London was scarred this year by the tragic and devastating fire at Grenfell Tower. Beyond the horrific death toll, the disaster has all manner of residual issues for the survivors, the community, the authorities and the support services, the difficulty of responding to the needs of the affected families is a massive and ongoing challenge. No one can be sure whether the response of street artists was irrelevant or hugely important, individuals affected by the situation in West London have various personal responses which lie somewhere along the spectrum between those extremes. Public surfaces all around the Ladbroke Grove area became message boards and art and street art became a part of that mass public communication system.
This massive rendition of the streets of a poem by Ben Okri painted by EINE on the Village Underground wall grabbed attention. Read the full poem on the Village Underground website here
London hosts such a magnificent collection of constantly changing street art that one can never narrow down an annual favourite but we thought we’d nail our colours to the mast by “wowing” at the wonderful Boat People mural by David de la Mano.
David De La Mano
Right at the very end of the year, in fact over a period of about 4 days which spanned Christmas Day, Fanakapan painted “Follow The Leader”, a painstakingly brilliant political piece aimed at Donald Trump on that very same spot. Very very few artists could have replaced David de la Mano’s piece with something at least equal in stature, Fanakapan is one of those.
Dreph undertook probably the most extensive, coherent and powerful project this year with his 10 piece #YouAreEnough collection. The series fosters a great visibility and community awareness of the amazing work performed by inspirational black women Dreph knows, whose stories and achievements don’t get the broader recognition they deserve and having bumped into one or two of them I can vouch for how brilliantly the master Dreph has rendered their appearance in these portraits.
Tracy Blackstock by Dreph
Street art doesn’t need to be big to be beautiful, a series of absolutely charming examples of understated street art was put up by an artist who made his debut on the streets of London this year. Some of these beautifully distorted characters nod to the strong Asian community that makes its home in Tower Hamlets while others capture the sort of puffy faces that would signify “villain” or “drunkard” in 18th century cartoons. These castings first appeared in February though it took until October to identify Jace as the artist.
The forlorn slump of Sten And Oli’s colourful characters became a common and charming site on Shoreditch’s walls in the Autumn, a classic example of a visiting artist making the most of their passage through London.
Sten And Oli
One fantastic piece that I photographed many many times this year for the way it imposed itself on people loitering in front of it was Aida’s ode-cum-warning to the smokers that congregate outside the film company that commissioned her “hard habits die hard” work of art. Aida’s piece looks stunning set against the awesome paintwork of Camille Walala dating from 2015.
An artist who has adopted London as his base this year is KetOne from Australia who was quickly into his stride with some phenomenal natural photorealism.
Political street art around London was dominated by four other themes this year, trump, Brexit, austerity and the bizarre June 2017 election. Perhaps the most surprising name from the world of proper art to use the streets for political purposes was Jeremy Deller who mocked the limpest and least accurate campaign slogan of all time when he appeared under the Flying Leaps banner.
Right: “Strong and Stable My Arse” – Jeremy Deller; left: KennardPhillipps
The Brexit masterpiece was undoubtedly Banksy’s HUUUGE mural in Dover commenting on Brexit, a fascinating location visible to all the millions who leave British shores for the continent through Dover. Too little too late, there was almost no Brexit related street art at the time it mattered in the run up to the first referendum.
Anti trump related street art comes as no surprise and has been appearing since the nominations process got going back in 2015.
K-Guy has been producing superior political stencils for over a decade and chose to mark Trump’s inauguration with this superb specimen riffing on the overlap of Trump’s name with a well known card game
Subdude produces a regular output of political cartoons and must be applauded for having the courage of his convictions to stand strong against a 32 page legal threat issued by a corporation aggrieved at his subversion of their logo.
Brexit also featured in Subdude’s humorous political cartoons, it’s ironic that a paste up about the increase in racist attacks and other hate crime since the Brexit referendum should be placed squarely and provocatively over a Hasworld paste up – slices of irony gateaux all round!
Sculptural street art in Shoreditch has in the past taken the form of bronze castings, abstract wood assemblies, plaster of paris and trash sculptures but this is the first time I recall seeing Styrofoam graffiti lettering out in the wild. Look closely and you will find the letters PUSH, the German duo’s name are present, not that many hardcore writers would recognise this as graffiti.
Collaboration of the year sort of evolved during celebrations for the Pure Evil Gallery 10th anniversary as Dscreet popped a trio of owls over Nick Wakeling’s trippy abstract piece done a few weeks earlier, thus falling into the “just found some great art to use as a background” niche, a niche which the world of fine art has yet to fully explore. It’s all about Dscreet’s awesome colour selection and the developer got in on the act as well ;-)
DScreet, Nick Wakeling
Having done just one piece of street art in London in the previous 4.5 years, London was suddenly blessed this year with two new pieces of Banksy street art. Executed the weekend before the opening of The Barbican Centre’s “Boom For Real” Jean Michel Basquiat exhibition, the larger more complex piece not only pays tribute to the New York street artist Jean Michel Basquiat but comments on the insular nature of the conventional art world and specifically the discrimination against black artists.
A new Banksy in London normally heralds an uptick in artworld opportunism and on this occasion relevant actors included the barbican Centre itself who immediately imposed a crack armed task force to guard the new Banksy and followed up with the obligatory plexiglass protective cover though not before the very quick acting artist Danny Mimick augmented the Banksy with an amusing enhancement in the style of Keith Haring. Someone stole the traffic sign which Banksy had painted a small fragment of the left hand on to, the thief rumoured to be someone with form in that respect. Detail spotters will notice in this close up that Banksy isn't just a stencil artist.
The artist ThisOne has had a phenomenal year which has extended to painting over 130 murals, and to be clear, this are proper productions, not 15 minute quickies.
It has been a couple of years since we had a proper “hit” of London walls by MyDogSighs so it was great to see him doing a crop of lovely hand painted paste ups early in the Summer, several of which exhibited a flair for careful location selection based on coloured matching.
My Dog Sighs
Nylon sprayed a few Shoreditch spots for the first time in quite a few years, in this specimen in the company of Barcelona legend Pez.
Jim Vision had a huge success with this years edition of meeting of Styles including charming the Rail Authority into permitting writers to paint on a rail track wall, he has also had a very active year with his own murals, my personal favourite being his Paradise Lost, detail here:
MCLN’s plague doctor was a regular sight during the year, I loved the Flying plague doctors that arrived on the wind bourne by a leaf rather than an umbrella. This photo was taken shortly after the flying plague doctor arrived on station and it has been amusing to see how the leaf has dried, curled, decayed and changed colour with the passage of time.
Anna Laurini had a good year too, would you guess from this picture that this location used to be known as London’s red light district?
A pack of Jake the Dog cartoon characters by Losthills from Liverpool ran stray across Shoreditch many times this year, my favourite was this pilot Jake installation which appeared in the Old Truman Brewery.
Neon Savage was possibly the most prolific street artist we had in London this year, the mice peeping out of mouse holes in the wall were amusing as was this three eyed Jerry mouse who in a year of banner marches chose to show his support for Brick Lane.
Regular favourite ACE did a strange thing this year, experimenting with a blue dye added to his wheatpaste which produced some quite weird results at times. His regular output throughout the year was always appreciated.
Artists from abroad visiting London made a phenomenal contribution to the variety of art we saw on the streets this year so here are honourable mentions for a few:
Ludo from Paris was over in the Autumn and while his art is always stunning, one particular paste up made a quite unexpected connection with the owner of the wall it appeared on, its great when street art becomes relevant to a wider audience beyond geeks and art insiders, well worth reading the full story to that on the blog post here:
Len Maloney and the staff of JC Motors in front of art by Ludo
C215 was in town for a musician themed show at StolenSpace.
The Liliputian scaled stencilled workers by Jaune from Belgium were a delightful new addition to London’s walls.
Jaune (feat Noriaki)
Scary street art is perhaps in the name with this pair of ghoulish riders by Ryan Roadkill pursuing passersby down the street.
People have been saying for as long Graffoto recalls that street art has changed for the worse, street art has died, street art is disappearing well I got news for you suckers, it aint. 10 to 12 years ago the photographers involved in Graffoto were out on the streets every day could easily go days without spotting a new piece of street art, today there is something new everyday. The number of locations where street art appears has rocketed, the popularity of the genre has exploded. So, yeah, you naysers making those comments are right, a set of hoardings on Great Eastern Street disappeared and those around the Nobu hotel came down as the hotel opened well booo hooo, plenty more spots appeared and contrary to popular opinion Seven Stars Yard is still workable albeit harder now to find panels where a car isn’t parked.
So, goodbye 2017, you leave memories and scars, you produced brilliant street art, bizarre street art and your fair share of dross – and that point is perhaps the one that most art snobs have an issue with but street art means anyone can have ago, that’s important. In a year which saw 2 pieces of street art appear in the nation’s top 20 pieces of art, we think there is plenty of life yet in the collective body. For continuous up to the moment coverage of our personal favourites among the street art we encounter ourselves, keep an eye on that instagram account and don’t just wait for the 2018 end of year review!
Happy New Year!