Monday, 2 January 2017

So 2016

2016 wasn’t all bad and neither was its street art. This is a small selection of the street art from 2016 that made me go "yummmmmmmm"

So 2016... It Was A Very Good Year - writer unknown
writer unknown

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.

So 2016... A.CE London
A.CE London

The 18th wave of Space Invader’s London invasions beamed down onto London’s walls in the Spring.

So 2016... Space Invader
Space Invader

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!

So 2016... Space Invader LDN_09 reactivated
Space Invader LDN_09, reactivated & monitoring cafe chillin moments in Covent Garden

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.

So 2016... Eine, Last Days Of Shoreditch
Eine, Last Days Of Shoreditch

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.

So 2016... Banksy

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.

So 2016... Sell Out
Terry Wogan by Sell Out

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 ;-)

So 2016... Gareth Bale by Sell Out
Gareth Bale by Sell Out

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).

So 2016...Stik "Past, Present and Future"
Stik "Past, Present and Future"

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.

So 2016... Mr Farenheit
Mr Farenheit

So 2016.... Mr Farenheit
Mr Farenheit

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.

So 2016... Neonita

So 2016... Neonita
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.

So 2016... London Police
The London Police

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.

So 2016... John D'oh
John D'oh

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.

So 2016... 616

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.

So 2016...  Malcolm X by Carleen De Sozer; Letter X by Fanakapan
Malcolm X by Carleen De Sozer; Letter X by Fanakapan

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.

So 2016... Anna Laurini
Anna Laurini, Oxford Street, London

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.

So 2016... Farage, Trump, Johnson - The Narcissists
Farage, Trump, Johnson - The Narcissists

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.

So 2016.... Dr. d
Dr. d

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.

So 2016... Save Our Selves...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.

So 2016... Dave The Chimp
Dave The Chimp

“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.

So 2016... "Advertising Shits In Your Head" by Special Dog Patrol
Special Dog Patrol

Victoria Villasana and Zabou collaborated on this commission for the Child Labor Free campaign (Amercian organisation hence spelling).

So 2016... Victoria Villasana & Zabou
Victoria Villasana and Zabou

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.

So 2016... JDK

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.

So 2016... Victoria Villasana and Reuben Dangoor
Reuben Dangoor and Victoria Villasanna

Qwert from Hungary is presently based in London and his surreal but cute figures could be found wearing their hearts on their sleeve.

So 2016... Qwert

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.

So 2016
Jana and JS

Shoreditch acquired a bug infestation when Philippe Vignal’s ceramic fleas bit Shoreditch passers by.

So 2016.... Philippe Vignal
Philippe Vignal

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.

So 2016... Zokatos UHU
Zokatos UHU

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.

So 2016... Manyoly

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.

So 2016...  "Breathing Room", Dan Witz
"Breathing Room", Dan Witz

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.

So 2016... DRSC0 (Portland) vs Stik (representing London)
DRSC0 (Portland) vs Stik (representing London)

We also have to thank BSMT Space for hosting Brooklyn based Pyramid Oracle who pasted up some stunning portraits.

So 2016 Pyramid Oracle
Pyramid Oracle (on a beautiful weathered surface)

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.

So 2016... Megzany

So 2016... WRDSMTH

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.

So 2016... Laup
Textured furry pink bear – Laup

So 2016... David Gorriz
David Gorriz aka art_ripoff

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.

So 2016...
Hanbury St - lost to “change of use”, featuring Donk, Curly, Costah et al 2015

So 2016
Fashion Street lost to muralism Dec 2016; feat Mr Farenheit (Ger), Stikki Peaches (Can), lovepiepenbrink (Ger), D7606, T.wat (UK), Villasana (Mex), Oeps (Bel), Costah (Portugal)

So 2016...
Hanbury St (again) – to muralism Oct 2015; feat Don, My DogSighs, Endless and others

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:

So 2016

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.

So 2016... Unknown

So 2016

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.

So 2016...  Mark Titchener on Flying Leaps
Art on the right, advert on the left; Mark Titchener on Flying Leaps

So 2016... Mustafa Halusi
Mustafa Halusi, paste up courtesy Flying Leaps

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.

So 2016... Unknown

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).

So 2016... ThisOne

2016 – it was a very good year!

All Photos: Dave Stuart

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Space Invader Strikes Back!

Interview with the UK Reactivation Team

Photos Dave Stuart except where stated

Planet Earth faces invasion and the insidious arrival of aliens has been going on for years with few people noticing. This is not the formulaic plot of yet another sci fi blockbuster, this is an invasion of street art masterminded by a secretive French street artist known only as Space Invader.

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_044
All hearts for LDN_044

A love of Space Invader’s mosaic pixel street art comes naturally to that generation of street art afficionadoes that came of age with early generation console games providing the most advanced “race into space” era addictive technology buzz. Scoff not ye youngsters, paddle tennis had us obsessed and Space Invaders on arcade machines saw many a precious pound note converted into 10p pieces. It is not merely a nostalgia trip though, a Space Invader mosaic located high on someone else's building in a built up part of London was a marvel, how did he get it there!!

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_055
LDN_055 - 30 points

Over the years many Space Invaders fell prey to age and avarice, it seems that there are people who think that Space Invaders can be sold in some kind of nightmare trade in the stolen artefacts of someone else’s vandalism. Thankfully, a small band of heroes calling themselves the UK Reactivation Team are coming to the rescue and reinstalling old, long lost iconic Space Invaders.

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_058
LDN_058 - a measly 10 points

Thanks to the magic of technology, Graffoto has secured a private interview with the anonymous UK Reactivation Team which sort of addresses the who, why, what and where. I’m kidding about the “who?” bit actually, you didn’t think that was going to be revealed did you? Space Invader, despite a significant cameo in Banksy’s street art documentary “Exit Through The Gift Shop”, is himself notoriously secretive so it feels appropriate the UK Reactivation Team should follow invader’s lead. The force shield around their identity is impenetrable.

Reactivation work - in progress
LDN_73 Photo: Reactivation Team UK

We came together as a handful of street art lovers that felt upset and annoyed that so many street pieces by Invader have been removed. We wouldn't be doing this if people would stop removing them thinking they can make money out of them”.

The “no shit Sherlock” revelation embedded in that statement is that the UK Reactivation Team is not Invader himself, though these guys have previously disclosed via their instagram account an important tacit approval from Invader HQ:

A final special Thank You to @invaderwashere for allowing us to form the team and put his trust in us to Reactivate his amazing works of art

Reactivated Space Invader - LDN_048
LDN_048 hits Warp Speed - 20 points

The ambition of these guys doesn’t limit itself to the smaller “fit in your DJ bag” sized invaders, when pressed to see if they would follow the lead of the French Reactivation Team who have reactivated really big Invaders in Paris (e.g. PA758), the UK Reactivation Team declare yes why not, one day. Major space cadet badge stars and intergalactic worship shall follow if they manage to reactivate this enormous baby:

Vintage Space Invader LDN_101
"LDN_99, I Am Your Father" - LDN_101

As they boldly go forth, the Reactivation Mission isn’t limited to just cloning the old invaders, several disfigured and damaged mosaics now look in pristine condition thanks to some judicious cleaning and replacement of missing parts.

Vintage Space Invader LDN_054
LDN_054 - Potential TLC Mission

But what happens if the wall that the original Invader took up station on no longer exists?

If the wall has gone then obviously the invader is dead.

Oringinal Space Invader
LDN_75, Original invasion target: Dragon Bar, Shoreditch. Mission terminated. (photo Sep 2007)

In their opening “Mission Profile” briefing, the UK Reactivation team announced that 65% of the London Invaders had been “stolen or destroyed. London’s invaders have so far arrived in 18 waves and a total of 150 invaders have taken up station on London streets, so shaking these numbers about a little suggests the UK Reactivation Team has pretty close to 100 missing-in-action soldiers to reactivate in London. These ambitious Space Rescue guys recognise the galaxy is bigger than just London. We hope to reactivate all the missing/stolen space invaders in the U.K. Already they have reactivated a couple in Manchester (012, 026, the later now gone again) and a quartet in Newcastle (003, 006, 015, 022).

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_009
LDN_009 - now a pillar of society. 20 points.

Space Invaders do not operate in a vacuum, international alliances have been formed with French and Dutch reactivation teams; the UK and Dutch Reactivation Teams share intelligence and the French Reactivation Team has helped with advice and installation, no frontiers shall hold back the Reactivators.

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_033
LDN_033 - 10 points

One slightly tricky issues arises from the project and it’s to do with the ephemerality of street art, we have to ask – should lost Space Invaders be reactivated? Space Invader doesn’t have an issue with it, these reactivation guys are dedicated to their work and I and many others are delighted to see old friends taking up station once more on London’s walls.

We like to see the Invaders in the street, if someone removes them we don't have to just shrug our shoulders and say "it is what it is" If we want to put them back then we will do just that.. and the best thing is others appreciate that view and like to see them too”!

The process of reactivation has actually become an art project in itself. The whole craftsmanship of reproduction, the planning and the installation, the decisions on what invaders to reactivate at what time, all has a complex beauty that still wows but the finished work is what matters.

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_048
Lurking. LDN_048 - 20 points

A particularly furtive red faced blue eyed invader re-appeared in May this year on the front of Harper and Tom’s flower shop in Notting Hill, neither Sophie who has worked there for a year nor Alex, 4 years, recall the original. I thought it was cool when I saw, it looked like a cool bit of tiling, it was like some kind of street art or something said Sophie.

Space Invader created a smartphone App for tracking scouts to seek out and “flash” the invaders, coordination with Space Invader HQ means the reactivated invaders work on the app so these are no mere facsimiles of invaders, they are officially recognised as fully functioning invaders. In researching preparing this star (b)log my Invader app score went from 1200 to 1550 driving me up to the giddy heights of the top 2300s on the scores list!

INvader Ap
On the very cusp of the top 2221!

Speaking of craftsmanship and creation/recreation, just what are the invaders reactivated from?

Sourcing the correct tiles is sometimes easy sometimes impossible, it does limit some reactivations going ahead, but you'd be surprised where some of them pop up from.
said the UK Reactivation Team

UK Space Invader Reactivation
LDN_091, Photo: UK Reactivation Team

UK Space Invader Reactivation
Sid LDN_073, Photo: UK Reactivation Team

At the time of writing, a grand total of 21 London space invaders have now been reactivated, one or two have had a deep clean pampering session and there are also a total of six reactivated invaders in Manchester and Newcastle. In addition to the photos above of reactivated London invaders, a photo collection of completed London reactivation missions to date follows below.

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_001
LDN_001 - London was warned! 30 points

tn_DSC_0408 copy
Shaken, not stirred - LDN_007 10 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_013
Phone home - LDN_013 - 20 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_021
LDN_021 - 20 points

Reactivated Space Invader - LDN_034
Exploring forbidden planets LDN_034 - 10 points

Reactivated Space Invader - LDN_045
Can Al get 10 points for flashing LDN_045?

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_051
This is not Greece. True or False? LDN_051 - 10 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_053
Saree for the poor photo. LDN_053 - 10 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_082
Bear with us. LDN_082 - 20 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_083
No parking actually. LDN_083 - 30 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_091
As broad as it is long LDN_091 - 20 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_092
Fancy a 3-some? LDN_092 - 30 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_097
Almost riveting LDN_097 - 30 points

Reactivated Space Invader LDN_099
Spying on unwashed Richards LDN_099 - 30 points

Go scan the skies, monitor the Reactivation Team's instagram account and scour the streets, those invaders are watching you from the walls, waiting for you to go and flash them.