2018 was a year overshadowed with a deep sadness and grief. I felt detached from life including my love of street art and graffiti. So it was a wonderful surprise to look through my photo library and realise how much work I had covered after-all. This includes 18 exhibitions from artists whose work I discovered on the streets. I made a special trip to Aberdeen to see the Nuart murals of 2017 and 2018. I was still documenting the East London scene where my love for this work began.
The Shoreditch scene, my main manor, is still hanging in there. We’ve had 3 great walls from Mr Cenz – he refreshed his Fashion St spot and painted new works on Commercial St and Hanbury St. Dale Grimshaw totally smashed that giant Village Underground Wall in June. And Global Street Art kept finding new overseas artists to paint the hoardings on Gt Eastern Street which have finally come down. Alo returned to London and painted plenty of portraits to sleuth out. Fanakapan had a commission on Brick Lane by the new donut shop and I got knocked over by a skateboarder when I trying to get a good shot. Luckily no serious damage was done to either of us. His 2nd mural for his show Helios at 5th Base Gallery, introduced me to Carl Freiderickson from the film Up which I hadn’t seen. I have now and what a great film. Thank you Fan.
Milo Tchais returned to London for a visit. When I moved to Hackney, I always looked out for his panel on the Hackney Road when I past it on the bus. It sadly gone now but on this visit he left us with beautiful flora/fauna and birds off Brick Lane, in Camden and in Hackney Wick.
Gums and Tongue did have another jam in the Wick this year and they were joined Amara Por Dios who was visiting from Sweden. She also painted a wall in Holborn on an estate and the Hanbury Street wall.
Jim Vision continues to look for new walls and keep the Shoreditch vibe alive with regular jams with other graff writers. I enjoyed looking for one particular apocalyptic scene in nearby Bethnal Green.
Pang had a special commission in Walthamstow to paint a portrait of the artist Madge Gill (1882 – 1961), Gill, from East London was inspired by her inner visions and thought she might lose her skills if she sold her work. Here is a link to website set up in her memory Madge Gill.
Phelgm painted 3 new significant walls in Walthamstow (January), Croydon (September) and Hackney (November).
There are so many artists working in this field that each year I am always discovering new ones. And not always on the streets. In October, I went to see a film by a favourite director of mine Agnes Varda, now 90 years old. In her latest film, Visages, Villages (Faces, Places in English) she collaborates with French artist JR. As I’d missed his show at Lazinc earlier in the year I wasn’t aware of his work. Watching this film, his concept of putting giant images of people on the sides of buildings was very familiar! 😀
I’ll highlight two specific artists who blitzed London this year.
Ardif is a French artist who creates wonderful steam punk creatures. A hedgehog appeared off Brick Lane in January. I found 10 more but I know there were others. His work culminated in a stunning collab with another French artist, Matt Tieu.
Edward Von Longus, a stencil artist from Estonia, caught my attention on IG. Someone posted a photo of his cute hedgehog working on a laptop, on Pedley St. Then someone else posted another image with the caption, “these teletubbies are creeping me out.” His 3rd image was a pastiche of Banksy’s girl with a balloon. They all share the theme of 1984 and Big Brother is watching you.
His London visit was part of his European tour to promote #Estonia100, the centenary of the formation of the Republic of Estonia. There are two strands to his work. These Banksy/Trust Icon pastiches and his portraits to celebrate the craftsmen and women of his native land. The works could be found in East London, the South Bank and Vauxhall.
I think he’s been in London for over two years now and we started to see his portraits in 2017. This year, his style took off and these wonderful, zany faces appeared all over London, around Brick Lane, in Stockwell and Penge. Sometimes, they didn’t last long and were quickly tagged. So they were a challenge to collect which is also part of the fun photographing the scene. Of my IG photos, his work is extremely popular.
His year culminated with a commission to paint the portrait of Marie Macleod, to celebrate her work helping people with mental health problems in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Go with the Glow was painted on the roof top Jealous Gallery in Shoreditch. On a grey December afternoon, I watched him work fast against the fading light but never saw the finished work. You can see finished image and read about it on Inspiring City’s excellent coverage here.
Glor and his lost boys took over the capital
You might have noticed that its often the little details or images which delight the child in me. Glor paints a little graff character he can insert either into a graffiti jam or on a blank slip of wall. I’ve noticed them for at least two years now and they always have one shoe missing on the right foot.
This year, they appeared all over London. And their clothing started to go up-market in some areas but they never managed to wear both shoes.
Towards the end of the year, he has started painting scenes with his character. They don’t last long. And the only one I was able to photograph on Gt Eastern St had a big lamppost blocking a good view of it. An interesting development for this artist from Brazil. I look forward to seeing how his work evolves in 2019.
Art and Politics
The world is going through turbulent times and our artists were not afraid to reflect and comment on this. These images don’t need explanation.
I stayed local this year. Along with Meeting of Styles in May, I went to the Whitecross Street Party in July. It lacked the buzz of my last visit a couple of years ago because much of the street art painting was done in advance but it had plenty of child friendly activities.
Meeting of Styles: London (26th – 28th May 2018)
Three days of incredible art on a Bank Holiday weekend supported by Jim Vision and End of the Line. There was a loose theme of technology this year. On the giant collab wall 9 artists and graff writers linked their images by a series of PC web browser windows. Whilst each artist was working in isolation it was hard to see how the wall would tie together. Once it was all complete the final result was stunning.
My other highlight was seeing Nomad Clan in action as they rarely paint in London. Their concept was equally impressive. We Disappear was a powerful inditement against the commodifying of women by advertising. And in the weeks afterwards the taggers covered the black area on the bottom part of their wall, and their work did indeed disappear. I posted a pic of that on IG which they actually reposted!
Nuart Aberdeen (12 – 15 April 2018)
I didn’t attend the actual festival because I’d not heard of it before. It’s in its infancy, only two years old, and it is an off-shoot of the Nuart Festival in Stravanger, Norway, a town twinned with Aberdeen. What caught my eye on IG were the big name international artists who were painting in the UK. So I arranged a Scottish summer holiday to see the walls from the last two years.
I’d been advised by another pal on the scene that the Aberdeen murals could be covered by a day trip from Edinburgh. In reality, it was a very tight squeeze. Its a small compact city, highly walkable, so I allowed 5 hours, plus the 5 hours by train there and back. When I got home, my pal told me that he’d actually made 2 trips and he was impressed that I covered it all in a day. I can’t tell you much about what Aberdeen looks like though, I was so focused on finding the art!!
My pre-booked trip coincided with Storm Ali which also slowed me down. I started near the sea front looking for the Snik mural where I was nearly blown over, a couple of times. I had to very carefully pull out my map for fear of it being blown away and not finding any of the walls I was anxious to see. In the end, I was lucky. The sun shone, I got some great photos and I saw The Herakut (2017) and the Boraldo (2018), the main focus of my visit.
RISEFestival #Croydon Rising (5 – 15th Sept 2018)
This was another festival I didn’t attend until afterwards. In its first year, advertised as London’s largest international urban arts festival, it was set up by Rise Gallery in Croydon and co-curated by Nelly Balazs, aka Monoprixx and Notbanksyforum. I popped along one morning in early October and saw some great murals plus a whole area devoted to paste-up artists. I was most impressed with these women BK Foxx (USA), Hayley Welsh (UK) and Doudou Style (France) plus old favourites Phlegm, Run and Otto Schade. The murals cover a smaller area than Aberdeen and it was easy to walk around in under 2 hours.
I went to 18 exhibitions this year. And they were all a treasure trove of riches.
Banksy’s Greatest hits: 2002 – 2008 (Lazinc Gallery, Mayfair, London)
I was always aware of Banksy but I got into the scene long after he’d become a superstar. So I hadn’t understood how much of an influence he was until I saw this solo retrospective of his work in August. That afternoon was a real lightbulb moment. And with the exception of Dotmasters because he started out at the same time as Banksy, I could see his influence on so many of the artists that followed.
The others shows, in despatches. Its hard to single out other shows because they were all truly great artists; Conor Harrington, Decolife, Dscreet, Fanakapan, Loretto, Louis Masai, Pang, ROA, SakiandBitches, Skeleton Cardboard, Trust Icon, Xenz plus group shows; Art Core Summer Show Crows Nest Gallery, Moniker Art Fair, Roy’s People Art Fair and An Unconventional Canvas at Unit G Gallery, curated by Teddy Baden.
South London scene
If the street art scene sprang up in East London, south of the river is now where its flourishing. The Stockwell Hall of Fame is a well established area for graff writers, similar to Leake Street but open air. I made my first visit this year where I found the Woskerski portrait but Glor’s boy scene had gone in under 24 hours.
However, the rest of the South London murals prior to #CroydonRising are due to the efforts of London Calling Blog who have been running paint jams in Croydon (2016/17) and Penge (2017/18). They’ve also run the Love Lane street art project in Stockwell SW9 since Nov 2017. This was initiated by a Stockwell resident wanting to brighten up their locality.
2018 saw the start of a 2nd community art project in Selhurst. I went down one Sunday afternoon in July to watch the artists painting for the final day. Around 6pm, the residents who had commissioned the work came home and they were stunned and overjoyed by what they saw. Their dark railway bridge was transformed by an urban jungle apocalypse complete with foxes and a deer. Its quite something to see that shared excitement reflected in the faces of others. This project is set to continue in 2019.
[Edit update: Walls are being painted in other areas of South London: Peckham, Denmark Hill, Dulwich and Brockley are areas that I’m aware of. There may be others too. I didn’t venture there last year.]
Hackney and the Shoreditch scene
Its not dead yet, as I’d feared it might be at the end of 2017. But many spots have gone or are now mostly dormant. Star Yard off Brick Lane is no longer a draw since a tin hut was placed in the prime corner spot in 2017. The hoardings on Gt Eastern Street have come down now that building work is complete. The Leonard St carpark is a distant memory. And ditto for spots on the Hackney Road. The Red Gallery (old Foundry Building) closed its doors in August. Hackney Wick is virtually over. A few walls for graff is all that is left.
What continues are some well curated walls which rotate more slowly than in the past. Paste-up artists flourish still. Lost Hills left us some really cool miniature Jake scenes after characters in books and films in the Spring. And Stenandoli blitzed Brick Lane with their weird and wonderful creatures in the Autumn.
Quality graff is being painted in Allen Gardens (near the Nomadic Community Garden) on a new stretch of the railway bridge. The highlight for me was Nightmare on Brick Lane for Halloween. Graff writer Skyhigh brought 20 writers together to put together an epic work along both stretches of the railway line. This reprised his fantastic jam of 2016, Nightmare on Leake Street.
The commercial power of street art and graffiti
I think many of us knew this trend was coming but 2018 saw clearly how business has tapped into the commercial influence of street art and graffiti. The artists have made an abandoned area desirable again. Now shops and bars are opening up, pushing up rents and property prices forcing out poorer residents and changing the character of an area.
This is what has happened to Hackney and Hackney Wick and it is probably now going to happen to Croydon. During the RISE Festival in September one work by Aida Wilde deliberately challenged this new found love of street art in Croydon. She created a giant poster with the words Less Homes 4U which made the point that any new homes built in the area may well be unaffordable to locals. I was unable to photograph it until 4th October. And I went I got there I saw that it had carefully been defaced. (see photos below). They missed one tiny sticker with the words “Aint nothing going up but the rent.” No other murals or paste-ups had been touched or tagged. So this work clearly hit a nerve and was destroyed.
Croydon with many empty buildings is clearly an area which wants to regenerate but will the street art still be desired once that is complete around 2023? Or will it become a rival to Bristol’s Upfest which isn’t about city regeneration?
Street art is hip and sells stuff. Leake Street, the graffiti tunnel near Waterloo where Banksy held a legendary jam in 2008, now has two or three graffiti themed bars. One of them is even called The Rat Bar after Banksy’s rat character. Armchairs are placed out in the evening for their customers. In Hackney, walls which used to host street art are still painted but with adverts. And one ugly office building in Shoreditch this year commissioned 12 artists to paint all 3 sides of it with the hashtag #connectivitymatters. Is this a memorial to the history of the area? Or is it selling something?
The dark side of this is that artists can be paid nothing when their work is appropriated in the background to adverts, videos or tv programmes. The murals from the two private indoor paint jams I attended last year were used in a massive clothing ad campaign by Boohoo menswear without permission from or payment to the artists, who are still in dispute with the company wanting payment for use of their work. It was reported by BBC Arts news.
Its not all bad. Down in Penge, the locals are choosing to donate their walls purely for the pleasure of sprucing up their homes rather than raising the price. And that is a joy to see.
I want to end with a big thank you to all the artists for their hard work because they bring the rest of us so much pleasure also. We all need to be creative to stay sane. And thank you for reading and commenting on the blog. Lets pray that 2019 is better than I fear it might be with all the anger and hate that is around at the moment.