Sunday, 28 June 2009

Subway Art 25th Anniversary Edition

I thought that as a reference book and an X-ray shot into a counter culture that generally is inclined to shun publicity, Subway Art could not be bettered. Sitting with the 30cm x 43cm 25th anniversary addition on my knees (the book – not me) I conclude that as a photograph album this new edition just blows your socks off.

When I looked at the picture above I wondered if it was just the irregular lighting in my irregular kitchen that made the colour of the old book photos look a bit richer but a close comparison reveals the truth. At the larger scale the over-saturation of some of the colours is reduced and you can see more of the detail of the graff archaeology seeping through from the pieces underneath that have been gone over. Obviously, you can only really prove that with the Mk I eyeball, the pics you look at here have been distorted by being captured on the camera, buggered about with the flickr resolution compromises and then knackered by displaying on whatever device you use to read this. This picture is a detail of the L in a BLADE piece, old edition above, anniversary edition below.

The launch and signing graced by the presence of Martha Cooper, Henry Chalfant and Blade drew a legendary attendance of current graffiti writers and London Ol Skool (HAN – “Court and Social” page on this blog?).

Blade, Chalfant, Cooper. Sweet Toof canvas behind.

Interestingly, along with pages from the book being displayed on the wall, some huge canvasses painted by members of the Burning Candy crew provided their own stylistic and lyrical interpretation of a few of the historic and renowned images from Subway Art. Gorgeous stuff. And the Burning Candy guys had to queue like the rest to get their new books signed.

TEK 33 - Subway Fiction

Rowdy - "Train-surfing Mouse"

TEK 33 - Night Of The Denoms

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

K-Guy - Brown Stuff

Street artist and biting political humourist K-Guy has passed verdict on UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s political career. A new installation in front of the Houses of Parliament shows Brown’s career going down the sewers.

Public anger at the sight of politicians with their snout in the tough doesn’t abate while Brown faces decimated popular support (though to be fair – we’d vote against all politicians if there was a suitable box on the ballot paper) and luke warm tolerance from a Cabinet that he appointed.

Stencil portraits passing down the toilet show Brown in a variety of tick-ridden and stressed out poses.

K-Guy’s edgy work has in the past included the spectacular Memorial to The Boom Economy at The Royal Exchange, London, the "cash under the matress" family banking pieces and his celebration of Britain as a multi-cultural society, even more relevant now since the election of the first UK representative from the far right wing BNP party.

all photos: NoLionsInEngland

Monday, 22 June 2009

Royal Albert Hall - LOAD

The Wonderland Collective
The Royal Albert Hall, London
22 June 2009 – only!

The Royal Albert Hall has an almost un-paralleled status in the history of high-brow entertainment and in its’ 138 years has hosted some of the truely iconic performers. And my kids did a percussion workshop and this is the story of how a troupe of stencil based urban artists came to together to pay tribute to them.

Under the Albert Hall is one of those backstage areas most of us never get to see, a place where artic lorries transport huge stage sets and overblown egos, also known as a loading bay. The Wonderland Collective were commissioned to create an enormous freize in the loading bay, hence the title of the opening, as tribute to the hall’s own history and today the fruits of their squirts were on show to the public for one day only.


The beauty of this work is that the real legends, those icons from the pioneering days when British bands ruled the world and American torch singers and balladeers found their audience in the UK remain legends to many generations. Their famous poses and celebrate moments from the archives still have the power to thrill.

Bob, Elton and The Bolshoi Ballet

The installation splits into four distinct elements. There is the Icon wall featuring a montage of giants and Jay Z. Painters on this wall included Grafter and Eyesaw.

Roger Daltry, Muhammed Ali, Noel, Shirley, Jimi, Jay Z, Pavrotti and Frank

Opposite this curve piece is an elongated timeline featuring luminaries such as Paul Weller, Elton John, Jimi, Mick, The Beatles, Eric Clapton and Einstein, the last somewhat out of context but apparently he spoke at the Albert Hall before the outbreak of World War II.

The Beatles, Albert Einstein, Eric Clapton

The third wall looks somewhat spartan, with a collection of translucent Union flags arranged either side of a silhouette of Henry Wood conducting the BBC Proms under a large RAH motif and some popular classical musicians.

Vanessa Mae, Andre Previn

Apart from the stars from the entertainment business, the mural also pays homage to the many others who have used the RAH either temporarily as a passing moment in history or routinely as a local albeit remarkably specialised amenity – the suffragettes, majorettes and brass band competitors, children and sumo wrestlers.

The turnout was impressive and varied, opening a behind the scenes space in a location like the Royal Albert Hall to show new paintings of everyone’s heroes draws a fresh crowd considerably different to that found slumped in the gutters in Shoreditch after a Pure Evil opening on a Thursday night.

Naomi, Mick, Winston Churchill, Basket players, Bob and The Bolshoi

The illuminations were a tribute to the fact that one of the first displays of electric lighting was held at the Royal Albert Hall and also explain the eery bluish tint in the pics.

The work will remain on the walls for ever, locked behind the private doors and out of sight from the public. You have to envy the sense of historic achievement The Wonderland Collective must enjoy, they have created something that is destined to last, something to be viewed for decades and decades by generations of roadies and drivers.

For the record, street/urban artists who contributed to this wall, the members of The Wonderland Collective (and possibly some friends) were: Ben Slow, Snik, Blam, Finbarr DAC, Grafter, Eyesaw, DanK, DBO and Babel.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

C215 - Shoeshiners

Signal Gallery, London
19 June – 11 July

All photos: NoLionsInEngland except Romanywg and Artbleat where noted

There are only a few people in any art niche who can be said to set benchmarks, who are the constellation in the heavens that every looks up and points at. In the world of street art stencilism, C215 is one of those novas.

Hailing from France with a background that might described as challenged, C215 first came to wider attention in London when he bombed spots east to west and across the centre with his trademark monochromatic stencil portraits featuring grizzly men, suffering but saintly women and portraits of his young daughter pouting moodily.

C215 almost always marries the subject to the location, the rough grimy street corners provide a natural habitat for gentleman wearing the crude, un-kempt look of a life on the road on their faces. From Morroco to New York, Istanbul to Sao Paolo, C215’s forte is seeking locations off the beaten track and not blessed by an over-abundance of first world consumer luxury (like Hackney Wick).

c215, Delhi, Oct 2008. Photo: Romanywg

C215 was one of the original stencillists showcased by invitation at Banksy’s Cans Festival in May 08 and his spot was one of the highlights of the best street art show of the year. The hyperactive and swift working C215 had by year end visited the UK several times and ran dangerously close to stepping over into excessive bombing which, unlike tagging, isn’t such a good look for street art.

C215 at Cans Festival, 2008

However, after a break from these shores, C215 has returned to London for this his first London solo show. The intimate space afforded by Signal Gallery has given C215 a great opportunity to demonstrate his art without the stress of limited time (he generally gets his street pieces done in less than 30 secs).

The most striking observation upon entering the gallery is how much richer the images become when C215 is able to introduce multiple layers, acrylics and a broader pallete into his work. C215 combines lush colours and characteristic detail in the stencil with a strong eye for composition, not one of his images fails not hang together in a realistic manner.

C215 at Signal Gallery, photo: Romanywg

Though the show C21 has been inspired by locations as diverse as Morroco, India, Afghanistan, Delhi and London, the core matter of this show is one man’s diary of international adventures

Afghan woman

Afghan woman has an ambiguity of possibly being a girl or young women with a wide eyed beauty yet her face suggests a calm serenity or perhaps a maturity derived from the responsibilities of running a household from a young age. C215’s pictures convey a emotional depth rendering almost all other stencil artists flat by comparison.

The time afforded C215 in studio work allows him to broaden his subjects to the wider scene and context of his portrait subjects. Apart from a rather oddly twee vintage London scene, C215’s grittily realistic life scenes are at their best when he is focussed on the working environment of his subjects from less developed parts of the world. In Painting In Mirleft we see a working artist but in a rather rough cast studio reflecting characteristically spartan accommodation but at the same time capturing the nobility of honest endeavour and a sense that even in outside the high tech consumerist society we take for granted, there is still call for artists producing beauty and culture.

Painting In Mirleft

Anyone who has seen C215’s online collection of photographs may have spotted that in Delhi in particular, C215 was captivated by the numbers of very young shoeshine boys working the streets. This feeds into the show n the form of several shoe-shine boxes with the personalities of their possible owners painted onto the fabric of their livelihood. If plight is an appropriate word to describe their condition, then the plight of the shoeshine boy feeds C215’s concerns. The work of the shoeshine boy brings someone on a very low income right into the society of the well off middle class, places him kneeling at the feet of his betters in society, indulging the shoe-wearer the luxury of a shiny shoe, a seemingly trivial pre-occupation in comparison with the knife edge hard fought survival of the rag-shod urchin at his feet. Pennies scattered around the box emphasise the in-equality of incomes and the scraps from which the shoe-shine boys must make their lives.

Shoeshine Box 1, photo: Artbleat

The nature of the image on distressed wood of the shoe-shine boxes revisited the collaborative sawn up cello done with his friend the photographer and street art documenter Romanywg and shown at Corked last year.
The show includes several landscape pictures. In the various trackside and train station images C215 seems to be responding to the very similar compositions done by stencil master Logan Hicks (see also Cans festival).

Austerlitz Station

Several images of street scenes showcase C215’s mastery of a certain kind of urban clutter, a dishevelment common to back street locations where functionality and economy are the priorities and pretty privet hedges and civic pride area long way down the list.

Five Star Carting

In Five Star Carting above which is based upon a trip to NY last year and wittily including a street C215 left at the scene , the observant may spy a cheeky nod to the reigning queen of the current crop of street art documenters which definitely wasn’t in the original street scene.
In the scenes which incorporate a vehicle, the ability to render a totally convincing metal sheen and the sculptural bodywork detail is quite incredible. The detail of the wrinkled clothing of the market porter and the detail of the toppled wooden crates and the street scenery visible though what may be railway arches brings in a phenomenal level of realism.

Mirleft Market

My favourite piece was probably one of the least characteristic of the show, a seascape with a view of rippling waves passing through the end of a (British?) pier, breaking towards rocks in the foreground and coming in from the horizon behind. The image don on found board dissolves and softens towards the edges creating a sort of sun falling into the sea with encroaching darkness looming overhead. There is only one thing to quibble within this image and this is the case in several of the pictures, the C215 stencil looks in-appropriately heavy and oversize.


There are only a limited number of stencillists – Logan Hicks, Artiste Ouvrier among others, who can cut a stencil with the intricacy and realism of C215 and the art of his images probably surpasses even those masters. I thought my days of being wowed by stencil artists had passed so this collection is not only a delight to behold but is a pleasant surprise too.

The set of pics from the show can be seen here and pics of C215’s London street work over the past year or so can be seen here

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Rowdy - Never Smile At A Crocodile

Sartorial Gallery
4 June – 27 June 2009

all photos: NoLionsInEngland except Romanywg where noted

Burning Candy crew of Bristol and London has knack for pleasing both fans of graff and street art. A crew show in October 08 was followed in short order by a Sweet Toof solo show in Dec/January and now it’s Rowdy’s turn to rock his skills at Sartorial Gallery in London.

On the streets, Rowdy is best known for his crocodiles with their oversize teeth and luminous eyes.

Burning Candy – Brick Lane, London

Occasionally cameos come from a scraggy wild faced fox and a prickly hedgehog, which like the crocs are invariably given menacing snarls and grins.

Rowdy/Sweet Toof

Rowdy/Sweet Toof/Cyclops/DScreet

Recent isolated examples of indoor daubings which have cropped up at urban art auctions have suggested a preference for the abstract, it was a pleasant surprise of sorts to find the large upper room full of crocs and foxes familiar from the streets. Indeed, a very substantial mobile of menacing wooden crocs the same as ones which used to be seen glued to road signs, gates and doorways dominates the room. Little jasper will grow up a twisted and terrified brat after having one of these hanging over his crib.

Never Smile At A Crocodile

Rowdy’s anthropomorphised animal characters cruise an urban landscape of offices and towerblocks, the town is the swamp and the crocodiles are the king predators. Bold primary colours and a simple style gives the Rowdy panorama the feel of nursery book illustrations. Curiously, about half of the paintings are called simply “untitled”


Rowdy’s vision is clearly a city environment where danger lurks. The menacing half hidden predators cruise the streets and hide behind buildings. What do they signify though? Burning Candy gallery work has historically empathised with the underdog, the outcast and the outlaw, so possibly Rowdy’s characters are criminals. Perhaps they are the authorities, the rozzers, the bodies who would love to catch graff crews in the act. One painting which does have a title is Displaced Bank Manager, the dishevelled appearance and manic stare conveys an idea of a fat cat on his arse through greed and incompetence with only his pension pot to keep him company whilst his mates the crocs continue to lurk deep in the streets. Hang on, we’re back to crims again, a classic case of mixing up your crocodiles and allegories.

Displaced Bank Manager

A trio of very large canvasses create a night time urban panorama, the black night allow the illumination of neon lights and buildings o develop a luscious glow in these pieces. The cities are built on rivers and crocs patrol these waters. This trio didn’t look like they formed a tryptich but that was impossible to confirm due to the crowds, that’s what you get you place the bar next to the set piece paintings. At least you didn’t have to walk too far from the front door to get you free beer, so who would argue that the priorities were wrong?


Rowdy has a love affair with a double image composition. Street pieces often incorporate double ended crocs, twin-headed with no tail like in the Burning Candy Brick Lane piece photograph at the start, this compositional structure is repeated in the gallery where the cityscape often includes a waterfront, giving him the chance to create reflections. It probably not just coincidence that some of the best photos of Rowdy’s work in the wild involves water reflections.

Synchronised Swimming – Rowdy In The Gallery

Crocs In A Swamp (detail of original photo courtesy Romanywg)

There is a very architectural feel to the small collection of paintings downstairs which lift the paintings up from the pure abstract like a stone skimming over water. Some of the paintings have an incredible depth, the layers dare eachother to cross the room or burrow back into the walls. The pictures invite you to step into them, perhaps then to turn around and stare back out at the world, who knows, perhaps you’ll see grinning crocs and wild eyed foxes staring in.

African Fence

Within the abstract pieces, stare long enough and perhaps the vertical and horizontal impressions resolve into proxies for buildings, horizons and rivers (so, not pure abstract then)


Late night car journeys, peering at beacons and neon signs through rainswept windsceens are darkly captured in Botafugo (a place in Brazil), at least that’s what comes to my mind.


You could lose yourself in these for hours. Where the sense of urban landscape fades away to leave just distant horizons, the trick seems to be accomplished by switching from well defined acrylic blobs and runs to bursts of spraypaint.


Rowdy has an effective and evocative technique, but technically probably isn’t quite at the same levels of accomplishment demonstrated by Sweet Toof and Cyclops but that’s a bit like saying the Beatles weren’t brilliant musicians, the effect is the important thing. Rowdy doesn’t lose his street content or skills in transferring to the gallery yet the work stands well in comparison with almost all other shows flying the Urban Art tag this year. And you definitely have to see the pieces in person to appreciate some of the subtle layer effects properly.

Untitled. tinny by separate negotiation

The set of pics from the show can be seen here.

Appetites whetted for a recollection of the Burning Candy Show at Sartorial in October 2008 can obtain satisfaction here.

Sweet Toof’s ultrabrite gallery performance in December 08 went up and down, up and down till it was clean and sparkling.