Fanakapan: artist and street art.
From the end of last year and through the dark winter months I had kept hearing the buzz of anticipation for Fanakapan’s first solo show. It was to be held in April in Dalston, BSMTSpace. And as a new gallery on the block this really was scoop and another show of support for their venture by the street art community.
I was delighted to be invited to the PV where I had a great night out. But it was afterwards, as I’ve been thinking how to write up the show, that I thought who is Fanakapan, as an artist? How did he end up painting hyperreal helium balloons?
This is my story, examining a number of works that I snapped around East London, to chart Fanakapan’s evolution and growing voice as an artist.
The helium elephants are a personal favourite of mine because I love elephants. They’re joyful and I hear that line from the song in Dumbo, “I been done seen about everything, when I see an elephant fly.” But they are also confirmation of the new voice of Fanakapan who has travelled the world by this point and returned to share that joy with us in East London.
You might think this is far out, far fetched and I’ve had too much helium. But look at the facts and follow the story and I hope to prove this is so.
The location of this work is important too. Its on Pedley Street, off Brick Lane, one of two streets he always returns to. And it was painted in September 2015 when he was in demand as artist around the world. He was that elephant in flight. But before I get to this success, I want to take you back to his earlier work which I came across in my street art archive.
This first photograph, from 2014, was also on Pedley Street and I immediately notice the recurring theme of elephants and balloon shapes. And I also think of another Disney film, Fantasia and the trippy elephant dance.
This next photograph is also of work from 2014 and this time in Star Yard, off Brick Lane. And this is the second place he returns to paint regularly. In this image you can see two of his earlier styles. On the left is his collab with Horror Crew who painted the deer. And on the right are the gingerbread men who were part of his sweets and liquorice allsorts series.
In Spring 2015 I snapped him working on this piece which was the first time I had seen his new style of hyperreal helium balloons. And note, this is on the same wall as the helium balloon elephants painted later that Autumn. Around this time he had also painted another helium letter work in Star Yard which I missed.
It was during 2015 that Fanakapan became an artist in demand internationally. He went to Berlin, Beijing, Malta, Dubai, NY and LA. This post from Instagraffiti blog shows work he painted for the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn. So my interpretation of this work on Pedley street, in late Spring 2015 was the message that Fanakapan was indeed rising and shining. And why he returned in September to paint those joyful helium elephants on the same wall.
He did not neglect his London fans though and in June he returned to paint his delightful collab with Brazilian artist Cranio in East London. Painting with Cranio was also a sign of his confidence in mixing very different styles. But when you notice the bird’s head down in the right hand corner, you know that he didn’t forget his roots and his buddy The Horror Crew who painted it.
Fanakapan: Helium Graff
So what’s with all the Helium graff words? London Calling Blog is where I went to find out because they document all London street art, even in the most out of the way places. And two works caught my attention.
In November 2015 he created the word PAIN T in East London. And the letter I was in the shape of a broken glass bottle. The subtext being ‘Does the drink cause the pain or the drink numb the pain?’ Whatever the initial impulse, if you add the T and create Paint, then can art save you from pain? It is a hopeful message. In January though the message was darker. Down in Tooting, South London, he painted DIE T. Many of us go on a diet after the Christmas binge but obsessive dieting can eventually lead to death.
There were a number of other new helium graff pieces but these moved me the most. And so from reading the posts I notice that along with the confident new style is a man with something to say about the world we live in.
Fanakapan: New street art prior to Inflation opening in April 2016
In the winter months prior to the solo show opening we were treated to some new works around London. The first piece I spotted was in one of his favourite spots Star Yard, off Brick Lane. The man is in town!
Whilst over in Camden, I found more new murals. This one is a preview of two canvases which featured in the show.
And this collab, also in Camden, is with a Bristol based artist Cheba.
Fanakapan: solo show Inflation at BSMTSpace, Dalston, E8 (7th – 24th April 2016)
I was invited to an early photo session before the official PV opened along with a number of photographers on the scene. All the work featured the helium balloon hyperrealist style.
Not all the work was painted on canvas. Notice the small television monitor and the word shit? It amusingly makes the point about the quality of many shows you can find on TV these days.
Most of the work had been created especially for this show but there were exceptions. This framed lithograph was a reproduction of his Berlin collab with Nick Flatt in 2015. Together they painted a giant wall at Teufelsberg, the abandoned NSA Listening station which has become an outdoor space for street art and graffiti. You can see Nick’s IG post about of it in the link.
When I look at this next work Star I see a woman taking a selfie. Is she a star or are we all being distracted by celebs? I’ve now been told that the image is of the artist Fanakapan who used a photograph of himself reflected in a balloon to paint this piece. Art in the end, is in the eye of the beholder. You can decide.
The attention to detail was another aspect to marvel at. The hyperreal style was complimented in other ways. In this work the mottled background to the letter T is made using tea stains and teabags.
The optical illusions he creates are fascinating. This is a flat canvas, photographed straight on and yet I am looking at a balloon, floating on the ceiling.
And did you spot the reflection of the woman photographing it? Here is a close-up.
There was an interactive installation in the corner where you could get yourself “Fanakapaned.” Credit for that phrase goes to my friend artist New Art Rioter who coined that word on the PV night.
Along with the art work, you could buy these clay aerosol can tops.
Two hight lights of the show for me were these pieces. The first was a comment on the money which rules our world, the yen, the euro and the dollar with a background of monopoly money.
And the second is for its exquisite beauty. A piece of stained glass created by Annahita Hessami from a design by Fanakapan.
Inflation BSMTSpace: Opening night fun.
On the first weekend the Gallery ran a competition to win a Fanakapan print for the best photograph taken of the show. Other art fans simply enjoyed snapping the work from every angle. And I had fun recording their enjoyment.
After the show had opened, on the art wall opposite the gallery, Fanakapan painted the word Deflate, as a sign that it would all come to an end.
And the work continues….
One of two new pieces in East London I stumbled across last Tuesday.
So I still haven’t fully answered my opening question which was how did he end up painting these hyperreal, metallic helium balloons? This recent interview with London Calling Blog, Where Shadows Ends and Light Begins provides the only answer I can find. Fanakapan has a fascination with balloons and 2010 was the start of his artistic exploration on their shape and qualities. Initially in those early days he focused on their translucent quality and rubberiness. Around 2014 this evolved into the metallic, helium balloons he now prefers.
I look forward to seeing where Fanakapan’s ideas take him next.