Monday, 30 July 2012

Letterpress Printing - Alex Booker

10 Palmers Rd

London E2 0SY

Sun 27 Jul 2012,

All photos: NolionsInEngland

Letterpress printing was the arcane image making experience available at High Roller Society this weekend.

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Alex Booker, fine artist and printmaker has an ancient collection of letterpress block which he bought along, demonstrated and then let a crowded workshop loose on.

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Alex Booker - Well Oiled!

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Alex Booker - self prepared plywood Letterpress block

Twenty or so active participants at the workshop came up with a huge variety of different letter based vocabu=lettes to print. The idea is always the most challenging thing with art. Little Miss NoLions noticed she could use the letters to create an image as well as a word.,

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After scrabbling around in the boxes of letters to make up the desired words or symbols, the first stage is to set up the letters in the frame. As with most things in life, it’s not a “skill” if it hasn’t got its own vocabulary so it’s not a frame, it’s a “chaser”. The key mental challenge here is to remember that what you see on the surface of the letters is the mirror image that will appear on the paper. So letters must be arranged in reverse order.

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The letters need to wedged in place so that they don’t move around at the printing stage which would cause smudges and blurred images. Letters are secured in place using “furniture” which is another name for bits of wood ranging from long blocks to thin shims. Alex uses pennies as an easy source of wedges readily available to most artists but the final micro- millimetre adjustment to lock each row and column in place is done using an adjustable thickness metal wedge called, amusingly, a coin.

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An oil based printers ink is applied evenly over the letter face, multiple colours can be used, the first colour is easily applied as the nearby letters can be masked, the second colour is tricky as obviously you can’t mask off the adjacent inked up letters .

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Paper is carefully placed onto the ink, it is important that it shouldn’t slide once it starts to make contact with the ink unless you particularly like smudges.

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Then rolling to ensure the ink transfers to the paper.

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Finally, remove your paper to find out what letters you put the wrong way round and upside down and which letters you missed out.

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Nearly a dinosaur

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20 mins later - that's better!

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Yup - you read the name change here first. "Egland!"

The beauty of this coarse printing process are the idiosyncrasies which appear in every print taken off the letterpress. Variations in ink application and pick up result in areas of fade and as the ink gets used, grain effects appear in the prints.

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Even the masters can get it wrong, two geniuses of screenprinting, well, one anyway plus her young collaborator, managed to get all the letters in, they just spelled the “txt” chat abbreviations back to front!

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This was one of the most interactive of the High Rollers Society workshops we have caught since we started going about 18 months ago. Thanks to High Rollers Society for putting it on and Alex Booker for equipment, demonstrations and master craftsman expertise.

As the event ended, we picked up our union cards, took a mandatory 23 minute cigarette break then headed off to picket a newpaper.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Photos: NolionsinEngland except Brandalism where noted

On Tuesday evening (writing on Thursday) news came through of a fresh Paul Insect piece on Hackney Rd, too late to grab a photo but never mind, there’s always Wednesday. Later that night a web link took me to the slick, well laid out website of anti corporate advertising campaign Brandalism.

The objective is to rail against mind manipulation on a galactic scale by the advertising strategies of global brands. Or as Brandalism has it – “This exhibition is about trying to open up questions about the ills created by advertising, the false needs and destructive desires it attempts to instil in us, and it is about trying to reclaim some of the spaces taken from us. “.  An impressive list of 24 artists from UK and abroad have taken over billboards in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds to, oh irony, promote their campaign.

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Ron English, “Unicorn Flesh”, Manchester – Photo from Brandalism website

You can’t help a further chuckle at Brandalism’s media savvy strategy to spread it’s message fast and far, truly it picked up the tools of its oppressor. The website, the feature on Vandalog, the mainstream media coverage in the national daily Independent and London’s Evening Standard smack of just more of the same PR planning as the mega corporate. One of the artists on the Brandalism list is Jordan Seiler whose work disrupting commercial ad campaigns has achieved global publicity in the past. In NY, a large scale campaign against illegal advertising eyesores was hugely successful, who’d have imagined in a locked down hood like NY such a problem existed. Graffoto also shares and applauds his pops at the most successful anti establishment media manipulator Banksy. Brandalism channels the spirit of NY PublicAdCampaign best with this hoarding by Space Hijackers pointing out the ruthless and grotesque control by the Olympics Committee, using he law to crush un-licensed use of phrases it deems itself to have exclusive monetising rights over, plus – if true – the allegation that this site is actually illegal too. You could hurl a javelin from this spot into the Olympic park at Stratford.

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Space Hijackers, London – Photo from Brandalism website

The first flaw in the campaign is that complete obliteration of the existing paid-for ad means that there is no sign of who is actually being targeted. You want to see a bloody nose but this looks like a punch thrown against a shadow. As evidence of the evil corporate is missing this begins to look like artists advertising themselves. The work of Poster Boy, Zevs, Dr D, Ludo and Cut Up Collective (are they still active?) covered this angle by modifying the original advert leaving little room for doubting the corporate target.

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Bill Posters, Manchester – Photo from Brandalism website

The media blitz and consequential high profile may have been Brandalism’s undoing. Wednesday arrived (AS PREDICTED, HERE, ON GRAFFOTO) but the Paul Insect piece hadn’t lasted, papered over by an “official” ad for Macmillan Trust. Damn.

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Paul Insect, former site of

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As it was – “Jamphel Yeshi”, Paul Insect

FYI – Jamphel Yeshi, Tibetan living in exile in India, burned himself to death in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.

KennardPhillips survived the day, beautifully juxtaposed with an un-holy alliance of two brands currently exerting a vice-like legally enforced grip on public messaging space in London.

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Leo Murray had gone the same way as Paul Insect, covered over with the same MacMillan Trust ad.

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Leo Murray – gone already

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Leo Murray in situ – Photo from Brandalism website

Artists annexing public space without permission are exposed to the charge that they are in effect advertising themselves, that is nothing new. Broken Fingerz’ stunning piece is signed in his usual style by UNGA, unintentionally ironic in a campaign against excessive brand promotion.

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Dirty Beards – Broken Fingerz

Brandalism’s associated media campaign ensured its own demise, they tweaked the tail but then hung up neon signs saying they’d chopped the head off. The billboard owners couldn’t let such high profile annexing of their lifeblood run, they had to act immediately. Advertising industry suits barked that they would not let the blighters get away with things, as covered at length here. As one says: “"We want to squash it as quickly as possible and return to normal", adding that the OMC took the activity very seriously and was prepared to issue a cease-and-desist order.”

Intriguingly, the mad ad men are forced to admit that their clients are guilty of using the same space ambushing tactics as Brandalism “Nike is a brand sometimes associated with ambushing. Now they [Brandalism, I think] have ambushed the ambusher”. In fact, this “borrowed guerrilla” approach has been recently used by a shopping website in an ad which fooled us less well informed street art fans into pondering if the ad was in fact dogged. You take their spots, they bite your style!

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With a little less of their own media blitz perhaps the art and the idea would have survived longer. This opportunity has been lost in favour of a high viz short sharp shock approach.

The radical is the new conformist, a career in marketing awaits.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Reykjavik Writing and Street Art

VNA Issue 19 (July 2012) has a glorious 7 page photo spread of graff from Iceland’s capital Reykjavik, shot by me on my first visit there a short while ago. The photo features the local stars of the graff scene as well as one or two illustrious visitors. The mag is available in many disreputable newagents, bookshops and graff stores as well as online direct from the VNA gang HERE. This blog post is a sister to that VNA graffiti photo feature , the VNA guys had first dibs on photos and none of magazine photo spread appears here, so get the magazine for even more highlights.

There was so much beauty, energy and colour in the Reykjavik graff dispplay that a further set of pics neither in the magazine nor the blog can be found HERE.

All photographs: NoLionsInEngland

This is a reproduction of a guest blog originally written for and published on VNA’s blog.

Expectations of Iceland are framed by volcanoes, glaciers, sea life and thermal baths but not necessarily graffiti. As the airport bus meandered tight streets disgorging short stay tourists, down a side street the elevation of one building revealed a top to bottom London Police. Where did that come from?! This stunning end elevation set the scene for un-expected discoveries almost everywhere we turned.

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London Police, Sara Riel, Nomad, Above

A healthy graffiti culture requires a used and abused alphabet. The icelandic language is written using more or less the same letters as English albeit some are embellished with squiggles and other ornamentation, the thing about Icelandic letters which perhaps explains why an Icelander getting hold of a spraycan might be inclined to graff is that they do love using a heck of a lot of them.

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Graffiti in all its forms is pretty dense in the area between Skulagata and Hverfisgata right next to the centre of Reykjavik, we came across three Halls of Fame within barely half a mile.

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Sticker culture and tagging is as rampant as you’d find in any other street art tolerant locality.

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A boarded up building with intriguing runic graffiti on the outside (see VNA 19) and its front door off its hinges beckoned. Inside, floors and ceilings have been removed but every surface was decorated with tags, pieces and “street” art while nooks and crannies were stuffed with empty cans and stencils. A bit of post Reykjavik digging revealed that the recent history of the building mirrors the economic Pegasus trajectory you can’t escape in Iceland today. It had been a thriving musical instrument shop that closed. Developers moved in, gutted the building and went bust. More developers came and went without troubling themselves with any actual work and the building is now in the hands of a Yoga group who are bending over backwards to get planning approval. So in came the graffers and the building played host to an art rave a year or so ago.

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In the centre of Reykjavik you will find a considerable amount of authorised rooftop art by Theresa Himmer, from the “Mountain Series”, all playing off some aspect of the raw Icelandic outdoors.

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Theresa Himmel

If authorised artists can get up high then un-surprisingly rooftops are going to host other illegal artistic endeavours. Rooftop dubbings are not uncommon around the outer suburbs of Reykjavik and we even found writers and street artists getting up high in the centre.

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Bubblegum Boy

Halls Of Fame in most large cities are commonly backdropped by council housing blocks, railway arches and pockets of irregular over-grown post industrial wasteland. In Iceland HOFs, the amazing un-polluted airy light complements views of fjords and glaciers.

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Money CMF

On the theme of backdrops, anyone familiar with British news from the early 70s will be amused that Icelandic gun boats expelled British trawlers from their 200 mile fishing limit but in their home port failed to prevent roadside graff under their very nose.

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DAT Crew

In defining the pecking order of graffiti kings, no action fosters greater kudos than changing the colour of steel train panels. Iceland doesn’t have a public railway network so in this nautical orientated society the obvious substitute is your top-to-bottom fishing boat.

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A spot survey of the local culture by an outsider on a whistlestop visit can’t be authoritative about who is up and who is “all-Reykjavik” but we can “wow” at the quality and quantity at that moment in time. Casio was everywhere running the full gamut from stickers and tags to throws and pieces.

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Kopur has style.

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Vato has beautiful flow, great fills and rocks characters as letters.

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Evidence on the streets suggests five or six overlapping crews calling Reykjavik HQ but without doubt CMF (Cash Money Fame, Crazy Mother Fuckers) are the most in-your-face.

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CRAZY – believed by VATO

Beany hats off to Reykjavik graff!

Reykjavik Links:
FEW CREW flickr
Clone DAT