The textures of London
I spent a week in London recently. It’s always interesting to go back to a city after an absence of 18 months and see what’s changed. Usually it’s a matter of noticing which artworks have gone and which new ones are taking their place, but on this occasion I was struck by how much the area of Shoreditch itself had changed. Yes, there was still a lot of interesting art to see scattered through the streets, but whereas in July 2008 there were artworks around every corner, in May 2010 it would seem that the gentrification of Shoreditch has proceeded to the extent where entire streets have been so buffed that there is sometimes not even a sticker to be seen.
Fortunately there’s still a lot of work in areas such as Brick Lane, Hackney, and Bethnal Green, but you have to wonder what’s going to happen over the next 18 month as the Olympics approach. I’m guessing that there will be a huge buffing effort, and this, along with the increased surveillance (in the city that already has more cameras than any other I can think of) will inevitably have a chilling effect on the street art scene in East London. Hopefully it will simply move somewhere else in the city; it would be sad to see London lose the sense of productive possibility for street art that seems so characteristic of it.*
I don’t want to give the impression that things had already become bland – far from it. One of the striking things about this visit was seeing how lots of artists are producing works in which texture is a significant part of the visual experience: objects attached to walls, clever use of shapes and calls, a range of media, and extension of technique with paint. I know this is hardly big news, and I’m not meaning to pretend there has been any sudden shift in contemporary street art so that it’s suddenly all about texture or anything. Maybe it’s simply something that I was alert to, during this visit. Certainly some of the artworks I photographed are not necessarily ‘new’; some, in fact, have been up for a long time. But the overall effect for me was to bring out, in a very active way, the feeling of the city as existing in its textures and sensations – the material ‘things’ which make up everyday, urban life.
I’ve included a selection – see what you think.
Something simple to start with – simple, but I liked these cardboard hearts very much:
And someone is making mushroom sculptures, and placing them in high up, inaccessible spots, where they look down upon the passers-by:
More sculpture: I saw many of these amazing objects, each one different, attached high on walls, often near street corners. Great colours and shapes. Here’s a couple:
And here is one of my favourite street corners in London, and at the moment it contains a great selection of work, all placed high up, so that even the enthusiastic council cleaning crews can’t be bothered to remove them. This piece by Asbestos has been there for a couple of years now, and you can see another of the sculptures I just mentioned. There is also a little row of figures, now broken down to their torsos. You can find these on various London walls – I would love to know whose work this is.
I’m told this chair has been attached to the wall in Brick Lane for a long, long time, but now it has a satisfyingly chunky duck beside it for company:
On Rivington Street, opposite the entrance to Cargo and Black Rat Projects, there is a wall that has previously featured many paste-ups, stickers and so on. It’s pretty buffed at present, but it does have these two excellent additions.
One is a blue plaque, which reads: ‘This plaque was installed 6th May 2010’. The plaque mimics the historical marker plaques that provide information like ‘In 1856, so-and-so lived here for 2 months’, but it does so with a twist: the plaque commemorates the fact of its installation, rather than any particular event. Although it’s possible to read the plaque as having something to do with the election, the artwork is not about that as such (and it’s pleasing that the 6th of May was the day of the British general election which has subsequently acquired historical significance as the first election in Britain to result in a coalition government, but this certainly wasn’t known when the plaque was installed).
Next to the plaque, you can see a picture frame. Take a closer look:
Apparent detritus becomes art, in a work which is all about showcasing the feel and texture of things that would normally be overlooked and thrown away.
Finally, one of my main memories of visiting London this time is seeing Roa’s work in the streets. Roa is a Belgian artist whose show at Pure Evil gallery (and subsequently at Factory Fresh in Brooklyn) was a huge success, but in addition to those gallery shows he has also spent a lot of time putting work on the streets. He paints animals, usually oversized, and what’s so striking about these images is how Roa harnesses colour and spraycan technique to give an amazing sense of the texture of feathers or fur. Here’s my favourite of the ones that I saw:
And take a close look at the precision and delicacy of these ‘brushstrokes’: wonderful work.
*Thanks to Mark, from Hooked blog, for walking around Brick Lane with me….