High Roller Society
Unit 10 Palmers Road,
London E2 0SY (Click for map)
19 March – 24 April 2011
New York twin brother street art legends Skewville are bombing London for their first solo show at High Roller Society gallery. Fame on the streets worldwide has been secured thanks to their sneaker mission but Skewville are never shy of exploring ways to subvert the normal paste up- stencil-gallery show limitations of street art convention.
Trainers over telegraph wires have been around basically since trainers started wearing out, there’s nothing new in dangling sneakers from telephone wires but surrounded by a vast noise of stickers, stencils and paste-ups Skewville sought what they termed “next levelism” for street art techniques and so the trademark silk screened hand cut laced wooden sneakers mission kicked off. Wherever they go they take a few wooden sneakers and leave their “tag” by throwing pairs up over lampposts and telephone wires where they can hang more or less un-touchable. By their estimate they have done over 6,000 pairs in the past 11 years, Graffoto knows of 1 in London which has been there since 2004.
Skewville came to London in 2004 with a mission to do break the mould in putting up repeated simple images on the streets. London was in the grip of the stencil mafia and if stencils weren’t simple enough already, why not get up using a refinement of the old primary school potato print technique. Seeking an edge and discovering easy repeatability, Droo Skewville developed the sneaker stamp, in essence cutting a fresh pattern into the sole of old sneakers. The example below was buffed only last month and others still thrive nearby.
Skewville’s next refinement was to cut the image into a roller pad and hey presto, believe the Hype!
Less long-lived were some quirky sculptural grill signage from 2008.
The current trip has resulted in some more thrown dogs but don’t mark Skewville as street art one trick ponies, this year they have pulled off at least four shutters around the East End. On the streets of New York and wherever two bad ass jive talking yoots from the home counties meet, the greeting of choice is a YO! On opposite sides of an East London high street two shutters greet each other with a YO! before each working day commences, they then disappear and at the end of the shift they re-appear to salute each other.
On to the main reason for Skewvilles’s presence in London, the show at High Roller Society. It takes two to have a conversation and a duality is a recurring theme in this show. There are two parts to the show, one side of the room is older Skewville, the other is new stuff. Skewville has neatly bisected the room with the show’s Slow Your Roll mantra to mark this out as a show of two halves. The over-size stamp used to create the slogan down the middle forms part of a sculptural installation, the tyre rolling out Skewville’s message not to get too impressed with themselves.
In the more colourful half, we see some a Skewville staple, a collection of silkscreened collaged slogans and pop imagery which might have come from the classifieds in a Brooklyn butcher’s trade magazine.
An about turn to the opposite side of the room yields examples of the more recent Skewville direction. Stained, painted and etched images on wood is used to create these intriguing figurative paintings which hint at more meaningful significance.
One theme common to most of the work looks like an expression of regret at the inevitable compromises made on the passage to adulthood drawn from the perspective of the free spirited outsider looking on. It’s the blind stumble downwards from the pursuit of fame and fortune to having to take jobs to fund the dream to then finding life is passing by and yet another sucker has fallen into the trap. A shady spiv [N. Am: flim-flam merchant] employer in All In A Days Work lures the 9-5 work drone with a series of false hopes, fame, fortune, desire and hope … and then the hidden truth…”Day Job Sucker”.
You have to wonder whether the artist’s sentiments are first person regret or third person teasing. A further series of monochromatic compositions represents the working life as a fast vehicle now decrepit and propped up on bricks, graffiti painted on the vehicles’ side captures the dilemmas – 9-five, “fake a death”, “no return”, “Day Job Sucker”.
This theme of compromises continues through many of the more recent paintings and even some of the older coloured works, check out Vicious Cycle, Sucks Either Way, Side Deals, not to mention the deadly contemporary vices immortalised on various bottles and mousetraps including Envy, Desire, Lust, Desire, Fame, Fortune. Of course pursuing a gallery career doesn’t make the idealistic artist immune from those character traits either. Perhaps the paintings are signalling the start of a quest for liberation from the crushing work-eat-sleep drudge or an early warning to avoid this trap.
The figures in the paintings frequently incorporate a composite of architectural features, outdoor spaces, ambiguous signs and signals all pointing towards an individual’s bewilderment and sense of being overwhelmed by his urban surroundings. Alternatively a viewer could be excused for seeing a person who appears to dominate the environment, the fabric of the community appears to be internalised within the subject who appears to be bigger than the external world, perhaps Skewville really are the High Rollers of their universe, who knows?
Some of the symbols didn’t register for cultural reasons, for instance, the rectangles with a cross apparently are painted in playgrounds in NY to represent a pitcher’s target area for a game of “stick ball”, but then it’s quite likely someone from Brooklyn is going to wonder why three vertical lines and two horizontals at the top might get drawn on walls in the UK. This “intelligent pictogram” side of the show is full of interesting aspects and innuendoes derived from Skewville’s lives, home culture and influences but equally they can speak to the circumstances of most viewers, the symbolism is fine.
Between and within the various paintings are dotted lines and crosses creating divisions, links and groupings, Ad of Skewville gave us some cock and bull about them representing paths around their childhood clubhouse and X marking the spot where ye treasure may be found, the story was a good ‘un about notes they used to leave to remember where they’d hidden weapons they’d need to fend off bigger kids out to kick their arses . Another interpretation might be that Skewville could be using a draughtsman’s drawing convention to denote a section or another view through a drawing, as if begging the viewer to take a lateral view to discover the meaning within in the picture.
One thing noticeably absent from the show are sneakers, none. Whilst Skewville have put sneakers in shows in the past – their earlier shows were self promoted and curated – now their gut feel is to react against the exploitation by too many of the streets for commercial promotion by separating the street from the gallery, though Skewville will never resist a YO! or a BEEF, indoors or out.
At the top of this story we found lots of evidence of Skewville’s longevity with street pieces surviving in London for the best part of more than half a decade which is no mean achievement in this place. Based on the interesting collection of work in this compact gallery space there is no sign that Skewville aren’t going to continue rolling for long time to come. The show raises fascinating questions about he possibility that the sentiments may be a personal exchange between the twin components of Skewville and you are compelled to appreciate that these concerns engage us all and the art reflects equally into our lives. Ok, it’s fun to contemplate the art in that way but at the end of the day the work has a fascinating and intelligent charm, we just like it !
For a selection of other images from Slow Your Roll and a few other Recent London streetpieces, click here.