Losing the image

I’m in London right now, and yesterday I went to Shoreditch, to meet with a gallerist. The area is filled with street art, so, after the meeting I went walking, to see what was on the walls. I had spent a day doing this when I was visiting in July, and had come across some fantastic images.

I thought I would revisit one of these, a work by the French artist C215. It’s the image I used to accompany the very first post on this blog (see ‘inaugurations’). It was a diptych, portraits of two children, each one filling a small tiled panel low down on the outside of a pub. I had come across it by accident, in the way that sometimes happens, and which makes the artwork really feel like a gift. The pub was on Leonard Street, and a tiny side street connected Leonard Street to Willow Street. Walking down this side street, I had suddenly seen this image, quietly and perfectly placed close to the ground.

Yesterday, I walked purposefully to find it, almost as if I wanted to say hello to an old friend. But it was gone.

The tiled panels had been buffed – whether by the council or by the pub’s owners, I don’t know.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of loss I experienced in seeing it had gone. It was much more than a momentary flicker of disappointment, much more than any sense of annoyance at my objective being thwarted by circumstances. I actually felt quite disoriented by its absence – I found myself looking around, as though to check whether the image might have migrated somewhere else nearby. I felt really, deeply, saddened by its disappearance, and it’s a feeling that resurfaces now, when I think about those blank panels.

I’m not sure why. Images on the street come and go, right? It’s meant to be ephemeral. I know all that. But clearly I had become attached to that image – maybe because I admire C215’s work generally, maybe because that particular image seemed so perfectly placed. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched a really excellent video on YouTube (by romanywg) which shows C215 putting his work up in London, probably at the time he did this image:

Maybe it’s because when I came across it back in July it had that fantastic sense of being a gift from the artist to the passerby, to the spectator – to the city.

At any rate, it’s gone, and I feel its loss. I photographed its absence, and here is what that looks like:

Images appear and images disappear. Their disappearance says something about time, and its passing. The way we respond to the loss of an image on a wall says something about how we see street art itself – do we celebrate the empty space, as the opponents of graffiti and street art do? Do we plan the next image for that empty space, as an artist might do? Do we mourn the loss of an image?

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