Street artists come and street artists go but a few have been consistently active over many years since the early days. Some of the elder statesmen of today’s street art scene surprise us when we hear tell of their colourful pasts, a bit like hearing of the older aunt who turns out to have been quite a racy “item” in her day. Here’s a selection of those solid ol’ faithfuls who continued to produce strong work true to their original incarnations and involvement.
A.CE made amends for a very quiet 2015 with a comparatively prolific streak of collaged pop art.
The 18th wave of Space Invader’s London invasions beamed down onto London’s walls in the Spring.
On the subject of Space Invaders, one of the oddest things we came across this year was the “reactivation” of ancient space invaders who had deserted their posts, in May this year missing-in-action invaders started to reappear on duty. A bunch of guys working with the nod from Space Invader have been sourcing the tiles, assembling the images and reinstating lost Space Invaders back where they belong. A few weeks back Graffoto got the first interview with the UK Reactivation team, let’s hear it for fan power!
Eine is back in London after years in alien places like the south coast (UK) and west coast (USA), plenty of large colourful shutterfont letters as well as the odd naughty throw have been popping up around London.
In what was a relatively quiet year for him, Banksy did at least get something political and illegal up on London’s streets, his first London street art for a number of years.
Artists familiar and new produced heaps of street art throughout the year, which is an apt way perhaps to describe the ephemeral trash sculptures Sell Out constructed from bin bags, tape and whatever other “downcycled” materials he found to hand. His sculptures often symbolize figures from the worlds of politics and entertainment as well as tributes to dead people, this year Sell Out immortalised Terry Wogan, Freddie Mercury, Jesus, David Bowie and Prince.
Sell Out created this trash tribute to very undead football hero Gareth Bale. As a Welshman himself, Sell Out seemed to struggle to get over Wales’ stumble at the semi final stage of the Euros as his prolific output dropped significantly in the second half of the year. Never mind Sell Out, imagine how you’d have felt if you had been knocked out by Iceland 😉
PS – Sell Out, a sheep? Really?? Ha ha.
Every now and again Shoreditch acquires a piece of street art which deserves to become iconic. This year Shoreditch got another such piece when Stik created a trio of signature stik characters on what estate agents might describe as a landmark Shoreditch wall. “Past, Present and Future” features characters looking wistfully towards old Shoreditch, staring straight out at current hip trendy Shoreditch and recoiling in alarm from future community-free de-humanised office wilderness Shoreditch. It even had its own “making of” video. This more than likely will endure as long as that wall remains upright (or at least until the next hotel or office block is built up against it).
The ever dependable Mr Farenheit continued a steady stream of stencilled and collaged art on the streets including even the use of pistachio nut shells to create textured portraits impossible to photograph convincingly. In fact Mr Farenheit produced by a long way the most art from any single street artist we saw this year.
Neonita created one of the year’s best interior shows with her immersive installation in the now disappeared Brixton Bloc (Thayle House) but one day I was very surprised to spy one of her characters looking tired eyed and illegal on a railway bridge. Neonita is a refined young lady so this was like finding your vicar slumped in the gutter with a bottle of Tequila flicking the Vees at strangers. The street art here wasn’t the pinnacle of artistic endeavour but I love being reminded of that wonderful show in January.
Neonia by Neonita, Jan 2016, reviewed HERE
The London Police have a category all to themselves – UK artists visiting London from abroad – and they put up some immaculate “Lads” stickers early in the year.
John D’oh had one of the best giggles of the year when building site workers removed some of his humorous political stencils in the misguided belief they were snagging a bunch of Banksys for themselves.
The ever inventive 616 was sighted on seemingly fewer occasions this year but his knack for the novel hasn’t deserted him. Every other painter rocking up to decorate the Seven Stars Car Park off Brick Lane sees rectangular brick panels but 616 saw the potential in a series of buttresses to create an army of his tribal styled characters standing in line against the wall.
One of our top spraycan artists is Fanakapan and as well as putting in a top solo show at BMST Space, Fanakapan was prolific in churning out murals featuring chrome balloons andvarious characters and objects this year. I felt that the superb reflective photorealism of his chrome polished artefacts didn’t scale up that well when he took on the huge Village Underground wall but his recent letter X character in the Seven Stars car park looked stunning and cleverly chimed with Carleen De Sozer’s adjacent Malcolm X.
Anna Laurini brings a very graffiti kind of attitude to getting her cubist portraits up all across London, spotting an Anna Laurini somewhere a little bit away from the usual street art hot spots always brings admiration for both the art and the fact that she had the balls to put it in some fairly hot locations.
The real world spent 2016 screwing up many people’s faith in democracy. Disappointingly not much Brexit related art appeared in fact we seemed to have more political art related to Donald Trump than our own political careerists.
Dr d. grabs attention on public surfaces with stridently political street art, he doesn’t offer wry social commentary or provide gentle exhortations for us to do better or try harder, Dr d. throttles your attention and gives your cosy political complacency a brutal kicking. Earlier this year he installed a a satellite dish and accompanying paste ups on someone else’s building, snarling at the evil of media moguls and anticipating Murdoch’s further quest to control the medium and the message as Sky merged with Fox.
One of the things that drew me into this culture when the scales fell from my eyes years ago and I realised that this wasn’t (just) vandalism was specifically the overt politicisation of street art and the heroic risks people took to find a space to public voice their political opinions. Dr d installed that satellite dish illegally on someone else’s building in broad daylight on Shoreditch High Street, there is even a video of him doing it and it strikes me as possibly the ballsiest street art disruption I saw this year.
Hackney Wick discovered its own Boudica as Aida led a fight to raise awareness of the destruction of the artistic community in Hackney Wick.
Anyone who thinks street art as a vehicle for propagating political messages lacks drive and impact should check out the amount of impressive media coverage the Save Hackney Wick campaign has racked up this year, thanks in no tiny part to Aida’s efforts in pasting up her text based political street art and curating outside wall takeovers and indoor art shows.
Many other artists took advantage of street art’s media multiplication effect – sharing online in other words, including:
Dave The Chimp (always great to see Dave The Chimp back on London’s walls) raising awareness of sectarian discrimination in Iran where the Baha’I community is denied access to education.
“Advertising Shits In Your Head” by Special Patrol Group was one of many adbusting takeovers on bus stops and the tube during the year. This campaign was one of two street art interventions that pivoted off crowd funding initiatives, in this case the bus stop hijackings were in support of a fundraiser to publish a book. This specimen in Islington was particularly photogenic.
Every year sees new artists joining the street art kaleidoscope and new this year, to these eyes at least, was the elegant flow of JDK’s illustrations. Her wispy elongated figures contrasted beautifully with the grimey spots she usually chose for her street art.
Speaking of Grime, Reuben Dangoor did his bit to elevate Grime artists, placing them in gilded frames and fine art contexts to give them the cultural props he feels they deserve. My favourite instance of these stately paste ups was this stunning collaboration with Mexican artist Victoria Villasana, the intricacy and colours of the embroidery showed Villasana at her best and transformed Reuben Dangor’s armour wearing Wiley beautifully.
Qwert from Hungary is presently based in London and his surreal but cute figures could be found wearing their hearts on their sleeve.
Most of the artists mentioned so far have fitted into category of artists often misleadingly described as “domestic”, some of them are anything but tame. London still is a major magnet for artists visiting from abroad so let’s salute a few of those who took the trouble to grace these shores and whose work took my breath away.
Jana and JS came to London to exhibit at StolenSpace and while here they put up some gorgeous mixed stencil and freehand self portraits, they’re work always does look wonderful on the streets and their gallery exhibition was a delight as well.
Shoreditch acquired a bug infestation when Philippe Vignal’s ceramic fleas bit Shoreditch passers by.
Zokatos does amazing drippy abstract art, I particularly enjoyed the introduction of characters escaping from the canvas such as his liberated ballerina shaking free from her canvas confines and pirouetting off up the wall and this resolution to the dilemma in Banksy’s “girl with balloon” classic in which the girl now attempts retrieval.
A recent visitor to these shores was French artist Manyoly, her painterly ultra colourful portraits (mainly, there was one lovely monochromatic piece) look like they are painted directly onto the surface but are actually paste ups. I’m no expert in that kind of schizz but I imagine that pasting a rectangular piece of art is probably fairly routine but Manyoly’s paste ups are full of irregular serrated edges and protruding strips, one imagines they are much trickier to put up without bits folding over and sticking to eachother.
Dan Witz brought another series of his phone box hacking installations to London in the Autumn, one of the biggest buzzes for me this year was completely unexpectedly spotting one of these while out hunting for another artist’s creations. The project this year was “Breathing Room”, Witz considers that our recent history of intolerance, atrocity, violence and death must be brought to an end, we need respite, so his phone box interventions show people of many faiths seeking inner calm and tranquility. This project was funded by a crowdfunding campaign, the second example I came across where crowd funding was a factor though in this one the project resulted from a successful fundraising, the “Advertising Shits In Your Head” mentioned earler was in support of an ultimately oversubscribed fund raising.
Arrex Skulls and Voxx Romana have been regular wall decorators in London for many years but this year they brought over a bunch of their street artist mates from Portland who participated in a group show at the excellent BSMT Space in Dalston and put up loads of street art all across London. DRSC0 put up various pieces of art mainly (though not entirely) riffing on a theme of anatomical illustrations, I thought that the juxtaposition of this pair of small stickers with the Stik characters in the background was genius. Privately DRSC0 told me that it was not something he had consciously set out to achieve, in which case there was one heck of a lot of serendipity swirling around in the fingers that placed those stickers up.
We also have to thank BSMT Space for hosting Brooklyn based Pyramid Oracle who pasted up some stunning portraits.
Another regular international visitor who returned to London was WRDSMTH, he came back in the Summer in the company of his LA friend Megzany. Together they proceeded to put up a lot of stencilled and paste up art in Shoreditch and over towards Covent Garden, I was particularly taken by this conversion of a phone box to a mermaid vending machine by Megzany.
The days when street artists were almost always refugees and defectors from graffiti culture are long behind us, many artists these days emerge from a more traditional fine arts background and discover the streets as a gallery well into a career as “proper” artists. Two artists for whom this appears to be the case are Paul Robinson and David Gorriz, apologies to be issued and humble pie consumed if it turns out these guys were hardcore train bombers in days of yore.
Street art is a tremendously jumbled culture ranging from stickers to commercial murals, from permissioned hoardings to naughty billboard subversion and from full time world famous street artists to irregular hobbiests with a tiny paste up. All aspects and forms – even yes, tags on murals, are essential elements of the street art eco system. Why then do artists feel the need to cannibalise the culture? Shoreditch is full of permission spots where “proper” artists can paint without fear of arrest and indeed thanks to vigilant permission brokers, the number of these legal spots is increasing rapidly across London. The number of wilder spots where casual artists can get away with dabbling in street art knowing that the piece might last a little while thanks to either neglect or tolerance are few and diminishing.
Back in the day even large wall paintings on the whole were done without permission, check out Burning Candy getting busted on Bacon St in the early minutes of Exit Through The Gift Shop. Muralists might contemplate the fact that each time they take a spot where uncurated street art has been tolerated a small but important piece of the culture dies, street art is committing self inflicted hara-kiri. The supply of spots where building owners are willing to grant permission is still constantly expanding yet we are losing too many spots to sterile mural spots.
Then there’s the brilliant stuff that no amount of due diligence or frantic online searching will yield a culprit, unknown artist you are awesome we salute you!
Rough, wispy, gorgeous and – never figured out what the tag says:
These huge colourful posters appeared in Shoreditch and across the West End, they may well be a subliminal advertising campaign but I was blown away seeing such fine art photography on the streets.
The Flying Leaps “project” was one of the more novel forms of illegal fly posting seen this year. Fly posting is unlicensed advertising which aims to sell some kind of product. Flying Leaps’ fly posters didn’t promote a representation of a product, they were actually adverts for themselves, you could buy the advert! Artists whose work became available through this sort of display on the streets included KennardPhillipps (at last I have a signed Peter Kennard in my collection!), Michael Peel, Mark Titchner, Dolores de Sade, Peter Fish and as mentioned, Mustafa Halusi whose art I have admired indoors and out for several years.
Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the block. In late Summer Shoreditch’s infestation of mice became a little more arty when these static mice, some really drawing attention to themselves in their dayglo pigmented coats appeared frozen mid scurry up the walls, never found out who the mouse liberator was.
As I scan through the draft of this look back it seems that I have not selected a single piece of art painted on a shutter. To avoid neglecting shutters as a wonderful canvas for street art, lets add in this huge serpent by ThisOne, painted along an unoccupied parade of shops near Aldgate. This is possibly the largest shutter piece I have ever seen (not to damn it with faint praise, it is genuinely awesome).
2016 – it was a very good year!
All Photos: Dave Stuart