are in the main psychopaths, charmers in the mould of Tony Blair, who believe they are doing the right thing and want you to believe they are doing the right thing. The street artist, despite his iconoclastic and challenging art, is not trying to piss you, the general public, off. Instead he intends to seduce you with the beauty, audacity and complexity of his 'gift'. He wants to take your breath away such that you feel blessed, and forget he has trespassed, vandalised and imposed his will on you. He wants you to forget he is using your walls and your property as a canvas, so you don't get angry that he has decided, unilaterally, psychopathically, that his need for his art on your wall, is greater than your right to enjoy your wall, as it is, without interference.

The tension between the desire to be yang and the natural tendency to be yin causes the street artist to become deluded. Artists confuse using the streets to expand coverage of their art with democracy! French artist, Invader who mounts tiny tiled mosaics of space invaders in London asserts, ‘Nothing is too much for the street. Because if you make a piece like this and you sell it to a collector, maybe his friends, his family and a few people are going to see it. I mean maybe ten, twenty, lets say fifty people. But if you put that in the street, in a good street, its fifty people every five minutes who are going to see your work, and that’s much more interesting, much more exciting.’ At first this sounds like Invader is eulogising the ability of street art as a form of free expression, of connecting to the public, but it could also be barely containable glee at realising the income to be derived from gaining a name and interest amongst the thousands of people who take a curiosity in the work, as they walk past it in the street. The street artist will use all kind of rationales about the greater good of street art to hide his hugely problematic egoistic tendencies. The street artist claims to operate according to the mantra of the treasured late John Peel, to give to people not what they want, but that which they didn't realise they wanted. He will argue that the buildings he pasted his work over are in need of brightening up. He will argue, like it has been argued about T.Magic, that his attempts at using the pavement to illegally advertise his business is about fighting for the rights of a ‘forgotten community’ ‘to be heard in a world of limited space’. More often than not he will claim to be fighting consumerism. Cartrain for example says, ‘Graffiti doesn't tell people to buy crap they don't want, unlike advertising. I consider my work artistic and creative, not mindless rubbish designed to annoy people.’ (Trendall, 2007). In an interview with Charles Darwent, Sweet Toof explained, "It's about reclaiming space. We have to put up with advertising, that can take up the whole side of a building. We have no say in that." But in actual fact, whilst claiming to be fighting consumerism, the street artist or graffiti artist is often only adding another consumerist message, albeit in a more sophisticated and indirect way. Many street artists are delivered hot from the fresh warm lips of Margaret Thatcher, whilst trying to give the impression that they are in some sense the next Che Guevara. They are like those annoying socialist workers who bang on about corporations, whilst at the same time smoking Marlborough Lites and drinking Carling.

So street artists are charmers, and all the evidence is that, despite criticism that they are vandals and criminals, they have, by and large, charmed the general public, private interests and authorities a treat. Arguably the first to be charmed was the media, who love street art for several reasons. First, the audacity of many of the pieces and the location of the pieces makes great photographs and great reading. Second, the moral arguments around street art causes a rage in the soul, which arouses interest and keeps readers stuck to the paper. Arguably, the celebration of street art in the media has raised the status of street artists and the rich and famous all want a slice of that. So, in 2008, art auctioneer Bonhams held London's first auction of street art, Village Undeground held an "urban art sale" and a piece by Banksy attracted a bid of £208,100. Musicians have also been keen to get street artists to do their album covers. Faile worked on the design of a Duran Duran album (Shift, 2008); Banksy on the design of a Blur album. News of the high and the mighty purchasing street art, gives street art the appearance of legitimacy. The elevated status of street artists in turn prompts gallery owners who are keen to maximize their commissions, asking street artist to put on shows, in the hope the artists cache will attract in buyers. And, like this, street artists are laundered from illegality into legality. Best example of a street artist being laundered, is Ben ‘Eine’ Flynn, who was laundered by Prime Minister David Cameron, who bought a piece of art from this reported ex-convict, for a present made to Barack Obama. >In 2011, the same Prime Minister decided to pose in front of graffiti art when talking about his government's response to the UK riots. Graffiti, it's alright, it's for the kids, those riot prone darlings.

Furthermore local authorities, now aware of the financial value of street art, and of the publicity that it brings, are loathed to tear down pieces of street art. The Head of Street Environment Services in Islington, seduced, said: “As the Head of Service I do have some discretion and with regards to street art there are pieces of very attractive street art which do feature in books, and calendars and websites. Some of the Banksy work, my personal opinion, is that they are very artistic, I genuinely believe that it does add value. The stuff that we've got there's groups of people who come to look at this kind of work, because work of Banksy has been sold off for huge sums of money." In Shoreditch, for example, most of the street art remains for as long as it takes for the rain to dissolve it, for another artist to displace it, or for some envious art collector to rip it off the wall.

Private interests have been seduced too. The firm Pearl and Coutts, when it found out that Westminster Council wanted to remove a Banksy exhibit from one of its walls, went to the length of taking Westminster Council to court, to try, unsuccessfully, to have the image protected. Ben ‘Eine’ Flynn found himself at the centre of another process of legitimization, one which began in 2007 and 2008, when he started painting letters on the steel shutters of shop fronts around East London. He said, ‘Once I'd done about six and had photographs of them, then I could approach the shop owners and say, "I'm an artist, this is what I'm doing, can I do yours?" Invariably they say yes and invariably they say, "My shop's called Ruby Handbags, can you paint an R and H'?"

The ability of street artists to charm authorities has caused some degree of consternation and resentment amongst graffiti artists and taggers, who are often looked on less favourably. Graffiti artist Robbo, speaking to The Sabotague Times, commented that “Over the years negative connotations associated with graff have been exaggerated, it’s unreal that people can end up in prison for a long time, yet someone puts up a stencil and that’s OK, because it brings tourism to Shoreditch."

Street art as coveted commodities

So the cultural cache of street art, or at least of certain street artists, has meant that street art has now become a commodity, of considerable value, to be bought and traded, and to be treated as an investment. The commodification and value of Banksy’s work, and the absence of any successful attempt to prosecute Banksy, has meant that in effect, he has been able to spray money on to peoples’ property. In 2008 Luti Fagbenle made £208,100 after putting up for auction a piece of work, which Banksy had mounted on the wall of his Portobello Road office. Now, when, someone finds a piece of street art on their property, they may not necessarily first think about how much it will cost to sandblast the graffiti away, rather they might first stop to think about whether it is a Banksy, and how much they might get for it (see this London story from 2009.

Now some people, rather than enjoying the aesthetics or experience of street art, want to know, "Who did the street art? Was it Banksy?" See, for example, this message posted byHooked on the internet, "Checked out this new Banksy piece yesterday. Fantastic work and great to see everyone enjoying the piece, had three long conversations with random locals about the pieces while I was taking some pictures. Lots of others kept stopping and asking if we knew who did it or if we were Banksy! ".

The age of the internet has created a virtual street art world built in part on the real world of street art. But how does the virtual street art world differ from the real world of street art?

In the real world of street art, the artist plans what he or she is going to do, where he or she is going to do it and then executes the plan. Those who happen to see the art, and enjoy it, encounter it as a moment of serendipity. The experience is brief and embedded in their every-day narrative of going to work or walking down a street, and whatever day-to-day thoughts they may be thinking. The appreciation is cursory. For many more the art may not even register; it may be nothing more than background noise. In any case for most people, unless ardent fans, their experience of street art is dilute, they may see only one or two pieces at any one time.

The virtual world of street art, however, is something different altogether. In the virtual world, street art is concentrated. There are blogs and galleries which rip the art from their geographical location and juxtapose the images next to each other. Here, viewers of street art get a concentrated experience, delivered to them through the click of a mouse, rather than the motion of their legs. The sights, sounds and weather of the city are lost. Sometimes the street is completely cut away, leaving just the art, and the claims that the art was once on the street, so that street credibility continues to dangle, from a very thin thread, from the photographic representation of the art. Whilst in the real world street art is transient, the virtual world of street art has the power to prolong the life of transient pieces. The magic that might have been shared by a few who had the luck to walk down a street at the particular point in time the work was mounted, and just before it was taken back down again, can now be shared by millions for years and years in the virtual reality of street art.

It may also be the case, that the virtual world of street art, creates more viewers of street art, and creates more fans than the real world itself. The amateur world of cataloguers and commentators, desirous to know who did what begin to create anthologies of artists work, create stars of the street art world; interviews help to construct personas; they help provide a context and understanding, through which street art can be more easily represented and understood by consumers of the mass media. In so doing the community of cataloguers and commentators on the internet have arguably digested and helped the mass media link into street art, and helped marketers and auction houses commodify street art.

It might be argued that the increase in street art, is in part, not an increase in the purist form of street art, i.e. art which attempts to relate to the environment in some way, but instead, an increase in the appropriation of streets and walls as canvases for artists struggling to get recognition through galleries. It is ironic in some ways that many street artists eulogize about the democratic effects of putting art on the street, i.e. that it is available for everyone, when in fact it maybe that it is only when the art is reframed from the street on to the internet, that they get their biggest viewing figures. Is it really street art when it is on the internet? Has the virtual world of street art created two forms of street art?

A case study of the famous 'spat' between two street artists, Banksy and Robbo, which has been commented on earlier, serves to illustrate some of what we are talking about here. The actual street art events in this spat, in the real street art world, comprised a set of alterations of different pieces of graffiti and art over a period of time. For many in the real world of street art, for passers-by with no knowledge of street art, the modified works Robbo, with the exception of Banksy's initial modification, added no aesthetic value. Furthermore without knowledge of Banksy, Robbo and their 'spat' most passers-by would not have been able to read into the significance of the modifications as they presented. In many ways, in the real world of street art, the modifications were meaningless. Finally with the iterations made by Banksy and Robbo occurring over just a handful of days, few would have seen the pieces, and fewer would have seen the complete evolution of these artistic modifications.

However, as was pointed out, the internet creates a virtual world of street art. One of the principal effects is that transient street works can be captured electronically and maintained for perpetuity on the internet. So the successive modifications made by Banksy and Robbo were immediately captured, so that people could enjoy them sometime after they had been destroyed. The narratives provided by the bloggers and cataloguers helped readers make sense of the modifications, enjoy the joke so to speak, and provided the basis upon which lovers of street art and graffiti could debate the ethics of the modifications.

It is interesting then to ponder whether Banksy and Robbo might have gone to the lengths they did, if it wasn't for the virtual world of street art. It is clear that without the internet, the work and the understandings of the work would only have been enjoyed by a very small number of people related to the artists themselves. What we are left to ponder then, is whether street artists are now creating street art, with a view to how this will be seen in the virtual world of street art first, with considerations about what people who actually really do see and experience it in the street, second?

In fact, some have argued that the 'spat' between Banksy and Robbo, may have been a sophisticated and intelligent piece of marketing, an attempt to manufacture a 'street art story', which served to raise awareness and interest in both artists. Certainly the spat created an interest in Robbo, which led to Channel 4 filming a documentary about Robbo's attempts to get even with Banksy, and to a gallery inviting him to do a show, something which he had never achieved during his days painting graffiti on trains. Certainly if this was an example of manufactured marketing, it absolutely relied on the dynamics of the virtual world of street art. The mass media, who took up the story of the 'spat', relied in part on the narratives and context provided by bloggers, to present the story to the public.

It should also be pointed out that this hyper-world of the internet isn't just an add-on to the real world – in some ways it has now taken over – so the real world of street art is ultimately a means to an end, a means to making it in the hyper-world. Street artists now, arguably create their wares, with an expectation that they will be seen on the internet. Most artists for example provide their signature to the art, and many have their own web site. This led one street artist, in 2010, to mounting up the words, "this will be available on canvas later" on a wall in Hanbury Street, just off Brick Lane. Well it has made it to this web page.

This Will Be Available on Canvas Later, Hanbury Street, 2011, Ravish London

I think what is fascinating is the way in which street art thrives off a community of bloggers and obsessives, who are looking for "the next big thing", to fill an emotional void, who are constantly running away from what they already know. There's a lot of fool's gold out there, street art which is no big deal, but which prompts a reaction from a community of discovery junkiesFor example, in 2011, someone decided to line up hundreds of miniature clay men across London Bridge. This long list of figures on London Bridge, was in some sense, interesting, but in some ways like Tox' s tags, unremarkable, soulless and depressingly endless. And yet it registered in the various blogs, in London, in a way that it might not if it were done in a small town. And it is not the talent or genius of work that seems to garner publicity, just that it is something different.

Street art as politics

Street art imagery can be iconoclastic, challenging and taboo. A good example is Banksy’s two policemen engaged in a passionate embrace.

Because graffiti and street art are often illegal activities it is sometimes assumed that graffiti and street artists are working class kids with an axe to grind. More often than not we find that they are middle class kids with an axe to grind. Graffiti artist Aroe was reported living in Brighton, where he has a house, a full-time job, long-term girlfriend, two cars and four children. K-Guy has a graphics degree. Cedar Lewisohn, author of ‘Street Art’ has commented, ‘When you start seeing street art in your neighbourhood you know it’s on the up’ (Gavin and Ward, 2008). Street artists often have jobs in graphics studios, and they use their income to fund their street art work. Very few graffiti or street artists know much about what it means to struggle or live under the breadline. The guys who produce this stuff are for the most part art college educated, linked in, global, skilled up artists. They are looking to get into galleries, looking for sugar daddies. One needs to bear in mind the educational and class differences of those who are producing pieces of artwork in the streets of Shoreditch, and the uneducated urban roughnecks from Brixton, Tottenham and other places, who are still spraying ugly indecipherable signatures on buildings.

So, to think that street art is in some sense a counter-revolutionary movement that will benefit the poor and oppressed is to ignore the political economy which underpins this work. Street art is not a mouthpiece for the working classes or the oppressed. Nevertheless there have been some interesting political pieces.

Anti-Religious Street Art, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Anti-Royal Street Art, Blackall Street, 2011,Ravish London

Comment on Government Cuts, Fashion Street, 2011,Ravish London

Bare v Bones, 2011,Ravish London

Street art, Curtain Road, 2011,Ravish London

Support the Robin Hood Tax, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Big Brother is always a concern of counter-culture street art, City of London, 2010,Ravish London

Hermann Goering quote, Cans II Festival, 2008,Ravish London

In 2009 a band called The King Blues bought some billboard space in Shoreditch, which they used to spray paint an open letter to Gordon Brown.

Open letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown by the King Blues, Kingsland Road, 2008,Ravish London

In the winter of 2010-2011 there were some interesting pieces put up in protest against the policy of the coalition government to raise the cap on tuition fees. One of the most audacious and thrilling pieces of art work mounted was a piece put up in Old Street, by the Fail collective, on the front of what used to be the artistic hub of Shoreditch, The Foundry. I remember walking past the building on a dismal winter’s afternoon, it was cold and raining, and I saw someone dressed in a Virgin Media fluorescent jacket pasting up a huge poster. 'Virgin media' I chuckled. Come the evening, the front façade of what used to be the Foundry, had been plastered in an extraordinary political protest against the coalition government’s plans to increase tuition fees. It was visually stunning, but also conceptually creative, cool a humorous. It managed to resonate with the public’s anger and knowledge that a privileged class was taking a sledge hammer to the future of students from a poorer background. And yet it managed to avoid the simplistic jibes of a defeated man. The piece got ripped down a week later. Interesting that one of the most political pieces of work to be mounted in London, an acid strength attack on the damage inflicted by one class on another, was taken down so quickly, and more quickly than most.

Street artists posts up protest at raising tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Members of the public observe the paste-up in protest at raising of tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Faile piece on the Coalition Government's decision to raise tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Faile piece on the Coalition Government's decision to raise tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Faile piece on the Coalition Government's decision to raise tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London

Faile piece on the Coalition Government's decision to raise tuition fees, Old Street, 2010,Ravish London


For twenty-five years London has been subject to a beautiful onslaught of criminal activity, reprehensible to some, embraced by others, colourful, witty and provocative. Street art, phenomenon of the 1990s, developed from graffiti art, a phenomenon of 1980s, is a regular occurrence on London's streets; in some areas it is ubiquitous. Its existence in London owes much to the city's cultural ties with New York, London's wealth and status and to the talent and determination of Bristol based artist Banksy, who introduced street art to London.

In London there are hives, around which street artists buzz, fanatics hunt and serendipitous locals and tourists register pieces on their mobile phones. These hives are to be found in Camden, East London and Leake Street in Waterloo. The Camden part of Regent's Canal, in 2009, hosted London's first and only street art battle between street-artist par excellence Banksy and an old time graffiti artist Robbo. In Shoreditch, East London, gallery owners, design studios and businesses, inspired by early works of Banksy, commission art on the outside of their buildings. This commissioned work is accompanied by an ever changing pastiche of gratuitous work, which has turned Shoreditch and East London into the spiritual home of street art. Leake Street, a disused railway tunnel just behind Waterloo Train Station became a hive for street artists and graffiti artists afterBanksy organised a street art festival there in Spring 2008, which led to the tunnel being designated a legal space for street art and graffiti.

The Chinese say life is both yin and yang and the same can be said for the energies and motivations driving street art. Yin is an explosion of energy, an attempt to mean something to someone, a fire fuelled by a need for recognition and acceptance. Yang is a deep breath out, a chance to reflect, an opportunity to disconnect and feel one's real emotions; to disengage from the zeitgeist. For some, street art is all about the yangabout free expression, emotion, creativity and the altruism of the street artist. It is part of an idealistic utopian philosophy that art should be for the people, free and accessible. However, in reality, most artists are guided by yin, fuelled by a desire to make it as an artist, to get a name, to get ahead.

All street artists experience the tension between yin and yang, it causes many to entertain delusions about the greater good of what they are doing, to hide their problematic egoistic tendencies and criminal activity. The fact is, the street artist is a psychopathic charmer, trying to seduce you with the beauty, audacity and complexity of his gift, hoping you forget he has, unilaterally, decided that his need for his art on your wall, is greater than your right to enjoy your wall, as it is, without interference. And London's heart is fluttering. The media celebrate street art, local authorities protect street art works from vandalism; the firm Pearl and Coutts, when it found out that Westminster Council wanted to remove a Banksy exhibit from one of its walls, went to the length of taking Westminster Council to court, to try, unsuccessfully, to have the image protected. In 2008, London art auctioneer Bonhams held London's first auction of street art, ; Village Undeground held an "urban art sale" and a piece by Banksy attracted a bid of £208,100. The elevated status of the street artist prompts invitations for shows from owners hoping to cash in on the cache. Like this the street artist is laundered.

The rise of the internet, which has coincided with the rise of street art, has created a virtual street art world. In the real world of street art those who happen to see the art, and enjoy it, encounter it as a moment of serendipity. Bloggers and web site owners rip the art from their geographical location and juxtapose the images next to each other. Here, viewers of street art get a concentrated experience, delivered to them through the click of a mouse, rather than the motion of their legs. Street art in the real world is transient, in the virtual world, digitally preserved, it lasts forever. The magic that might have been shared by a few, who had the luck to walk down a street at a particular point in time, can now be shared by millions in the virtual world. What we are left to ponder is whether street artists are creating street art, with a view to how this will be seen in the virtual world first, with considerations for people who and experience it in the street, coming second?

Cowboy, Curtain Road, 2011,Ravish London

Faile Street Art, 2007, Ravish London

Cartrain Collage, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Paste-up, Fleur-de-Lis Street, Spitalfields, 2007,Ravish London

Graffiti, Curtain Road, 2011,Ravish London

Roa Squirrel, Hackney, 2011,Ravish London

Van Art, Africans Gone Wild, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

Street Art, just off Brick Lane, 2011,Ravish London

Street Art, Hollywell Road, Shoreditch, 2011,Ravish London

There is often an element of comedy in street art, Gollum to Wed Using Precious, Brick Lane, 2010,Ravish London

Street art paste-ups, Hollywell Lane, 2010,Ravish London

C215, Blackall Street, 2010,Ravish London

C215, Blackall Street, 2010,Ravish London

Olympic Street Art, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Street art, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

The South Bank skate park is another place where you can see a lot of graffiti, 2010,Ravish London

The South Bank skate park is another place where you can see a lot of graffiti, 2010,Ravish London

The South Bank skate park is another place where you can see a lot of graffiti, 2010,Ravish London

One artist has taken to mounting plastic mushrooms on the top of buildings, 2010,Ravish London

Love will tear us apart, Cremer Street, Hoxton, 2010,Ravish London

Faile paste-up, end of Blackall Street, 2010,Ravish London

Street art, 2010,Ravish London

Killah Vanilla, Holywell Lane, 2010,Ravish London

Killah Vanilla, Holywell Lane, 2010,Ravish London

Killah Vanilla, Holywell Lane, 2010,Ravish London

Street art, Great Eastern Street, 2010,Ravish London

Street art, MAE, 2009,Ravish London

Apple Headed Pisser down Blackall Street, 2008,Ravish London

Piece of cake left in a dirty cavity down Great Eastern Street, 2008,Ravish London

Street art paste-up, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Street art, Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Street art, Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, 2008,Ravish London

Lovely bit of street art, Brick Lane, 2008,Ravish London

This is what its all about, keep it nice and smiple, a nice sketch, a lovely expression, 2008,Ravish London

Fantastic, Commercial Road, 2007,Ravish London

Paste-up, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Cartrain Collage, Shoreditch, 2007,Ravish London

Odd Balloon, Curtain Road, 2011,Ravish London

Street Art, Archway, 2011,Ravish London

Graffiti Art, Curtain Road, 2010,Ravish London

Graffiti Art, Scrutton Street, 2010,Ravish London

Graffiti Art, Great Eastern Street, 2010,Ravish London

Graffiti Art, Brick Lane, 2009,Ravish London

More to life than art? 2008,Ravish London


No comments:

Post a Comment