All photos: Dave Stuart aka NoLionsInEngland except where stated
The big challenge to a writer attempting to review a year of street art is that the chosen subject is so vast, so vague and so difficult to categorize. Efforts to place a boundary around the subject always create a problem of what to do about the brilliant stuff outside that random and rather personal horizon. “A year in Shoreditch’s street art” scorns the brilliant work in other parts of London not to mention around the UK and the rest of the World; a “top 10” or “top 50” or whatever is prone to the editorial bias of the writer. The internet isn’t big enough for a “going to write about everything” approach. So Graffoto is going to do just a “shit we loved” review of street art from the past 12 months and it may be from anywhere we were, by any artist (identified or not!) using whatever technique that blew our socks off. Doubtless by the end of this composition apologies will be due to The Overlooked but here at the start I can’t be confident what is actually going to rise to the surface as I flip through the roughly 4,500 photos of street art I kept in 2015. So let’s offer apologies immediately to all those artists whose photos were deleted at the time of upload from the camera and which didn’t make even the first sift.
A perhaps unexpected trend – if you can call two artists a trend – was the emergence of hand stitching in street art. Late in the year Victoria Villasana worked with photographer Dario Vasquez Perez and painter Mister Piro to install beautiful tinted photographs embroidered with colourful threads in a traditional Mexican style. A whole collection of larger installations with threads appearing to weep from the subject’s eyes barely lasted 24 hours, possibly a religious sensitivity might have been triggered but a number of the much smaller pieces remain in place.
One of the top political campaigns this year in terms of message, execution and quality was the always reliable Dr D subverting congestion zone sign designs in pursuit of less victimisation of minorities and less state control.
Gregos has used London walls as his personal self portrait gallery a few times in the past couple of years and this year in Bristol and in Shoreditch we have seen his castings evolving into a much more accomplished art installation.
Andrei Ganser created a lurid population of nightmarishly distorted cartoon characters which interacted beautifully with both the fabric of the street, passers-by and other artist’s work – check how the feet of Dotmaster’s “Rude Kid” work in Ganzers’ leaf headed character.
A surprise candidate for Queen of the Most Illegals must be Anna Laurini, her cubist portraits have popped all over London this year with a notable shift away from paste ups to marker pen and paint. Mind you it’s not non permissioned all the way, a tiny proportion of her painted portraits were seemingly done with permission.
As I write, Sean Worrall has just posted on Facebook that he has completed his #365artdrops project with his final “free art” art drops in East London, quite a few of these went home with guests of Shoreditch Street Art Tours, often to foreign climes.
Noriaki had a brilliant time in London with swarms of his mono-eyed characters appearing in East London, usually cunningly placed to have great interactions with the environment or adjacent art.
King of the sculptural installation Jonesy was quite prolific this year, these are just two of his quite brilliant bronze castings.
Street art doesn’t have to be important but it’s nice when a street artist tries and when they succeed it is a delight. Street artists remembered to respond to the political situation at the time of our elections in May, cue a lot of anti UKIP art and a very focussed anti badger cull campaign by Clancy.
One of my favourite artists Neoh had a great year, some of his colourful impressionist ballerinas started to display rather a lot of their feminine charms and on one piece he even ventured into cubism to symbolise mental health issues. He was also not shy about getting a few reaches up as well.
Sell Out has been one of our busiest street artists this year, taking his work in a much more topical, political and sculptural direction. At the start of the year an old drinking fountain housed a dolphin snaring environmental disaster, politicians (Boris) and celebrity mishaps (Madonna falling off stage) and the targeting of a cereal café by anti gentrification protestors were all rendered in coarse trash sculptures , in total I photographed some 26 different installations by Sell Out, a very productive year evidently.
The first of what turned out to be four visits to the West country was to have a peep at Bristol’s Upfest, you can probably guess the reason for the other three visits. Resting co-blogger HowAboutNo and I joined a free street art tour by the charm machine and legend that is John Nation. Among an awesome display of street art by local and visiting heroes, one piece that stood out for its originality was this stunning photorealistic right eye by My Dog Sighs, the multi-media experience had to be completed using a card and luckily John Nation had one to hand, I’ve never seen this device used before.
On the subject of Banksy, a notable feature of attending the private view of Banksy’s Dismaland extravaganza was the delight of seeing a Banksy on an outside wall which I didn’t already know about or hadn’t seen on his website or rinsed to death on the internet, that is special these days and while the location meant this wasn’t quite the same as discovering a Banksy in a random back alley the last time I experienced that thrill was in 2006.
The year was book-ended by two atrocities in Paris, the Charlie Hebdo killings in January produced a large “freedom of speech” response from street artists in Shoreditch.
This year’s sticker champion was an artist whose identity is a bit of a mystery but who has populated Shoreditch with naïve expressionist portraits of hermaphrodite characters on letter box sized stickers and lifesize paintings.
Interactive art is always treasured and bored and distracted pedestrians were assaulted by this ravenous beasty by SR.X, cleverly painted on the building site hoarding behind the bus stop.
Vermibus attacked the fashion industry’s obsession with fame, celebrity and skinny good looking girls with his display of oil rinsed advert takeovers.
Mr Farenheit was extraordinarily prolific this year and could fill another entire blog post with his work intensive paste up collages and stencils.
One of the most curious street art pieces seen this year was a stencilled piece of html. Artist unknown, the weblink in the image of course won’t function as a weblink but if you tyope it into your browser you are taken to a page titled “universal library of claimed images” which then has descriptions of photographs taken in Shoreditch locations. Perhaps by frustrating the easy interactivity normally provided by the weblinks (the internet has a lot of those, just thought I’d point that out), the artist was making a comment about more street art being accessed online than actually viewed on walls. I don’t know if either is close to the mark but it made me think and that’s where this stuff on walls starts becoming art, either way it is either deeply profound or complete bollocks.
Multi-layer stencillist Paul “DON” Smith was prolific over the first 9 months of 2015, my favourite being this beautiful pair of portraits of a Moroccan model and Peter O’Toole as Lawrence of Arabia set against a stunning desert background.
Old school street art legend Dotmasters returned to the streets of London with a message promoting heightened anti social behaviour.
Jimmy C was quite busy this year doing mainly large and long lasting murals (except that Sclater Street one) but my favourite Jimmy C piece was this small brick installation.
John D’Oh came all the way up from the West Country a couple of times this year to do some immaculate produced and witty sculptural pieces.
Back to stencils, Elly What The Funk did some of my favourite stencils this year with multi layer greyscale images stencilled onto collaged pages torn out of books (heresy!), the few which lasted (and still cling on today) proceeded to peel and decay quite beautifully.
In street art as in life, novelty is often exciting and this skull innocuously placed up on a wall sprang a surprise in Spring when daffodils grew out of its cranium, in death the skull still evolved. Shame the lower jaw originally present seemed to fall prey to an incompetent attempt at art theft.
We didn’t fail to notice that quite a lot of murals were painted throughout Shoreditch, Camden and particularly Hackney Wick this year. In Shoreditch one of the largest was this magnificent Louis Masai piece sharing SynchEarths’s concern about reef destruction.
One of the most exquisite pieces of spray painting seen this year was the chrome balloon exercise in photorealism by Fanakapan (aka Mr Fan), virtuoso spray painting technique. I have photos of the piece but I am going to choose a photo taken by a guest on the Shoreditch Night Street Art Photography Tour, this light painted image really brings those balloon letters off the wall. The scrum of Jeremy Corbyns in chalk are a later addition by Sell Out.
The year continued to see an alarming decline in the tagging of permissioned murals, an essential part of the street art biosphere. The addition of a pair of Y Fronts on street art looked like perceptive and direct art critique but sadly it died out before it gathered enough power to irritate fans and artists too much.
This review has become ridiculously huge but 2015 saw so many many other fantastic additions to the street art gallery it has become a bit embarrassing to see what has been omitted. Assuming it works, who knows with this blog, here is a short slide show of a few other gems that made our eyes pop in 2015.